Political Hay

Making an Exception for Electoral Integrity

Some wisdom from the Greeks about voter identification requirements.

By 9.17.12

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In my recent article on the excellent book Who's Counting?, by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, I noted specifically their reference to the measures taken in Mexico to verify the identity of voters at the polls. Mexico is not unusual in this regard. Strict requirements that voters identify themselves adequately are the rule, and not the exception, throughout the developed world.

Consider Greece. Like Mexico, Greece has a generally unhappy reputation for corruption in government at all levels. But for all its problems with patronage, bribery, poor tax compliance, and even illegal immigration, Greece holds elections that are far less susceptible to vote fraud than our own.

On a recent evening in Athens, we spoke at length about this with Christina, a partner with a prestigious Athens corporate law firm. She is currently spending most of her time working on the privatization of publicly owned companies in Greece (another story, to be sure!). Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, one of which was measures taken to protect the integrity of elections.

Christina has served as an election official on many occasions, and is very familiar with voter registration and identification procedures in Greece. We learned that, in Greece, attorneys and judges are called on to serve as election officials, somewhat akin to ordinary citizens being summoned for jury duty in the United States.

For all of Greece's other challenges -- and to be sure, Christina and other Greeks are well aware of their difficulties -- fraud at the ballot box is not a problem. There are reasons for this that make a lot of common sense.

In Greece, for one thing, dead people are systematically and reliably removed from the voter rolls. There is no such thing as voting by mail; the danger of fraud is thought to outweigh the convenience benefits of such a practice. For the same reason, there are no absentee ballots, although Greeks residing elsewhere in the European Union can go to the local Greek consulate and vote in E.U. (but not Greek national and local) elections. Citizens who wish to vote must go in person to their polling place, the equivalent of the precinct where they are registered, in order to vote. This is not considered an unreasonable requirement.

This is sensible and fair, Christina believes, because all Greek citizens who register to vote receive a government issued identity card. Christina showed us her Hellenic Republic Citizen Identity Card, complete with photograph and other pertinent information. Either this card, or a passport, must be presented at the polls, where officials verify the information against the data in official records. Persons without proper identification are turned away; there are no "provisional" votes allowed for persons unable to produce satisfactory identification.

Christina was not familiar with the now long running debate over "voter identification" in the United States. In a majority of our states, I explained to her, there are at most very weak (if any) voter identification requirements. Furthermore, I said, our Department of Justice opposes photo identification and similar measures, even though millions of dead people and otherwise ineligible "voters" remain on the registration rolls.

Christina's reply to this was straightforward. "No photo identification?," she exclaimed, "That is crazy! How can you let people vote without knowing who they are?"

In my view that's a good question.

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About the Author

Ray V. Hartwell, III was a Washington lawyer and a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. He died on February 7, 2014, in Anniston, Alabama.