I’d like to know . . .

I’d like to know why we don’t use the inked-finger system to reduce voting fraud in the USA. It’s not like we don’t have a fraud problem here.

In the early 1980s, a couple of weeks after the first election in El Salvador, I met a woman who had voted there. She showed us the ink that was still on her finger and my first thought was: Why don’t they do it that way in Chicago? It wouldn’t eliminate fraud but it would at least make multiple voting much more difficult.

The reason they don’t do it, I am speculating, is that for any given election one party primarily benefits from fraud, the other party usually doesn’t think the battle is worth fighting (and either wants to retain the fraud option or fears the anti-fraud rules could be used against it in the future), many voters also benefit from the fraud, and the voters who don’t benefit are not well enough organized or even aware of the problem. So while voting fraud is a serious problem in the aggregate, it is difficult, at any particular moment, to get a big enough constituency together to do anything about it.

Perhaps the Internet, by facilitating the flow of information and political organization, is increasing political incentives in the USA to do something systematic about election fraud. I hope so.

10 thoughts on “I’d like to know . . .”

  1. what good is ink on the finger if the votes aren’t actually counted? seems to me that vaporvoting is much more of a problem than a few scattered reports of illegal immigrants (most of which have been debunked).

  2. Additionally, that system would put a whole lot of fingertips in jeopardy every election cycle. In Chicago at least, the Democratic ward committeemen are well versed in the art of digital amputation, and don’t think they would hesitate to use such a tactic to get their Sugar Daley re-elected.

  3. I think that finger inking was used in 19th century in some areas. IIRC, it only disappeared with the appearance of voting machines.

    Back when communities were smaller, the act of voting was a very public event. Poll officials used to loudly announced that “John Doe of 527 Evergreen Terrace has voted” The announcement served as a check on fraud because enough people could identify the individual just from hearing their name and address.

    Perhaps we should make voting a public event again via the internet, publishing the names and addresses of those who voted and where they did so. That would put a break on a lot of fraud immediately.

  4. -Agreed that finger inking won’t prevent all fraud. However, it will very likely prevent some fraud, and it’s inexpensive and easy to implement.

    -It’s also better than publishing voters’ names on the Internet. With ink it becomes difficult to vote twice. Publication of names on the Internet doesn’t necessary prevent multi-voting, and it requires more work, more technology, and puts the burden on election officials and prosecutors to enforce the law when it’s broken. Since they rarely prosecute flagrant violations of election laws now, I’d prefer not to have to depend on them to prosecute under a new system.

  5. Two words: Absentee ballots. They’re the soft underbelly of our voting system, and inking people’s fingers doesn’t do a thing about them.

  6. I’d gladly give up absentee ballots. I’d also have an annual Federal holiday for voting. And ink on fingers. And manually counted paper ballots.

  7. You may also want to ask why most American Jurisdictions do not require the prensation of a photo ID, just like Iraq? Hint one of our major political parties is violently opposed to the idea. Clue it does not control either house of congress or the presidency right now.

  8. Question I’ve had since I first heard about this:

    How difficult is it to just wash the ink off?

    The woman had ink on her finger a couple weeks later, certainly, but if you were dead set on committing fraud, seems to me that you could get some turpintine or rubbing alcohol, and scrub the ink off.

    If the dead can vote, the living can de-ink their finger.

  9. A voting system of photo IDs, optical (scantron) ballots, and finger ink would probably solve 90% of voting irregularities at a pretty low cost.

    If we got a system like that working, the next thing I’d like to tackle is the asinine system favoring hand recounts over machine counts. Florida and Washington have convinced me that any election close enough to require hand counts is too close to trust to partisan counters. A legal vote should be defined in some way which is amenable to machine analysis, then the machine count should be adhered to unless and until it can be shown that the machines are failing to distinguish legal votes correctly.

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