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Opinion: In support of same-day registration for the Nevada caucuses

By ThisIsReno

By Orrin Johnson, (This originally appeared on First Principles): I oppose same-day registration for elections, but caucuses are a significantly different animal.  For a caucus, the possibilities of effective fraud are miniscule, and the potential benefits to the Republican Party in terms of growing in size and strength are enormous.  So given this rather obvious cost-benefit to having same-day caucus voter registration, why are some self-proclaimed conservative activists working so hard to help  Democrats keep GOP numbers low?

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I vehemently oppose same-day voter registration for regular elections.  In my view, it’s an open invitation to fraud.

People who support same-day registration for elections cite greater voter turnout and participation as their goal.  But that should not be the aim of election officials.  It’s nice and all, but the overriding, primary mission of government election officials is to ensure a fair and honest vote that both winners and losers view as legitimate.  Certainly voting should be simple and accessible – we don’t want to discourage eligible voters.  But this access shouldn’t be at the expense of a reliable vote.  As soon as parties stop viewing election results as legitimate, we stop having elections – and then we settle our disputes in other, less happy ways.

But a caucus is a political party event, not a government event.  It’s a private affair.  Its mission is not just to chose delegates and indicate a preference for one person or another to carry their party’s banner, it’s also to get people together to discuss and debate the issues, to build excitement, and to grow the party in both size and power.  The risks of fraud, while still legitimate, are far less substantial, and are far easier to guard against for a number of reasons.  And the advantages can be profound.  Because of that, same day voter registration for a caucus is not only perfectly acceptable in my mind, but it would be incredibly foolish not to register all those new Republicans!

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In 2008, Democrats registered some 30,000 new voters (give or take) during their caucuses.  The vast majority of those voters remained loyal Democrats and helped carry Barack Obama to an overwhelming victory in a traditionally more conservative state.  Other than simple envy of what they accomplished, I have no problem with it – indeed, I grudgingly (I’m a partisan, after all) respect it.

In Nevada, the State Republican Party is finally moving towards a more stable, professional party organization.  That is a very good thing.  The Party leadership understands what the Democratic leadership has understood here for decades:  the purpose of a party is to win elections; that to win elections you need more people to vote for your party’s person that the other one’s; that people registered with a party are likely to vote for that party’s candidate, and that registering as many people as possible at as many party events as possible is the way to get those votes in the bag.

There is nothing wrong with studying and even adopting your opponent’s tactics, even if you don’t share your opponent’s goals.  In fact, only the poorest tactician – or a great fool – would ignore the winning strategies of a person who has often beaten him in the past.

Same-day caucus registration helped bring the Democrats a huge victory in ’08 when the electorate was angry and ready to switch parties or even to get involved for the first time.  State GOP Chair Amy Tarkanian and other members of the party leadership wisely decided to do the same thing now that President Obama’s policies have tanked his popularity ratings, and the winds have shifted in our favor.

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Sadly, a small, unorganized group ironically named TRUNC (Tea partiers and Republicans Uniting Nevada Conservatives) decided to bring DIS-unity to this effort by not only opposing the idea, but by attacking fellow Republicans and insinuating that dark and mutually exclusive conspiracy theories lay at the heart of the effort.  (Apparently Brian Sandoval and ACORN are joining forces to elect Rick Perry, enslave We The People, and will then steal Nevada for Mitt Romney in a spaceship piloted by Dean Heller and Elvis Presley.  Or something.)

Their attack would have been weightless, had it not been passed around the state by the decidedly non-Republican Chuck Muth, who so often undermines whatever good work he does for the conservative movement by periodically encouraging and promoting fratricide within the Republican Party to the glee of liberals everywhere.  With friends like that…  Sigh.

I certainly have no problem with opposing the idea of same-day registration.  I understand the concerns, although I disagree with them for a number of reasons, which are explained below.

But to immediately assume nefarious motives when none exist, to make unsupported allegations of wrongdoing, and to tank a program that likely will cost Nevada Republicans tens of thousands of new party members going into an election that on paper we have every reason to make huge advances in is Dumb.  It’s more than just dumb.  It’s epically, suicidally stupid.

It’s also grossly unfair.  I know it’s fun to bash “elitists” these days.  But no serious person who has been to a county or state GOP Central Committee meeting in the last 3 years or so can possibly look at the people in attendance and think they’re “elitists”.  Instead, they’re hard working, VERY conservative volunteers who care deeply enough about the cause that they’re willing to put in hundreds of free hours of tedious and thankless work.  On behalf of those people, I say:  How dare you question their motives and intentions without the slightest proof!

TRUNC’s mission statement is supposedly all about unity and winning elections.  Shame on them and their enablers for accomplishing exactly the opposite.

I’m not going to make the Muth mistake and accuse either him or TRUNC of having some secret and treacherous motive or agenda.  But honestly – if Harry Reid himself was paying these folks to screw with a Nevada GOP on the rise, what would they have done differently?

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There’s a lesson here, too, for party leadership – trust and know your membership.  Explain WHAT you intend to do, and explain WHY you intend to do it.  Have a plan and disclose the plan.  Do it early, and do it often.  Earn their trust, so when you need to ask them to make a leap of faith, they will be willing to follow.  Know your membership well enough to anticipate objections that could hurt proposals you think will help the effort, and be prepared to counter those objections respectfully and persuasively.

And when you make a decision like this, stick with it.  Defend it.  Do it respectfully, but firmly.  The quick backpedal by the state party  – canceling the plan to submit the same-day rule to the RNC, scheduling a late October discussion meeting (by which time it may be too late to change the rule anyhow) – only further fanned the conspiracy theorist flames.

And finally, know who’s in your corner, and who isn’t.  Not every “conservative” blogger or activist is a Republican, or necessarily cares whether or not Republicans win elections.  And guess what – they only have the power you give them.  Principle and pragmatism (winning elections) don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and those who think they are can and should be held at arms length lest they help destroy a political movement they claim to support.

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Why I’m Opposed to Same Day Registrations for Actual, Government Mandated Elections

In 2004, 725 King County (Seattle, WA) precincts had hundreds more ballots than voters, with 3,539 more votes than voters. That mattered that year, when the governor was decided by less than 200 votes. In 2008, several kids got busted voting in Ohio (without actually living there) while registered in other states. That same year hundreds of felons voted illegally in Minnesota, very likely throwing an incredibly tight election to Al Franken. In Massachusetts at the time of the January special Senate election last year, a state where photo ID is not required to vote, 116,483 dead people and another 538,567 people who were no longer living at the addresses on their registrations were still registered as active voters. In Florida, fraud involving absentee ballots has been uncovered, including stealing ballots from mailboxes.

And that’s just what we catch. It’s easy to spot fraud when it’s “Mickey Mouse.” It’s harder when it’s “James Smith”.  Voter fraud is very, very real, and can and does sway the outcome of elections.  And even if you don’t think it happens, why invite it?  Most people’s houses never get burgled, but that doesn’t mean the smart homeowner doesn’t lock his door when he’s out.

The Minnesota example is especially relevant, since they allow same day registration.  If someone registers to vote illegally and then casts a ballot, there is no possible way to verify that eligibility before the vote is cast.  If photo ID isn’t required, you could take a handful of power bills with a handful of names, and then go vote multiple times at multiple polling places throughout the day.  If you live near a state border or borders, you could spend your day voting in multiple states – there is no way to cross check that!  (When Democrats talk about how few voter fraud cases are prosecuted, keep in mind just how hard it is to ever establish that it happened in the first place.)  In the thankfully unsuccessful effort to bring same-day voter registration to Nevada earlier this year, Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax testified that if a felon registered to vote illegally, that fact wouldn’t be uncovered until months later – AFTER the election had probably already been certified.

The more divided the electorate, the bigger impact fraud can have.  It’s unlikley that any amount of fraud could turn a large precinct where the registration is ridiculously lopsided.  No Republican will steal a local election in down town Seattle, and no Democrat will ever steal an election in rural Texas.

But in swing states like Nevada, a few hundred votes here or there can make a huge difference.  Just ask John Ensign back in ’98.

Why the Caucuses are Different

Some have suggested that it is hypocritical to be against same-day registration for elections, but not for caucuses.  I respectfully disagree.  A caucus is not an election, as I stated before.  It is a party event designed to strengthen the party, and to chose standard bearers for that party.  The votes that are cast should still have integrity, but the risk of fraud is far lower.

First, all of the votes are cast at exactly the same time.  There is no opportunity to bounce around from precinct meeting to precinct meeting and cast multiple ballots.  It’s not like an election where the polls are open all day, and you can cruise around town for 12 hours.

Second, the caucus rules require photo ID.

Third, the caucuses are held in small precinct meetings.  An unusually large precinct will have a few hundred participants, but the vast majority will have a few dozen or so neighbors who will as likely as not know each other, even if it’s just from seeing them at the mail box.  There’ll be voting and discussion – a fraud will be easy to spot.

I suppose it’s true that “ACORN and SEIU” could send hundreds of people in to register that day in an organized and coordinated effort to throw the preference poll to the weakest candidate.  But if those groups are really that organized and motivated, they’ll pre-register as Republicans and do the same thing.  (Come to think of it, now that TRUNC and Muth have given them the idea, they may do it anyway, and we won’t have the offset of tens of thousands of actual first-time registered Republicans to counter it.)  Even if they do, though, the overwhelmingly conservative nature of the caucus goers will dilute these imposters to the point of irrelevance.

Fourth, the poll results aren’t binding for many, many months.  Nevada delegates to the National GOP Convention in Tampa Bay must cast their votes proportionately for the candidates in accordance with the Caucus results.  But that won’t happen for over 6 months!  Unlike election results, which are counted and called that night, or within a month or so in extreme cases, there is plenty of time to verify those voters cast legal ballots.

So given these differences, why in the hell would we make it harder for ourselves to register new Republicans, given the inherent barriers to effective fraud in this caucus?

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It may be too late to save our ability to register new Republicans at the Caucus, due to the intersection of our rules with those of the national party.  That would be a shame.

Republican leadership in Nevada (and indeed, nationwide) has often been disappointing.  I get that.  That’s why I chose to volunteer and to try to be part of the solution, as opposed to people who endlessly criticize the GOP while refusing to do the tedious and thankless work it takes to make things better.  And that’s why the tea party movement is smart to essentially take over the existing GOP, as opposed to starting a third party.  That’s been happening all over the country, and I think the GOP is improving as an organization on account of it.  That’s certainly true in Nevada.

But tea party groups of all sorts need to remember that they aren’t immune to the foibles of man.  Their organizations aren’t immune from committing suicidal tactical blunders any more than any major party’s executive boards are.  Just because you’re on the right side of a battle doesn’t mean you’ve magically been granted the ability to fight it effectively.  (Indeed, such a foolish and blind assumption could cause you to lose what should have been an un-losable election!)  And they should at the very least assume that the motives of the longer time GOP activists are well intentioned, even if you disagree with some policy or decision, unless you can absolutely prove otherwise.

I sincerely believe that the future of our country depends on Republicans winning elections this cycle.  That includes flawed Republicans, since every last one of them are.  Actions by supposedly “conservative” groups which impede this goal help liberal Democrats, and that hurts the USA.

And really, how principled are your group’s actions if they accomplish the exact opposite of what you claim your principles are supposed to accomplish?