On the night before the election, I happened to be watching St. Louis’ KSDK evening news on TV (not my regular habit, I may add) when they ran this little doozie of a story,  the gist of which was that out of over a million registered voters, there are about 86 names in St. Louis and about 300 in St. Louis County that match Social Security’s Federal Death records. KSDK also claims to have found 56 cases where it is possible that someone may have voted in the primaries “from beyond the grave.”  They offered no details to substantiate this claim although they did cite a case where one man was caught–and convicted for–using his dead mother’s name to vote in the primary.

Given the total number of registered voters in the area, the number of matches with the federal death records is almost infinitesimally small (ca. 0.036%) and the reporters even admited that:

Of the 56 matches of people who may have voted from beyond the grave in the February primary, the I-Team could not say with 100% confidence there was more than one case.

Nevertheless, the reporters felt obliged to dress this story up with a heavy-handed overlay of sensationalism, implying, but never actually saying, that voter registration fraud is a serious problem, and that honest voters should be very worried.  Couple this with the traditional media’s uncritical response to claims that ACORN is a front for a voter registration fraud conspiracy (a welcome exception is the editorial stance of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and their relative silence on the topic of possible Republican efforts to suppress voting, and the effect is troubling.

So, what’s the solution?  In three words: universal voter registration.  UVR would go a long way toward putting all such manufactured controversies to rest–and make it easier for everyone to exercise their right to vote.  While voter registration fraud seems to be rare, contrary to KSDK’s breathless implications, it is true, as the FairVote Initiative notes in thier position paper on universal voter registration, that:

While no voter registration process is perfect, ours is riddled with flaws. The United States is one of only a few democracies in the world where the government does not take responsibility for registering voters.  Instead, our government leaves the construction of voter rolls up to partisan and non-partisan voter registration organizations, political parties, election officials and active citizens.

As FairVote notes, voter registration should be the “mutual responsibility of citizens and their government.”  To that end. FairVote makes the following policy recommendations:  

* Require that all residents applying for driver’s license or any other government issued identification card register to vote.

* Require all students in high school must register to vote as a graduation requirement (much like community service) or at the very least must receive a voter registration application.

* Provide each person born in the U.S and each naturalized citizen a voter ID number that can be used in all elections to vote.

If you are as troubled as I am by journalism like that practiced by the intrepid reporters of KSDK, you can contact them and let them know that you don’t appreciate their shoddy efforts to sensationalize serious issues (contact info can be found here).  If you would like to minimize the impact of claims of voter registration fraud before the Republicans make use of them in future elections, begin lobbying your congressperson now to implement universal voter registration.