Honest mistake or voter fraud?

A recent article on addictinginfo.org examines the case of an 86-year-old with Parkinson’s disease, accused of voter fraud. From the article:

Hooray! In their efforts to disenfranchise tackle that ever-so crushing 0.0002 percent problem of voter fraud (equivalent to the number of UFO sightings and the money spent on House Speaker Boehner’s tanning bed solution), the GOP finally nailed one of those sneaky, derelict voters. Never-mind that the guilty party is an 86-year-old woman with dementia, who says she forgot she had already sent in her absentee ballot when she went to her polling place in November. Whip out the Mission Accomplished banner and send this octogenarian to Gitmo!

The article goes on to say that Margaret Schneider mistakenly voted twice in the 2012 primaries, and that Margaret’s stance on it is that she should not have been allowed to vote twice, and thus the election judges are just as guilty.

At least here in Harris County, Texas, those at the polling places know who voted by mail and early voted, and those people are not allowed to vote again. Those responsible for running the election in Nicollet County, Minnesota, apparently didn’t do that in this instance, or someone didn’t mark the election rolls correctly.

I’ll be honest here, I’m all for getting rid of voter fraud, by which I mean intentional “stuffing of the ballot box” and other such manipulation of election results to something other than what would result from a true, accurate count of the popular vote. This, to me, is not voter fraud. I normally don’t like the inclusion of intent or “mens rea” into the definition of a crime, as often it can be manipulated in the favor of the prosecution where it should not be. In this case, however, I don’t think there was an intent to defraud, and so this case cannot possibly stand up at trial with any decent jury rendering a verdict.

The troublesome part, to me, is this:

Schneider, convinced that it was an honest mistake and therefore will not be seeking out legal counsel, is scheduled to appear in court on April 2.

Make no mistake, Margaret needs a defense attorney just as much as anyone accused, probably more so because to have any decent hope of winning this case, it needs to be taken to trial. Now, whether or not she can afford one is another story, and it is unfortunate that public defenders are primarily in the business of making plea bargain deals.

I can’t see prosecuting a senior citizen for election fraud to end well for anyone. It’s bad PR for the county, and when this makes national and possibly international news, it makes all of America look bad. If for some reason Margaret is sucessfully prosecuted, I certainly will have lost a lot of my remaining hope of our American legal system truly being about dispensing justice.

Security vs. theater: the importance of understanding the difference

CNN recently published a commentary by Bruce Schneier that calls into question many of the “security” measures being put into place, in the name of stopping terrorism.

This quote sets the tone for the entire piece, and I think it is something that a lot of people tend to forget, quickly:

Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It’s rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear.

I have to wonder if we just have too much of this kind of fantasy crime and terrorism on TV and if we’re at the point where it is distorting people’s perception of reality. To put another big wrinkle into things, there’s a whole genre called “reality television” which to be honest, is badly named, and I would even say deceptively misnamed given some of the things that are tagged with that label.

Anyway, Bruce goes on to discuss “movie-plot threats” and “security theater” at length. I won’t quote most of it (don’t want to step outside the boundaries of “fair use”). But he does decry the photo ID checks, the stationing of National Guard troops after the September 11th attacks, and yes, even harassment of photographers as “security theater.”

Particularly the last of these is the most egregious example of “security theater” as the last thing a potential terrorist would do is draw attention to oneself by sporting a DSLR, particularly with, say, a 70-300mm zoom lens. A point-and-shoot of the type commonly available in the US for under $150 is a more likely choice for a terrorist wanting to do clandestine reconnaissance, as a tourist is much more likely to carry this type of camera. Not that it should even matter, of course.

Bruce touches on a great point here:

If we spend billions defending our rail systems, and the terrorists bomb a shopping mall instead, we’ve wasted our money. If we concentrate airport security on screening shoes and confiscating liquids, and the terrorists hide explosives in their brassieres and use solids, we’ve wasted our money. Terrorists don’t care what they blow up and it shouldn’t be our goal merely to force the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactics or targets.

While understandable just to quash the fear of the masses, I have to wonder just what, in the end, the post-September 11th security measures really accomplished. The terrorists are unlikely to attack civilian air travel twice in such a fashion.

Bruce doesn’t go into detail on this, so I’ll say it here: the goal of terrorism is fear and the disruption of normal everyday life. The terrorists, strictly speaking, don’t even have to blow something up to accomplish that, sometimes an obviously planted hoax bomb will do the trick as well: throw some wires together with a cheap timer (or alarm clock) and something that looks like it might be some kind of explosive, and put it in an obvious location that’s still somewhat concealed.

Most damning is Bruce’s blistering attack on the military tribunals:

We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice — not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer.

Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater than terrorism.

And this is something we should do today. We, as a society, should stick to our own laws, and give those charged with a crime the same rights, whether accused of “terrorism” or petty theft: the right to an attorney, the right not to incriminate oneself, etc.

Finally, this last quote from Bruce echoes my thoughts on the matter almost word for word:

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

The anti-terrorism measures are more disruptive to our daily lives than any terrorist attack ever have been. It’s time we start lowering the curtain on “security theater” once and for all.