Preventing Voter Fraud

Yesterday,  Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson blocked Pennsylvania's Voter ID law, which required voters to show picture ID before being given a ballot.  As usual in such situations, anti-Voter ID groups claim that the law would prevent many legitimate voters from casting a ballot, while pro-Voter ID groups claim the law would help prevent vote fraud.

Each time I read about a Voter ID battle, I think of the first national elections (January 2010) organized and secured by Iraqis since the US invaded in 2003 and removed Saddam Hussein.  To help stop voter fraud in a country with records and controls that were relatively crude compared with most US voting jurisdictions, voters were required to dip their index finger into purple indelible ink when casting a ballot.  This was no guarantee that ineligible voters could not cast one ballot, but it largely prevented one person from casting multiple ballots.  I am sure many readers will remember, as I do, pictures of Iraqis holding up their ink-stained fingers, proud to have been allowed to cast a ballot in a free election.

Why is it not feasible for Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and other states where voter ID laws have been blocked, to implement a similar system?  It is common at small and large entertainment venues across this country to stamp the back of your hand with indelible ink if you leave the venue after being admitted, so that you can re-enter the venue without having to pay a second time.  This means the inks and stamps are common and regularly used, to no objection whatsoever that I could find in a web search.

Such a system would be very simple: you enter a polling place, give them your name, and show them that the back of neither hand has a stamp on it, after which the registrar records in the record book you have received a ballot, you are given a ballot, and one of your hands is stamped.

As in Iraq, this does not guarantee you are a valid voter, but it does mean that if vote fraud is occurring, it is limited to a single ballot per fraudster, and that fraudster generally would have voted in the same way as under a Voter ID system.

What objections could the anti-Voter ID people have to this?  Sure, there is a small portion of the populace who are missing both hands (1), but this percentage is too small to be concerned with -- let them have a ballot.  If there were any issues with the inks (e.g., allergies), they would surely have arisen in the commercial venues they are already used in thousands of times a year.

Perhaps someone could claim fear of retribution if others discovered they cast a ballot -- this was a legitimate fear in Iraq, but could not reasonably be considered common in the USA.  However, it is simple to avoid the inevitable unreasonable objection: use a clear, ultraviolet ink, so that the mark is invisible except when a person places their hand under an ultraviolet light at the polling station.

I would encourage voting officials in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, and any other jurisdiction where necessary and possible, to implement such a marking system as soon as possible.  It can certainly be done in the time remaining before the election.

(1) The only statistic I could find in a quick search is from the Amputee Coalition (, which states there are "nearly 2 million" people with limb loss in the United States.  This is 0.57% of the population; obviously a far smaller percentage would be missing both hands.

Jim Elwell is a retired electrical engineer and business owner/manager currently living in Utah.