[Image courtesy of abc-7.com]
A recent story out of New Mexico has made Buddy, pictured above, the latest (would-be) four-legged cautionary tale about the nation's registration system.
Buddy's owner was walking across campus a while back at the University of New Mexico when he saw a voter registration booth. He said he decided to "test" the system by submitting an application for Buddy using a fake birth date and Social Security number. A short time later, he had a voter registration card for Buddy in hand - and took his story to the media to "expose" the flaws in the state's election system, saying "[t]hey should verify. Somebody should have verified this information and somebody should have come out and took a look at exactly who it was."
Let's go ahead and set aside this notion of in-person followup visits - can you imagine this person's reaction had he received such a visit in response to a legitimate application? - and focus instead on this notion of "testing" the system to expose its perceived flaws.
Any system of laws and procedures requires two things in order to succeed: widespread acceptance and effective enforcement. In other words, the answer to the question "why shouldn't I [insert prohibited action here]?" is always -
- Because you might get caught and suffer the consequences; AND
- Because it's wrong.
It's true that, in this case, local election officials were unable to ascertain that a registration application submitted in person by a human and written and signed in human hand was actually on behalf of a dog. It's also apparently true that Buddy's application passed (or was never subjected to) a match for birthdate or Social Security number.
It's also true, however, that Buddy's owner engaged in activity that can be considered a crime under New Mexico law; specifically, providing false information in order to obtain a voter registration in someone else's name. He may claim that "he has no intention of voting under Buddy's name," but that's likely to be a question for investigators, prosecutors and (maybe someday) a jury. [UPDATE: He has also apologized - though it isn't clear if that's because of #1 or #2 above.]
It looks like they'll get an opportunity to ask him those questions. Here's a statement by the County Clerk (from a story in the Albuquerque Journal):
It is very disheartening that someone would attempt to present fraudulent information to test a system that the state legislature has intended to foster participation in the voter process [...] I would warn those individuals who think this type of activity is a joke or a "gotcha" that, regardless of their intentions, they have broken the law [a felony in NM - ed.] and will therefore have to be subject to due process of law.
As a hardcore election geek, I'm already on record as finding any effort to deceive voters as personally offensive - and this kind of activity qualifies in my book.
Lest you think this is an overreaction to a politically-active pooch, change "voter registration application" to "federal tax return" or "dog" to "disabled neighbor" and ask yourself if the story still has the same chuckle factor. Using a false identity to obtain a benefit or avoid an obligation is a crime - and should be prosecuted as such. Period.
Buddy's owner may have thought this was a joke - but I'm not laughing. My guess is he won't be, either, when all of this is done.
[Kudos, however, to Buddy who appears to have maintained a cheerful silence throughout this ordeal.]