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.]