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Ballot Integrity, the Rule Of Law, and Jeb Bush’s ‘Hispanic’ Check Box

In 2009, former Florida governor and likely Republican presidential aspirant Jeb Bush checked off “Hispanic” in the identification section of his voter registration form. The New York Times decided to run a story about this on April 6, without mentioning why it decided this was a newsworthy event in 2015, or how the voter registration form came to its attention.

One cannot help suspecting that if a similar story about a Democrat were to blossom, we would know exactly which group or individual brought key documents to the attention of the media.

The Florida Democratic Party quickly pounced on this news, crowing that it’s “a 3rd degree felony to submit false information on your voter registration form,” and suggesting Bush contact his lawyers.

Bush, on the other hand, treated the situation as a humorous mistake. “It’s unclear where the paperwork error was made. The Governor’s family certainly got a good laugh out of it. He is not Hispanic,” said a spokeswoman. Bush joked to his son on Twitter that he doubted he fooled anyone by checking the Hispanic box. No explanation for why he checked that box was offered.

It should be noted in Bush’s defense that in the 2009 version of Florida’s registration form, the racial classifications are listed horizontally, and “Hispanic” comes right before the final entry on the list, “White, non-Hispanic.” It’s a layout that makes simple human error considerably more likely than the current version of the form, which lists the race/ethnicity choices vertically and more prominently.

Naturally, the Democrats disingenuously used the current version of the form when needling Bush on Twitter. In fact, it looks like they created a false image of Bush’s voter registration, because what they posted looks nothing like the scan of the actual, partially-redacted document provided by the New York Times. Does Florida election law have anything to say about creating doctored images and passing them off as a citizen’s voter registration form?

It’s interesting to watch people who officially disdain the concept of voter identification, denouncing it as a racist conspiracy to disenfranchise minority voters, treat Bush’s paperwork as a possible felony offense. Some critics have taken the opportunity to denounce all voter identification measures, suggesting that Bush’s evident difficulty in filling out that 2009 form proves all registration paperwork is needlessly complicated and should be junked in favor of a completely automatic super-motor-voter system – sign up for just about any government program, including a drivers license, and you’ll be automatically set up for voting.

Automatic voter registration by the same government whose every social program, and income-tax system, is routinely defrauded by scammers and identity thieves for billions of dollars? What could go wrong?

The Left certainly has been on a big push to making voting easier, with President Obama going so far as to muse recently that it should be mandatory. The tiniest incidental expense to obtain a free voter ID card is supposed to be equivalent to a racist poll tax, but we’ll turn around and slap the same impoverished people with hefty fines if they don’t vote? That doesn’t sound intellectually consistent.

On the other hand, it’s reasonable to demand consistency from those concerned about ballot integrity and the rule of law. Does Bush’s incorrect voter registration form constitute a serious offense, and if so, shouldn’t he face the same consequences as an average citizen who made the same error?

I put that question to Logan Churchwell of True the Vote, who made a few important points about Bush’s 2009 document. The race/ethnicity section of the form was optional, and conveyed no benefit to the registrant – there was nothing for Bush to gain by deliberately misrepresenting himself as Hispanic, even if it could be proven that he did this intentionally.

There wasn’t any political benefit to doing so, either, and there is no evidence that Bush ever sought to (absurdly) turn his “Hispanic” voter registration into a political asset, since the form lay dormant in the archives until surfacing this week. Florida is one of relatively few states to collect and publish demographic information on voters for research purposes.

It would be up to Miami-Dade elections officials to decide if they wanted to pursue any remedial actions over Bush’s registration form, and they haven’t felt any need to do so for the past six years. Demonstrating deliberate, malicious intent on Bush’s part would be very difficult, especially since there was nothing to be gained by checking the wrong box.

Verifying ethnicity for Jeb Bush is obviously a simple task, but it would become considerably more complicated for ordinary voters… absent the use of precisely the sort of coordination between various state and federal databases bitterly opposed by foes of ballot integrity measures.

The state of Florida, in fact, figured prominently in media coverage and court action during the 2012 election cycle for seeking access to federal data in a quest to clean up its voter rolls. Contrary to manufactured anti-voter-ID hysteria, Florida proposed extensive, friendly procedures to work with anyone flagged as a potentially invalid voter during a database review. If the demographic check boxes on voter registration forms were deemed important enough to check with such a data integrity sweep, Jeb Bush would have ended up receiving a letter from the county noting that his stated ethnicity differed from other records, and asking him to resolve the discrepancy.

“While True the Vote has no doubt that progressive political interests will see this case as yet more proof a federalized system of voter registration is necessary, a simple citizenship verification procedure built into voter registration would have caught and addressed this matter years ago,” said Churchwell.

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