01/24/2013 03:04 pm ET Updated Jan 24, 2013

'Perception' Of Voter Fraud Poses Challenge For Elections Officials

WASHINGTON -- The perception that America's electoral system is rife with voter fraud presents a challenge for elections officials, several secretaries of state said Thursday.

"I think perception is a problem. You have to work aggressively to try to deal with perception irrespective of whether or not voter fraud occurs in any degree of significance," Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) said at a D.C. panel on modernizing the election process hosted by the Brennan Center on Thursday.

Miller said his approach was to form an election integrity task force made up of a variety of local officials and law enforcement personnel. "What it has allowed us to do is say, look, this isn't just one partisan official that's burying these allegations under the rug, this is a multi-jurisdictional approach. If there were any evidence of it, we'd investigate it."

"I believe it is a perception problem," North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger (R) said. "In my 20 years as Secretary of State, we've only had one or two or three cases of what we'd consider fraud."

"I can assure you that dead people don't vote in North Dakota because what we do is we tie in with vital statistics," said Jaeger. "So if they do show up to vote, we know there was quite the resurrection that took place."

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D) noted that his state has implemented rules that require individuals who submit polling place challenges to state in writing that they have personal knowledge of an irregularity.

"By making it clear that if somebody wants to make an accusation, it is done in the proper process and manner -- I think that is a step forward at least on part of the perception issue," Ritchie said.

Miller said Nevada saw "significant mobilization" around polling place challenges and voter registration challenges in 2010 and 2012. Officials made it clear that they would arrest individuals who falsely claimed they had personal knowledge that a voter shouldn't be registered, he said.

Miller is in a unique position as a Democrat who has been advocating for a state voter ID law. He's faced opposition from members of his own party who associate voter ID laws with voter suppression efforts, but Miller is quick to point out the less-restrictive requirements of his measure.

"Unfortunately, associating any degree of visual verification by including a photograph as a safeguard in the system makes certain stakeholders' hairs stand up on the back on their necks," Miller told HuffPost after the panel. "But our proposal is very different in that it wouldn't disenfranchise a single voter because we would import the photographs that were already existing on file from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Anyone who does not have one of those files, we'll ask to take their picture. If they object for religious or cultural reasons, they'll simply sign an affidavit stating they are who they say they are."

"Everyone will be given access to the ballot, and not a single voter will be disenfranchised," Miller said.

Beverly Hudnut, special counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, said she was hopeful that Congress would take up legislation to fix some of the issues voters encountered at the polls in 2012.

"I don't think Republicans and Democrats are as far apart on fixing some of these [issues] in a reasonable matter that the hard rhetoric on the extremes of both parties presents it to be," she said.



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