Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

Philadelphia Politics
Originally, politics had to do with the Proprietors, then the immigrants, then the King of England, then the establishment of the nation. Philadelphia first perfected the big-city political machine, which centers on bulk payments from utilities to the boss politician rather than small graft payments to individual office holders. More efficient that way.

Fisher on Running For Office
Last night, I was honored to receive the Republican nomination for a seat in the state Assembly, to represent the district where I have lived for over fifty years.

A Minor Politician
In 2013 I ran for the New Jersey Assembly, unsuccessfully. Daughter Miriam was my campaign Manager. I learned a lot from the experience. For example, I had 700,000 constituents. Maybe I shook hands with a couple hundred.

Fisher on Stuffing Ballot Boxes

{Stuff the Ballot Box}
Stuff the Ballot Box

Shortly before election last year, the papers were full of agitation about passing laws to require voters to identify themselves. That doesn't sound so burdensome, considering how teenagers pester you to get a driver's license when they reach a certain age. But, oh my goodness, it was a terrible thing to ask of voters who are barely able to crawl to the voting place, much too poor to afford a car, and grossly offended by the suggestion that anyone would dare to have such nasty suspicions. So, being new to the candidate business, I asked a few hardened old pros about it. Is there much voter fraud in Camden County? And if so, how is it accomplished?

For some reason, this innocent question was greeted with gales of laughter. When it settled down, two or three suggestions were offered. In the first place, said the old guy on a park bench, tell the poll watchers to be certain the voting machines have been set to zero before any voter uses them. How would requiring a driver's license prevent that kind of thing? It wouldn't; it depends on having poll watchers.

All right, what else? Well, there's the "old fashioned way". What that refers to is waiting until about an hour before the polls close, and there is nobody watching in the polling place because it's dinnertime. When the coast is clear, just take the list of registered voters who haven't yet voted -- and vote them for your party. Pretty smooth, right? And if you would be required to write down the driver's license number for every voter, it's pretty easy to spot deficiencies when the results get challenged. So, maybe requiring some sort of ID would be effective, and wouldn't amount to frisking a citizen. And then, there's a law to mention.

In New Jersey, and maybe elsewhere too, a poll watcher is required to be a resident of his district. So, a little old lady with knitting is unlikely to want to watch the polls in some of the tougher districts. For this, both parties employ "flying squads" of some of the party faithful who look like professional football players. One beep on the cell phone and this squad come flying. Well, my Goodness me.

Written several months later:

Judge Richard Posner, whose writings I have come to admire greatly, was interviewed recently on television. Although he said he had written earlier that he saw nothing wrong with asking voters to identify themselves, he now reverses himself and concludes that voter identification laws prevent more people from voting than they prevent fraud. He bases this opinion on what someone tells him is credible evidence, but I'm afraid I neither believe the evidence nor think it is an important way to think about this issue.

I believe the most important issue is to have the public believe the elections were fair, so we don't get more civil disobedience stirred up by political "contractors", or in spite of heated fanaticism heating up in the last few days of an election. There are numerous examples of candidates who supported a fraudulent election of their opponent, rather than have his own supporters injure the reputation of our procedures. Somebody has to win an election, and the election has to be seen as final. In our system, any close election could probably be reversed by a well-managed recount and reversed again on re-recount. To discover large frauds, even if potentially balanced by improved enfranchisement, is to discredit the election process. And since there are many local polling districts near me which have not had dual poll watchers for twenty years, the suspicion of voter fraud in those districts is quite a natural one. I"m not sure what the issues are, surrounding the credibility of absentee ballots.

All I know is a lot of people are increasingly resorting to them because they distrust the conventional polling places. If that's what it takes to convince people the elections are fair, let's try it out wholesale in some districts where obtaining dual poll watchers has been difficult. Like Chicago, for instance?

Originally published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013; most-recently modified: Friday, May 17, 2019