How does the government prevent you from registering to vote in more than one jurisdiction?

“We would hate for you to say so,” reports a Federal Election Commission official, “but basically there is no way to do it.”

So, now that we’ve spilled the beans, what’s to keep you from registering to vote in every district from here to Kalamazoo? Well, a couple of things, foremost among them your unwavering honesty.

Each state of the union handles its own voter registration. A voter registration card typically requires that you state your current address, which to qualify you for the vote must lie within the district you are registering in, and also your previous address.

Election officials can easily check the truth of the recorded addresses by referring to town census and tax lists. When you register after moving from one district to another in the same state, a town official asks if you were registered in your last community; if you respond positively, a postcard will be sent to your last town’s civic officials, telling them to strike you from their voter registration list.

A person wanting multiple registrations would first have to establish residency in a number of jurisdictions and then deny prior registrations (previous addresses are harder to conceal because of readily available information such as tax records and automobile registrations).

Even so, there is a chance that town officials would send a courtesy notice to the old district anyway. Also, a few states maintain a central voter registration computer that contains the name and district of every registered voter and quickly catches duplicates.

Interstate registration fraud is a bit harder to detect. States are not legally required to notify other states when they pick up one of their voters, and only about two thirds of the states currently do so.

Conceivably, a resident voter of say, California, could move to Texas and register to vote there while maintaining and denying his registration in California, thereby gaining an extra presidential ballot and the ability to vote for two governors and a large number of state and local office seekers. Of course, that person might end up paying all sorts of extra taxes as well.

Most people do not lie about their registration history, and most voter registration personnel are inclined to trust anyone whose sense of civic duty is strong enough to make him get out and vote.

As the Federal Election Commission official put it, “They’re so happy when people come in to register, they’re not going to make it difficult.”