The lesson of Wendy Rosen

The revelation that Wendy Rosen, the Democratic congressional candidate in Maryland's 1st District, had voted in both Maryland and Florida in 2006 and 2008 is a serious embarrassment to her party. It is also an anomaly, and Republican efforts to pounce on the story as justification for their attempts to enact voter ID laws here and elsewhere are cynical and wrong-headed.

Ms. Rosen lives in Maryland and owns property in Florida. She says she registered there so she could vote for a friend who was running for local office, but the fact that she was able to — and did — vote in state and federal elections in Florida and Maryland suggests that she broke the law in one if not both states. She should, indeed, be prosecuted if the facts Democratic Party officials uncovered over the weekend are borne out.


However, the connection between this incident and the debate over voter ID is no more than a convenient fiction for Maryland Republicans. Del. Kathy Afzali, a Western Maryland Republican, issued a statement this morning calling the Rosen debacle proof of the need for the voter ID legislation she has sponsored. Democrats' refusal to pass her bills, she wrote, "constitutes a soft endorsement of voter fraud." Far from it; the rejection of her legislation stemmed from the fact that, despite some improvements in the most recent version of her proposal, it could have had the effect of disenfranchising thousands of legitimate voters who lack state-issued IDs — primarily, the elderly, minorities and the poor — all in an effort to crack down on a virtually non-existent problem.

The Justice Department conducted a nationwide investigation into voter fraud during the Bush administration that resulted in just 120 people being charged and 86 convicted between 2002 and 2006, a period when 200 million votes were cast in federal elections. Even fewer of those involved cases of multiple voting — the kind of thing a voter ID bill might theoretically thwart.


The multiple voting Ms. Rosen is accused of probably wouldn't have been stopped by a voter ID bill at all. The issue here was not whether she concealed or falsified her identity. She didn't. She simply voted in both states in the same elections. Her story could provide a case for greater interstate information sharing about voter registration lists, but it does nothing to make the case for voter ID.

The real story here is about the caliber of candidates that are produced in Maryland's gerrymandered congressional districts. The 1st District has been Republican-leaning in recent years, and it became much more so after the current round of redistricting. Republican incumbent Rep. Andy Harris would have been a prohibitive favorite for re-election no matter what, but thanks to Democrats' efforts to protect the safety of their members' seats and their attempt to create the opportunity to pick up a traditionally Republican seat in Western Maryland, they made the 1st District a mission impossible for their party's candidates.

The result is that no high-profile Democrats on the Eastern Shore or in Harford and Baltimore counties were willing to enter the race, and little attention was focused on the party's primary. The fact that it was the Democratic Party that, acting on a tip, investigated Ms. Rosen's voting history and pressured her to get out of the race suggests that Republicans hadn't even bothered yet to do basic opposition research on her. If there's a sign that a district is uncompetitive, that's it.

The Wendy Rosen debacle doesn't make a case for voter ID laws, but it does make the case for taking Maryland's redistricting process out of the hands of politicians from the state's majority party, who use the occasion for furthering their own goals and ambitions, not creating districts that reflect the nature of Maryland communities. A handful of states have set up nonpartisan redistricting commissions, and they have gotten more competitive congressional races as a result.

Given the self-interest involved, it's almost inconceivable that Democrats would voluntarily take up such reforms, but voters have an opportunity this November to send the message that they do not approve of the way the state conducts its redistricting. If voters reject the new congressional maps, which were successfully petitioned to referendum, it would be difficult for Annapolis politicians to ignore.

Unless something changes, the vast majority of congressional elections in Maryland will wind up like this. They may not all include a spectacular scandal, but they will invariably present voters with the choice between an incumbent and an opponent who's not ready for prime time.