WEATHER »

Disappearing Voters

No Penalties for Failing to Correctly Fill Out and Deliver Voter Registration Forms


Pappas (pap pas). v.t. To take away people’s voting rights by registering them to vote, but failing to meet the legal requirements for submitting the voter registration forms.

No. Steve Pappas has not yet managed to get his name inserted into the English language as a synonym for a clever form of massive voter fraud, but if he wins his lawsuit seeking to throw out votes in his race against Doreen Farr for 3rd District supervisor, he stands a good chance of ending up in the dictionary.

The fraud works this way. A group of people registers voters. According to state law, they have three days to deliver the voter-registration cards to the Santa Barbara County Registrar of Voters. In addition, third-party voter registration organizations must fill out a box on the registration forms indicating who they are. The fraud is simple: They (“oops”) forget to deliver the registration forms for a week, and they (“Oh my!”) neglect to fill out the box correctly. Under the law, these people cannot be punished.

The law requires them to deliver the forms and fill them out correctly, but there are no penalties if they fail. They walk away laughing. If Pappas gets his way, however, the people who legally registered to vote—who did exactly what the law requires them to do—will not be allowed to vote. They will have had their voting rights stripped away by political con artists. They will have been pappassed.

Steve Pappas portrays himself as fighting for clean elections. In fact, he is doing precisely the opposite. Together with his lawyer, he has cleverly developed a scheme to strip the voting rights of American citizens who are targeted by dishonest or incompetent voter registration campaigns.

If Pappas succeeds, the consequences are obvious. First, Isla Vista students upset that their voting rights were taken away will decide that they need to run their next voter-registration campaign in Buellton, Solvang, Orcutt, and other North County Republican strongholds. They then (oops) leave the registration forms behind the beer kegs for five or six days before submitting them. Not to be outdone, the Young Republicans decide to target Isla Vista for their own style of voter-registration campaign. Oh my, the forms are misplaced for a week under their invitations to the Reagan Ranch. Pappassing, the new form of voter fraud, gets national attention, and once again, California sets a national trend. Democrats start registering Republicans; Republicans register Democrats; and elections are decided by lawyers and judges instead of voters.

To be fair, an overwhelming majority of people who work in campaigns are passionate, principled people who would never engage in election fraud. They would never pappas anyone. But it only takes a few sleazy campaigners, a few people who want to win at any cost, and every campaign has some. And Pappas is doing what he can to hand them a powerful weapon.

We should all hope that the State Court of Appeals, which is hearing the Pappas lawsuit, will reject his arguments. We should also hope that Steve Pappas and his financial backers will come to their senses, realize how much damage they can do, and end their assault on fair elections. No one wants “pappas” to be a new entry in Webster’s Dictionary.

Eric Smith is a professor in the UCSB Department of Political Science. He is affiliated with the university’s Environmental Studies Program and Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

event calendar sponsored by: