US electoral system is faltering
12/10/18 Filed in: Political System
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Liberals tend to dismiss voter fraud as a rare phenomenon. The real problem is low voter turnout, they say, which effectively disenfranchises a large portion of the electorate (typically people with lower than average economic and/or social status). To the extent that election requirements are tightened to provide greater security against voter fraud, the result will be to discourage nonvoters from becoming voters (i.e., voter suppression). Reforms are needed, therefore, to make it easier and more convenient to vote.
Conservatives contend voter fraud is a real threat, which will spiral out of control unless remedial measures are implemented. They advocate, for example, (a) systematically updating voting rolls to eliminate names of people who have died, moved away, or aren’t eligible to vote (e.g., noncitizens), and (b) requiring would-be voters to present photo ID or other credible proof of their identity and right to vote. These things can be done without discouraging the poor or disadvantaged from voting, thereby respecting the rights of all concerned.
Which side is right? That depends on the facts and circumstances, and the applicable procedures for voting differ considerably from state to state. Genuine voter suppression should never be tolerated, but there is plenty of evidence to support conservative concerns about electoral irregularities. Also telling is the disinclination of liberals to support investigation of electoral irregularities that appear to favor their side.
High voter turnout does not necessarily indicate a healthy electoral system. It’s arguably more important to promote informed voting by encouraging voters to consider the qualifications of the candidates and debates of the issues before their ballots are cast. Witness the low respect for election results in authoritarian countries, where voters turn out and vote as they understand is expected. Putin wins Russian election, and broad mandate for 4th term, Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, 3/18/18.
The Kremlin had initially projected that Mr. Putin would get at least 70 percent of the vote with a 70 percent turnout, and the results with 99.84 percent of the ballots counted were in line with that assessment. Mr. Putin won 76.6 percent of the vote, and the turnout of 67.47 percent was higher than the 65 percent participation rate in the last presidential election, in 2012. More than 56 million of Russia’s 110 million eligible voters backed Mr. Putin.
Four years ago, in search of a common-sense compromise, SAFE endorsed several measures to tighten voting requirements in applicable jurisdictions coupled with a positive step to encourage voters to go to the polls on election day. Voting fraud is all too real, 11/3/14.
First, it’s time to get over opposition to photo ID requirements at the polls – not as a means of voter suppression but to provide some assurance that would-be voters are who they claim to be.
Second, it’s time to bin early voting, all-mail voting, and same day voting, with the exception of the traditional use of absentee ballots, which are not only creating opportunities for fraud in the states that have adopted them but also diminish the dignity of the voting process.
Third, we agree with the suggestion [cite omitted] that Election Day (every two years, not including primaries & special elections) should be made a national holiday. In contrast with early voting, etc., this would encourage Americans to vote in a manner that dignified the process.
None of these suggestions have been implemented, and the aforesaid problems seem to be getting worse. Perhaps it’s time to get on with the job. Discussion follows:
I. A provocative question – In the third presidential candidate debate in 2016, candidate Donald Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace to confirm – in view of prior statements about the election process being “rigged,” etc. - that he would concede defeat if the forthcoming election went against him. Many eyebrows were raised by Mr. Trump’s response, which was along the lines that he would have to think about the matter. Elitism v. populism, 10/31/16.
TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time. What I’ve seen — what I’ve seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt, and the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, but they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they’ve poisoned the mind of the voters. But unfortunately for them, I think the voters are seeing through it. I think they’re going to see through it. We’ll find out on November 8th. But I think they’re going to see through it.
Wallace urged the candidate to reconsider his answer, which supposedly contradicted the “peaceful transition of power” tradition in this country after hard fought election campaigns. Trump doubled down instead, promising to “tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”
The candidate could have been given a smoother answer, but assuming a very close outcome – perhaps depending on the results in one or two states (like Florida in 2000, when Democrat candidate Al Gore contested the outcome of the presidential race for over a month) – his statement didn’t seem all that shocking.
The question was hypothetical, of course, and to the surprise of many (including your faithful scribe) Trump won the race by some 70 electoral votes. Clinton conceded in the early morning hours of November 9, but there was much ensuing discussion about her nearly 3 million vote (2.1 percentage point) margin in the national popular vote. It’s official: Clinton swamps Trump in popular vote, Gregory Krieg, cnn.com, 12/22/16.
Democrats did not truly accept the outcome of the presidential election, and various efforts were made to thwart or delegitimize the president and his administration. See, e.g., Trump won, get over it, 2/20/17.
II. Aborted review – Never one to ignore negative comments, the president elect said the popular vote total had been distorted by the counting of illegal votes. He subsequently created a Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity to review the incidence and causes of voter fraud. Critics condemned this project from the outset. Trump’s electoral commission is a sham, Jason Kander, cnn.com, 5/31/17.
When Trump made up the lie that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election -- ultimately causing him to lose the popular vote -- Vice President Mike Pence and other party leaders saw an opening to take their state and local efforts to suppress voters, until now through voter ID laws enacted in 34 states, to the national stage. So what started as a way to soothe Trump's ego after losing the popular vote has become the perfect vehicle to attacking American voting rights and making it easier for Republicans to win elections.
Assuming a common interest in maintaining the integrity of the electoral system versus allowing it to be undermined for reasons of partisan advantage, this interpretation seems unfair. The stated goal of the executive order establishing the AC was even-handed and the commission had no power beyond conducting a review and reporting its findings to the president. Three points to be considered were enumerated. Executive order: Establishment of presidential advisory commission on electoral integrity, 5/11/17.
(a) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;
(b) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and
(c) those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.
The first meeting of the AC was held on July 17, 2017, with opening remarks by the vice president (who was to serve as chairman) and the president. The vice president emphasized that the operation would be nonpartisan. Remarks by President Trump and Vice President Pence at the Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity meeting, 7/19/17.
This commission, let me be clear — this commission has no preconceived notions or preordained results. We’re fact-finders. And in the days ahead, we will gather the relevant facts and data, and at the conclusion of our work, we will present the president with a report of our findings.
In addition to Chairman Pence and Vice Chairman Kris Kobach of Kansas, the president introduced ten members of the AC drawn from various states and organizations. He also made several remarks that suggested disagreements might be brewing beneath the surface. Ibid.
•I’m pleased that more than 30 states have already agreed to share the information with the commission and the other states. That information will be forthcoming. If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about. And I asked the Vice President, I asked the commission: What are they worried about? There’s something. There always is.
•This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue, it’s an American issue. It’s about the concern of so many Americans that improper voting has taken place and canceling out the votes of lawful American citizens. That is why President Theodore Roosevelt once said, it is the affair of every honest voter, wherever born, to see that no fraudulent voting is allowed anywhere.
Several months later, one of the AC members (Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap) filed a legal complaint alleging various types of skullduggery in the operations of the AC. Another AC member (Hans Spakowsky) characterized the complaint as containing “inaccurate information and outright falsehoods” and reading “more like a press release than a lawsuit.” Here was evidence, Spakowsky suggested, of a coordinated attempt to discredit the work of the AC. One Democrat on Trump’s electoral integrity commission is misleading the public with complaints, Hans Spakowsky, heritage.com, 11/22/17.
A wide range of interest groups – from academics, to faux-media outlets, to partisans, to foundations and the activist groups they fund – appear intent on trying to sabotage the work of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The only plausible reason for this is that they don’t want the public to learn more about vulnerabilities in our elections that allow election fraud and other administrative errors and mistakes to occur.
For his part, Mr. Dunlap claimed that (1) the implicit rationale for the AC’s creation was to substantiate President Trump's unfounded claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016, and (2) the AC was refusing to explain the game plan. I’m on Trump’s voter fraud commission. I’m suing it to find out what it’s doing, Matthew Dunlap, Washington Post, 11/30/17.
. . . the commission is cloaking itself in secrecy, completely contrary to federal law. Recommendations for changes in public policy — whether you agree with them or not — ought to come through an open, public discussion where any American can weigh in.
For whatever reason, the AC was terminated in early January. Executive order: Termination of Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity, 1/3/18.
Too bad. This study could have shed some much needed light on the voter fraud issue, which has surfaced from time to time over the years and for the most part been ignored. Tracing the range of voter fraud, Richard Black, Washington Times, 7/17/17.
III. An epidemic - There was a bumper crop of electoral issues in the 2018 mid-terms, which in many instances led to heated rhetoric and litigation. Here are some examples.
#GERRYMANDERING - Prior to the mid-term elections, court challenges to election district lines were filed in several states, not based on alleged discrimination against minority voters but on a new theory that “partisan gerrymandering” had been used to enhance the electoral prospects of the majority party.
Thus, in Pennsylvania the state supreme court required a redrawing of all the election district lines in the state – to the anticipated advantage of Democratic candidates for the House. Pennsylvania’s new election map delights Democrats, enrages GOP, Selena Zito, Washington Examiner, 2/19/18. An ensuing appeal to the US Supreme Court was denied, thereby leaving the redrawn map of PA election districts in effect for the 2018 elections.
Similar cases from North Carolina and Wisconsin did make it to the Supreme Court in the last term, but they were disposed of on grounds that the plaintiffs had not established their standing to sue. Some saw this outcome as a punt; others felt the partisan gerrymandering theory was being rejected and good riddance. US Supreme Court: striking a balance, section 8, 7/23/18.
In our view, judges should avoid getting involved in the political function of drawing electoral lines as though they were “super legislators.” But judicial self-restraint does not seem to be in vogue these days, and a district court judge in North Carolina wasted little time in concluding that the partisan gerrymandering complaint met all requirements – never mind what the US Supreme Court might think about the matter - and should be addressed before the elections. North Carolina gerrymandering coup, Wall Street Journal, 8/30/18.
The Supreme Court this year punted on deciding two partisan gerrymander cases. Democrats have now refused a fair catch and decided to run the ball back up the field for a touchdown in North Carolina, where liberal judges this week struck down the state’s congressional map.
It will be interesting to see what happens the next time the Supreme Court grants review of a partisan gerrymandering case.
#BALLOT COUNTING – The traditional election night routine in the US is that vote tallies start being announced shortly after the polls are closed, and at some point – generally within two or three hours – the projected winners start being declared.
Victory and concession speeches follow, confirming the end of the contest, and the public is left with the comforting impression that everything is being handled properly. All of which sets the stage for the peaceful transfer of power, which is the hallmark of a democratic system of government.
Last month, however, a different pattern became evident in a number of states, notably Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Tight races (in itself OK) – races being called only to be reopened as more ballots kept showing up that had not been counted initially – recriminations flying about “stealing elections” – lawyers racing to the courthouse and judges issuing orders.
Why all the problems about ballot counting? The basic issue seemed to be that ballots were coming in from several sources, e.g., voting at traditional polling places, voting by mail, and early voting (basically absentee voting without the need for an “excuse”) at whatever locations were prescribed by state law – thereby ensuring delays in completing the count and increasing the risks of vote count manipulation.
Not that the alternative voting methods are new, but they are being used more frequently (notwithstanding SAFE’s suggestions) so the associated problems are growing more serious. There doesn’t seem to be any national data yet on the voting by mail/ early voting statistics for the 2018 mid-term elections, but the percentage of voters who turn out at the polls has been steadily declining (from 90% in 1996 to 60% in 2016). Voting by mail is on the rise, Miles Park, npr.org, 12/8/18.
When mail-in ballots are sent out far and wide and can be returned in one of several different ways, delays are inevitable and the potential for improper influence or alteration seems evident. Abuses are suspected in several instances.
For example, some observers thought it odd that seven Republicans running for the House from the traditionally conservative bastion of Orange County, California wound up being defeated even though all of them had been in the lead after the polls closed and the votes were initially counted. If anyone has proposed to challenge this outcome, however, we have yet to read about it – perhaps because the Democratic tactics were legal under California law. How Dems stole seven House seats in California, Dick Morris, westernjournal.com, 12/3/18.
In 2016, California Gov. Jerry Brown opened the door to fraud by signing a law allowing anyone to drop off a ballot for another person. This gave rise to a new practice known as “ballot harvesting” in which Democratic Party canvassers visited people who had not voted on Election Day and collected their mail-in ballots and turned them in on their behalf.
A narrow Republican win in the 9th district of North Carolina is being challenged on similar grounds – and in that case Democrats are taking the claims of misconduct very seriously. Election fraud doesn’t exist until liberals want it to exist, Jason Snead & Hans Spakovsky, dailysignal.com, 12/6/18.
. . . the Democratic politicians now calling for investigations and a re-do appear motivated more by the desire at a second shot to flip the 9th District blue than a good-faith effort to find out what really happened and to defend the integrity of the election. How else can one explain the immediate demands for a new vote before an investigation can even be completed, let alone prove that ballots were changed and that enough tainted ballots exist to alter the outcome?
It’s been suggested that the real problem is sticking with voting at the polls, a supposedly archaic procedure that makes voting unduly burdensome and suppresses turnout, versus mandating mail-in voting for all. Three states (Colorado, Oregon & Washington) have chosen this route, and other states may follow their example. Does all-mail voting have an impact on voter turnout, Joshua Alvarez, ivn.us, 7/25/14.
[All-mail voting] saves a lot of time and money. It’s much harder, and more expensive, to administer elections in a state that has mail, absentee, and in-person voting systems working simultaneously. Most of all, voters in all-mail states simply don’t miss the adventure of standing in lines at poll stations during a chilly November day.
We agree that a three-track voting system is problematic, but it’s hard to see how an all-mail system could offer assurance that ballots mailed to the general public would be filled out and returned only by people entitled to vote. As for early voting, we fail to see why it should be allowed beyond providing absentee ballots for voters who will have a real problem coming to the polls on election day.
#SORE LOSER SYNDROME – Even after it became evident that she could not hope to win the Georgia governor race, Stacey Abrams refused to concede defeat. Democrats use accusations of trickery, illegality to explain election losses, S.A. Miller, Washington Times, 11/22/18.
After falling short in the vote tally last week, despite 10 days of counting and her lawsuits to include previously rejected ballots, Ms. Abrams said she [had] lost but would not concede because the outcome was not “right, true or proper.” She called Mr. Kemp the “architect of voter suppression” that secured an ill-gotten win, even though, despite being Georgia’s secretary of state, almost all the specific actions that she complained about were either mandated by state law or the work of county election boards.
Some national Democratic leaders chimed in to support Abrams, again with no apparent justification. When it comes to undermining confidence in democracy, another low point, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 11/24/18.
"I think that Stacey Abrams' election is being stolen from her," said New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker.
"If Stacey Abrams doesn't win in Georgia, they stole it," said Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.
"If she had a fair election, she already would have won," said Hillary Clinton.
#What good sense! Seems practical to me---however I can almost hear the cries of discrimination already. – Family connection
#A double standard applies: Democrats are viewed as generous and kind while Republicans are dismissed as self-serving or worse. – SAFE director