Sunday, August 7, 2016

Election Fraud and Rigged Elections

As election reform specialist for the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, I’ve been listening with alarm to recent talk about election fraud.

Candidate Donald Trump is already complaining about a rigged election, certain that if he loses it will be because of election fraud:
The whole thing with voter ID identification I think is really — I mean people are going to walk in, they are going to vote 10 times maybe. . .  Who knows? They are going to vote 10 times. I am very concerned and I hope the Republicans are going to be very watchful and I hope the authorities are going to be very watchful.
Trump’s confidante Roger Stone advises the candidate to make the “rigged” system a central focus of his candidacy: 
Stone went on to say that Trump should keep drumming up his supporters against the “rigged” system, and promise that the government will be shut down if Clinton is pronounced the victor in November. “If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” Stone said. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath… We will not stand for it.”
Who defines an honest election?

When was the last time we had one?

Who should be complaining?

Read or listen to any conservative news outlet and you can’t miss the clamor about voter fraud, with the accusation that liberals are responsible: 
Liberals rely on voter fraud to win elections and this year is no different. Democrats love to claim that voter fraud doesn’t exist, but the facts say otherwise. The non-partisan PEW research found that a staggering 24 MILLION, that’s 1 in 8, voter registrations are inaccurate or fraudulent. In fact, nearly 1.2 million illegals voted that we know of to get Obama elected.
 I’ve noticed that same PEW research referenced more than once. I’ve also noticed that in articles giving lots of links, that research is not normally linked to.

There’s a reason for that omission. The word FRAUD is used only once in the report. Here's what it says:    
The inability of this paper-based [voter registration] process to keep up with voters as they move or die can lead to problems with the rolls, including the perception that they lack integrity or could be susceptible to fraud. 
There’s no mention at all in the report of illegal aliens (or “illegals” as outraged reporters insist on calling them.)
The PEW Center on the States:
Election Initiative Issues Brief
Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient

I’ve referenced that research myself to argue for modernized registration practices: online registration, same day voter registration, automatic registration, universal registration. As the PEW research makes eminently clear, our registration practices are outdated and inefficient.

When people move, they forget to update their registrations, forget to inform past locations that they’ve moved. As a result, many people have multiple registrations in multiple places. I know I’ve moved multiple times without every notifying my local election commissioners. I’m probably one of that staggering 24 million.

The errors PEW catalogs have nothing to do with intentional fraud and Voter ID laws would not make those mistakes easier to catch.  I can think of friends and family members who have moved recently who could easily vote in two or three places with current photo ID. No one would know.

Most nations enroll citizens as voters when they reach eligible age. Social security numbers (or national equivalent) make that incredibly easy. Unfortunately, the same voices that cry against voter fraud have no interest in making voting more accessible or ensuring that college students, young adults or transient poor have equal opportunity to vote. 

Why do groups like the League of Women Voters fight back so hard against Voter ID laws? Because we know those laws are specifically, cynically, targeted to block certain types of voters: primarily poor, young and urban. At the same time, the laws also disproportionately impact women and the elderly, since women are far more likely to have changed their names (when marrying) and the elderly often have less access to required documentation.

The Heritage Center has gone to great length to document cases of election fraud, compiling all fraud convictions from 2008 to 2015. For Pennsylvania, they offer exactly six cases: none would have been deterred by photo ID laws. 

Of far greater impact on elections are the large numbers of voters turned away by outdated, state-specific registration practices. As a poll-watcher on a university campus in the 2012 election, I spoke with college students from other states, other parts of our own state, who showed up to vote, not knowing that if they had registered elsewhere they could not vote in their college electoral district. It was too late to go home to vote, too late to request an absentee ballot, so at that one polling place alone, dozens of students were turned away.

Add the accumulating stories of polling places deliberately moved to make voting harder for certain voters. I recently heard such a story from my own county. Students at Lincoln University, a historically black campus, had voted for years in the university gymnasium. Before the 2008 election, that polling place was inexplicably shifted to a small off-campus community center.

Democrats called the move a partisan and racially tinged effort by Republicans to cut turnout among African American students who tended to vote Democratic. The Lower Oxford-East Republican Committee had asked that the site be relocated, citing safety concerns on Lincoln's 422-acre campus. On Election Day in 2008, lines at the small community center were so long throughout the day that many waited for up to seven hours. Some stood in the rain and on nearby railroad tracks. Others left in frustration and didn't vote.
Interesting to consider whose perception of safety mattered.

Interesting to think of the millions in legal fees (taxpayer dollars) defending practices intended to protect “our” vote while cynically denying the vote to others. 

Even more troubling are the registration purges states have been conducting since the Supreme Court struck down to Voter RightsAct protection. Appropriately done, purges clean the registration record of people who have moved or died. Done with partisan intent, they can remove thousands, skewing elections and tying up voter lines in impacted neighborhoods. In just the past twelve months, state Leagues have been part of lawsuits in Virginia,  Kansas,Alabama, and Georgia.

Those cases involved thousands of voters turned away from the polls. A more spectacular case is still forming. In the recent primary in New York State, over 100,000 voters in the borough of Brooklyn found they had been “de-registerered.”
New York public radio station WNYC analyzed the voting records of citizens affected by the purge and determined that, compared to whites and other minority groups, Hispanic residents of the borough were disproportionately removed from the rolls. Nearly 14% of voters in Hispanic-majority precincts were purged, compared with 8.7% of the voters as a whole in the borough. Over 15% of voters with certain surnames suggesting Latino ancestry (such as Santiago, Soto, and Vega) were purged throughout Brooklyn.  
 In 2004, Robert Pastor, an elections monitor for emerging democracies, turned from his international work to deliver a scathing assessment of elections in his own home country:
In all 10 dimensions of election administration, the United States scores near the bottom of electoral democracies. There are three reasons for this. First, we have been sloppy and have not insisted that our voting machines be as free from error as our washing machines. We lack a simple procedure most democracies have: a log book at each precinct to register every problem encountered during the day and to allow observers to witness and verify complaints. 
Second, we lack uniform standards, and that is because we have devolved authority to the lowest, poorest level of government. It's time for states to retrieve their authority from the counties, and it's time for Congress to insist on national standards.
Third, we have stopped asking what we can learn from our democratic friends, and we have not accepted the rules we impose on others. This has communicated arrogance abroad and left our institutions weak.
His recommendations, and those of others, have been resolutely ignored. Since 2012, the international Electoral Integrity Project has evaluated democracies on a list of metrics and found the US wanting: 
Americans often express pride in their democracy, yet the results indicate that domestic and international experts rate the U.S. elections as the worst among all Western democracies.
Electoral Integrity Project, Electoral Integrity Index
Why do US elections rank so low?

Top problem: “gerrymandering of district boundaries to favor incumbents.”

Other concerns: 
  • electoral laws unfair to smaller parties
  • lack of equitable access to public subsidies and political donations
  • inaccurate and incomplete voter registration

 Add the concerns mentioned above.

The conclusion? 
Much debate in the U.S. focuses upon potential risks of fraud or voter suppression at the ballot box, but in fact experts rate earlier stages of American elections more critically. 
Compared to other democracies, our elections are, in reality rigged.

But not in the way Donald Trump and Roger Stone would like us to believe.

They are rigged by partisan gerrymandering and by electoral rules that favor the ruling parties.

Both parties play the game.

Both parties could help change it if voters paid closer attention.

This post is part of a series on What's Your Platform
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016