As recently reported in the Commercial, Jefferson County's June 12 Democratic Party preferential primary runoff elections won't be certified until this Friday. While this move may evoke certain feelings of frustration, it is more a testament to the strength of our electoral process than a sign of weakness.
As recently reported in the Commercial, Jefferson County’s June 12 Democratic Party preferential primary runoff elections won’t be certified until this Friday. While this move may evoke certain feelings of frustration, it is more a testament to the strength of our electoral process than a sign of weakness.
In participatory democracies such as ours, the integrity of government is strongly tied to the integrity of elections. To the extent that anyone is able to exert undue influence over the process, the tenure of those who benefit is undermined. This influence can take many forms. There is of course, outright fraud.
To this topic, many people will remember Gov. Earl Long’s famous quip: “When I die, I want to be buried in Louisiana, so I can stay active in politics.” Despite vociferous claims of fraud, there is little evidence to support any contention that U. S. elections suffer much fraud.
Election fraud is similarly many different things. Whether illegal voter registration, voter intimidation or improper vote counting, outright fraud is thankfully rare. As Justin Levitt, writing for the NYU Law School Brennan Center, observes in an exhaustive study of election integrity: “ It is more likely that a person will be struck by lightning than he will impersonate another person at the polls.”
Even so, the tantalizing thought that Candidate X somehow cheated his way into office seems to buttress any negative feelings we may harbor against him. The rationale goes something like: I don’t care for Candidate X and I am a reasonable person. Since he got elected anyway (in the face of my reasonability), he must have done so through corrupt means. This kind of thinking allows us to put a “rationalized” social distance between ourselves and whatever happened that we don’t like. In short, it’s a subconscious ‘I told you so…’
Of course the problem with this kind of thinking is that it’s often predicated on what we might call “counter-factual-history” — stuff that ain’t true. President Barak Obama being a Muslim or being born in Kenya for example. Harboring these thoughts may make one feel more justified in one’s opinions, but they just aren’t vested in reality.
Such is the case with most claims of voter fraud. It’s not that fraud never happens; it’s just that fraud happens so very rarely that it isn’t the problem many extremists claim it to be.
To again cite Levitt: “…When every problem with an election is attributed to ‘voter fraud,’ it appears that fraud by voters is much more common than is actually the case. This, in turn, promotes inappropriate policy. By inflating the perceived prevalence of fraud by voters, policy-makers find it easier to justify restrictions on those voters that are not warranted by the real facts. Moreover, mislabeling problems as ‘voter fraud’ distracts attention from the real election issues that need to be resolved.”
As a result, we get two problems for the price of one: Wrongheaded policy predicated on untrue information; and unaddressed (but real) lapses in election processing or management.
In the wake of watershed elections, claims of fraud are as predictable as birds in spring. Any candidate (or supporter thereof) who doesn’t get what she wants needs to feel like she was somehow cheated. This is a very American (but not uniquely American) phenomenon. We have a terrible time separating the integrity of the process from the desirability of the outcome.
As with many things, that’s one we ought to fix.