National Association of Secretaries of State
To: The Honorable Denise Merrill
National Association of Secretaries of State
Dear President Merrill:
We are writing to you because elections in the United States are not a matter of federal governance; approximately 13,000 jurisdictions govern polling places in the U.S., and in almost every instance, those are under the supervision of various secretaries of state. Recently, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have made various accusations that our electoral system is “rigged.” This has the superficial appeal of bipartisan agreement on threats to our democracy. Let’s deal with Sen. Sanders first.
The basic complaint that Sen. Sanders expressed was that the nomination process in the Democratic Party was somehow “rigged” against him. Sen. Sanders did not like the Democratic Party’s long-standing practice of appointing “superdelegates”; he received less than 10 percent of those. Secondly, Sen. Sanders did not like open primaries where all voters could participate in the Democratic vote. In these primaries, Secretary Clinton bested Sen. Sanders.
Currently in the United States, political parties are generally free to conduct their candidate selection process as they wish, subject to very general supervision by secretaries of state, and even more generally, by the courts. Superdelegates were created by the Democratic Party to specifically allow the party establishment to have some ongoing voice in the nomination process. Sen. Sanders entered the process well aware of these rules, although he had not been a member of the Democratic Party until 2015. By the same token, Sen. Sanders does not criticize the caucus system (where he generally was victorious), even though some would argue that those are the least democratic mechanisms for choosing a party’s nominee. It may well be that this political party should reexamine its nomination process, but that generally will be up to the leaders of that party and poses no threat to our democratic process.
The complaint by Donald Trump is more serious. At various public rallies, candidate Trump has said that the election will be “rigged” in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania and “elsewhere.” He has made the claim that a person could vote 10 times. What is the evidence for this?
In 1982, a consent decree was issued that prevents the Republican National Committee from engaging in certain forms of voter fraud prevention without prior court consent. And in fact, just last month, federal courts struck down Republican-backed voting restrictions in six states. These states—Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, North Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin—were found to violate the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against people of color with, as one court said, “almost surgical precision.”
Election experts agree that voter impersonation fraud—which voter ID laws are meant to address—is exceedingly rare. According to Ari Berman writing in the Washington Post and citing a number of election experts and law review studies, there have only been 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of approximately 1 billion votes cast in the United States since 2000. Richard Hanson, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine (and author of The Voting Wars), in his examination of this record, could not find a single example from 1980 onward where voter impersonation had swung a single election. With regard to the claim that people can vote 10 times, Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist at Rutgers University (and author of The Myth of Voter Fraud), stated that such voting behavior is highly unlikely.
It is also extremely unlikely behavior for a candidate to predict that he will lose an election. But this is a learning experience, as has been the entire campaign. We have learned some disturbing things about the American electorate (at least the Republican primary electorate), and we have learned that neither major party can present widely attractive candidates to the national electorate. We should therefore take this opportunity to carefully review the way our elections are conducted.
There is no end to conspiracy theories that President Bush stole the election from Al Gore, that he did the same to John Kerry (particularly in Ohio), and so on. It is critical to note that neither John Kerry nor Al Gore ever endorsed these theories, and both accepted the result of the elections. That’s how a democracy changes power without mobs in the street. Diebold voting machines have been under rather constant criticism since the HBO documentary Hacking Democracy.
Mobs in the street may be unhappy to note that electronic voting, particularly electronic voting online, may be subject to hacking. We have already seen evidence of serious hacking directed against the Democratic Party and its candidate, possibly state-supported from Russia. This hacking raises serious concerns, but there is a simple solution.
Paper ballots cannot be computer-hacked if they are retained and the paper trail is open to audit and inspection. Returning to same-day voting (possibly on weekends) with paper ballots open to inspection would do a great deal to restore confidence in our system. Having a specific day when all Americans get time to cast a ballot would strengthen our democracy.
Vance K. Opperman
Fan of Paper Ballots
Vance K. Opperman (email@example.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.