For my civic engagement I joined a virtual roundtable on voting and electoral manipulation. I learned many insightful things about the state of our Democracy that I had not previously considered. The main theme of the roundtable was that voting manipulation puts mistrust in our government and elections, and therefore this manipulation and mistrust is a threat to democracy.
There is a Deterioration and Mistrust in American Elections
Professor Richard Hasen of UC Irvine states 4 reasons for the deterioration and mistrust in American elections. The first reason is voter suppression. Republicans believe they will do better with a smaller electorate and they have passed laws that have made it harder for people to vote. For example, in 2013 in North Carolina a law was established that requires a government-issued photo-ID for voting and also eliminates same-day voter registration and requires voters to register or update their address at least 5 days ahead of the election. Second is due to pockets of weak election administration. Lack of voting machines, understaffed polls, poorly designed ballots and other administrative election problems result in millions of lost votes. Third, there is a mistrust in elections because of “dirty tricks.” A dirty trick could refer to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Lastly, an increased discussion around rigged or stolen elections has enhanced this deterioration and mistrust.
Manipulation at the Federal Level
President Trump has repeatedly shown that he is willing to use his powers to interfere with U.S. elections. He has demanded the criminal investigation of political opponents, spread allegations of voter fraud to justify disenfranchising voters of color, encouraged and endorsed violence toward voters who don’t support his policies and suggested that he will tolerate foreign interference in our elections. Trump has also repeatedly suggested that his supporters observe the polls to make sure everything runs as it should. Trump has openly voiced his views on mail-in voting and has shared that he does not trust this means of voting, however he has urged his supporters to attempt to vote twice – once by mail and again at the polls on November 3. As Trump does this, he is deliberately creating distrust in the voting process. With these statements made by the President, there is a possibility that voters will view the results as illegitimate. If Trump loses then the thought of Republicans will be that his election was stolen. If Trump wins, Democrats will believe it was by trickery. In each of these instances the Government will lose legitimacy.
Election Fraud in the United States
Voter fraud includes many actions, from casting illegitimate ballots to buying votes to impersonating a voter. The Heritage Foundation has identified nine different types of election fraud. Voting by people ineligible to vote is the most common type of voter fraud, this includes voting by noncitizens and convicted felons. The Heritage Foundation states that they have found 1,296 “proven instances of voter fraud” out of all of the votes cast going back to 1992. Of these cases, 1,120 resulted in criminal convictions.
Democracy in Danger
Voting rights and equal representation are at risk in the United States today. The country is divided into Us vs. Them tribes and each party sees the other as an existential threat to the nation. In 1994, 16% of Americans thought this way and in 2016, 44% of Democrats and 47% of Republicans thought this way. This way of thinking raises the stakes of elections. This increased belief that the other party is a threat will likely increase the rate of voter fraud and manipulation. Research of polarized countries around the World shows that when a group or leader comes to power and fears losing that power, they will do everything possible to change rules or create an uneven playing field. This practice will lead to democratic erosion.
Sue Stokes states that there are 2 things that have been required to place a democracy in grave danger. Number 1 being a president coming to office that wants to be an autocrat. 2 being a president who is adept to turning himself into a cult leader. I do find both of these requirements to have been met by our current president. A poll taken last month notes that 60% of all respondents were very concerned or concerned about electoral fraud, 42% of the people in these categories were Biden supporters. Given the qualities of a democracy in danger and the knowledge of citizens distrust in the voting system, it is clear that changes need to be made in order to preserve our democracy.
“Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.” YouTube, YouTube, www.youtube.com/channel/UCok8bs3XNbyU93LMwQ4A55w.
(www.dw.com), Deutsche Welle. “Democracy in Danger: Elections Are Easy to Manipulate: DW: 16.10.2018.” DW.COM, www.dw.com/en/democracy-in-danger-elections-are-easy-to-manipulate/a-45858161.
“How Widespread Is Voter Fraud in the US?” Voice of America, www.voanews.com/2020-usa-votes/how-widespread-voter-fraud-us.
Killian, Linda. “The Republican Push to Make It Harder to Vote.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 Aug. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/08/the-republican-push-to-make-it-harder-to-vote/278289/.
“Overview (Election Manipulation).” Protect Democracy, protectdemocracy.org/preventing-and-deterring-election-manipulation/overview/.