Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy

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Release Date: 
February 4, 2020
Yale University Press
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“With the current campaign ramping up more and more each day, something surely needs to be done to ensure all citizens’ votes are counted and that fairness and legitimacy are the hallmarks of our much-admired republic and its electoral system.”

Just in time for the upcoming 2020 elections is this publication that identifies four principal dangers to the fairness, accuracy, and integrity of all of our elections as well as recommendations by author Richard Hasen that could possibly go a long way toward restoring any lost confidence of the electorate and thereby, hopefully, eliminate any undermining of our democratic form of government in the future.

Although this is a relatively short book of 138 pages of text, Hasen gets right to the point in the Introduction and immediately specifies the aforementioned threats to American elections. Each threat gets its own chapter and is followed by a concluding chapter wherein Hasen makes his recommendations.

The first danger is the recent spate of voter suppression laws mostly identified as occurring in Republican-dominated state legislatures and among their election officials. Ostensibly, these laws attempt to purge voter rolls of potential phantom voters to combat fraud, prevent Democratic voters from registering and voting, and also have a possible racial aspect to them. Included in this category are so-called voter ID laws requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote.

The second delineates so-called “pockets of incompetence in election administration.” This affects both sides of the aisle although usually identified with cities and large urban areas governed by Democrats. An example is that of Broward County, Florida, where the election administrator had already been under fire for her poor job performance prior to bungling the vote counts in the state’s 2018 Senate race.

In Georgia, the secretary of state was less than competent maintaining the security of the state’s voter registration database, attempted to cover up the fact, accused the federal Department of Homeland Security and the state Democratic party of “hacking” into the election system, and held in abeyance the registration of thousands of voters in an effort to influence his own campaign during a run for the governorship.    

Third, we now have the dirty tricks employed by both foreign and domestic actors and agencies trying to influence our elections through hacking voter systems and sowing disinformation on social media platforms. The Russians in 2016 come to mind, but there was also Democratic meddling in a special Senate election in Alabama in 2017 which largely mimicked the tools used by the Russians.

Furthermore, dirty tricks can also include the traditional low-tech efforts of corrupt election administrators or even campaign officials to simply buy, steal, or alter absentee and provisional votes to influence election outcomes.

Finally, in our modern over-politicized, partisan, and polarized society, there is legitimate concern about “incendiary rhetoric” regarding accusations that one party or the other is trying to steal, fix, or rig an election. Between the Florida Senate election and Georgia gubernatorial race mentioned above, there is also the possibility that the legitimacy of an election could be affected by a loser’s failure to accept the result and concede, based on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

It should be evident that the author’s recommendations to restore confidence and faith and maintain legitimacy in our electoral system are pretty straightforward.

Needless to say, they involve combating what are seen as Republican voter suppression efforts, through the courts if necessary, given the lack of evidence of systemic voter fraud; appointing competent election administrators, particularly in Democratic controlled jurisdictions, and supporting independent agencies or bi-partisan government commissions; and fighting dirty tricks through state and federal cooperation on deception, misinformation, and election cybersecurity.

Should these recommendations be implemented, the author reasons, they should eliminate incendiary rhetoric and accusations of a stolen, rigged, fixed, or fraudulent election and facilitate the peaceful transition of power from an outgoing administration to an incoming one.

Not surprisingly, there are no photographs but only copies of relevant text messages and other documents referenced in the text, some of which are necessarily redacted. Also, there is an index but no formal bibliography although each of the individual footnotes contains numerous sources of various government documents, blogs and online data, articles, newspapers, interviews, and emails, among others.

With the current campaign ramping up more and more each day, something surely needs to be done to ensure all citizens’ votes are counted and that fairness and legitimacy are the hallmarks of our much-admired republic and its electoral system.