There are 10 days before the election, and Americans are feeling anxious and worried as Nov. 8 approaches. It is not only because of the potential election results, but because of the atmosphere around polling stations. Advanced polling is being held in two thirds of U.S. states and tension reigns, heightened by the issue of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which refuses to go away, and by Donald Trump’s constant claims that the election will be stolen from him. Nearly half of his supporters and a third of voters believe it, already undermining the legitimacy of the future president. But scientific studies tell a different story. What follows is an analysis of a democracy that works, but is flawed.
On Oct. 4, the Indiana State Police, armed with a search warrant, raided the offices of the Indiana Voter Registration Project, whose goal is to help African Americans register to vote. The group is accused of widespread electoral fraud, though the grounds for the accusations are not clear. Yesterday, two women were arrested in Miami-Dade County, Florida, for tampering with ballots and voter registration forms.
It is this atmosphere, encouraged by Trump, that explains why a radical organization like the Oath Keepers, whose members were deployed to Ferguson to “maintain order” (read: in place of the authorities), believe they must monitor lines at polling stations. Their “Operation Sabot 2016” is just one of the actions taken by groups of conspiracy theorists who believe that the election could be “stolen from the American people.”
The words used by one of Trump’s campaign managers, laying out a strategy to “reduce” the vote (sic) by targeting Democratic voting blocs, corroborates this. Even though it is simply negative campaigning, any coordination between the Trump campaign, the Republican Party and patrol operations around polling stations could put the GOP in a delicate position.
Since 1982, after New Jersey Republican agents used intimidation tactics, Republican activities near polling stations have been restricted. These restrictions, which will be removed next December, could be extended by five years if it is proven that the GOP has re-offended—which is what the Democratic Party is claiming.
According to two long-time law professors, Levitt and Hasen, the problem is mostly due to partisan electoral battles waged by the parties, like the culture wars. While Republican legislative majorities in adjacent states increased electoral surgeries (the notorious “gerrymandering,” and North Carolina’s 12th congressional district has been redrawn five times since 1993) and voter identification laws, their Democratic adversaries opposed them, citing civil rights legislation.
Levitt’s research only found 31 cases of identity-related electoral fraud in one billion votes from 2000 to 2014. Moreover, every university study has shown that during the twentieth century, electoral irregularities have never caused results to be overturned. Even when Nixon was convinced that Kennedy had snatched the White House from him in 1960 and the margin of victory was thin, electoral anomalies did not tip the scales. But that does not mean that there are no inherent problems in the electoral system. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 10 percent of potential voters do not have a piece of government-issued photo identification and run into difficulties when they go to the polling booth.
In 14 states, voters will be faced with new restrictions, such as shorter advanced polling hours or more complex identification procedures. In Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin, the courts struck down these restrictions, but deputy returning-officers have not been informed otherwise.
And thus the American political system is a hybrid combining decentralization with indirect universal suffrage. Its strength can also be a major flaw. The disadvantage of decentralization is that the system lacks consistency and is sometimes disjointed.
It is also the reason for disparities in voting procedures, the obsolescence of certain voting machines and even the poor quality of ballots because of a lack of funding. But with 14,000 election administrators, it is practically impossible to sway the outcome of an election in favor of a candidate.
About this publication