Given the great stakes, disputes over the legitimacy of election outcomes have been a part of American politics from the beginning. But it suffices to mention the unnerving contests of 1960, 1968, 2000 and, of course, 2016.
Currently, Democrats denounce Republicans for having won electoral votes they didn’t deserve and Republican accuse Democrats of stealing elections with fraudulent votes. As to the first, while Democrats remain unhappy at the outcome of Trump v. Clinton, the Electoral College yet stands. As to the second, Republicans from the President on down want to investigate what they believe to be continuing electoral fraud.
Truth be told, Democrats have been suspected of stealing elections for many years. They were accused of herding many persons to the polls with little regard for their actual preferences, ultimately leading to the reform of state electoral laws with the secret ballot and formal registration.
Of course, all electoral safeguards are only as good as the officials enforcing them, not to mention the vigilance of the voters themselves. Doubtless, these reforms have kept most of our elections clean, but states and locales dominated by one party have seen votes cast in the name of dead people and/or in different precincts and states, and even children and animals were registered to vote by mail.
In pursuit of the widespread voting fraud they believe plagues our elections, Republican legislatures in recent years have passed, or attempted to pass, legislation to require some form of voter identification. The object is simply to ensure that only registered voters cast ballots.
Democrats denounce this as a scheme of voter suppression and have succeeded in some cases in winning court decisions to throw out those laws on the grounds that no serious problem exists and that they conflict with landmark 1960s voting rights laws.
A pre-election article in Rolling Stone magazine went further and challenged the means by which Republicans are demonstrating that persons are voting twice. That is, the electronic device (Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program) that locates duplicate names on the voting rolls (suggesting that they should have been purged by state officials) allegedly fails to include middle names which would, for example, distinguish James Arthur Brown from James Clifford Brown.
If there has been a Republican reply to this charge, I have not seen it. Meanwhile, the Republicans’ Election Integrity Project soldiers on, carefully monitoring legislation to “reform” election laws in Democrat states and tracking official and unofficial practices during actual balloting.
The California organization’s summary entitled “California Election Law Changes for 2017” takes up 11 new laws, two favorably (though cautiously) and two of considerable complexity. The thread that connects them all is a determination to make voting easier and simpler. But the summary concludes that the price is too high.
The effort to move the state toward all-mail voting by piloting in a few cases and jurisdictions and by reducing the number and increasing the range of polling places, Election Integrity argues, will threaten our secret, uncoerced and unpressured balloting and thereby render political campaigns essentially meaningless.
California's Election Integrity has, not surprisingly, applauded President Trump for his determination to investigate the integrity of America's electoral processes. Since its inception in December 2010, the state team claims to have “documented the hundreds of thousands of deceased and duplicate voters on the California voter rolls, and hundreds of people registered and voting in more than one county."
“But after providing this information to county officials year after year, there has been almost no action or desire to clean up the mess,” reads a recent press release.
On the national level, Judicial Watch, the organization that won the release of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private emails, assembled experts in February to make the case that voter fraud is widespread. It also supports President Trump’s call for an investigation, and has fought U.S. Justice Department and ACLU judicial challenges to North Carolina and Texas voter ID laws and brought suit against Ohio’s lax voter registration laws.
For all of the concern about “high-tech” voter fraud in the form of mail-in ballots, the privacy of voting booths was not always respected. But the concern is well-placed given the perpetual temptation to win elections by foul means in close races in the not-so-distant past. In 1948, ballot box 13 in rural west Texas enabled “landslide Lyndon” Johnson to win the Democrat nomination for U.S. Senate (tantamount to election), and in 1960, vote fraud in Chicago, St. Louis and (again) west Texas made John Kennedy President.
Low-tech or high tech, the voter fraud issue is real, whether or not it changes outcomes. For election integrity is always essential in our free republican government.
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow Community College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org