Background and Current State of US Election Integrity
What on Earth is wrong with the United States of America? Millions of people do not trust the results of elections. Worse, there seems to be no satisfactory way to prove to them that there was no fraud. All the turmoil is highly disruptive and exacerbates polarization. It is prima facie evidence that election integrity is inadequate.
It is critical that election integrity be so airtight that no one would think it necessary or worth their while to question results. In the event that there should be any question, it must be possible to conclusively and reasonably quickly prove that results are correct. One would expect this to be the case here in the modern cradle of democracy. Sadly and dangerously, it is not.
Beginning with the nation’s founding and continuing until the late twentieth century, the overall trend was toward improving election integrity. Concern for integrity was substantially universal. When problems were identified, they were fixed. A seminal event was the realization in 1880 that it was quite important to guarantee a completely secret ballot to prevent coercion of voters and outright vote buying.
The highest integrity was achieved during the several twentieth century decades when nearly all voters voted using hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballots at polling places which ensured ballot secrecy. But since then, integrity has declined at an accelerating rate.
The decline, beginning in the late twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first century, was caused by attempts to improve efficiency through the use of modern technology. Many such “improvements” were ill conceived and/or poorly tested and implemented. Examples are the famous “hanging chads” in Florida and the “DRE” (direct-recording electronic) voting machines which had no audit trails so results could not be verified.
Much more alarming is that the decline in integrity has accelerated in the twenty-first century, caused by measures ostensibly intended to make it easier for people to vote and thereby increase participation. Chief among them are a radical expansion of absentee and mail-in voting, early voting and the use of ballot drop boxes. All of these things not only add cost and complexity to the administration of elections, but also open the door for hard-to-detect and harder-to-prosecute fraud. Complete secrecy of the ballot also is a casualty.
There is no indication that voter participation or turnout has actually been increased by such reckless measures, yet any attempt to tighten up procedures is met with howls of “voter suppression.” The state of Georgia enacted some fairly minor improvements after the 2020 election and was accused of passing “Jim Crow” laws that would crush minority voter turnout. However, voter turnout for the 2022 election set all-time records; so obviously, there wasn’t any suppression of voters.
It would be dead wrong to think that other modern democracies pay even less attention to the integrity of their elections than does the US. Generally, the opposite is true. A very large percentage require positive (photo) ID for voters and either do not allow absentee voting at all or have extremely tight controls on it.
Mexico is a particularly interesting case because it had a history of election fraud, but fairly recently implemented very strict reforms. Absentee voting was eliminated. Voters are required to show an ID with a photo and their thumb print! To prevent voting more than once, the thumb printed digit is coated with indelible ink. Those crying “voter suppression” should be surprised to learn that, instead of decreasing, voter participation actually increased from 59 percent to 68 percent, which exceeds the turnout for almost any US election. More people made the effort to vote when they had high confidence that their votes actually would determine the election outcomes.