The last presidential election may have raised more concerns than it settled. However, there is one thing all Americans should agree on – the legitimacy of our elections is under attack.
Unfortunately, in this age of polarized politics, both sides are selective in their voting integrity concerns, and those concerns don’t overlap. The result is more bickering but no solutions, even while the very foundation of our republic is being weakened. If the American public loses faith in the electoral process (only 55 percent of eligible adults bothered to vote in 2016, a 20-year low), we open ourselves to being taken over by all manner of extreme demagogues and even losing our cherished freedoms.
The U.S. Constitution designates that the individual states will organize and conduct their elections as they see fit. Technology and personal mobility have advanced, however, beyond the capabilities of individual states to assure their voters that the system has not been rigged to favor one side or another.
Let’s take a look at some of the major concerns:
· The past 10 months, numerous congressional hearings have been held and an independent investigation commenced to examine Russian meddling in the presidential election and determine if there was collusion with the Trump campaign. On June 5 a National Security Agency report was illegally leaked that said Russian hackers had attempted to penetrate the election system through EV Systems, which provides election software to eight states, and that it penetrated Florida’s system. (Minnesota does not use EV Systems, but a failed attempt was made to compromise Minnesota’s system.) The EV attack targeted voter registration rolls; EV Systems software makes it possible for poll workers to quickly check a voter’s registration status, name and address. The report said no votes were changed as a result, and did not speculate on how the information may have been used.
· In addition, WikiLeaks released emails it obtained by hacking the email of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and six other DNC officials. While some observers believe the DNC hack was an inside job, the question is who helped WikiLeaks obtain the emails?
· The term “fake news” joined the lexicon, and the Russians were blamed for generating false stories about Hillary Clinton.
· Gerrymandering has been with us since the beginning of the republic but computer technology has turned it into an art form. Software can determine how to draw congressional and legislative district lines to maximize the majority party’s electability to its advantage by concentrating minority party supporters in a few districts. All districts must each have almost equal population. Prior to the 2012 election, districts had to be redrawn reflecting the results of the 2010 census. USA Today reported recently that in 2012, Republicans won 53 percent of the vote but 72 percent of the seats in the states they controlled, and the Democrats won 56 percent of the vote and 71 percent of the seats in the states they controlled. The U.S. Supreme Court has already made North Carolina redraw its lines because it used racial demographics in redistricting. This month, the Court heard oral arguments on Wisconsin’s redistricting. Other states, including Pennsylvania and Maryland, are waiting the results of Wisconsin’s case before filing lawsuits.
· While the above concerns are raised mostly by Democrats, Republicans have their own beefs with our elections. President Trump, who lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, claimed that somewhere between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes may have been cast. Republicans have been complaining about illegal voting for years, and more recently have tried to enact reforms that the Democrats call “voter suppression.” Democrats also say fraudulent voting isn’t a big issue, but Republicans respond, how can anyone know when investigation is stonewalled? The GOP concerns include people voting more than once, possibly across state lines; felons voting; non-citizens, especially illegal immigrants, voting; fraudulent voter registration; and the failure of some states to update voter registration lists, making it possible for votes to be cast for the dead and others who have left the state.
· President Trump appointed an Election Integrity Commission to investigate illegal voting. On June 28 the commission sent a letter to all 50 states requesting only public data that would be available to anybody, but possibly including voters’ full names, addresses, party affiliation, voting frequency since 2006, last four digits of their Social Security numbers, felony convictions, military status, and if they lived overseas. The letter was met by widespread resistance. Minnesota was among those states, with Secretary of State Steve Simon saying, “I will not hand over Minnesota voters’ sensitive personal information to the commission. As I’ve said before, I have serious doubts about the Commission’s credibility and trustworthiness.” Meanwhile, on Sept. 12, the Commission discussed the widespread use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, mainly by college students, in the 2016 New Hampshire primary.
Believe what you want about any of these issues. Taken together they all serve to undermine confidence in our elections. We think it makes sense to have a federal Election Integrity Commission to investigate all such issues, but not one that is controlled by one party. In Minnesota, over the past seven years, Gov. Mark Dayton has wisely said he would support election law changes only if they had bipartisan support. The same should be said about a national election commission. It needs to be put above partisanship. Such a commission should conduct a thorough investigation, report issues where the system’s integrity has been compromised, and make recommendations to the states or Congress to fix them.
– An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board.