Recount efforts, voter fraud claims further diminish confidence in US system
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If the curse goes, “may you live in interesting times,” then this election season has surely lived up to the hex. But some of the campaign's fallout has all the appearances of a curse on the future health of our democracy.

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Over the weekend, President-elect Trump tweeted a baseless claim that millions of people voted illegally. And just a few days earlier, unsubstantiated concerns about election hacking led Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein to raise close to $7 million to fund statewide recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE won by narrow margins.

 

To date, there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud or hacking.

Meanwhile, the professionals who run elections in this country are caught in the middle, trying to do their difficult jobs under tremendous stress and scrutiny, maintaining their ideals of non-partisanship and transparency, while partisans engage in delegitimizing the crucial work they do.

The narratives being driven by both sides have little, if any, basis in fact, and could have disastrous effects on voter confidence, the legitimacy of government and the health of our democracy for years to come.

There is literally zero evidence to support Trump’s claim that millions of Americans voted illegally. I know this because I conceived and wrote the study that Trump and his team cite to support their point.

The report found that as of 2012 — its year of publication — approximately one-in-eight voter records was out of date, mostly due to people moving between elections. Election officials struggle to keep up with Americans’ mobility, and the report sought to quantify the nature of the problem.

This effort resulted in a groundbreaking solution: the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a sophisticated data center in which a diverse group of 20 states and the District of Columbia have joined together to share data.

In short, ERIC allows these states to maintain more accurate voter lists than ever before. Did the voter registration report create momentum toward this solution? Absolutely. Did it find evidence of voter fraud? Absolutely not.

Further, there’s a significant leap between voter records being out of date due to people moving and illegal voting, which has been investigated with vigor over the last two decades.

For instance, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) conducted an extensive, multi-year investigation and found only a few dozen ineligible voters even worth investigating among the millions of votes cast in several Ohio elections. Others have found similarly small numbers in their states or nationwide.

The reasons this alleged fraud is so rare should be apparent: Why would a non-citizen or other ineligible voter knowingly commit a felony, subjecting themselves to possible prosecution, imprisonment and — in the case of non-citizens — deportation, for the potential “payoff” of casting one ballot among nearly 135 million ballots cast?

Claims of massive fraud of this type just don’t pass the smell test.

Allegations of voter fraud aren’t the only statements negatively affecting the perception of the legitimacy of our election system.

Accusations raising the specter of vote tampering in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and seeking recounts in those states, also contribute to voters’ diminishing confidence.

Those pushing for recounts in those three states have no specific evidence of impropriety, only a theory of what might have been possible. They want to confirm the results, but in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin post-election audits are required by law; in fact, the Wisconsin audit is now likely to be delayed due to the recount.

While there are claims that the close margins warrant such an investigation (though the margin in each of these states exceeds 10,000 votes, well beyond what a recount could reasonably overturn), those supporting the recounts in states where Trump won are silent about recounts and close margins in the presidential and senate races in New Hampshire and in the gubernatorial race in North Carolina, all of which were won by Democrats.

Now others are pushing presidential recounts in states such as Nevada, where Trump narrowly lost.

The recounts themselves aren’t harmful — it’s expected they’ll confirm the results — but the rhetoric surrounding them, and the specific geographical focus, appear to be based more on partisanship than principle.

Efforts to audit the vote cannot be important only when one’s chosen candidate is defeated without becoming part of the problem diminishing confidence in our system.

There’s no doubt that we must continue work to improve the accessibility and integrity of our election system through better and wiser use of technology and more effective audits. And similarly, we should encourage reasonable efforts to ensure integrity while making voting easier for eligible voters.

But this does not justify inventing facts to inflame a political base, particularly when doing so could have a devastating impact on the overall health of our democracy.

When those entrusted with preserving our democracy actively work to undermine it, the state of our union is not strong. 

David Becker is the executive director and co-founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research located in Washington DC, a non-profit that works to improve elections in the U.S. He also served as a senior voting rights attorney at the Department of Justice during both the Clinton and Bush administrations.


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