Electoral Integrity in the United States

With the recent announcement by Christopher Krebs, Undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that Russia, China, Iran and other nations were engaged in efforts to influence U.S. policies and voters in future elections, it certainly appears that Washington’s paranoia about electoral meddling are alive and well.  That said, the findings of a recent report from the Electoral Integrity Project would suggest that one of the main problems with electoral integrity in America is not sourced from outside the United States.

The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) is an independent academic project undertaken by Harvard University and Sydney University, gathering expert perceptions of electoral integrity using 49 indicators in eleven sub-dimensions including:

1.) Laws

2.) Procedures

3.) Boundaries

4.) Voter Registration

5.) Party Registration

6.) Media

7.) Campaign Finance

8.) Voting Process

9.) Vote Count

10.) Results

11.) Electoral Authorities

The report entitled “Why Elections Fail and What We Can Do About It” takes a look at the 2016 American presidential election.  The report opens by noting that partisan political polarization has grown substantially since the “dangling chad” election debacle in 2000 which saw Florida swing a very controversial election to George W. Bush.  Democrats have expressed concerns over the suppression of voting rights and Republicans have expressed concerns over the risks of voter fraud.  Both sides have also taken aim at the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries and the disparities between the Electoral College vote and the popular vote.

For the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity report for the 2016 presidential election (PEI-US-2016), the authors gathered evaluations of electoral integrity in their state two weeks after voting day in November 2016 from 726 university-based political scientists with a demonstrated knowledge of the electoral process in the United States.  Respondents completed a brief online questionnaire shown here:

Results were scored out of 100 with higher numbers showing greater electoral integrity.

Let’s start with an overall look at the scoring for the eleven sub-dimensions averaged across the entire United States:

As you can see, the area which was judged as having the lowest electoral integrity was district boundaries.  The issue of gerrymandered district boundaries has been consistently regarded as the worst aspect of U.S. elections, in fact, when measured against 153 other nations, the United States came in with the second lowest score.  Gerrymandering results in the repeated elections of certain politicians time and time again and is a tool used by congressmen to ensure that they remain in power.  By gerrymandering a district’s boundaries, politicians can ensure that certain people groups are eliminated from voting against them.  Here is a look at some of the most gerrymandered districts:

1.) Maryland’s 3rd:

2.) Massachusetts’ 7th:

3.) Florida’s 5th:

4.) Illinois’ 4th:

Two states scored particularly poorly on this aspect of electoral integrity; North Carolina scored a 7 and Wisconsin scored an 8.

The United States also scores poorly on electoral laws.  The imposition of certain laws has resulted in the suppression of voting by legitimate citizens. The scores for this aspect of American elections ranged from a low of 17 in Wisconsin to a high of 68 in Washington.  Media coverage is also scored poorly with the 2016 election seeing a particularly negative and partisan tone of news coverage by both sides of the political spectrum.  The scores for this aspect of American elections ranged from a low of 40 in Nevada to a high of 68 in Idaho.  Campaign financing also receives a poor score thanks to dark money and unfettered corporate campaign contributions.  In comparison to its peers, the United States finds itself in the lower third of all campaign financing scores on a global basis.

Now, let’s look at a map which shows the scoring on a state level.  This map shows the overall scores for all 11 sub-dimensions for electoral integrity for each state:

The lowest overall score was in Arizona with a score of 53 and the highest score was in Vermont with a score of 75.

Let’s close this posting.  While the conclusions of this study suggest that all is not well when it comes to electoral integrity in the United States, particularly in some states, it is a worthwhile exercise to compare the state of electoral democracy in the United States to that of other nations.  In a previous posting I looked at the Variety of Democracies or V-Dem project at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.  That study shows that the United States scores very modestly when it comes to holding free and fair elections as shown here and, has actually seen its electoral freedom decline over the decade between 2007 and 2017 as shown on this graphic:

While Washington loves to tout its model of democracy as the model that should be emulated by the rest of the world, in fact, as the study of electoral integrity and the study of electoral freedom would suggest, all is not well in the state of the world’s most powerful “democracy”.  It would certainly appear that outside attempts to influence the 2018 election are the least of America’s problems when it comes to the state of its democratic institutions.

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