Framed: Fair Elections
The issue of fair elections is open for defining. Democrats need to seize the initiative on this issue and define the following terms:
The last two presidential elections were decided by a slim margin in which a small amount of election fraud and mishandling may have meant that the President was not legitimately elected by the people. This is only the most egregious example of a persistent problem.
The Cost/Benefits of Having a Fair Elections
The cost of having fair elections has two main parts: the monetary cost and the social cost. The monetary cost is that setting up fully auditable elections will require additional expenditures by taxpayers. The social cost is that fair elections can only be obtained by wide-spread citizen involvement and responsibility.
The benefits also have two main parts: more effective government and more legitimate government. To the degree that government policies reflect the will of the people, those policies tend to help society as a whole. But, perhaps more important to both winners and losers in any election is the legitimacy of the results. The result of a fair election confers moral authority on the winner as well as political power. Anyone who “wins” an election called into question by fraud lacks this moral authority.
Realigning the Frame
Liberals have strong morals about legitimacy and fairness. We believe that legitimate elections are the bedrock of democratic government. We are willing to abide by laws that we don’t agree with because we believe those laws are properly formed by the electoral process. To achieve this result, we strongly support measures to improve the electoral system, especially where it has been shown to be weak. (See Was the 2004 Election Stolen? by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.)
What Progressives Value and Want
Sustainability. Our beliefs and values about government processes must be sustainable in the modern world. Fairness. The standards of conduct should work for all people. No political party or person should get preferential treatment in the electoral process. Consistency. The rules should be internally consistent so that they work regardless of the situation.
Specific Electoral Issues
All voting should be secret, i.e., conducted in such a way as to reasonably prevent election officials from knowing the individual selections of the voters.
All voting should be auditable to ensure accuracy. It should be possible to independently reconstruct the result based on a separate accounting of the results that can be used to validate the official vote count.
Voting machines should be distributed in proportion to the number of registered voters in each precinct, except in areas with historically high turn-outs, which may have a limited number of additional machines if they will reduce the average wait-time in those precincts to levels commensurate with those in other precincts.
The registration process should be protected from partisan interference. Election officials have a duty to ensure that all voters who are qualified and intend to be registered get registered correctly on the rolls.
The practice of citizens challenging citizens at the polling places is odious. No one should be challenged on their right to vote except in court, subject to the same standards for bringing a case and the same laws of evidence as for other alleged criminal conduct.
Exit Polls and Auditing Elections
In those cases where exit polls show a wide discrepancy from the official results, we should consider that prima facie evidence of fraud. Any election where a well-designed and run exit poll shows more than a 1% variance from the official result should automatically trigger a recount and an official investigation to determine if there is fraud.
In general, election officials should automatically randomly audit a small percentage of elections by canvassing voters in the district to see what they believed were their votes and comparing them with the official results. Any wide variance should automatically trigger an official investigation to determine if there is fraud.
Non-Partisan Control of Elections
It is unseemly for partisan politicians to be in charge of the election machinery. All administration of elections should be by non-partisan officials.
Liberals believe that the election process needs to be protected so that voters are not unfairly disenfranchised by tactics such as mailing them the wrong address to vote at.
While the right to speak freely and have your opinion heard is the bedrock of freedom in our country, we also acknowledge that the use of money to influence who can hear an opinion and how widely it is broadcast can have a negative impact on public policy. It is the responsibility of government to find out from the people what they want and to provide a way for their opinions to be heard by politicians. We therefore support public financing of campaigns, where the intent of that public financing is to increase the quality and quantity of communication between the candidates and the public.
Other Resources to Draw On
- The Voting Rights page is a guide to many election integrity resources.
- Open Secrets
- People for the American Way
Remember: Liberals believe strongly in the rule of law based on sound democratic principles. These principles include well-protected means of determining the will of the people, as well as protection of individual and minority rights by an independent judiciary. The cornerstone of this system is a fair election system.