“How to Rig an Election,” We Showcase Striking Findings from Our Researchby Brian Klaas and Nic Cheeseman May 23, 2018
Caption: A sign points to a polling station in Louisville on Tuesday. (Daniel Acker/ Bloomberg)
Brian Klaas is a fellow in global politics at the London School of Economics and a Post columnist. Nic Cheeseman is a professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham. They are co-authors of the new book “How to Rig an Election.”
Trump famously claimed that the 2016 election was rigged. (Arguably, this made him the only electoral winner in modern history to contest the legitimacy of his own victory.)
In 166 days, Americans will go to the polls to elect the next Congress. It will be one of the most consequential votes in modern history. If Republicans retain control of the House and Senate, President Trump will feel vindicated and emboldened, while reluctant “Never Trump” Republicans will be tempted to hold their noses and embrace a winner. But if Democrats take back at least one congressional chamber, Republicans may begin to stand up to a president who promised endless “winning” — but lost instead.
Regardless of which party you’re rooting for, all Americans should be able to agree on one thing: The vote must be clean and free of manipulation. In a democracy, citizens must never accept rigged elections.
In our new book, “How to Rig an Election,” we showcase striking findings from our research: A large number of elections across the globe are heavily manipulated. Increasingly, elections are becoming contests that are designed so that only the incumbent can win. Across the world, the opposition wins elections only about 30 percent of the time – and the figures are much, much lower in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and post-Soviet Eastern Europe. Elections without democracy has become the new normal.
Nonetheless, don’t make the mistake of thinking that American elections, or those in Britain, are perfect. They aren’t.
Trump famously claimed that the 2016 election was rigged. (Arguably, this made him the only electoral winner in modern history to contest the legitimacy of his own victory.) But we must be clear: His claim that millions of noncitizens voted illegally in 2016 is a debunked lie with no evidence to support it. One recent study found only 31 instances of voter fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. An audit in North Carolina found one case of in-person voter fraud in the entire state in 2016. And George W. Bush’s Justice Department found that voter fraud occurs on roughly 0.00000013 percent of all ballots cast.
Despite this, Trump attempted to appoint Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to nationalize the Kansas system that makes it much harder to vote by demanding that individuals provide more IDs – something that tends to result in lower numbers of poor and minority voters casting ballots, making democracy less inclusive. Thankfully, that effort has fallen flat, but not for lack of trying.
While Trump focuses on a nonexistent problem, he’s turning a blind eye to the real dangers: gerrymandering and digital manipulation through hacking and information warfare.
Gerrymandering allows politicians to pick their voters, rather than the reverse. Both parties do it, but right now Republicans do it more (or more effectively), giving them a partisan edge. Some progress is being made against gerrymandering, but unfortunately, Trump lashed out on Twitter at judges because they struck down manipulated electoral maps that had been drawn to favor his own party.
Meanwhile, Trump is practically inviting foreign hacking and information warfare that could subvert American democracy. He recently eliminated a key post responsible for cybersecurity in his administration; he has failed to fully enforce sanctions on Russia aimed at deterring future foreign election meddling; and his administration has taken no public steps to shore up the security of American electoral infrastructure. Unfortunately, many states still use Direct Recording Electronic voting machines, which are vulnerable to tampering and hacking – even in ways that could result in stolen elections. Voter rolls are stored digitally too, and in 2016 the Russian government penetrated or attempted to penetrate these systems in an alarming number of states.
Americans should expect digital manipulation and foreign election interference to get worse before it gets better. And in the meantime, elections in the United States are a soft target for those who seek to undermine confidence in American democracy.
There is no silver bullet to shore up election integrity. But there are common-sense solutions. To combat gerrymandering, districts should be drawn by nonpartisan commissions. To defeat voter suppression, states should consider automatic voter registration or ways to make it easier to register, without imposing costs for a government-issued ID. And to deal with digital threats, electronic voting machines should only be used if they can be secured and produce a verifiable paper trail that can be audited.
We in the West often think of election rigging as something that happens in tinpot dictatorships far away, but the problem hits closer to home than we realize. It is imperative that citizens in places such as the United States and Britain put aside their partisan differences and agree on securing the integrity of their elections — before it’s too late.