Sunday, July 16, 2017

Integrity of Ballot Box Under Strain

Richard L. Hasen, a Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine writes The strength and integrity of the American electoral process are under tremendous strain, but the worst maybe yet to come. This post is from his New York Times Op-Ed called Don't Let Our Democracy Collapse.

The health of our Electoral Process is likely to deteriorate, with some of the threats striking at the very basis of Democratic Society: Our Confidence the votes have been Fairly and Accurately Counted. What's worse, we can't count on the Courts, the President, Congress, or State Legislatures to Save Us. It will take Bipartisan Cooperation among State and Local Election Officials, Facilitated be Nongovernmental Organizations committed to sound Principles of Election Administration, to get us past this dangerous point.

We start with new concerns about the Courts, which have in recent years served as a backdrop against the most egregious efforts to make it harder to Register and to Vote. Election Litigation in the 2016 Election season is up 23% over 2012. This follows a rapid increase of such Litigation in the period after the disputed Presidential Election of 2000, when it more than doubled.

Much of this Litigation aims to stop Laws passed in Republican dominated States that make it harder to Register and Vote. In 2003, soon after the Supreme Court struck down a Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act, Preclearance that required some States to get the Voting Rights Division to approve all Electoral Changes, Republicans in North Carolina passed a package of harsh Voting Rules, including Strict Voter Identification Provision, and New Limits on Early Voting. Since the 2016 Election, both New Hampshire and Iowa have passed new Restrictive Voting Rules, with other States likely to follow.

If you have been reading my Blog: I think the Preclearance issue should be taken out of the hands of Congress. During each Census, all States should be put on Preclearance, with three months to file their last 10 Years of Voting Records. Some States will be removed and some would stay on. Those that are put on can file to be Bailed-Out after Five Years, and those that weren't, could be Bailed-In by the Citizens of their State requesting a new review. Congressional Redistricting should then be started after the three month period.

When Judges handle these Cases, they increasingly divide along Party lines. Litigation over North Carolina's Law was judged by a Republican Appointed Federal Judge who Upheld it, and then Three Democratic Appointed Judges struck down Key Parts. North Carolina is already at work on New Voter ID Laws, and there is every reason to believe Courts will continue dividing on Party lines in future Cases, where States will try to make it harder to Register and Vote.

On top of these Domestic problems, there is the External Threat. According to a Report by the FBI, CIA, and NSA, Russia engaged in a concerted effort to undermine the Election Process in 2016 by Leaking Stolen Documents, Hacking Voting Systems, and Disseminating Fake News. By 2020, Cyberattacks could try to Alter or Erase Voter Registration Databases or do something else to interfere with the actual Voting on Election Day. The next Hacks could include: Malicious, False Information interspersed with accurate Stolen Files; Public Confidence in the Fairness of the Electoral Process; and incendiary and unsupported Claims about Voter Fraud, Cheating, and Altered Vote Totals spread via Social Media.

The Courts cannot save us from any of this. Nor can we expect Leadership from the Executive Branch, Congress, or Polarized State Legislatures. The President has caused confidence in our Election system to deteriorate with his outrageous claims about Vote Fraud and his Election Integrity Commission. Trump's Justice Department has already made inquiries into whether States can do more to Purge Inactive Voters from Voter Lists.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are moving to abolish the Unites States Election Assistance Commission, the Bi-Partisan Federal Agency that serves as a Clearinghouse for Information about best Voting Practices and Certifies the Security of Voting Machines, just when the U.S. needs to Upgrade their old Voting Systems.

Faced with this vacuum, Nongovernmental Organizations need to take the Lead on fostering cooperation across various Levels of Government and among Political Parties. The efforts of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a Bipartisan Group President Obama appointed to Study problems with the 2012 Elections, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and others show that this kind or work can be effective. Red as well as Blue States have adopted Online Voter Registration and voluntarily cooperated to Clean Voter Rolls in a way that is careful enough to avoid inadvertent Disenfranchisement.

The next urgent area of cooperation must be Election Cybersecurity. Faced with a serious, imminent threat, Democrats and Republicans should have every reason to work together.

The Future is scary. Public confidence in the Fairness of the Election Process is already largely driven by who wins and who loses. State and Local Election Officials need to overcome Partisanship and Resistance in areas where they can Cooperate, and we need to support Organizations that Foster that.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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