There is this broad notion tucked away in the backs of our minds about the one man, one vote rule. A little ditty learned perhaps in grade school alongside vague concepts of fair play, decency and perhaps even democracy. A notion of country symbolized by a flag that we learned to pledge allegiance to. An allegiance that confers a notion of an implicit understanding of equity among the masses. Funny thing. however, equity doesn’t apply to voting and certainly not to each voter. (and, oh-by-the-way, the constitution does not guarantee the right to vote let alone the right to have your vote counted.)
The electoral process is left to the states and the subdivisions of their governments. What follows is often a patchwork of laws and procedures created by state legislatures, by county governments and local polling places. Voting, as a process, is never uniformly controlled. Voter requirements (and indeed the mechanism, i.e., machines versus paper ballots) vary widely across the country. Ballots can be lost or misplaced, miscounted and some voters get told incorrectly that they cannot vote.
This applies to directly to a perhaps antiquated, “Electoral College,” process which can result in electoral votes chosen not by the voters, but by state legislatures. We discovered in the 2000 election Florida recount that a Republican-controlled legislature simply outright declared that it would select the state’s Electoral College members if the recount was not complete by a certain date. The U.S Supreme Court held in Bush v Gore, “…since the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors…,” whenever a state grants that right it may also revoke it. In plain english, the Court said the state legislature could appoint its own electors, even if the majority of the voters decided otherwise. The perfect definition of, disenfranchisement.
On election night as we watch the returns come in we get a real sense of how disruptive of the electoral process can really be. In some areas of the country, we see returns come in quickly, while in other areas it can take days for votes to be tabulated. There are many different rules and standards for what constitutes a properly cast ballot that sometimes it is impossible to know for sure whether or not your individual vote was actually counted.
Research has consistently shown that one factor in low voter turnout is directly linked to would be voters distrust in the integrity of the electoral process. In fact, America for all of its shining beacon of democracy ranks at the bottom of worldwide equivalent democracies for perceptions of electoral integrity. The Russians withstanding, many Americans have long believed in the possibility of voter fraud and election tampering, including unfairly drawn voting districts.
It should come as no surprise that the aftermath of an election (counts and recounts) can be as divisive as the election itself. Even President Trump after securing his victory continued to make widespread claims of voter fraud. All of this tends to in some instances cast doubt on the legitimacy of an election, which may undermine the core value of our democracy. There are some who believe that the solution lies in a constitutional amendment that not only guarantees a right to vote but also standardizes the electoral process. Others argue that “federalizing” election processes would only create more chaos, lead to more confusion and political interference.
The answer to the more equitable elections may not simply rest with uniform regulation, one question perhaps we should ask ourselves: what is the goal or objective of the electoral process? To make sure to the best of our ability that every eligible voter has an equal and unimpeded access to a ballot, and to ensure that once the ballot is cast that it is actually counted? Or should we continue to allow states and local municipalities to enact regressive voting laws an policies aimed at restricting access to the ballot box?
Should we not be a democracy that works hard to ensure the most mutually inclusive electoral process as possible, or should we be content with a process that is flawed and whimsical that (perhaps unintentionally) actually leads to a more mutually exclusive electoral result?