The Voting Wars

Thanks so much to Josh and the TPM crew for the opportunity to guest blog this week about my new book, The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown.

The book explains how and why the battles over election rules and ballot counting have become much so worse since the 2000 Florida debacle.

As TPM readers well know, election time brings out inevitable accusations by political partisans of voter fraud and voter suppression.

But that’s only part of the story.First, we put too much power in the hands of local election officials, many of whom lack adequate resources or training, or have partisan axes to grind. Consider the Hamilton County, Ohio poll worker who sent a voter to vote in the wrong precinct because the worker mistakenly believed “798” was an odd number. The county elections board deadlocked on party lines over whether or not to count votes like this one cast in the wrong place because of poll worker error in a 2010 Ohio judicial election. The election depended on it.

Second, campaigns and outside groups go to court more than twice as often than they did before 2000 to litigate election disputes. That Hamilton County case ended up in being litigated in state and federal court, and the judges issued conflicting rulings: the state court said the ballots couldn’t be counted under state law, but a federal court, citing Bush v. Gore (yes, that Bush v. Gore) ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause required that they be counted. A federal court is now considering whether the U.S. Constitution requires such wrong precinct votes to be counted throughout Ohio in November.

Finally, social media is making our election disputes much worse. Platforms like Twitter tend to inflame partisan passions, and social media could easily morph into social protests and unrest should Romney-Obama be as close as Bush-Gore.

In three posts this week, I’ll address these questions. Tomorrow: Who’s right in the seemingly endless debate over voter fraud and voter suppression? Wednesday: What’s wrong with choosing the President and members of Congress in 13,000 separate elections, each run under their own rules, often with partisan officials in charge? Thursday: Given that the next election meltdown would be much worse than Bush v. Gore, what, if anything can be done?

I’ll also try to respond to some TPM reader queries. If you want to contact me, use the contact information at my usual blog home, the Election Law Blog.