Although getting any sort of unanimity on political issues is impossible, you can come close when asserting the need that elections be free, open, and honest. By that I mean that when someone casts his or her ballot for a particular candidate, that voter should have no doubt that the vote will be counted and counted accurately. Even those candidates who might like the idea of rigging the ballot in their favor a bit will still publicly claim to support fair elections.
Without Fair Elections, Our System of Government is Sunk
This all makes sense. After all, if the balloting process is corrupted and people find out, the winning candidates will lose legitimacy and their tenure in office will be under a cloud of suspicion. None of this benefits the office holders, the voters, or our system of government. Quite the opposite. Office holders are then seen as usurpers, and thus their decisions are viewed as invalid even if followed.
All that aside, reality seldom matches the ideal. So it’s reasonable to expect that when counting tens of millions of votes that there will be some errors. And there will also be a few shady stunts pulled as well. As long as the margins between the winning and losing candidates are large enough, irregularities are usually just brushed aside as unfortunate, but not enough to have impacted the outcome. If the margin of victory is wafer-thin, then it’s a very different story.
Two Twentieth Century Elections as Examples
Restricting our discussion to the last half of the twentieth century, there are two presidential elections that stand out: 1960 and 2000.
1960: Kennedy vs. Nixon
The 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon is instructive partly because of the alleged voting fraud in Chicago under the supervision of the Daley political machine. In this case, the possible irregularities were significant since Kennedy’s vote tally in Chicago essentially awarded him the presidency. It is also instructive because even with allegations of a rigged election and vote counting process, the country as a whole accepted the results of the election and the presidency of JFK as valid.
2000: Bush vs. Gore and the Hanging Chads
The 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore is interesting for a very different reason. The controversy that erupted on election night didn’t center on accusations of voter fraud by one of the campaigns, but rather on the inability of the ballot counting system to generate an accurate result. So the election result was not called into question primarily because of fraud, but due to mechanical failure. Hence we had the notorious case of the “hanging chad.”
For those who might have missed all of this, machine vote counting used in this election depended on each spot on the punch-card ballot being either left solid or punched cleanly through by the voter depending on his or her choice. What went wrong was that some of the punch cards were not punched properly by the voters, leaving the intended choice of candidates in doubt as the machines couldn’t determine the voters’ intentions without cleanly punched holes in the ballot cards.
With the difference in the vote totals between the two candidates measured in the hundreds, and Florida being the state at that point that would decide who became president, the pressure became intense. We can remember the images of election judges examining each punch-card in an attempt to determine how the voter actually intended to cast his or her ballot. As soon as things get that subjective in counting the ballots that will decide who goes to the White House, the decision will wind up being determined in the courts.
With one recount barely favoring George W. Bush, the Supreme Court intervened and ruled against Al Gore’s claim and ended the recounting, effectively giving Bush the presidency with a majority of Electoral College votes while a minority of the popular vote. It was a recipe for continuing controversy and accusations that Bush’s presidency would be illegitimate. And that’s what Americans got.
Clinton vs. Trump
This election has been extraordinary for so many reasons.
Neither candidate has a positive popularity rating, and much of the disapproval approaches downright hatred.
Groups like WikiLeaks and Project Veritas have given an unprecedented look into the inside workings of the campaigns, especially the Clinton campaign, and have revealed what are, if accurately reported, criminal actions to rig the vote.
One candidate, Mrs. Clinton, as well as her associates, have been under a continuing investigation by the FBI for fraud. The email scandal involves allegations that Mrs. Clinton, during her tenure as secretary of state, stored and transferred classified materials using private, non-secure means which is a felony.
Her and Bill’s Clinton Foundation is also under investigation for influence peddling and “pay to play” schemes where large foreign donors to the Foundation were given preferred access to the secretary of state and other favors from Mrs. Clinton.
We also have the spectacle of the Clinton campaign hiring thugs to disrupt Trump rallies, and in particular to bully women who would dare to betray their gender by showing up to support Trump. This isn’t a matter of theory, either. Officials of organizations retained by the Clinton campaign have been fired when leaked emails and hidden videos recorded by Project Veritas revealed their perfidy.
The investigations are continuing through election day.
Mr. Trump has not been immune from damaging revelations either. A tape turned up that was made eleven years ago revealing some highly offensive comments made at the time by Mr. Trump about women. The effort may have been made to write it off as juvenile “locker-room” talk, but the damage was done. Mr. Trump was portrayed as a man who had a pretty aggressive sexual appetite.
Not to be outdone in the sexual scandal arena, old allegations of sexual abuse and rape allegedly committed by Bill Clinton surfaced. It is questionable just how much impact this had, but it did serve to remind voters of the sleaze that never seems to be far from Mr. Clinton.
I could go on and discuss things such as the bizarre sexual behaviors in which both John Podesta who is Hillary’s campaign chairman and Anthony Weiner who is the husband of Hillary confidant Huma Abedin have been implicated, but it’s safe just to say that this has been one of the sleaziest and most viciously fought campaigns in memory. Campaign ads and statements by the candidates themselves only reinforce the negative opinion the majority of voters have regarding both candidates.
So Will There be a Fair Election in 2016?
I doubt it — and writing that does not make me happy. Crooked elections are a disaster for the Republic, compromise the legitimacy of the winners, and humiliate the country in front of a world that closely watches what happens in America. And bogus elections infuriate the voters.
There are already reports, in the mainstream media no less, of electronic voting machines flipping Trump votes to Clinton. Officials might point out that these are problems that can and will be fixed, but you have to wonder why the reports are only of Trump votes flipping to Clinton and not the other way around. (The election is in progress as this article is being completed.)
And it’s unlikely that media outlets like CBS are only reporting the instances of Trump voters having trouble getting the machines to register their votes for their choice. After all, these media organizations are much more likely to be supportive of Mrs. Clinton. So if Clinton votes were being flipped by these infernal machines to Trump, reports of this would clearly be hitting the news sites.
How We Get a Fair Election
Honestly, I see really only one way that this year-and-a-half-long ordeal ends fairly. And that’s if one candidate wins with such a blow-out total of electoral votes that all the problems with voting machines, illegal campaign tactics, and outright voter fraud are not large enough to make a difference.
On the other hand, if we have a close election, where the decision rests on one or two states with extremely close popular votes, we can expect legions of attorneys filing an equally unprecedented number of lawsuits that cast doubt over the results for perhaps weeks on end, much like we experienced in 2000. It’s not a happy prospect with a happy ending.
May we be spared of that fate.