Why Federal Election Study Needed
Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity could answer many important questions.
President Donald Trump continues to state that his win last November was large, even though he lost the popular vote and won three critical states by very slim margins. He states that between three to five million people voted illegally, and that every one of them voted for Hillary Clinton, fully accounting for her “fake” lead in the popular vote. On May 11, 2017, he signed an executive order creating a “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.” It will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and has a broad mandate to review policies and practices that affect Americans’ confidence in the integrity of federal elections.
Investigation of Greatest Integrity Needed
Suspicion of voter fraud persists even though numerous studies have uncovered virtually none. Therefore, it is imperative that this Commission provide results that gain widespread acceptance rather than merely add to the pile of unproven assertions. Rather than rely on politicians, the Commission should harness the “peer-review process,” commonly used to validate research results.
It should solicit study-design proposals, inviting researchers from universities, think tanks and foundations to enter the contest, with the design winner chosen by an independent board. To incentivize truth seeking, the research findings, methodology, calculations, and data should be published with a public comment period so that the findings of the study can be replicated and either validated or disproven. In the event that a well-designed and executed examination proves the accuracy of the President’s claims, the Electoral College will have saved the nation from the largest voter-fraud conspiracy ever to corrupt our democratic process; on the other hand, if the claims are proven false, the public will deserve an end to this repeated trashing of our election outcomes.
Investigate the Procedures, the Machines, and Hacking
To truly contribute to public confidence in election integrity, this investigation should be expanded to address many other questions that arise with each election:
How accurate are our voting machines? Are some machines more accurate than others?
How susceptible are they to computer hacking, especially by self-erasing “malware” programs that cannot be detected after they have changed vote counts? Because paper ballots provide for reliable recounts, does their use deter and/or nullify hacking? Are absentee ballots controlled sufficiently to prevent double-voting? Why do people in some precincts wait 10 minutes to vote, while in others they must wait one or more hours? How can such long wait times be shortened? Why are waiting time and other forms of voter suppression left up to the states, especially in federal elections that affect us all? How accurate is the periodic purging of rolls to eliminate registrations of people who have died or moved? How often do un-purged duplicate registrations lead to illegal voting?
Handling Under-votes and Over-votes
What is the best way to handle the so-called “unintended under vote?” These are ballots of properly registered voters who have marked their ballots in ways that cannot be read by machine. For example, some voters mistakenly mark their ballot with a check-mark rather than by making the proper machine-readable mark. Others not only fill in the ballot as instructed, but, contrary to instructions, write on the ballot an additional message such as “I want this guy,” or “I want Joe Smith.” Some jurisdictions give these mistaken voters another chance with a fresh ballot, destroying the mis-marked ballot before signed witnesses. In other jurisdictions, the under-vote is simply disregarded even though in many cases the clear intent of the voter could have been determined by visual inspection of the ballot. When the proper ballot mark and the written statement contradict each other, it is reasonable to throw out the ballot, but why throw out such “over-votes” when the ballot mark and the written statement agree? Do we have the right procedures in place to count such votes?
Yes: public confidence is shaken both by the repeated assertions of voter fraud as well as the suspicion of Russian hacking; but focusing only those two issues is not sufficient. Questions dealing with the suppression of voting and the use of vulnerable technologies and procedures should also be addressed and investigated with great care.
William L. Holahan is emeritus professor and former chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Charles O. Kroncke served as Professor and Associate Dean of Business at UW-Madison as well as Dean of the School of Business at UW-Milwaukee and the School of Management at UT-Dallas. They are co-authors of “Economics for Voters.”