A Telling Priority for Electoral Integrity

I tried reading Stephen John Stedman’s American Interest essay about how “the United States does not score high” when it comes to “international comparisons of electoral integrity,” but something in his first two paragraphs kept itching in my brain, and I wasn’t able to absorb what he wrote thereafter.  Here’s the offending text:

Several years ago I directed a global commission on how best to promote and protect the integrity of elections worldwide. I remember vividly a particular discussion among the commission members concerning electoral management bodies. When elections fall victim to ineptitude, careless logistical mistakes, and errors of ignorance, voters may assume intentional malfeasance. If such mistakes are made by electoral authorities perceived to be partisan, then voters will have further reason to question the integrity of elections. The commission agreed that to protect the integrity of elections, best practice recommends that electoral authorities should be professional, competent, non-partisan, and politically independent. The problem was, as one commissioner pointed out, “the United States doesn’t follow this best practice we and they advocate for newer democracies.”

The commission released its report, Deepening Democracy: A Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide, in September 2012. It criticized the United States for its failure to control campaign finance, pointing out that unlimited campaign cash and the difficulties of sourcing it would create fundamental challenges to electoral integrity. The report also criticized policies that made voter registration and voting difficult, especially for minority populations. American policies on finance and voter registration, the report argued, undermined the bedrock principle of political equality at the heart of electoral integrity. Since this was a global commission, and its recommendations were meant to address elections in both developed and less affluent democracies, the commission did not say, as it easily could have, that the United States, unlike most of the democratic world, lacks professional, independent, non-partisan election management. Pointing that out might have been perceived as piling on.

So this “global commission on how best to promote and protect the integrity of elections worldwide,” for whatever reason, felt like it should withhold one out of three of its complaints about the electoral system in the United States, and it kept the two that have more to do with the political process before elections than the one actually having to do with the “integrity of the elections” as they’re conducted.

Stedman goes on to write something about how Americans, and American states, push back on suggestions that we need international observers watching over our process, but that’s hardly an irrational response, given their apparent priorities.  I’m persuaded that the “campaign finance” movement is an effort to lock in a ruling elite by limiting the influence of those whose power derives from other areas of society, in which they’ve gained personal wealth or developed broad connections.  Such limits would largely benefit the Democrat Party because its liberal base has firm control over institutions that don’t need direct expenditures of campaign money to wield their power, like labor unions and the media.

International groups also tend to favor American liberals and their party, because they want a weaker, more passive, less free United States.  That Stedman’s commission left out its election-day complaint counts as evidence of this affinity (and its motivation) because it would not only benefit Democrats where Republicans are strong, but also benefit Republicans where Democrats are strong.  Looking at the nationwide political map, therefore, one might observe that stopping partisan corruption at election locations would tend to send more Republicans to Washington, D.C.

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