Arizona was ranked worst in the country for electoral integrity in a recent postelection survey of political scientists. The Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey asked political experts about elections in the states where they live in order to measure their perceptions of how well or poorly their state adhered to international standards of conduct before, during and after an election. Although it measures perceptions of electoral integrity, as opposed to actual electoral integrity itself, the methodology is widely trusted and used to compare electoral performance around the world. The concern is that just the perception of electoral fraud or corruption, even without actual proof of fraud, could lead to a loss of public confidence in the voting process.
Ever since the contested 2000 presidential election, the way that American elections are run has become increasingly partisan and contentious. The 2016 elections ratcheted up the number of complaints by all parties, yet there is heated disagreement about the nature of the problem — let alone potential solutions. For many years, the main complaint by the GOP has centered on alleged incidents of illegal fraud, in which it is claimed that ineligible people registered and cast ballots, for example non-US citizens and felons, or simply imposters voting more than once. Throughout the campaign Donald Trump stoked up the heated rhetoric by alleging that victory would be stolen from him. After he won the Electoral College vote, he claimed (falsely) that he also won the popular vote “if you deduct millions of people who voted illegally.” In fact, across the country, officials found next to no credible evidence for cases of voter fraud. For Democrats, by contrast, the main problem has been framed as one of the suppression of voting rights designed to depress legitimate citizen participation. Civil rights organizations routinely criticize attempts by GOP state legislatures to tighten voter ID requirements and restrict polling facilities, making it harder to vote, especially for minorities and the elderly. Here the evidence about the impact of implementing stricter registration requirements in depressing the vote is somewhat clearer, although debate continues about the size of the effect, among other questions.
In 2005, in the midst of a career of traveling around the world to help set up elections in some of the most challenging places on earth – Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, Sudan and Yemen, among others – my Danish colleague, Jorgen Elklit, and I designed the first comprehensive method for evaluating the quality of elections around the world. Our system measured 50 moving parts of an election process and covered everything from the legal framework to the polling day and counting of ballots. In 2012 Elklit and I worked with Pippa Norris of Harvard University, who used the system as the cornerstone of the Electoral Integrity Project. Since then the EIP has measured 213 elections in 153 countries and is widely agreed to be the most accurate method for evaluating how free and fair and democratic elections are across time and place. When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.