The U.S. election has reinforced concerns on all sides about problems of electoral integrity. During the campaign and even after his victory, Trump made claims about widespread voter fraud. Democrats and civil rights organizations accused GOP state houses of suppressing voters’ rights. Journalists criticized fake online stories. Election Day brought complaints about long wait lines and broken voting machines. Perhaps most seriously, the CIA and FBI reported that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election through cyberattacks. Even before the Putin surprise, however, few Americans trusted the honesty of their elections. A Gallup poll two weeks before Election Day found that only one-third of Americans (35 percent) were “very confident” that their vote would be counted accurately. Even worse, when people around the world were asked how confident they were in the honesty of their elections, Gallup found that this year the United States ranked 90th out of 112 countries. Widespread belief that elections are rigged or stolen may seriously damage democracy. My research for “Why Electoral Integrity Matters” using the World Values Survey showed that when people believe that electoral malpractice is common, they are significantly less likely to vote.
The United States has long had one of the lowest levels of voter turnout among all equivalent democratic states and developed economies. In 2016, turnout among the voting-age population was 54.4 percent nationwide — but this varied from lows of 37.8 percent in Hawaii and 43.1 percent in Texas to 69.5 percent in Maine and 69.4 percent in Minnesota, as you can see in the figure below.
So did lack of electoral integrity keep Americans from voting this year? To find out, the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), an independent academic project based at Harvard and Sydney universities, conducted an expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity. “Electoral integrity” refers to international standards and global norms governing the appropriate conduct of elections, during the pre-election stage, the campaign, polling day and the election aftermath.