Election protection history

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The history of election protection has been driven by (a) a trend toward expanding the franchise to previously excluded groups and (b) reactions to threats to election integrity.

The Constitutional amendments regarding voting show the increase of the franchise to nonwhites (15th Amendment, 1870), women (19th Amendment, 1920), citizens of the District of Columbia (23rd Amendment, 1961), and 18-to-20-year-olds (26th Amendment, 1971), as well as the prohibition of any poll tax (24th Amendment, 1964). Existing federal election legislation barred unequal application of voter registration requirements and provided for federal registration of voters in areas that had less than 50% of eligible minority voters registered.

In the 19th century, the first chief initiative was the secret ballot (already in use in Australia), which was designed to counter attempts to bribe or coerce voters by making it impossible for anyone to determine how a given individual had voted. Ballots, initially selected by the voter from a range provided by rival parties and then inserted into the ballot box, were made uniform for all voters. At the end of the century, voting machines (using levers) were introduced in the belief that mechanization would improve the efficiency of the process and protect against human error. This development would be echoed later, particularly toward the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.

The 2000 presidential elections were evenly divided in terms of the electoral vote, which threw a spotlight on Florida, which would decide the overall outcome, and where the margin of votes was a fraction of a percent of the total. These elections revealed weaknesses at all levels of the U.S. electoral system, including:

  • the U.S. Supreme Court, which took on the case that decided the election, despite persistent criticism of having overstepped its jurisdiction
  • the U.S. Senate, which refused to investigate the Congressional Black Caucus's complaints of voter suppression
  • the private election database vendor ChoicePoint, hired for a fee much higher than that paid to the previous vendor to cast a wide net for felons unable to vote, invalidating many voters whose names simply resembled those of felons from Florida or Texas
  • state Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who never instituted the checks meant to discard the bad matches
  • local law enforcement, accused of instituting roadblocks and other obstacles to deter voters
  • local election administrators, who:
    • ordered substandard paper for punch cards
    • failed to clean out punch card receptacles as directed, leading to the infamous "hanging chads"
    • designed confusing ballots, such as the butterfly ballot of Miami-Dade County, which led to a suspiciously high vote for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan [1]
  • U.S. media, who refused to cover findings like those of Greg Palast, whose reports for the BBC indicated serious election irregularities
  • machine vendors, such as Global Election Systems (later acquired by Diebold Election Systems), which produced the machine that recorded a negative vote for Al Gore in a precinct in Volusia County [2]

In the aftermath of the election, a large number of books on the subject of election integrity began to be published, a development that has not abated. In addition, in 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed, largely as a reaction against the punch cards that had drawn much negative attention in the media. However, one outcome of HAVA was a rush to obtain Federal funds to purchase expensive Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines that provided no permanent record of votes and were vulnerable to electronic manipulation. In the following years, changes were proposed for HAVA, notably by Rep. Rush Holt (D, NJ-12), who sponsored a series of amendments that required, first, a voter-verifiable "paper trail" (printout verifiable by the voter), and later, a voter-verifiable "ballot of record" that was to be the authoritative ballot in the case of a recount or audit. Although Holt's later bill was ultimately cosponsored by a majority of the House members, it never left committee.

The year 2002 was also notable for alleged election irregularities in Georgia, where Diebold voting machine technicians allegedly installed uncertified software immediately before the election, in contravention of state election law.

The presidential election in 2004 was marred by election irregularities, many collected by the Election Incident Reporting System. The focus of attention was Ohio, which assumed the role of election-deciding state that Florida had taken in 2000.

Historical accounts




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