A Lesson from David Frum

Since he left the Bush Administration, David Frum has consistently offered good sense to a political party increasingly disinclined to listen. Yesterday, I happened upon a column he wrote in the run-up to Tuesday’s election that should be heeded by every American–Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green…whatever. All of us who have navigated the partisan mine-field in order to cast a vote should embrace his message.

When the polls close in most other democracies, the results are known almost instantly. Ballots are usually counted accurately and rapidly, and nobody disputes the result. Complaints of voter fraud are rare; complaints of voter suppression are rarer still.

The kind of battle we are seeing in Florida — where Democrats and Republicans will go to court over whether early voting should span 14 days or eight — simply does not happen in Germany, Canada, Britain or France. The ballot uncertainty that convulsed the nation after Florida’s vote in 2000 could not happen in Mexico or Brazil.

Frum explains that in most other democratic countries, elections are run by independent, nonpartisan agencies. As a consequence,

Politicians of one party do not set voting schedules to favor their side and harm the other. Politicians do not move around voting places to gain advantages for themselves or to disadvantage their opponents. In fact, in almost no other country do politicians have any say in the administration of elections at all.

In those countries, ballots and voting machines are standardized nationally. Everyone votes the same way, meaning–among other things–that you don’t need to figure out a new system when you move to another state or even to an adjoining county.

The United States is an exceptional nation, but it is not always exceptional for good. The American voting system too is an exception: It is the most error-prone, the most susceptible to fraud, the most vulnerable to unfairness and one of the least technologically sophisticated on earth. After the 2000 fiasco, Americans resolved to do better. Isn’t it past time to make good on that resolution?

I couldn’t agree more.

Frum doesn’t mention it, but such an independent, nonpartisan agency should also be vested with redistricting, under strict rules about respecting geographic and community boundaries and drawing compact districts with equivalent numbers of voters.

There’s a substantial body of evidence to the effect that people are more willing to abide by the results of an election–or any contest–if they believe the fight was fair. Conspiracy theories take root when systems are or appear to be rigged. We know that partisans will engage in “dirty tricks” when operating in systems that offer the opportunity; when the playing field is not seen as level, even rational citizens become paranoid about campaigns and cynical about government.

In sports, we don’t allow the players to be their own referees and umpires; the integrity of the game requires impartial supervision.

Aren’t elections at least as important?


  1. The state of Washington is SO OVER the confusion we witnessed in other states on Election Day, November 6, 2012. That state mails out ALL ballots several weeks in advance. The ballots are due back by midnight on election day. Voters vote at home, taking time to read their ballots, vote as instructed, then fold/sign ballots as instructed, and either drop them in the mail or drop them off at designated locations. Done!

    No machines to break down, no governors’ custom-designed early voting dates or times, no inconvenience in getting to a polling place somewhere, no hanging chads or nine-hour lines to vote. No catastrophic or foul weather interruptions.

    The woman with whom I just spoke lived in Washington state until a year ago. Her brother lives in Oregon. She thinks that Oregon has a similar style of voting. Surely, we can figure out something so as not to deprive anyone of his/her right to vote.

  2. Sheila,
    No comment, I just saw a Facebook posting of the David Frum piece and wanted to say Hi and that I hope all’s well with you.

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