You may have seen it last week. There were charges of fraud levelled at the Obama campaign because donations from names like 'Doodad Pro' were not reported by his campaign. In the last election, there were claims that Republicans invoked anti-fraud measures to suppress legitimate voting by groups that tend to vote Democratic.
In both cases, there was more hyperbole than substance. There is fraud, but the immediacy of the internet has magnified it into being much more substantial than it is and University at Buffalo Law School Professor James A. Gardner cautions against giving too much importance to charges of voter fraud in American elections and supposed incompetence in administering elections. The process in the overwhelming majority of elections, he says, is working well.
"We have to be careful about political propaganda being spread about how voter fraud, and to a lesser extent incompetence in the administration of elections, threatens democracy," says Gardner, an authority on election and constitutional law, and the UB Law School's vice dean for academic affairs.
"This simply is not true," says Gardner. "There are more than 500,000 elected officials in the U.S. Virtually every one of these elections comes off without a hitch. The news media have a tendency to focus exclusively on the extremely rare but dramatic cases in which the outcome of a very close race is put in doubt by a very small number of possibly tainted ballots or a malfunction of voting technology or human error in the administration of elections.
"These are very rare exceptions to the rule."
Gardner says another common false impression is that elections in the U.S. are always close, and that the smallest errors or the occasional fraudulent ballot among thousands have the potential to destroy democratic self-government.
"That's not the case," says Gardner. "In fact, the overwhelming majority of elections in the U.S. are so lopsided that no amount of error or fraud could change the result, and many, many elections are completely uncontested. Uncontested and lopsided elections may be a sign of something wrong with the system, but it has nothing to do with the administration of elections."
Gardner said election law and procedure still merit close scrutiny but some efforts are overkill. For example, a recent Supreme Court decision upheld voter ID requirements in Indiana even though voter fraud was "essentially a non-existent problem."