Diversions: Fraudulent Elections

A ballot box. Photo courtesy of Rama.

On more than one occasion, the Trump administration has made the unsubstantiated claim that illegal ballots, including those from non-citizens, are being cast in major US elections, even going so far as to say that “millions of people” voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. There is little evidence of widespread voter fraud in the US but manufacturing suspicion or uncertainty about election results sows doubt about the veracity of the electoral process. If elections are (thought to be) fraudulent or unreliable, what is the point of voting?

In 2014, PV@G Editor Barbara Walter offered a few answers to this question. Barbara noted that there are many factors that influence whether voters participate in elections: demographics, personality, ease of voting, campaign-specific factors, and degree of mobilization. Should concerns about fraud be added to this list? And what factors can we expect to be influential in this election cycle in the US, and in elections around the globe in 2020?

Why Bother to Vote in Fraudulent Elections?

By Barbara F. Walter | April 18, 2014

Last week I posed a puzzle that asked two questions: First, why would voter turnout be relatively high in elections predicted to experience significant fraud? Second, why would any party choose to boycott an election?

This is not my area of expertise so I’ll try to piece together an answer from the scholarly literature in American politics. Studies by G. Bingham Powell Jr. and others have found that citizens (at least in the United States) are influenced by a variety of factors when they decide to vote: (1) individual characteristics such as age, income, education and race, (2) personality — a sense of civic duty and interest, (3) the ease of voting due to institutional/electoral structure — registration requirements, vote by mail etc., (4) campaign-specific factors such as spending and types of candidates, and (5) the degree to which voters are effectively mobilized. Given the right mix of demographics, convenient registration rules, popular candidates, and get-out-the-vote campaigns, and voter participation is high.

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