Rigging accusations fade away, argues Toby James
In advance of the polls, Donald Trump claimed that the US presidential election would be rigged. We probably won’t hear those claims again from the 45th US president.
Still, before the result became clear, the Trump team went on the offensive looking for incidents of electoral fraud and misconduct. An elections protection team was established asking for incidents to be reported with a lawsuit filed in Nevada on the conduct of some early voting. Meanwhile, civil rights groups – concerned about of high levels of voter confusion and voter intimidation from Trump supporters – organised themselves to prevent legitimate voters from being denied their right to vote.
It’s difficult to provide an immediate judgement on how the electoral machinery fared in 2016. An analysis of social media from polling day shows that much went right. The will of much the American electorate to cast their vote was palpable in many places. One woman was so keen to vote that she did so on the way to give birth. For another couple, voting was their first post-honeymoon date.
But there were also problems in polling stations. Although long queues are often a sign of democratic engagement, they can also be a sign of insufficient polling places, staff and resources. However enthusiastic about the electoral process voters are, queues do deter them from voting.
The protests that met Trump at his own polling station (including both boobs and boos) gathered much coverage online but there were further problems with faulty voter machines and a shooting in California which caused a nearby polling station to go into lockdown.
The issues at the Bush-Gore 2000 presidential contest were followed by a full enquiry into how problems could be avoided. Outgoing president, Barack Obama, launched another enquiry following the 2012 presidential contest. Given that problems persist – and Trump put the question of the integrity of electoral administration at the centre of the campaign – another bipartisan review may be needed to take stock and seek to restore confidence again.
Dr Toby James is a Senior Lecturer in British and Comparative Politics at the University of East Anglia.
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