The last three presidential elections werent the only ones in history where some citizens questioned the credibility of the outcomes. But the cloud of doubt, in an age of more modern vote processing, early voting and more intense supervision at polling places, is still hanging.
That come tomorrow morning there likely will be fresh doubts raised about elections, particularly by the losers in razor-close races, is no insignificant matter. When questions come up and there appears to be legitimate reason for them, the credibility of those about to assume office, and in fact the credibility of their government, is damaged.
There are people (yes, the vast majority of them Democrats) who still raise their voices over the infamous hanging chad election of 2000, when Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote but narrowly lost the Electoral College (a possible scenario this year) and the state of Floridas votes were the deciding factor. A decision was delayed for more than a month; the U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by conservative justices, in effect brought an end to recounts and George W. Bush won the election.
Questions arose in 2004 (Ohios vote count in some regions was questioned) and in 2008, with charges by Democrats that Republicans in some states were trying to suppress voter eligibility and a claim by the campaign of Republican John McCain that absentee ballots for active members of the military were sent out late by Virginia and so arrived late for the election.
Signs of trouble
This time out, controversy has roiled well in advance of the election. Some voters have reported advocates for one candidate or another getting too close to polling places to make pitches for their candidates or against another. Republicans in some state legislatures have been accused of passing laws designed to curb minority participation or that of college students. Courts have rejected or modified such laws in 14 states.
There have in elections past been problems with voting machines, or inexperienced poll workers who couldnt help voters with questions. Long lines at polling places, which can arise when the process fails to go smoothly, can deter people from casting their ballots.
But make no mistake. Disenfranchisement in any form, whether by excluding voters on technicalities who should not be excluded, denying people their right to vote with intentional misinformation, not accounting for votes from those serving overseas in the military no excuse is good enough.
So we must hope that in the voting that has already taken place, and in that which takes place today, elections officials are mindful of pitfalls and have taken steps to forestall them.
Careful with charges
In addition, those who have been intensely involved in this presidential campaign in particular, given the likelihood of a very close race, would do well to hold fire if claims of fraud or voter suppression or other irregularities are reported, as they surely will be. If documented and proven, then of course problems must be addressed.
But lets hope that reckless charges, prompted mostly by the discontent or anger of those who have supported the losing candidate, will not be followed out the window by anyone, official or not.
It is not the end of the world to lose an election, but on the day after an election, too many people start looking for the electoral equivalent of a mushroom cloud. It does not appear.
Those who run our system must attempt to ensure that the procedures they supervise can withstand the scrutiny both of those who are there to guarantee fairness for both sides and those who are looking for trouble.
Most elections officials appear to be diligent indeed. Let us hope, for the best interests of this country, that once the deadline comes and goes tonight, a minimum of controversy will follow.