Poll-arized Mistrust

Disgruntled and suspicious voters pose a greater risk to our elections than voter fraud ever will.

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Recently, at a forum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one participant directed a query at me: "Did you read the article on The Rootthat talks about how the Republicans are planning to steal the election? How do you feel about that?" the young woman asked.

My response was that I found it ironic that Democrats were so concerned about being cheated because Republicans feel exactly the same way. In fact, the Republican National Committee had held two conference calls within days of the forum to address media reports about allegations of voter fraud being leveled by Republicans.

Recently, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a black Republican who presided over one of the great voter-fraud debates of all time in the 2004 presidential election, was on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, warning Ohioans—and all Americans—to fight for fair elections and to be on guard against voter fraud.

Republicans have a particular venom for and rail against ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and other organizations which they believe promote illegal voting practices, such as registering illegal immigrants to vote, and they are especially worried about such practices in key swing states. North Carolina is now one of those states.  As a result, the voter-fraud debate is playing out here in ways that it hasn't before.

Democrats complain about Republican attempts to exclude legal voters and reduce Democratic turnout. They point to stories from the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections as evidence of why they need to worry.

It is an old debate with new heat in this historic election.  I could go back and forth across partisan lines, defending the GOP and vilifying the Democrats or vice versa. But the truth is that both parties seem to have some basis for the grievance, and the anger on both sides speaks to a larger problem in American politics today.

That, my fellow citizens, involves trust and the loss of it. Americans simply no longer believe that the electoral system can be trusted to render true results in the sound and fury of 21st century American politics.

One of the basic principles of our government is the sanctity of the secret ballot; it allows free expression without the threat of intimidation. But the secret ballot means that it is sometimes difficult to match the vote with the voter, and over the last 230-plus years, American politics has developed a rich history of election rigging. In the hyper-partisan climate of our politics, charges of election fraud are a constant, at-the-ready attack in the political wars.

And it is effective because voters don't trust the system anyway. I don't know if this lack of trust is a byproduct of years of discriminatory practices that, sadly, had legal and social sanction in our society.

But at some point, we will need to alter our partisan approach to politics in America. The purpose of the party system—and the sharing of power, therein—is not only to provide the voters with choices about what best represents their views, but also to provide a framework for competition that might produce a more efficient, more responsive government. (Think of it as your free-market values at work in the political arena.) Instead, the raw desire for power has taken the place of the desire to serve.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM