by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Is the Electoral College still a shield against fraud? Foreign countries have been trying to influence American elections as far back as 1796, when France was threatening grave consequences unless a Francophile candidate, meaning Jefferson, won, and as recently as 2016, when Russia reached out to the Trump campaign with multiple tentacles. But foreigners could not tamper with the vote.
One unintended consequence of the Electoral College may be the blunting of homegrown vote-stealing in presidential contests. Every political machine tries to thumb the scale, but perhaps only in 1844 did that tip an election. Historian Daniel Walker Howe argues that Henry Clay lost New York’s electoral votes, and thus the race, not only because the abolitionist Liberty Party diverted anti-slavery Whigs from Clay—the view taught in textbooks—but also through Tammany Hall skullduggery on behalf of victor James Polk. Richard Nixon’s 1960 campaign, believing vote stealing had thrown that contest to JFK, demanded recounts in several states. When Illinois, one of the largest, examined its returns, officials found fraud, but not enough to have changed the result. A recount in Hawaii actually moved that state from Nixon’s to Kennedy’s column.
Targeting decisive races in a continent-sized republic is difficult enough for the purposes of ordinary campaigning. For vote stealing it is a more difficult undertaking yet.
In a tight race decided by a national popular vote, however, any vote stolen anywhere would be worthwhile. The temptation to run up one’s candidate’s tally would be almost irresistible—and none would resist. National recounts would inevitably follow, like nightmares after a bad dinner. Such a system could work only with a national voter ID card.