Academics and Research

Election 2008: Opportunity to excel or recipe for disaster

It’s been eight years since election turmoil roiled the nation and “dangling chads” became part of the lexicon.

It’s been eight years. So even with a presidential race many see as neck and neck, things should be fine this time around. Right?

Maybe, or maybe not, according a University of Denver professor.

Sturm College of Law Professor Robert Hardaway in his latest book, released this summer, lays out some frightening possibilities that could again launch an election into chaos.

Tracing the importance of orderly, accurate and trusted elections from ancient Athens to the 2007 debacle in Kenya, Hardaway makes a case for making reform the primary driving force behind election reform.

“History is littered with the carcasses of nations that collapsed not because of external threats, but rather under the strain of internal rivalries for political power,” he writes in the introduction to his new book,Crisis at the Polls: The Case for Reform of America’s Antiquated Election System (Greenwood Press, 2008).

As Colorado officials, including Gov. Bill Ritter, urge voters this year to vote by mail to avoid lines at the polls in November, Hardaway argues making convenience the priority, instead of security, is the wrong way to go. Absentee voting, or voting by mail, offers opportunities for fraud and threatens some voters’ rights to secret balloting. He details abuse after abuse uncovered in absentee voting schemes nationwide.

But voting from home is far from the only threat to an orderly election. Other threats include:
•    Not checking an applicant’s legal voting status
•    Computer voting systems vulnerable to tampering
•    Rules that don’t require government-issued photo identification at the polls
•    Allowing voters without proof of registration to cast “provisional ballots” to be counted only after the results are in

“Although voter registration seems to be a simplistic procedural requirement, each new legislative enactment creates numerous problems that compromise the integrity of the electoral system,” Hardaway warns.

Hardaway’s findings earn praise from Dick Lamm, former Colorado governor and co-director of the DU Institute for Public Policy Studies. Lamm says in his forward to Hardaway’s book that democracy depends on voters’ trust. Without that, democracy fails.

“Professor Bob Hardaway in this compelling book shows how the honest administration of all aspects of elections must be part of the foundation of any democracy,” he writes, noting breakdowns in elections overseas and the ensuing chaos.

Despite spotting flaws, Hardaway says there have been improvements in Colorado. The move away from purely electronic voting will go far, leaving a paper trail that can be recounted if need be. Paper ballots also help move the lines faster at polling places because more voting stations can be set up if government isn’t faced with the daunting cost of purchasing more computerized voting machines.

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