What Electing the President by the Popular Vote Would Mean for Election Security

Election fraud becomes harder, not easier, by using the national popular vote

As momentum builds for states to ratify an interstate pact that would bind them to award their electors to whichever candidate received the most vote in all 50 states, many voters are wondering if that would mean greater vulnerabilities to our presidential elections being hacked, or otherwise botched via insecure voting systems. It wouldn’t. Expanding the electorate would similarly expand the scale of fraud necessary to throw a presidential election. Either way, we need to improve our voting systems.

The current system, where most states award all of their electors to whomever wins a plurality of their state regardless of margin, creates a small handful of states that are highly vulnerable to error or malfeasance. Whether it’s felon disenfranchisement in Florida (recently changed), paperless touchscreen voting machines in Pennsylvania, voter purges in Ohio, or rigged voter ID requirements in Wisconsin, political operatives (and foreign governments) know that throwing only a few thousand votes in a given swing state can alter an entire national election.

The 2000 presidential election was determined by a mere 537 votes in Florida. In contrast, the closest popular vote margin for modern presidential races was when Kennedy beat Nixon by 118,574 votes Altering that many votes would require a much larger, riskier fraud operation that would be more likely to be detected. That doesn’t mean someone wouldn’t try.

Under either system, all of America is currently dependent upon state election laws, which vary considerably in competence and malicious intent. Under either system for choosing electors, we need to fix that.

Recalibrating the Electoral College from state by state winner-take all rules to a national popular vote system doesn’t eliminate concerns about election integrity, nor does it exacerbate them. Either way, we need every state to have secure voting equipment that uses voter-verified paper ballots that are subject to an automatic audit that ensures accurate tallies. Either way, Congress could (and should) mandate secure equipment and audits for every federal election (both presidential and congressional.)

Under the current system, some states have an incentive to enact voter suppression policies that keep voters who disagree with the ruling party from participating. Under a national popular vote, that incentive reduces somewhat as each state would boost its political clout by boosting its own voter turnout.

Proponents of a national popular vote ought not pretend that it will solve every problem with voting in America. But skeptics have no basis to say it will make things worse.

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