There is a reason Americans (not just Republicans) distrust election results

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

I don’t know the extent to which election results are rigged. And neither does anyone else, for sure.

Elections could be completely clean (unlikely given what we know about history), mostly clean (more likely), somewhat clean (seems about right using common sense), or totally rigged (again, unlikely, given the stakes and the incentive to prove that this is so).


But one thing is certain: Americans’ trust in the election process has been declining for years, and the rate at which that trust has declined has accelerated.

The faith, trust, and confidence in our election process has been in steep decline for decades. Concerns over hanging chads and dimpled ballots from 2000’s presidential election may now have been replaced with questions about photo ID and drop boxes – but the overall result is the same: The American people simply don’t trust the outcome of elections.

In fact, recent polls show only 57% of voters believe Joe Biden was legitimately elected in 2020. Similarly, just 61% of Americans believe Trump legitimately won in 2016.

According to a poll done by ABC/Ipsos earlier this year only 22% of Americans are “very confident” that election results are fairly arrived at. That’s not good at all, and it both drives and is driven by the increasing divide among Republicans and Democrats, and skepticism of both sides by Independents.

The lack of strong confidence in the country’s ability to conduct an honest election crosses partisan lines. Among Democrats, whose party leaders have been struggling to legislatively protect what they believe to be deteriorating voting rights across the country, 30% say they are very confident in the U.S. election systems overall. Regarding independents, only 1 in 5 consider themselves “very confident” in the nation’s elections.

Even fewer Republicans (13%) are very confident, with a considerable majority (59%) having little faith in the system, responding that they either are “not so confident” or “not confident at all…”


It would be bad enough if this growth in skepticism had little basis beyond losers’ whining about sour grapes, but the fact is that our electoral system is fundamentally broken. It is broken both in terms of how elections are conducted and in how election officials conduct themselves with regard to ensuring there is enough transparency and accountability to bolster people’s belief that everything is on the up and up.

That’s where a new study released by The America First Policy Institute comes in. (Yes, they are Trump supporters, but before you Democrats dismiss the report for that reason at least read it). Written by John Lott and Steven Smith, the report raises troubling questions about how records are kept, and in turn the legitimacy of some counted ballots) by election officials.

Elections are conducted at the local level, but there are some rules that have been established by the federal government to ensure that voting rights and election integrity are maintain. Specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1960 “requires the retention and preservation of ‘all records and papers which come into his possession relating to any application, registration, payment of poll tax, or other act requisite to voting in such election.'”

This is not optional. It is a bedrock upon which election integrity is built, because if you don’t know who and how many people voted, you can’t have confidence in the vote counts.


Unsurprisingly, these records aren’t kept by a vast number of election officials.

As Lott and Smith write in The Federalist:

The America First Policy Institute made public records requests based on state-specific laws for the top 100 most-populated counties in the traditional 14 swing states that typically determine presidential elections. Ninety-four of the 100 counties did not keep records of who voted in the 2020 election, and only two state-wide election officers had the records preserved. Equally disturbing, even in the six counties that did keep records, there was on average a 2.89 percent discrepancy between the number of people voting and the number of ballots cast.

It is shocking enough that 94% of the most populated counties somehow don’t keep records that are mandated by law, but it really is disturbing that in the cases that records are available there is a nearly 3% discrepancy between the records and the results reported. Elections turn on such numbers.

In Miami-Dade, Florida, the discrepancy was about 1.6 percent — a difference of 16,617 votes. Ninety-two percent of the precincts had more recorded ballots cast than voters (for a total of 15,854), and the other 8 percent had more voters than ballots cast (763). Since 12 percent of precincts were missing records, we didn’t include those. That’s a discrepancy that can very well swing elections. For example, in 2018, Republican Rick Scott won Florida’s U.S. Senate seat by 10,033 votes.

Cobb County, Georgia, had a massive discrepancy of 34,893 votes, or 8.8 percent. All but one of the precincts had more ballots cast than voters. The gap was more than two and half times the 13,471 votes Republican David Perdue fell short of winning in Georgia’s first round Senate race in November 2020. Sen. Jon Ossoff then won the run-off the following January.


It’s important to point out that Lott and Smith are not saying that the elections were rigged. After all, how could we possibly know given how sloppy the record keeping was? No forensic analysis can be trusted if the basic data needed has not been collected or has been purged.

What we do know for sure is that too many election officials are at a minimum very sloppy, and that in the largest counties at least they are violating basic civil rights laws by failing to comply with a simple law that ensures some measure of integrity in elections. The “sloppiness” in some cases is so bad that election officials outright purge records that would reassure voters.

Go read the Federalist article, or even better the full report. It is depressing reading, but if we ever want to increase faith in elections we need hard facts, not vague feelings.

Democrats, who fiercely insist that our elections are squeaky clean (only when they win, of course), have been the major obstacles to updating our election system in a way that would reduce suspicion in the results. They substitute insults for substantive arguments, fueling even more distrust in the system among non-Democrats.

Perhaps a series of civil rights lawsuits could force them to comply with the 1960 Civil Rights Act. I’m no lawyer, but that seems a good place to start.


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