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  • Writer's pictureBeth Bowen

Developing Electoral Resilience to Voter Suppression

*Originally published in 2020.

Do you know what gerrymandering is? How about a poll tax? Poll intimidation? Voter fraud? Voter caging? Voter purges? Voter ID laws? Election fraud? Vote buying? There are so many ways to cheat at an election, and you don't even have to be a Russian computer wiz. Any one of the methods above can be used to shape the outcome of elections from local school board to the Presidency of the United States. And all of them are practiced today. These are not relics of the past, nor are they practices that only take place outside of the US. In fact, the United States has probably been the inventor of most of these practices since we've been in the Democracy business the longest of any Nation in the modern world. Some of these practices are underhanded but perfectly legal. Others have been legal in the past but outlawed (and some unfortunately have come back into practice). And some of these are so insidious as to be difficult to spot and even more difficult to stop. So what's a Citizen to do? As always, we need to educate ourselves on these methods because forewarned is forearmed against them. We must become 'electoral resilient'. Election Fraud vs. Voter Fraud Election fraud is not often distinguished as a separate phenomenon from voter fraud in mainstream media (although here it was). In examining the methods of subverting elections, patterns emerge to separate the two. Election fraud is a larger-picture scam to change the election systems themselves, not just the vote count. These are the methods employed by large, powerful and influencing groups. Voter fraud enters an election solely through the actions of voters. For example, election fraud limits the number of polling places. A voter fraud attempt would be casting a ballot in the wrong voting precinct. Election fraud purges registered voters' names from election rolls. Voters commit fraud if they vote more than once in the same election or sell their vote to someone. "Extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators." (Source) The Great Fear of Voter Fraud In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, the winner proclaimed widespread voter fraud. The winner. Was concerned about fraud. And continues to claim there should be investigations into such fraud. But his appointed agency tasked with tracking down this fraud, found nothing. Voter fraud presupposes that a vast group of unorganized--but racially, culturally, or ethnically related--voters all conspire to subvert the outcome of an election by voting illegally. "Wisconsin’s attorney general, a Republican, examined the 2008 election returns and discovered that out of 3 million votes cast, just 20 were found to be illegal. A wider study conducted by the Bush Justice Department had found similar results for the period 2002 to 2007. More than 300 million people had voted, and only 86 were found guilty of voter fraud, and most of them were simply mistaken about their eligibility." (Source) Eighty-six votes out of 300 million is .0028% of the votes, an infinitesimal number. According to this source and this one, the idea that voters commit fraud on this wide scale is actually a made-up phenomenon used to repress the civil rights of voters--primarily minority voters. In fact, more and more indicators are pointing to 'voter fraud' as nothing more than one more tool for election tampering in a broader sense. So 'claiming voter fraud' is actually an 'election fraud' method. But the claims of voter fraud continue unabated, however, at least from one political camp. Election Fraud: Voter Suppression 'Voter fraud' is usually called out by "Republicans, who claim that fraud is rampant in US elections, and Democrats, who say such charges are merely an excuse to suppress the vote" (Source). As a means of election fraud, voter suppression is actually much more prevalent than voter fraud. Many of the 'cheating tactics' listed at the top are about suppressing people's ability to vote as well as their actual votes cast. Placing obstacles between citizens and their ability to vote in any election suppresses their rights. It also suppresses their concerns, their priorities, and their opinions about the direction of our country. "Each election cycle, untold numbers of eligible Americans are prevented from voting due to barriers in the voter registration process, restrictions on casting ballots, and discriminatory and partisan-rigged district maps." (Source)

  • Gerrymandering lets elected officials choose their voter pool.

  • Vote caging uses the US Postal Service to challenge people's valid addresses.

  • Poll intimidation employs people to harasses voters on their way into a polling location.

  • Voter ID rules create more obstacles (tied to money, effort, and time) to registration and voting.

But the latest trend in vote suppression has to be voter purges. Election Fraud: Voter Purges If you can't stop people from voting through fear or obstacles, then you can just eliminate their ability to vote outright (without notifying them, of course). "This phenomenon began after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision that severely weakened the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Brennan Center first identified this troubling voter purge trend in in July 2018." Again, legal in some cases; unethical in all. Over 17 million voters were purged from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018 (Source). In some states, like Georgia, "purges disproportionately affected African Americans, whose voter registrations were removed at a rate that was 1.25 times higher than for white Americans in some counties." (Source) Purging is a targeted--and effective--way to prevent specific minority groups from voting. By the time a voter finds out they have been purged, it's often too late to re-register and vote in the current election. In Michigan, election laws were passed by popular vote in 2018 to combat these types of suppression techniques with same-day registration & voting, online voter registration, automatic registration for 17-year olds, and no reason absentee voting for all voters. Michigan voted for electoral resiliency. Election Fraud: Primary Election Tampering Another frightening trend in election fraud is so nebulous, it doesn't even have a name yet. So I’m calling it 'primary election tampering.' Suppose a popular candidate of the Alpha Party looks like a sure bet to beat the candidate of Beta Party. Allies of Beta Party can recruit and boost a primary challenger to the Alpha candidate. If this new Alpha candidate wins the primary, then the Beta candidate has a custom-selected opponent for the general election. Here's an illustration of Primary Election Tampering. Beta worries about this outcome:

So they set up this contest before the General:

And help the other candidate win the primary through monetary backing and potentially a coordinated Beta voting effort.

Because they foresee this:

Imagine. Custom-selected opponents. As an opposite example, primary election tampering can also take the form of primary-ing out a more moderate candidate, leaving a more stringent ideologue as the only major party candidate for an office. This technique was utilized particularly effectively by the Tea Party in 2010. Tea Party candidates rose to national prominence through targeted primary election tampering by mobilizing their voting blocks during the primary to place ultra-conservative Republicans on the general ballots. By the time the general election rolls around, there is only one Republican on the ballot. Is this legal? Perfectly. Is it fair? Debatable. Is it ethical? Absolutely not. But because many fewer voters cast a ballot in a primary election versus a general, the scrutiny on these practices isn't as severe. But maybe that is changing. Maybe we are becoming more electoral resilient. Why is Cheating So Rampant? Election systems are rigged so that someone, somewhere can guarantee someone a win. It's that simple. Unpredictability. Fairness. Hard work. Honest effort. Acceptance of any outcome? For some groups, these are unacceptable factors that could influence elections. So if you can't win on a level playing field, then you need "to enact restrictive voting laws intended to keep voters from the polls," and, thus, enfranchise the select voters who will cast the select votes for the select candidates (Source). Electoral Resilience I have coined 'electoral resilience' as a nod to social scientist Brene Brown whose research into the human phenomenon of shame has prompted her to suggest ways to become 'shame resilient'. When we develop shame resilience, we can be happier human beings, according to Brown. If we can also develop electoral resilience, I predict we can become happier voters and constituents. We can see through the traps and the tricks. We can navigate the empty promises and the impossible claims. We can size up a candidate or issue faster and more accurately. We can become immune to whose tv commercial is claiming what. And it can become second-nature through practice and habit-building. "Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they believed the U.S. is not very prepared or not prepared at all to keep November's [2020] election safe and secure," according to an NPR poll. If we are worried about our free and secure elections remaining so, we must step-up our resiliency to cheating tactics that purport to promote 'freedom' and 'security.' You can start by reading every single one of the articles cited in this one.

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