Donald Trump warned us the 2016 election would be rigged. Was it? I’ve seen no evidence the vote was subverted enough to change the presidential result. But there were plenty of problems with the election, problems we should fix to protect American democracy.
2016 was the first major election after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Several states put new limitations on the right to vote such as North Carolina’s intentionally racist voter ID law. How many votes were suppressed in 2016? It’s too early to know (counting and analysis takes time), but voter suppression definitely had some effect. The right to vote is one of the most important rights we have in America, we must defend it for everyone.
Clinton won the popular vote by at least 1M votes but lost the election. That’s not “rigged,” the system is functioning as designed. But the Electoral College is curiously anti-democratic, Trump himself called it “a disaster for democracy.” A particular problem is that the way votes are allocated means there’s gross inequality. Voters from small states like Wyoming or Vermont have 2–3x the power as voters from big states like Texas or California. This bias disenfranchises racial minorities as well. The Interstate Compact is one possible way to reform the electoral college.
The FBI meddled in the election. Comey’s decision to bring up vague, irrelevant email evidence less than two weeks before the vote had a significant impact on public opinion. Comey’s handling of the email investigation had been unusually critical for months. The Trump campaign was tipped off about Comey’s October surprise before it happened; Giuliani even bragged of “a revolution going on inside the FBI”. The national police meddling in an election is something you expect in a tinpot dictatorship, not the US.
The Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee to influence the election. The DNC emails WikiLeaks published ended up not containing much of significance but still hurt the Clinton campaign. Back in July Trump invited Russia to hack Clinton. After the election a Putin adviser bragged “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks.” Foreign espionage threatens our independence.
Voting machine security has not come up as a specific concern this election. But it’s crucial to fair elections; a lot of computer voting to date is woefully insecure. A post-vote audit comparing electronic votes to verified paper votes would be a huge reassurance.
I have a lot of admiration for American democracy. Keeping our elections free and fair requires constant vigilance. We need to stop voter suppression, reform the electoral college, and prevent inappropriate influence both from US and foreign governments. Keeping democracy healthy is a non-partisan goal; it is American.