If Americans don't believe that elections are conducted fairly, or believe that the person who takes office didn't actually win, the implications for the country are pretty scary. But according to one recent survey, distrust in election outcomes is startlingly widespread—and growing.
The survey, conducted in March by the Opinion Research Center for information tech firm InfoSENTRY Services, asked respondents to say, "on a scale of 1 to 5," how confident they were that votes were counted accurately in their area. One signified "no confidence," and the scale moved up from there. (Read more about the survey's methodology here.) This year, the number of people who answered one or two—in other words had little to no confidence in the accuracy—was the highest it's been since the survey was first conducted in 2004: 23 percent.
You might expect trust to grow in American elections as we get further from the debacle of 2000. After all, if there was a time to wonder if all votes got counted, it would be when the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling to stop a recount—thereby giving George W. Bush, with fewer popular votes nationally, the win. The catastrophe in Florida raised all sorts of questions around types of ballots (remember the butterfly?) and many states worked to reform the voting process. But the number of Americans who feel confident about election results has stayed largely in the low 60s (though in 2011 and 2009, that percentage dropped into the high 50s.) Among African American voters, the distrust runs particularly high. Only 44 percent of black respondents said they had confidence in elections, while 33 percent—one-third!—did not. Among whites, 62 percent trust the results while 22 percent do not. While the survey did not probe the reasons for such distrust, it's easy to figure out one factor that's certainly not helping: laws making it more difficult for blacks to vote. After all, African Americans fought long and hard for the franchise, and less than 50 years afterward, they're now watching that right threatened in the form of voter ID laws. Black Americans disproportionately lack the necessary photo identification that most voter ID laws require, and many expect the laws to decrease turnout in black areas. In Philadelphia, where 42 percent of the population is black, as many as 18 percent of voters lack necessary ID. Which is, of course, the point. Voter ID laws have a clear strategic value for Republicans, by decreasing the number of poor and minority voters—groups that tend to vote Democratic.
If conservative lawmakers are really concerned about restoring faith in elections—the rationale, they claim, for voter ID laws that cut down on "fraud"—they might want to consider reaching out to African American communities, ensuring that there are registration drives and easy access to free IDs if they're being required. They might try helping the communities have a voice. Rather than, you know, suppressing it.