Rick Hasen delivers a warning with a real punch in Election Meltdown. This is an essential account of the problems with our electoral system just in time for the 2020 election cycle. I’m certainly going to have my students read it when I teach voting rights this fall.
Hasen, a well-known expert in election law, identifies four critical dangers facing American democracy: voter suppression, instances of incompetence by both parties in the administration of elections, “dirty tricks” (by which he means the malignant use of social media by foreign and domestic agents), and “incendiary rhetoric” from the political right and left in terms of charges of “stolen” or “rigged” elections. These are all useful points that Hasen makes persuasively.
But persuasive to everyone? The kind of legal and policy analysis Hasen provides in this book is considered more convincing if it follows the evidence and remains even-handed. Hasen does follow the evidence but this means he cannot be even-handed. The Republican Party stands accused of multiple instances of trying to suppress the vote of Democratic voters. Meanwhile Democrats stand accused of occasional incompetence in election administration and often overstating the impact of voter suppression on electoral outcomes. However, Democrats also seem more interested than Republicans in counting every vote, particularly in jurisdictions in which absentee voting is common. These accusations do not exactly even out and Hasen does not pretend otherwise. As he states, “only one party is seeking to make it harder to register and vote for those likely to vote for the other party.” This will likely limit the impact of his book, but I’m willing to keep an open mind.