Saturday, October 18, 2008

Undermining the Legitimacy of Government

It is often said that hard cases make bad law, and it is often true that those on a quest for the perfect end up with something that is worse than what they had before. Both of those notions come into play with what has become of our system of elections.

There have been occasional instances -- and frequent charges -- of fraud over the course of American electoral history, but, with the exception of the disenfranchisement of blacks in the south prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in the 1960's, the system has for the most part worked. However, the anomaly of the 2000 election created a perceived need for perfection, and those seeking perfection always imagine that they will find it by centralizing control. Thus, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 removed control for verifying registrations from the local government to the states. This year, the legitimacy of elections may be challenged based on a combination of clearly fraudulent registrations (all members of the Dallas Cowboys were recently registered in Nevada) and politically inspired challenges to the legitimacy of registrations.

It cannot be helped that there will always be some on all sides who consider the need to win at all costs to trump honesty in elections. However, more reasonable partisans surely understand that these controversies seriously undermine our system of government. Establishing reasonable standards by which election results can be trusted should not be brain surgery. It is too late to fix these problems in 2008. It is inexcusable that these problems should persist to the midterm elections in 2010.

Regardless of how the presidential election turns out, Americans on both sides must surely hope that the results are not close enough that this wrangling will be thought to have made a difference.

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