Over the last year, the debate over elections and voting rights has been poisoned by name-calling and conspiracy theories, distracting from the legitimate issues concerning America’s large and complex election system. That the U.S. is a union of 50 states complicates matters further. The 50 states are supposed to serve as “laboratories of democracy” in a wide range of areas, but the area where such experiments are perhaps most consequential is elections. When a swing state like Pennsylvania decides to change how it conducts its elections, that change can affect the country. What one state implements today, other states might soon adopt, too.
These realities raise questions about how our elections should be run and the impact of different election policies on the national and state level. Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund’s new book, "Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote" (Encounter, 2021), seeks to answer these questions by providing a comprehensive overview of elections in the U.S., discussing potential ways to fix them, and warning about the risk of new election policies that could do more harm than good.
The authors are admittedly conservative, but they do an admirable job of cutting through the rhetoric on both sides. They reject right-wing conspiracy theories, such as those raised by Rudy Giuliani, Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, Newsmax, and One American News. They also rightfully question – and disprove – some of the Left’s election-related arguments, such as its claim that there is no meaningful voter fraud or that voter ID laws suppress minority voters.
Fund and von Spakovsky have a strong hold on history. Arguments about election fraud long predate 2020 or 2016. The book discusses in detail, for example, the 1997 Miami mayoral election, where widespread absentee-ballot fraud altered the results. The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the scandal.
The authors avoid partisan mudslinging. They do not claim that only Democrats commit voter fraud – they describe, for instance, how a Republican candidate for the House nearly won his race through absentee-ballot fraud. Their argument, then, is not that only liberals cheat in elections, but that the circumstances liberals favor for voting create more chances for fraud. Anyone can take advantage of these conditions in elections.
The book makes a rigorous assessment of major issues affecting voting policies, many not well known. The name Marc Elias, for example, may be familiar only to readers who spend a lot of time on Twitter. Few realize that Elias is a lawyer who essentially controls Democratic election litigation, and that some of his past behavior has been ethically dubious. He faced sanctions from the Fifth Circuit over filing conduct.
Moreover, Fund and von Spakovsky shed light on the recent revelation that Mark Zuckerberg donated $350 million to a nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, to give out grants to election offices across the nation. Some of these donations were used to boost turnout in Democratic strongholds, such as Philadelphia. Zuckerberg’s spending deserves more attention than the media has given it, especially considering the scrutiny of conservative donors such as the Koch brothers. And unlike the Super PACs that have received so much negative attention, Zuckerberg’s donations went directly to government offices in charge of voting.
Additionally, the book looks at plausible ways that certain decisions could have affected the 2020 election. As noted above, the authors do not buy into conspiracy theories. Instead, they look at policies such as no-excuse absentee voting, allowing ballots received after Election Day to be counted, and the use of ballot drop-boxes, among others. The book goes into detail about how these policies may violate election laws or the Constitution and could compromise the integrity of elections.
Fund and von Spakovsky conclude by offering recommendations for change. They stress the importance of up-to-date voter rolls, Voter ID laws, election observers, and preventing state officials from circumventing election laws. They believe that these remedies can both fix longstanding problems and pare back what they see as too much change in the elections of 2020.
Fund and von Spakovsky could have explained more why Voter ID is needed. They are effective in showing why some left-wing critiques of Voter ID fall flat, but less so in proving why Voter ID would be a powerful deterrent to fraud. Most of the examples of voter fraud they cite involve absentee ballots; it’s not clear how Voter ID would address those issues.
Similarly, though, they gave an example of Republicans cheating in elections, they could have fleshed out further how the problematic policies they describe can be abused by either party. Doing so would have further underscored how this is not really a partisan issue – it’s about election integrity. As seen with the filibuster, presidential executive orders, and other institutional changes, either side can take advantage of potential weaknesses in the system.
"Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote" offers readers a robust analysis of U.S. voting laws, one that goes well beyond the scope of recent debates. The debate over election laws needs more voices like those of Fund and von Spakovsky.