Study ranks United States 26th in the world in integrity of its elections

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
On the overall ranking, the United States finished just below Micronesia and just ahead of Mexico.

A recently published study by scholars who compare the functioning of democracies around the world found that the United States ranks 26th out of 66 democracies studied in the integrity of its election processes.

That ranking placed United States in the category that the authors called “moderate integrity.” The scholars gave the U.S. system especially bad marks for the way U.S. House districts are drawn, troubled by the untrammeled ability of whichever party controls a state to draw the district map to its own advantage for the large and mostly unregulated influence of money in U.S. politics, and by the preponderance of negative advertising. The scholars were also critical of the varied systems of voter registration used in the states and the ongoing argument about whether recent initiatives to increase — for example, the requirement of photo identification as part of the voter registration process — was really about protecting the integrity of elections or about making it harder for certain groups to vote.

On the overall ranking, the United States finished just below Micronesia and just ahead of Mexico.

The study was part of a scholarly venture called The Electoral Integrity Project. Harvard’s Pippa Norris, one of the leading comparative politics scholars in the United States, was among the leaders of the project, which was financed by the Harvard Kennedy School and the Australian Research Council, among others. The authors consulted 855 election experts around the world so that the study included input from experts in each of the countries rated.

The U.S. results were based not on the election that just concluded but on the 2012 presidential election cycle. In all of the countries studied, the most recent election for a national leadership was used. All of the elections rated in the study occurred in 2012 or 2013.

Here are the countries, in order, that the scholars rated as having election systems of “high integrity” in 2012 and 2013: Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Iceland, Czech Republic, Austria, South Korea, Slovenia, Israel, Cyprus, Lithuania, Australia, Rwanda, Japan, Chile, Italy, Grenada, Malta, Argentina, Georgia and Mongolia.

The full study is available as a pdf here.

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The United States was not in the high integrity category and ranked only 26 out of the 66 countries analyzed over the period, a ranking similar to that of Mexico, Mongolia and Georgia. The United States was hurt by lower rankings in the strength of electoral laws, voter registration processes (and voter ID laws), campaign finance and, most significantly, the redistricting of voters and changing of boundaries for political reasons, which can compromise meaningful elections – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/international/development/electoral-integrity-flawed-contests-worldwide-united-states#sthash.B6qk1QBZ.dpu
The United States was not in the high integrity category and ranked only 26 out of the 66 countries analyzed over the period, a ranking similar to that of Mexico, Mongolia and Georgia. The United States was hurt by lower rankings in the strength of electoral laws, voter registration processes (and voter ID laws), campaign finance and, most significantly, the redistricting of voters and changing of boundaries for political reasons, which can compromise meaningful elections. – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/international/development/electoral-integrity-flawed-contests-worldwide-united-states#sthash.B6qk1QBZ.dpuf
The United States was not in the high integrity category and ranked only 26 out of the 66 countries analyzed over the period, a ranking similar to that of Mexico, Mongolia and Georgia. The United States was hurt by lower rankings in the strength of electoral laws, voter registration processes (and voter ID laws), campaign finance and, most significantly, the redistricting of voters and changing of boundaries for political reasons, which can compromise meaningful elections. – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/international/development/electoral-integrity-flawed-contests-worldwide-united-states#sthash.B6qk1QBZ.dpuf
The United States was not in the high integrity category and ranked only 26 out of the 66 countries analyzed over the period, a ranking similar to that of Mexico, Mongolia and Georgia. The United States was hurt by lower rankings in the strength of electoral laws, voter registration processes (and voter ID laws), campaign finance and, most significantly, the redistricting of voters and changing of boundaries for political reasons, which can compromise meaningful elections. – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/international/development/electoral-integrity-flawed-contests-worldwide-united-states#sthash.B6qk1QBZ.dpuf

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/19/2014 - 08:26 am.

    Not to be

    …too much the pessimist, but, like many another academic study over the years that questions the efficacy of the status quo, I suspect this conclusion will fade, quickly, into the mists. We *could* change the applicable laws and procedures, but doing so would alienate powerful financial and political interests, so I’ll be surprised if any of the flaws mentioned are actually addressed by 2016, if ever.

  2. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/19/2014 - 09:48 am.

    Behind…Rwanda?

    We finished behind Rwanda. A country in Central Africa known for genocide in recent history, though it now boasts “lower corruption than neighboring countries,” setting a pretty low bar for “low corruption.” And, yet, its election system has a higher integrity than the country that likes to believe that it invented democracy…

  3. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/19/2014 - 09:55 am.

    Not surprising…

    when you consider that this is probably the only country where dead people continue to vote.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 11/19/2014 - 02:30 pm.

      C’mon, Pavel….

      Technically, the core demographic of the GOP voting bloc IS still breathing, just not for very much longer. The average Fox news viewer is 68 years old.

      • Submitted by jody rooney on 11/19/2014 - 02:45 pm.

        I don’t know about voting but

        the GOP and the GOP leaning packs keep sending my dad literature requesting donations and he has been dead for 6 years.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 11/19/2014 - 02:57 pm.

          Funny

          Not the part about your father passing away… but the MNGOP sends my 2 year-old son campaign literature as well. I don’t know HOW that one happened.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/19/2014 - 07:29 pm.

        Interesting

        The average Fox viewer may be 68 (MSNBC’s is actually 62.5, not much of a difference) but it still has the most prime demographic viewers (http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/05/may-cable-news-ratings-spare-no-one-189393.html). But in general, I guess younger people are busy playing with their smart phones and taking selfies, so they don’t bother coming to vote…

        • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/20/2014 - 04:55 am.

          Ilya,

          they do vote. And there lies the problem. They are the low information voters. And there are more of them than there are of us.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/20/2014 - 08:59 am.

            Low information voters

            Yes, Fox News viewers are the model of the low-information voter. Although they are old, they are still voting, and there are always ill-informed right-wingers around to replace them.

            PS Who is this “us” of whom you speak?

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/19/2014 - 10:03 am.

    When you have party activists

    working as election judges who are only concerned with turnout, no need to prove your citizenship when you vote, 50,000 college students who aren’t from here but are voting here anyway and 90,000 illegal aliens who want something from our government, you have a system ripe for fraud.

    We need the system they have in Iraq, believe it or not. You have to vote in person, show proof of residency and citizenship when you vote, and then you dip your thumb into a jar of blue ink to ensure you don’t come back a second or third time.

    Until we have something like that, most thinking people won’t trust the system, which is why fewer people are even bothering to vote.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/19/2014 - 10:36 am.

      When you have commenters

      who do not read the post, this is what happens.

      The main issues with the US system seems to be the partisan gerrymandered districts and the money in politics. There is nothing about no-good anthropology majors voting where they live, instead of where they belong. There is also nothing about illegals voting, since that doesn’t seem to be happening much, if at all.

      PS Technical point, but election judges in Minnesota are strictly non-partisan. Poll watchers are not.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/19/2014 - 12:15 pm.

        Judges have to declare a political party as there are certain functions, such as handling ballots, that require two people from differing parties.

        The items from Mr. Tester’s posting weren’t even a factor in the study, but rather negative advertising, too much money, and gerrymandering districts. College students and illegal aliens voting aren’t even a statistical blip in the process, let alone dead people another person alluded to. If any of those are such a huge issue, by all means bring the people forward. Post their names. Bring forth the election judges, Republican as well as Democratic, who let these people vote. Show me the photos of the busloads of people who are going around from precinct to precinct.

        Until I see some hard evidence, I’m going to have to go with the facts on the ground and what I see with my own eyes, which tell me this is a non-issue.

        • Submitted by jody rooney on 11/19/2014 - 02:52 pm.

          I think gerrymandering is an issue

          but I agree that most of the other behaviors are non issues.

          I would however urge to not just go with what you see with your own eyes, has really weird implications for medical treatment for example, but to understand well collected data is a useful indicator of something. An N or 1 is never a good indicator and I believed you have argued that before.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/19/2014 - 03:57 pm.

          Judges

          It’s my understanding that election judges are not allowed to participate in partisan activity, like bringing busloads of illegals in to swell the turnout.

          I recommend you don’t hold your breath waiting for evidence of widespread election fraud. The usual response is that “we know” it exists, but it is so well-hidden we can’t prove it.

        • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 11/19/2014 - 06:41 pm.

          Judges can be NOTA and are impartial

          “Judges have to declare a political party …” No, state law was changed so a person can be an election judge without declaring a major party party affiliation.

          “… as there are certain functions, such as handling ballots, that require two people from differing parties” This is correct; some functions in a precint still require the presence of two judges of different major parties.

          IMO, Minnesota’s laws connecting election judges with major political parties should be repealed. Election judges swear this oath before the precinct opens: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will perform the duties of Election Judge according to law and the best of my ability and will diligently endeavor to prevent fraud, deceit and abuse in conducting this election. *I WILL PERFORM MY DUTIES IN A FAIR AND IMPARTIAL MANNER AND NOT ATTEMPT TO CREATE AN ADVANTAGE FOR MY PARTY OR MY CANDIDATE*.” [My emphasis]

          If a judge violates that oath,they can be in legal trouble, no? So the two-judges/two-parties requirement for certain dutiesis obviated by swearing the oath.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/19/2014 - 03:26 pm.

      Do tell us

      …Mr. Tester, how many of those 90,000 illegal aliens voted in the recent election? Over and over, it’s been established that voter fraud of the sort you’re implying essentially doesn’t exist, either in Minnesota or nationally. As has been pointed out elsewhere, election judges are nonpartisan, though I should hastily add that, for some elections, at least, I wouldn’t be surprised if the judges were happy to see increased turnout. Twelve hours in a polling place when only a couple dozen people vote is a fair definition of a *really* boring day. It will come as a surprise to Mr. Tester, but voting and its regulation is largely based on where you *live*, not on where you came from.

      Finally, I have the perfect solution for Mr. Tester’s anxieties surrounding the authenticity of our current system. You become registered as a voter when you’re born – it’s tied to your social security number, which is issued when you’re born. It will take a little while to clean out the bugs in that system (unlike voter fraud there *is* significant fraud in the use of fake social security numbers to secure benefits), but since it’ll all be computerized, before long, every voter will have the very photo ID that people who like to call themselves “conservative” have been salivating over for the past several years. We just need to tweak the laws so that, like Australia, you’re fined if you *fail* to vote. Problem solved. Everybody is registered, regardless of race, class or location, we have a photo ID of each voter, and there’s a penalty if you don’t vote. That will surely increase voter turnout by large numbers, and is, I expect, precisely what Mr. Tester does NOT want to see. In a genuine democracy, the right wing is a small minority.

      Mr. Tester’s final sentence is especially interesting. “Thinking people,” apparently, out of distrust, don’t bother to vote, which means only “non-thinking people” bother to vote. Leaving aside all those of more liberal persuasion, I suspect there are many Republicans who might be offended by that characterization. Are Republican voters merely cattle who, shown the proper pictures, will vote for anyone they’re told to? Is this how Republicans won control of the Minnesota House?

  5. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/19/2014 - 07:30 pm.

    Even more interesting

    I find two interesting things in this study. First, Italy took one of the highest spots – a country where a former powerful prime minister was indicted for corruption and sex with underage girl. And second, Grenada and Chile are among the best countries – I guess American intervention didn’t ruin their lives but improved them. I wonder where those countries would have been if the socialist leaders were left at power there. Where is Cuba on the list?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/20/2014 - 12:54 pm.

      American intervention in Chile

      Right, nothing improves the polity like a military coup that overthrows a democratically-elected government at the behest of a foreign nation and foreign-owned extractive industries. The decades of brutal authoritarian rule (aided and abetted by icon of liberty Milton Friedman) were just the murderous icing on the cake. Add to that the export of terrorism to American soil, and you have a model that should be replicated all over the world.

      I’m sure the victims of the Pinochet regime take comfort in the roles they played in improving lives.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/20/2014 - 08:30 pm.

        Chile vs. Cuba

        Mr. Holbrook, I am sure people in Chile now are happy that they do not live in another Cuba or Venezuela (where people were killed as well, of course). Just ask some Chileans…

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/21/2014 - 09:35 am.

          Chile vs. Cuba

          Trivializing the criminality of a dictatorship because, after a number of years, things turned out alright is something I can’t understand.

          Remember that the Pinochet regime did not hesitate to export its brutality to the US.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/22/2014 - 12:31 pm.

            Results are what count and they are obvious: Chile is better off without Allende who, based on history, would have led Chile on Cuba path and killed more people than Pinochet.

            How did Pinochet export it to the US?

            • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 11/23/2014 - 12:24 am.

              Based on what?

              You are saying that Pinochet was a better choice for Chile than the democratically elected Allende. What information about Allende would indicate that he would have certainly killed more people than Pinochet? Based on what history (other than your own speculation)? Seeing as Pinochet took power in a coup and remained in power for about 15 years, it seems to be a very ironic argument to make in the comments section of an article about the integrity of elections.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/24/2014 - 09:43 am.

              Export

              Look up “Orlando Letelier, murder of.”

              I’m sure the thousands of victims of Pinochet died happy, knowing that more of them would have been killed in Cuba.

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/19/2014 - 11:25 pm.

    Gerrymandering by political victors ….

    must be eliminated. There is no doubt. It is nothing but very old fashion “spoils system!” District reorganization because of population shifting must be taken out of the political process otherwise voting will always be a victim of politics. I suggest we look at a permanent election boundary court be in place. Sitting on this court is based on scholarship not appointment. It is a credentialed venue. Something has to be done to rebuilt the trust in this is or is it ? democracy.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/20/2014 - 08:35 am.

      If you proposed eliminating Gerrymandered districts

      the people who would oppose you the most would be southern democrats. Those districts and others like them around the country were established to ensure that black people had representation in congress. Without Gerrymandered districts, there might not be a congressional black caucus. At least that’s what they would argue.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/20/2014 - 07:54 am.

    I would suggest those who concern themselves about vote suppression review the rise of the Interstate Crosscheck program as used by various (generally Republican) Secretary of States.

    Via that program, by cross-checking voting records from state to state, voters with the same or similar name can be presumed to be engaged in inter-state voter fraud and dropped from the rolls.

    Oddly enough, it affects minority communities more due to fewer name variations in the pool as a whole.

    Not satisfied with the apparently very low incidence of intra-state voter fraud, now the idea is to go after inter-state voter fraud where it is to be believed that people travel dozens, hundreds or thousands of miles to be able to cast another vote in a far-away state. Or, more plausibly, their name is close to the name of another voter in another state.

    See:

    http://www.gregpalast.com/the-secret-lists-that-swiped-the-senate/

    http://projects.aljazeera.com/2014/double-voters/

    (quote)

    Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voters from the rolls. Millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters, are at risk. Already, tens of thousands have been removed in at least one battleground state, and the numbers are expected to climb, according to a six-month-long, nationwide investigation by Al Jazeera America. At the heart of this voter-roll scrub is the Interstate Crosscheck program, which has generated a master list of nearly 7 million names. Officials say that these names represent legions of fraudsters who are not only registered but have actually voted in two or more states in the same election — a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison. Until now, state elections officials have refused to turn over their Crosscheck lists, some on grounds that these voters are subject to criminal investigation. Now, for the first time, three states — Georgia, Virginia and Washington — have released their lists to Al Jazeera America, providing a total of just over 2 million names.The Crosscheck list of suspected double voters has been compiled by matching names from roughly 110 million voter records from participating states. Interstate Crosscheck is the pet project of Kansas’ controversial Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach, known for his crusade against voter fraud. The three states’ lists are heavily weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel and Kim — ones common among minorities, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Indeed, fully 1 in 7 African-Americans in those 27 states, plus the state of Washington (which enrolled in Crosscheck but has decided not to utilize the results), are listed as under suspicion of having voted twice. This also applies to 1 in 8 Asian-Americans and 1 in 8 Hispanic voters. White voters too — 1 in 11 — are at risk of having their names scrubbed from the voter rolls, though not as vulnerable as minorities.If even a fraction of those names are blocked from voting or purged from voter rolls, it could alter the outcome of next week’s electoral battle for control of the U.S. Senate — and perhaps prove decisive in the 2016 presidential vote count.

    (end quote)

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/21/2014 - 09:01 am.

    Yes and No

    I have to admit, the idea that Rwanda ranks higher than the US gives me serious pause regarding the methodology of this study. I also notice some glitches in the presentation, for instance on the map the US is “green” along with the other “high” confidence countries, but it actual ranking makes it “moderate”. I mean, methodologically they used dozens of factors and weighting that many factors can be dodgy. Give too much weight to “expert” opinions and you skew your outcomes.

    On the other hand, the study talks about “failed” elections and why they happen. The Bush/Gore election WAS a failed election in the sense that we know the guy who got the most votes didn’t get into the white house. Gore not only won the popular vote, but he also won Florida’s electoral votes if you’ll recall. The re-count after the election showed that a state-wide recount would have yielded a Gore victory.

    That election was a fail on several counts (forgive the pun). Gore lost because partisan interests were in control of Florida’s electoral process. He lost because the votes could not be counted properly in a timely fashion. He lost because his own party adopted a stupid “limited” recount strategy instead of a statewide recount demand. He lost because Supreme Court illegally intervened in a state electoral process and essentially awarded the election to Bush. Scalia has admitted that the courts intervention was driven by the embarrassment of the ongoing recount fiasco rather than a concern for vote outcomes. (It just so happens that Scalia’s guy got the nod eh?) Embarrassment isn’t a constitutional criteria for intervention.

    In other words, Bush didn’t win… because he won. None of the reasons for Gore’s loss are legitimate reasons in any electoral system with integrity. Systems with integrity simply don’t award elections to candidates who didn’t get the most votes. And that was a presidential election, that a BIG fail, not a marginal seat somewhere.

    The problem is that the 2000 election wasn’t supposed to be factored into this analysis, just looking at the 2012 election can we draw the same conclusion?

    We know we have ongoing issues with computerized systems like touch-screens. In North Carolina I think it was- people votes for the democrat were being registered as votes for the republican. Some voters noticed but we have no idea how widespread that phenomena was or if was fixed. We know that the paper ballots we use here in MN are the most reliable, and can be recounted reliably if need be so they should be the standard method nationwide.

    Gerrymandering is huge problem.

    The quality of campaign ads is atrocious but the 1st Amendment makes regulating misinformation and deception much more difficult in the US. On the other hand, no one has really tried. We used to have equal time rules but neither the democrats or the republicans want to reinstate those.

    Ongoing republican attempts to suppress votes are just now beginning to catch voters attention and we’ll see how that plays out.

    All bets are off with this Supreme Court. Those guys just make stuff up and rule accordingly so who knows what they’ll do now that we know the Texas voter ID law disenfranchised legal voters for instance.

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