Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

America's voting system is a disgrace

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
updated 6:01 AM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
A blur of waving flags greeted President Barack Obama's victory speech at an election night event in Chicago, Illinois. A blur of waving flags greeted President Barack Obama's victory speech at an election night event in Chicago, Illinois.
HIDE CAPTION
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
Election 2012: The best photos
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: Tuesday's vote is subject to all manner of disputes between parties
  • He says U.S. voting system is locally controlled, gives too much power to politicians
  • Other democracies establish national standards and enforce them equally, he says
  • Frum: After dispute over 2000 election, reforms were promised but haven't materialized

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of seven books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

Washington (CNN) -- When the polls close in most other democracies, the results are known almost instantly. Ballots are usually counted accurately and rapidly, and nobody disputes the result. Complaints of voter fraud are rare; complaints of voter suppression are rarer still.

The kind of battle we are seeing in Florida -- where Democrats and Republicans will go to court over whether early voting should span 14 days or eight -- simply does not happen in Germany, Canada, Britain or France. The ballot uncertainty that convulsed the nation after Florida's vote in 2000 could not happen in Mexico or Brazil.

David Frum
David Frum

Almost everywhere else, elections are run by impartial voting agencies. In France, elections are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, which establishes places and hours of voting, prints ballots (France still uses paper) and counts the votes. In Germany, an independent federal returning officer oversees a complex state and federal voting system.

Share your reaction to the election results

In Canada, federal elections are managed by a specialized agency, Elections Canada. Mexico, emerging from a sad history of electoral manipulation, created in the 1990s a respected independent agency, the Federal Electoral Institute. Brazil has nationwide electronic voting, producing instantaneous, uncontested results.

President Barack Obama: My vision for America

No voting system is perfect. Britain has faced allegations of chronic fraud in absentee balloting. As I write, Lithuanian politics are convulsed by allegations of vote buying by one of its political parties.

But here's what doesn't happen in other democracies:

Politicians of one party do not set voting schedules to favor their side and harm the other. Politicians do not move around voting places to gain advantages for themselves or to disadvantage their opponents. In fact, in almost no other country do politicians have any say in the administration of elections at all.

Here's a story from the 2000 election.

Like many old cities, St. Louis has not invested in modern voting equipment. Voting delays are notorious. At the scheduled poll-closing time, voters were still lined up throughout the city. Al Gore's campaign, desperate to win the state, asked a judge to extend voting for three more hours in the heavily Democratic city -- but only in the city. A state judge agreed. Republicans appealed, the state judge was overruled, and the polls were closed after remaining open a total of 45 additional minutes beyond the legal closing time.

Why are you voting?
Online voting: The future of elections?
Can e-voting machines be hacked?

Republicans won Missouri's 11 electoral votes by a margin of 78,786 out of the almost 2.4 million cast.

Think about what's incredible here:

Lines were lengthy in St. Louis City because in the United States, almost uniquely, local governments choose how voting is cast and counted. People who live in localities with less capable governments, such as St. Louis, will face greater delay and difficulty in casting their vote.

Mitt Romney: My vision for America

When local Democratic officials saw themselves disadvantaged by the existing rules, they appealed to a judge for special treatment for its (likely) voters -- and only for those voters. (Good news: In Missouri, circuit judges are appointed by the governor and then confirmed in office by nonpartisan vote. In many states, however, judges are themselves elected in partisan elections.)

The other party demanded that the existing rules be upheld, and the case was litigated on the fly, ending in a weird compromise that only failed to become a national scandal because the events in Florida were so much more dramatic.

In any other democracy, voters nationwide would have cast their votes on the same kind of balloting equipment, subject to the same rules.

Your take: Should we have polling places in churches?

The parties would have had a minimal role in supervising the election, and certainly would not have been allowed to ask for rule changes as the vote occurred.

The voting would have been overseen by a national election commission, not by local judges, who might be nonpartisan -- but who very well might not.

Change the list: You convinced them to vote

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Americans worry more about voter fraud than do voters in other countries, because they are the only country without a reliable system of national identification.

In no other country, including federal systems such as Germany, Canada and Australia, does the citizen's opportunity to vote depend on the affluence and competence of his or her local government.

In every other democracy, the vote is the means by which the people choose between the competing political parties -- not one more weapon by which the parties compete.

The United States is an exceptional nation, but it is not always exceptional for good. The American voting system too is an exception: It is the most error-prone, the most susceptible to fraud, the most vulnerable to unfairness and one of the least technologically sophisticated on earth. After the 2000 fiasco, Americans resolved to do better. Isn't it past time to make good on that resolution?

Opinion: On Election Day, pause to soak it in

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 2:04 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
updated 12:42 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
updated 4:29 PM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
updated 5:00 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
updated 11:57 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
updated 9:55 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
updated 8:58 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
updated 3:14 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
updated 1:21 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT