American voters are increasingly aware that the mechanics of
elections matter. The conduct of elections-how eligible voters make
it onto the voter rolls, how voters cast their ballots, and how
those votes are counted-determines the degree to which the people's
preferences are expressed freely, weighed equally, and recorded
accurately. It is not surprising, then, that attempts to "clean up"
elections are widely applauded as being unambiguously good for
In The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform, Frederic
Charles Schaffer reveals how tinkering with the electoral process
can easily damage democratic ideals. Drawing on both recent and
historical evidence from the United States and countries around the
world, including the Philippines (where Schaffer has served as an
election observer), Venezuela, South Africa, and Taiwan, The
Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform investigates why
citizens sometimes find themselves abruptly disenfranchised.
Schaffer examines numerous incidents in which election reforms
have, whether intentionally or accidentally, harmed the quality and
experience of democracy.
These cases include the introduction of secret balloting in
1890s Arkansas, which deliberately stripped black citizens of the
power to vote; efforts to insulate voters from outside influences
in nineteenth-century France; the purge of supposed felons from the
voter rolls of Florida ahead of the 2000 presidential election; and
current debates over the reliability and security of touch-screen
voting machines. Lawmakers, election officials, partisan
operatives, and civic educators, Schaffer finds, can all contribute
to the harm caused by improperly or cynically constructed election
reforms. By understanding how even good-faith efforts to improve
corrupt or flawed electoral practices may impede the democratic
process, The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform
suggests new ways to help prevent future breaches of democracy.
Subjects: Political Science
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