The Hidden Costs of Clean Elections

The Hidden Costs of Clean Elections

by Frederic Charles Schaffer
     
 

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

Overview

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 democracy.

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"As a result of a variety of voting irregularities in presidential and subpresidential elections since 2000, a broad-scale reform effort was made to clean up electoral administration. . . . Schaffer focuses on the unanticipated consequences of these reforms. . . . He devotes separate chapters to the four groups responsible for perverting electoral reforms: legislators who enact the new rules, election administrators who implement them, candidates and parties bound by the new rules, and civic educators who teach the public new ways to behave. This is a cutting-edge study of why and how reforms can go bad. Essential. All readership levels."—E. C. Dreyer, Choice, March 2009

"Election reformers damage democracy with surprising frequency . . . . Schaffer has assembled an impressive database of recent clean election reforms in places ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe (including 24 examples from various parts of the United States), many of which left democratic processes worse off than before. In addition, he considers historical cases in detail. . . . . The result is an illuminating, broadly comparative, and useful critique of clean election reforms."—Science

"The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform is a very important book that could not be more relevant to the current controversies over election systems. Frederic Charles Schaffer warns us about the risks we confront even when with the best of intentions we attempt to improve the system. It also clearly presents the opportunities partisans and others can seize for nefarious purposes in the name of 'election reform.'"—Tova Andrea Wang, The Century Foundation

"The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform explores the detrimental effects of election reform, offering a comprehensive treatment of the subject: a menu of things that have gone wrong and that might go wrong if care is not taken in future reforms. Many of those most active in influencing and implementing electoral reform around the world are unrepentant optimists-reform boosters who should pay special attention to this book's lessons. This is a must-read for practitioners working on election reform and foreign aid, as well as for scholars who study the process of political reform."—John Gerring, Boston University

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801441158
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
05/08/2008
Pages:
264
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

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