Will Election 2012 be another Florida 2000?
The 2008 U.S. presidential election was the first in 12 years in which large numbers of Americans did not believe the result was unfairly influenced by the machinations of politically biased state election officials. But it was also the first in a dozen years that was not close, as Democrat Barack Obama cruised to a blowout victory over Republican John McCain.
With 2012 shaping up to be another tight contest, experts say controversy is likely this year, especially given that 33 of the 50 state election authorities are led by partisan politicians, who are free to work for candidates’ campaigns.
“People don’t pay attention to problems of partisanship until it’s too late,” said Richard Hasen, an elections law specialist at the University of California-Irvine.
There has already been election controversy this year. Republicans and Democrats have been fighting for months over voter identification laws that Republicans say are necessary to prevent fraud, and Democrats contend are efforts to make it harder for poorer voters and members of minorities – who tend to vote Democratic – to cast ballots.
In Florida, election officials appointed by the state’s Republican governor are in a fight with the Department of Justice over their effort to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens, an effort federal authorities contend unfairly targets members of minority groups.
And last month, Arizona’s secretary of state, who is also Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign co-chairman, threatened to keep Obama’s name off the state ballot on Nov. 6 unless officials in Hawaii provided proof that Obama was born in their state. They did so, and Republican Ken Bennett added Obama’s name, but he was criticized for reviving discredited speculation that Obama, the first black U.S. president, was born in Africa, and thus ineligible to hold the office.
Americans lost faith in the U.S. political system after controversies surrounding the 2004 and 2000 elections.
In 2004, incumbent Republican President George W. Bush’s re-election hinged on his victory in Ohio, where the top election official, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, was a co-chairman of his campaign. Some Democrats insisted that Blackwell made decisions, such as putting fewer voting machines in black neighborhoods than white ones, intended to help deliver his state to Bush.
Many experts dispute that Blackwell’s actions affected the outcome. But Ohio 2004 was an unhappy reminder of 2000, when Bush won the presidency only after the Supreme Court stopped a recount in Florida, where Bush’s brother was governor and the top election official, Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was co-chairwoman of Bush’s campaign.
Another controversy this year could be more intense, Hasen said, due to the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter, which he says make it easier for people to generate controversy and organize protests.
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