Forensics and Elections

Forensics and Elections

Forensics in the form of investigative technology seems to be moving to the forefront of the news and national attention. One of the big questions that has come up has been about the legality of the electoral college, and whether the electoral college is a right and proper way to select a president for the United States of America, another is about how to detect and prevent actual voting fraud.  

The first problem with the electoral college arose in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson tied with Aaron Burr for votes in the electoral college. After some fancy footing on the part of Congress, it was decided that Jefferson would be president and Aaron Burr Vice President. To avoid future problems, a new rule that candidates had to be designated president or vice president as candidates when running. This was followed up by a very odd compromise that put John Quincy Adams in office and was then followed up by the election of Andrew Jackson.

Perhaps one of the most notable electoral college problems arose in 2000 when there was a call for a recount of the popular vote in Florida. When the dust settled, George W. Bush was elected with more electoral college votes than his opponent Al Gore, but Gore received more popular votes.  

The next three elections, although there were other issues, were managed with few problems with the electoral college.

Then came the hotly contested election of 2016. Against a background of raucous campaigning and some somber questions about both the Republican and Democratic candidates, there were seven faithless voters in the electoral college.

Faithless voters are members of the electoral college who do not vote according to the popular ballots cast by their home state constituency. The people receiving those seven votes were Colin Powell, John Kasich, Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders and Faith Spotted Eagle. 

One of the arguments for the electoral college is to cut down on the incidence of both voting by people who have no real way to know the candidates, and another is to minimize fraudulent voting. However, popular voting is used for offices other than the President. Sometimes elections of local officials can be as important or even more important for the general comfort of people.

Dr. Walter Mebane and his team at Cornell University use statistics to help zero in on possible cheating at the polls. They look for big changes in the numbers of votes cast in an area or huge changes. The method isn’t foolproof and sometimes throws false indicators, but it’s a way to examine what is going on at the polls.

If you live in the U.S., it is easy to forget that we are not the only nation affected by elections. Dr. Mebane’s method was used to test the validity of the Bangladesh election of 2001, for example. Although it was not considered perfect, that election did pass the international standards for a fair election.

One could argue that with available access to the Internet, citizens have a better chance of gaining information about candidates, and could even vote online. But with the fast-flying accusations of false information, “fake news”, mail fraud and monetary fraud on the Internet, interested parties are still left with the feeling that voters would still be met with challenges.