November 6, 2006

Public Concern About the Vote Count and Uncertainty About Electronic Voting Machines

by Andrew Kohut

Americans have long been proud of their democratic traditions. In 1999 no less than 84% of the public credited free elections as a primary reason why the US had been such a successful country in the 20th century. Opinions are dramatically different about US elections in the new century. A recent nine nation AP-IPSOS poll found Americans far less confident in their nation’s vote counting than citizens of other major Western democracies, including Great Britain, Canada, France and Germany. That poll found the US public only as confident as are the Mexicans and the Italians in their country’s vote counting.

National pride notwithstanding, public doubts about the accuracy of the vote count may have some significant consequences on election day. The problem is much on the minds of some political operatives who worry that it may discourage voting among some constituencies. And, there are further worries about the increasing use of electronic voting machines. Taken together, the issue of counting the votes looms large this year as polls of voters reveal.

FigureThe controversy surrounding the vote counts in the 2000 election in Florida, and other states, took quite a toll on the public’s faith in the electoral system. In December 2000 a 67% majority in a Gallup poll said they had little or no confidence in their nation’s vote counting. Since then, some faith in the system has been restored, but many Americans still have their doubts. An October 2006 Gallup survey found 25% still concerned about how accurately votes will be counted nationwide, but only 8% worried that their votes might not be accurately counted.

A nationwide Pew/AP survey of registered voters had a similar result with 12% of respondents expressing concerns about whether their ballots will be tallied properly. But, the poll revealed huge gaps in concerns. Independents and Democrats were much more wary than Republicans, and African Americans had far more doubts than whites. The percentage of blacks worrying about their vote being counted has increased substantially, spiking from 15% in 2004 to 29% in 2006.

An October Pew survey found a markedly higher percentage of likely voters among respondents confident that their vote will be counted properly than among those not confident, as is shown in the table below.

Figure

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