Florida struggles with elections like an alligator struggles to swallow a moose. This was established in 2000 and re-affirmed with a vengeance in 2018. As this is being written, the race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson has gone into a recount. To make matters even more theatrical, Rick Scott has, without evidence, accused Nelson of trying to commit fraud. Trump and his Grima Wormtongue Lindsey Graham have also been, also without evidence, making accusations of voter fraud.
To be fair to those worried about voting shenanigans in Florida, Broward Country (the epicenter of the controversy) has a long history of election issues, including an incident in 2012 in which 1,000 uncounted ballots were found a week after the election. In another incident in 2004, 58,000 mail-in ballots were not sent to voters who requested them; although the matter was eventually addressed. As such, voters are right to be worried about whether their votes will be properly counted or not. But, the situation in Broward seems to be more a matter of incompetence as opposed to a brilliant Machiavellian plot to rob Scott of the election. At the time I am writing this, no evidence of fraud has appeared—but that could change.
While I certainly hope Rick Scott loses, I believe in American democracy and hold that a legitimate election requires two conditions be met. First, that every citizen has the opportunity to vote and that the vote is properly counted. As such, I oppose voter suppression and disenfranchising felons (although I do support disenfranchising those guilty of treason). I am also obviously for competently run elections. The denial of the right to vote is an attack on the foundation of democracy and destroys political legitimacy, as I have argued in other essays. Second, that those who are not legitimate voters are not permitted to vote. As such, I am obviously opposed to voter fraud. However, as I have argued elsewhere, the methods used to combat fraud must be directed at actual fraud, must be effective against fraud and must not deny legitimate voters their right to vote. Based on the best available evidence, voter fraud is like the harms of excessive exercise—it does occur but is incredibly rare. In contrast, efforts to suppress and deter voting are like obesity—a real and prevalent problem. As such, I worry far more about voter suppression than fraud—but I do worry about both.
The situation in Broward, as of this writing, does not seem to involve any fraud on the part of voters. However, the history of this county and the current situation both provide grounds for worry. As such, I have no opposition to an objective investigation of the counting of votes to ensure that there are no shenanigans. While I hope Scott loses, I do not want this loss to come through voter suppression or fraud. While a utilitarian argument could be made against my view, I would rather Scott win a completely aboveboard (no suppression and no fraud) election than lose due to fraud committed against him. I do, of course, think that Scott has, as governor, been suppressing voters (the most offensive and egregious example is his arbitrary and Kafkaesque tribunal for restoring voting rights to felons). As such, there would be a certain poetic injustice in his finding his suppression efforts defeated by fraud. One could make the argument that if the Republicans are already engaged in voter suppression, gerrymandering and other shenanigans, then the Democrats would be justified in engaging in their own shenanigans. The Republicans cannot, obviously enough, argue for any principles about fair elections and the will of the people—they do all they can to rig the elections in their favor. To use an analogy, the Republicans are cheating at cards and crying because they might lose despite the cheating and claiming this is because the other person is cheating.
The moral problem is, of course, that fighting suppression with fraud would derange the electoral system even more—though, as noted above, a utilitarian argument could be made in favor of using morally problematic means to achieve the desired consequences. One could also argue that without voter suppression in Florida, Scott and other Republicans would almost certainly have lost—there are about 1.5 million voters who have been disenfranchised for being felons and, as the Republicans know, they would tend to vote for Democrats if they could vote. As such, whatever the Democrats might be doing, they would at worst merely be making the game “fair” by offsetting the voter suppression with voter shenanigans. While this does have some appeal, it is also morally problematic—it is not known for sure how those votes would have been cast, so “voting” for them through fraud would not be counting their votes. The morally correct solution is, obviously enough, to prevent both suppression and fraud.
From a legal standpoint, Scott has the clear advantage in this situation: voter suppression is, in general, perfectly legal. For example, while disenfranchising felons was developed as a weapon against black suffrage by white supremacists in response to the 15th Amendment it is still the law in Florida and some other states. Likewise for other shenanigans like gerrymandering, voter ID laws, restricting polling locations and days and so on. It, of course, helps that the Republicans, in general, write the laws that make these legal. In contrast, voter fraud and election fraud are (and should be) illegal. So, if Scott can find evidence of voter or election fraud in Broward, he can use this to his advantage. This leads to the matter of why he is already crying fraud without any evidence.
One obvious explanation is that this is a stock talking point for the Republican party and is used as a justification for voter suppression. By crying fraud and scaring people, he builds support for policies and laws that suppress voters. Another explanation is that he is hoping to turn public opinion in his favor as part of a strategy to deal with the possibility that he lost the vote. If he can cast enough doubt on the election, he could win in the courts what he could not win at the ballot box. Unfortunately, the history of Broward does lend his accusations a degree of credence. But, by making accusations without evidence, he is also damaging democracy and potentially undermining the already weak faith in the electoral system in America.