Book Review: Ballot Battles by Edward B. Foley

I have long been a fan of the  papers and other writings of Edward B. Foley of the Moritz College of Law.  He writes extensively on the issues associated with close elections, how they have been decided since the founding of the United States, and how the process might be improved. Last month his book on the subject, Ballot Battles:The History of Disputed Elections in the United States was released.

To me, it was a highly fascinating read that kept my interest through every page. It should be required reading for anyone interested in Election Integrity

As I would define it, Ballot Battles is focused on one component of election integrity, i.e. How close elections have been decided in the U.S., rather than if the vote counting itself was accurate. Foley’s work is an important component of election integrity. Further along that vein we could say that Fair Elections go beyond Election Integrity to include fair voter eligibility, access to the polls, candidate access to the ballot, access to the press, and campaign financing etc.

Ballot Battles follows close elections and the process for deciding the declared winner from 1781 through 2008.  While Presidential races from 1800, 1876, and 2000 are important, many other races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Governors are just as important to history and the challenges remaining today. Reforms have been attempted after major controversies, yet as Foley shows they have been insufficient, including those after 2000.  We remain vulnerable.  As summarized at one point in Ballot Battles:

“the 1960 presidential election must be viewed as a failure of American government to operate as a well-functioning democracy.  That failure puts 1960 along-side 1876 — and, as we shall later consider, 2000 — in a disturbing series of instances in which the nation has lacked the institutional capacity to identify accurately the winner of the presidency.”

There is no easy solution. It would likely require a Constitutional Amendment.  Ultimately, as Foley recommends, following successful models of instances of bodies of equal numbers of partisans, with a single respected non-partisan member.  That is unlikely to always work, yet that has worked better than the system we are left with for adjudicating close Federal Elections.

Ballot Battles thoroughly covers the adjudication process and the risks to which we are exposed.  Those seeking information on fraud and error in elections will not find the details here.  Likewise, those seeking agreement that the Supreme Court erred or acted responsibly in 2000 will find little agreement here, yet much to ponder, much to learn about the law, and the precedents applied to resolve election challenges.


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