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UB Law School Professor Says Beware of Common Misconceptions About the American Election Process

Release Date: October 3, 2008

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The U.S. election process works the way it should in the vast majority of cases, says James A. Gardner, a UB law professor and expert on election and constitutional law.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo Law School Professor James A. Gardner today cautioned against giving too much importance to charges of voter fraud in American elections and supposed incompetence in administering elections. The process in the overwhelming majority of elections, he says, is working well.

"We have to be careful about political propaganda being spread about how voter fraud, and to a lesser extent incompetence in the administration of elections, threatens democracy," says Gardner, an authority on election and constitutional law, and the UB Law School's vice dean for academic affairs.

"This simply is not true," says Gardner. "There are more than 500,000 elected officials in the U.S. Virtually every one of these elections comes off without a hitch. The news media have a tendency to focus exclusively on the extremely rare but dramatic cases in which the outcome of a very close race is put in doubt by a very small number of possibly tainted ballots or a malfunction of voting technology or human error in the administration of elections.

"These are very rare exceptions to the rule."

Gardner says another common false impression is that elections in the U.S. are always close, and that the smallest errors or the occasional fraudulent ballot among thousands have the potential to destroy democratic self-government.

"That's not the case," says Gardner. "In fact, the overwhelming majority of elections in the U.S. are so lopsided that no amount of error or fraud could change the result, and many, many elections are completely uncontested. Uncontested and lopsided elections may be a sign of something wrong with the system, but it has nothing to do with the administration of elections."

Gardner, who is the Joseph W. Belluck and Laura L. Aswad Professor of Civil Justice and who has been frequently quoted by local and national media on election issuessaid election law and procedure still merit close scrutiny. For example, a recent Supreme Court decision upholding voter ID requirements in Indiana provides legal support for the aggressive use of anti-fraud measures, even though voter fraud was "essentially a non-existent problem."

"This raises the specter, as it did during the last election cycle," Gardner says, "of Republicans invoking anti-fraud measures improperly to suppress legitimate voting, often by the elderly, blacks, the poor and other groups that might have a tendency to lean Democratic."

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Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
Senior Editor, Law, Social Work and Education
Tel: 716-645-4600
anzalon@buffalo.edu