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As the 2020 presidential campaign begins to take shape, there is widespread distrust of the fairness and accuracy of American elections. In this timely and accessible book, Richard L. Hasen uses riveting stories illustrating four factors increasing the mistrust. Voter suppression has escalated as a Republican tool aimed to depress turnout of likely Democratic voters, fueling suspicion. Pockets of incompetence in election administration, often in large cities controlled by Democrats, have created an opening to claims of unfairness. Old‑fashioned and new‑fangled dirty tricks, including foreign and domestic misinformation campaigns via social media, threaten electoral integrity. Inflammatory rhetoric about “stolen” elections supercharges distrust among hardcore partisans.
Taking into account how each of these threats has manifested in recent years—most notably in the 2016 and 2018 elections—Hasen offers concrete steps that need to be taken to restore trust in American elections before the democratic process is completely undermined. This is an indispensable analysis, from the nation’s leading election-law expert, of the key threats to the 2020 American presidential election.
“A hard-hitting critique of the American election process as timely as it is frightening. In a slim, cogently argued analysis, legal scholar points to four dangers threatening the voting process in 2020 and beyond . . . Required reading for legislators and voters.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“[A] bracing and comprehensive inquiry.”—Publishers Weekly
"Election Meltdown . . . is a must-read. It's well-written, easy to read, informative and fair. But it doesn't pull punches."—Mark Caputo, on Twitter
“There is no better work describing the astonishing attacks on the most basic element of our democracy—voting—nor a more hopeful account of the changes that could fix it. If there is a plan to establish democracy in America, this book is a central chapter.”—Lawrence Lessig, author of They Don’t Represent Us
“Hasen’s informative and important book makes a compelling case for long-term, systemic reform of our elections."—Trevor Potter, Founder and President of the Campaign Legal Center
"Voters losing faith in the integrity of elections is one of the greatest risks any democracy faces. Rick Hasen chronicles why that risk is increasing in the United States and what to do about it before it’s too late."—Richard H. Pildes, author of The Law of Democracy
"Richard Hasen’s new book is well named, because unless we pay close attention and act fast, an election meltdown may be exactly what we get in 2020. If you want to see honest, fair elections in 2020 and beyond, you must read this book—and then act."—Larry J. Sabato, Director, University of Virginia Center for Politics
A conversation with Richard Hasen:
You wrote about the problems of the American electoral system in Voting Wars. Why revisit the subject? What’s changed?
The subtitle of my 2012 book The Voting Wars was From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown. Unfortunately, we have now arrived at the edge of meltdown, with four key factors undermining Americans’ trust in our elections and vote counting: voter suppression, which convinces both Democrats and Republicans that the system is rigged; pockets of election administrator incompetence; foreign and domestic dirty tricks; and incendiary rhetoric around “stolen” elections. In our hyperpolarized political era, we just don’t have the tools in place to move forward if the next presidential election is razor thin. Peaceful transitions of power that we Americans have taken for granted are no longer a given.
Can anything be done to avert prolonged battles over election winners and restore trust in the U.S. election process?
There are no magic bullets. In our social media–driven partisan environment, we cannot count on tools we have relied upon in the past to resolve close elections, such as the Supreme Court or an appeal from elders across the political spectrum. But there are steps which could help, if done soon enough, to clarify and make transparent election rules and procedures, invest in reliable voting machines and cybersecurity, and call out lies about voter fraud and incendiary rhetoric. In the long term, we need to move to national, nonpartisan election administration and enhance civics education about the rule of law and democratic values.