The recent charge by President Trump that several million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election has revived the issue of voter fraud. Here in Kansas we are ground zero on this issue because of the widely publicized efforts of Secretary of State Kris Kobach to enact strict requirements for proving citizenship in order to register to vote and also strict requirements for identification of voters on election day.
This issue of alleged voter fraud is most dangerous for the survival of democratic institutions in the United States. It is dangerous because it cuts right to the heart of what legitimizes the peaceful transfers of power that we have enjoyed in the American republic since the late 18th century: Parties peacefully yield power because they believe that they must do so if the other side wins a fair and honest election.
So, when lots of people on both sides of the spectrum start believing that voting is corrupt, the very survival of democracy is in danger. And that is most emphatically the case today in America. On the Republican conservative side, a large section of opinion believes that the Democratic Party is encouraging millions of people who are not eligible to vote to vote anyway, and on the Democratic liberal side, a large section of opinion believes that Republicans are cynically using charges of vote fraud to hold down the votes of minorities and young people.
If the American Republic is to survive we are going to have to restore the faith of the public in our elections. And to do that we will have to do something that has become extremely unfashionable in contemporary U.S. politics – compromise. On the one hand, to reassure Republicans about illegal voting we are going to have to have safeguards in place to prevent non-citizens from voting and to prevent people from voting more than once. But these safeguards cannot be made so stringent that they make it difficult for minorities and young people to exercise their right to vote.
Compromise is the ultimate dirty word in contemporary U.S. politics, but for the sake of the survival of our nation we are going to have to compromise this most contentious issue of voter fraud.
Ernest Evans is a Leavenworth Times columnist.