- How to Un-Rig an Election
From bribing voters in Nigeria, to redistricting for political advantage in the United States, to killing a leading opposition candidate in Pakistan, How to Rig an Election chronicles the many ways in which governments around the world contrive to gain an unfair electoral advantage. Cheeseman and Klaas's book is full of almost-unbelievable anecdotes from around the world. For example, in 2006 Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana managed to bar an opposition candidate from running for office by refusing to let his plane land. In 2010, operatives of Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych presumably gave voters in pro-opposition areas ballot-marking pens filled with disappearing ink. In the 1998 St. Petersburg mayoral election, authorities helped to ensure the defeat of opposition candidate Oleg Sergeyev by recruiting two other people named Oleg Sergeyev to run against him. While election rigging is not always this colorful, it is without doubt a major issue today: Most of the countries on our planet call themselves democracies and hold regular elections to fill political offices, yet many fall short of basic democratic standards. This book makes this point forcefully, and that is reason enough to recommend it.
Cheeseman and Klaas organize their book around major categories of election manipulation, including chapters on gerrymandering, vote buying, repression, election hacking, ballot-box stuffing, and fooling the international community. Each chapter gives copious examples of [End Page 172] the tactic in action, then ends with suggestions for policies to eliminate or at least mitigate the type of rigging in question. The chapter headings are deliberately broad: Examples in the vote-buying chapter run the gamut from handing out bags of money at rallies—as Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni did in 2013—to excessive spending on campaign ads. And the chapter on election hacking covers not only the actual hacking of electronic voting systems, but also the use of social media to spread false information and the fabrication of lies to discredit media outlets. While Cheeseman and Klaas draw on examples from the United States and other established democracies, as well as historical case studies, the book focuses on modern "counterfeit democracies," a term that encompasses all electoral regimes except those that are "pure authoritarian" or "electorally democratic." This range of countries overlaps with what Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way call "competitive authoritarianism," Andreas Schedler calls "electoral authoritarianism," and Larry Diamond calls "hybrid regimes."
Cheeseman and Klaas's book has many strengths. First, it sounds the alarm about the quality of elections in today's world with clarity and force. While this alarm has often been sounded before, the erosion that democracy has suffered over the past decade makes this sounding especially timely. Second, the authors' ample personal experience observing elections around the world allows them to illustrate their claims with vivid firsthand accounts. Third, the book analyzes gerrymandering, fake news, and abuses of social media as tools of election rigging on the same level as vote buying and repression. While these tactics have often been studied separately, they certainly all belong in the manipulator's toolbox. Finally, the writing is nontechnical and readily accessible to any general reader or policy maker; no initiation into the jargon of contemporary social science is required.
That said, there are places where the authors might have delved deeper. First, the discussion of policy recommendations is not as polished as the description of rigging tactics. To be sure, some excellent strategies for guarding against fraud are proffered in these pages, including the use of independent electoral commissions and parallel vote tabulations. Students of election administration may find such expedients familiar, but in a book aimed at a wider readership it is heartening to read about them just the same. This increases the chagrin that one feels when noting how Cheeseman and Klaas immediately undercut some of their main policy recommendations—such as digitizing elections or reforming international electoral observation—by acknowledging the chief limitation of such strategies: They can be effective only with the help of a benevolent political leader or a strong...