Why is there so much alleged electoral fraud in new democracies? Most scholarship focuses on the
proximate cause of electoral competition. This article proposes a different answer by constructing
and analyzing an original dataset drawn from the German parliament’s own voluminous record of
election disputes for every parliamentary election in the life of Imperial Germany (1871-1912) after
its adoption of universal male suffrage in 1871. The article analyzes the election of over 5,000
parliamentary seats to identify where and why elections were disputed as a result of “election
misconduct.” The empirical analysis demonstrates that electoral fraud’s incidence is significantly
related to a society’s level of inequality in landholding, a major source of wealth, power, and prestige
in this period. After weighing the importance of two different causal mechanisms, the article
concludes that socio-economic inequality, by making new democratic institutions endogenous to
preexisting social power, can be a major and underappreciated barrier to democratization even after the adoption of formally democratic rules.
Daniel Ziblatt, PhD is an Associate Professor of Government and Social Studies at Harvard University, focusing his research and teaching on comparative politics, state-building, democratization, and federalism. His main intrests lie in contemporary Europe and the political development of the area, as well as electoral reform, voting rights, and the politics of public goods.
Ziblatt writes copious articles, but is also the author of the book Structuring the State: The Formation of Italy, Germany and the Puzzle of Federalism (Princeton University Press, 2006), awarded in 2007 the American Political Science Association's prize for the best book in European Politics. The book is based on a dissertation that received two additional awards from the APSA (the Gabriel Almond award in comparative politics and the European Politics Division award).