Election Officials’ Not-So-Secret Weapon Against Doubts: Resilience


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My friend and colleague Dana Chisnell follows – and often shares – Tweets from an account called Bunny Buddhism, which offers observations on life and spirituality through the eyes of particularly enlightened rabbits. It’s always good for a smile, but yesterday, the account had a Tweet that really caught my eye:

Life doesn’t become easier and more forgiving; bunnies become stronger and more resilient.

That thought struck me given the current furor over the prospect of our nation’s election system. Concerns about “hacking” or “rigging” of election results have continued to grow in recent weeks, with a crescendo in the media that is impossible to ignore. That phenomenon reached its highest level yet in the form of yesterday’s New York Times story entitled “Sowing Doubt is Seen as Prime Danger in Hacking Voting System,” which weaves together partisan rhetoric about fraud and other potential attacks with comments from advocates about how likely (or not) those are to occur.

Unfortunately, this crescendo seems to be helping to create the very doubt that article warns about: a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds that 46% of respondents think voter fraud occurs, while 63% are confident that votes will be counted accurately in the upcoming presidential election – down 7 points from 2004.

That’s the world election officials are experiencing right now – rampant speculation about the health of the election system and growing concern from voters.

This is where the Bunny Buddhism quote comes in. Fairly or not (and I tend to lean heavily to “not”), the women and men who run our nation’s election system are under heavy scrutiny, largely for reasons out of their control. And yet, I think this scrutiny – and the doubt that motivates it – are a tremendous opportunity for the field to demonstrate its strength and resilience. Way back in January 2014, I blogged about resilience, quoting marketing guru Seth Godin:

Resilience is the best strategy for those realistic enough to admit that they can’t predict the future with more accuracy than others. Resilience isn’t a bet on one outcome, instead, it’s an investment across a range of possible outcomes, a way to ensure that regardless of what actually occurs (within the range), you’ll do fine.

I strongly believe that election officials can demonstrate resilience – and weather the current storm – because of the many ways in which they can show their work to protect voters and the voting system. CEIR’s David Becker’s recent testimony before Congress hails the “quiet[] and collaborative[]” work being done by state and local election officials and highlights the many ways in which those officials allow the public to observe the voting process, beginning with machine logic and accuracy testing through to post-election audits where they occur.

Evidence suggests that election officials are seizing this opportunity. I have been heartened to see posts on social media and elsewhere from election officials that skip the easy fix of “trust me” in lieu of not only informing voters of these opportunities to observe their work but inviting and urging them to come and see it for themselves. As Godin suggests, election officials are investing in their communities – and in a wide range of possible circumstances – by dedicating themselves to clear procedures for managing voter rolls, handling voted ballots and tabulating the results. There are, to be sure, challenges involved – and room for improvement – but both these challenges and related solutions have the benefit of playing out in the public eye.

It’s undeniable that the current environment is maddening to many election officials – and those of us who love and respect them. But despite the frustration, I believe that election officials have numerous opportunities in the months to come to demonstrate their strength and resilience and assure voters – through deeds, not words – about the strength of the nation’s election system.

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