2016: The Belt and Suspenders Election


[Image via jjsuspenders]

It’s Columbus Day – and a holiday for many election offices – so this will be a short post before we dive back in tomorrow to the last four weeks of the 2016 election.

I wanted to write today about something I’ve noticed so far about this election year. While I don’t do politics here, it’s fair to say that this year’s presidential campaign has been extremely unusual, and has generated very strong emotions in voters in just about every region of the country and around the world.

Some of the reactions we’re seeing as a result are typical for a presidential year; heightened focus on election procedures (with “hacking” and “rigging” as this year’s theme) plus the regular rush on litigation as campaigns seek to clarify election rules – ideally to their own benefit – before Election Day.

But this year I’ve also noticed something new; many voters are casting ballots and engaging with the election process earlier and in greater numbers than I can remember. Moreover, there seems to be an intensity and urgency that is unusual in my experience. In just the last few weeks, I’ve seen colleagues in the field report overseas voters returning Federal Write-in Ballots (FWABs) as soon as voting opened rather than wait for regular ballots to reach them and multiple registration forms and/or online registration transactions from the same voters – sometimes AFTER they had been sent a vote-by-mail ballot.

Some of this is undoubtedly the result of voter outreach, amplified by social media, by state and local election officials, offices like the Federal Voting Assistance Program or efforts like National Voter Registration Day. But I think this year in particular there is something else going on: voters seem (dare I say it) hellbent on ensuring that their vote counts and are therefore willing to overcompensate in order to make it happen.

It reminds me of a favorite phrase of mine that describes this feeling: “belt and suspenders.” Typically, it’s used to describe built-in redundancies that prevent mistakes; logically, one or the other is enough, but you might still use both if you are extremely nervous about one of them failing. This year, whether it’s politics, media reports or some combination of these and other things, voters seem to be unusually (and intensely) risk-averse. For them, not having a vote cast and counted in this election is equivalent to being caught with your pants down. So, belt and suspenders it is.

That will almost certainly yield more work for election officials – and invite worried scrutiny from risk-averse voters who REALLY want to make sure their voice is heard this year. It isn’t clear if this phenomenon is due to the unusual circumstances of this cycle, or a new normal for election officials, but it’s definitely a reality this year.

29 days until Election Day; tighten those belts and suspenders – and stay tuned …

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