[Image via thehill]
My UMN colleague Larry Jacobs and I have a contributors’ column in The Hill newspaper entitled “Enough already: US elections are fair”. It’s reprinted below.
We’re hearing lots of talk lately about how “hacking” threatens our elections or that results are “rigged” and how, consequently, Americans can’t trust the outcome of votes held under the current system.
There are lots of reasons why this is an irresponsible and dangerous claim, but the worst might be the cruel slander it perpetrates on our election system’s greatest resource: its people.
More specifically, allegations of “hacking” and “rigging” fly in the face of the heroic efforts by our nation’s election administrators to prepare the system for voters on Election Day. In communities across America, election officials work countless hours to build and maintain voter rolls, test voting machines and staff polling locations in advance of the big day.
Attacks on the election system disrespect the thousands of election officials across the country and devalues their diligent — and yes, patriotic — work to ensure that American voters everywhere can cast a ballot.
Yes, sometimes things go wrong. In this election cycle alone, we have seen criticism about long lines at the polls or concerns about the security of voting technology. There is also growing nervousness about persistent online efforts to attack and steal voter information from state websites.
But every time problems arise, the election community responds.
They share ideas about how to forecast turnout and set up polling places to match demand. They remind voters of the many opportunities to observe pre-election testing of voting machines or post-election audits of the outcomes. They work with their colleagues and experts at every level of government to harden their systems against attack. And they are always on the lookout for ways, big or small, to improve the experience of American voters.
In short, even a cursory look at the state of election administration nationwide offers a basis for deep and abiding faith in America’s election system and the people who run it.
And yet, thanks to allegations of “rigging,” some voters are losing that faith. While the idea that the election is rigged could be dismissed as sour grapes — after all, candidates leading the polls rarely make such claims — it’s gaining traction. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 28 percent of voters surveyed were “very confident” that votes would be counted accurately nationwide — and just under half saying they were very confident about their own votes.
What can we do to reverse this trend?
The 38th vice president, Hubert Humphrey, once said that “instead of worrying about the future, let us labor to create it.” At the University of Minnesota — at the school of public affairs that bears Humphrey’s name — students interested in becoming election officials learn about the future of elections by closely studying best practices and following the example set by existing practitioners doing good work in the field.
Students learn not just about the nuts-and-bolts of election administration like designing ballots and strengthening the integrity of the ballot box, but also how to use 21st-century technology to improve the security and efficiency of election system and the experience of voters.
The goal is to bring this learning to a new generation of election officials that casts a wide net so that voters can be served by a group of professionals as diverse as the communities they serve. This approach wouldn’t work if the election system weren’t worthy of trust — but it is, and it does.
It’s easy to complain (without facts) that American democracy isn’t fair. What’s harder — and far more vital — is doing the work to make sure it keeps working as well or better than ever.
America’s election officials are rightly regarded as democracy’s first responders. Rather than disrespect them for political ends, we should honor them by bringing their legacy of professionalism and love of country to a new generation.
Thanks to Larry for his help in getting this written (and more importantly, getting it published); and of course, a special thank you to the women and men who put in the time and effort to ensure that our election system works for American voters – and the American ideal.