Amid America’s gradual descent into cynicism, we accept certain things as gospel: Death and taxes, the star-spangled banner waving forever, the good guys always win, and, either way, the rules of the game are fair. And in elections, our vote will be counted.
That’s been the case throughout U.S. history, give or take a few hiccups. But now many question whether their vote this fall will be counted properly and the right winners will be sworn in.
Those doubts are voiced by Republican nominee Donald Trump, who calls the system “rigged.” Though some in his party disavow such claims, many of his supporters concur; polls show a majority of Republican voters believe the election results can’t be trusted.
Incidents of hackers breaking into emails and breaching election databases have undermined confidence in the system. Hidden camera videos have shown voters who appeared to be allowed to cast ballots illegally, raising suspicions.
So can we trust that the votes we cast now and up to Nov. 8 will show up correctly, with no phony votes tallied? We can, though Americans should stay vigilant to ensure the reliability of elections.
There are degrees of how “rigged” or flawed some believe elections to be. At the extreme are those worried they can be “stolen” through some grand conspiracy favoring a particular candidate. Those fears are based on false assumptions.
First, elections are managed county by county — more than 3,000 nationwide — and state by state, not through some national counting house subject to corruption. Election offices, boards and polling sites are staffed by diverse groups of local citizens of every political stripe. To fix a national race, hundreds would need to be in on the scam. Common sense tells us a conspiracy of that scale is impossible; the bigger the scheme, the less likely it will succeed. So, yes, not only did men actually walk on the moon, there is no massive plot to overturn elections, steered from Russia or anywhere else.
And note the voting machines we use are self-contained devices, not connected to the Web and subject to hacking, as some erroneously claim.
“I guarantee you there’s not a 67-county conspiracy to rig this election,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said.
Yet short of the scripted thievery of an election, there indeed are isolated cases of fraud that deserve attention and reasonable safeguards.
Invalid voters are listed on registration lists. A 2012 Pew Research study found about 24 million voters listed falsely, including some 1.8 million dead people and 2.75 million signed up in multiple states. However, there is no evidence so far that any of the dearly departed or double dippers actually cast ballots. A study by a Loyola Law School professor found that out of 1 billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 known cases of impersonation fraud.
One preventive measure, voter ID laws, remain caught in a tug-of-war. Many claim such rules are aimed at suppressing poor and minority votes, and that may be a motivation for some. But the basic requirement of making voters prove who they are with a driver’s license, passport, military ID or free state-provided card isn’t a harsh standard. If you need one to rent a car or cash a check, it’s not asking too much to produce the same before casting a ballot.
Just as one side can claim with justification there isn’t widespread evidence of voter fraud to justify tough ID rules, there similarly are few known cases of voters denied a ballot because of them. With the percentage of minority voters on the increase in each of Georgia’s elections since the ID standard was put in place, it seems to be working fine.
The goal should be to secure the ballots without creating inconvenience or disenfranchising any groups. Even as voting is made easier, it compels us to make an effort — register, learn about the candidates and issues, show up at the polls and fill in the ballot properly. Flashing a card with our face on it, one that should be made available to all at no cost, is worth the trouble to maintain trust in the process.
Even then, there will be glitches. Voters can get the wrong ballots or vote in incorrect precincts; absentee ballots may not be returned or counted properly. It happens. But there’s no evidence it’s widespread or frequent enough to overturn the results of an election where votes number in the tens of thousands in counties like Hall, in the millions across Georgia and 100 million or more nationwide. Except in those rare cases (Florida 2000, Ohio 2004) when the margins are paper thin, a few incidents of fraud or foul-ups end up being drops in the ocean.
The good news is that voting is more convenient than ever: three weeks and a Saturday of open polls, more absentee ballot opportunities and high-tech machines that don’t leave “hanging chads” to decipher.
Still, we can’t take our elections for granted and should enact reasonable measures to ensure all voters are eligible, machines work as they should and precinct workers and election officials act responsibly.
There’s no basis to cry “foul” at the result or question the rules of the game before the ballots are tallied. The U.S. isn’t some fly-by-night banana republic new at this election thing. We can go to bed Nov. 8 assured the winners will be the ones the people chose, whether the losers choose to recognize it or not.
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