Our Elections Process Needs Reform

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Perception is reality. It doesn’t matter if the truth is on your side if you can’t convince others there is a shared truth. It takes mutual trust and faith in what we call facts for us to come together to a mutual understanding and then move forward.

As we all know, there is an ocean-wide chasm these days between what those on the right and left believe about each other, about their character, and their motives. Good people on both sides are quick to anger and quick to dismiss those who aren’t in their camp.
That is a serious problem for trust and faith in one of the most essential foundations of the American experiment in a representative democracy – our elections.

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden now leads Republican President Donald Trump by more than 6 million votes. His 79,823,827 votes set a record for the most votes cast in a presidential election. Biden has 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232 - the same numbers Trump had in 2006 in his win over Hillary Clinton.

Still, 52 percent of Republicans think their candidate won the election, with Biden’s vote totals inflated by fraudulent ballots and fixed counting machines. Their feelings are sincere and deeply held. Even if they don’t believe all 6 million votes separating the candidates were fraudulently cast or counted, their skepticism creates doubt in our electoral system’s reliability.

Over 150 million votes were cast in the 2020 presidential election. People went to to the polls represented by more than 50 sets of statutes and rules. There were over 70 kinds of voting machines used in the election.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has said the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history.” It went on to say that, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.” Its director, Chris Krebs, was appointed to his position by President Trump. He has since been fired.

Multiple courts in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia have thrown out court challenges to vote counts that were based on claims of fraud. No evidence has been provided so far that would lead to election results being questioned.

But, again, we can have all the proof in the world that the election was fair based on the facts we’ve read and heard. Still, if a large share of Americans who voted don’t believe in the election outcome, we have a problem.

Here are several suggestions that have been put forward to improve our election.

Make election day a national holiday. It is an idea that has been around for a long time and makes sense, especially for working-class Americans. Many other countries with representative democracies have done it. American workers have a tough time getting to the polls before or after work. There are also children to drop off or pick up from school. Making election day a national holiday would give working people a much longer time to cast their ballots, avoiding long lines.

Automatic voter registration would end the divisive and bitter debates over what constitutes a legitimate form of ID at the polls. When a person turns 18, he or she will get a voter registration card. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have some version of automatic registration.

India registers all its citizens to vote when they turn 18, with each one mailed a photo ID card. America has 328 million people, India more than 800 million. If they can do it, we certainly should be able to as well.

“But probably the most meaningful, if unlikely, change the U.S. could introduce is the one Canada made in 1920, Australia in 1984, and the U.K. in 2001,” Mark Champion of Bloomberg Businessweek writes. “Namely, to put an independent electoral commission in charge of running the nation’s federal elections, from soup to nuts, across the country.

“Doing so would go a long way to take partisan politics out of boundary making, polling station allocation, ballot design and counting, voter ID rules, and dispute resolution,” he writes.

It was 55 years ago that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and signed into law. It was meant to right many of the wrongs built into the American electoral system, eliminating the discriminatory barriers imposed by state governments to prevent minorities from voting. But with a decision in 2013, the Supreme Court undid part of that act. It again allowed local jurisdiction to impose voting rules that effectively disenfranchise voters – most minorities.

It allowed states to limit the kinds of IDs that were required to vote. A state university-issued photo ID is not accepted as proof of identity in Texas, but a gun license is. Minorities outnumber whites at the universities; whites vastly outnumber minorities in gun ownership.

There was a lot of anxiety about the record number of absentee and mail-in ballots cast this year. This number reflected people not wanting to go to crowded polls during a deadly pandemic and intense get-out-the-vote efforts.

However, there were many questions raised about those ballots and whether or not they should count. In Minnesota, mail ballots have to be received on election day. In Illinois, they can arrive up to two weeks later as long as they are postmarked on election day. The varying rules cause confusion and mistrust.

There were rumors of manipulation of mail-in ballots, postal workers throwing them away, more ballots being counted than were given out, and that mail-in ballots were intentionally not delivered. All these accusations have so far proven false.

But what those accusations have done is leave a deep distrust in our voting system. Trust in our elections is essential to the peaceful transfer of power and our mutual if grudging, acceptance of the new administration’s legitimacy.

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