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Perception Counts for a Lot When It Comes to Confidence in the Election System

Brett Davis

Posted on November 14, 2022 16:28

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Appearances matter when it come to casting and counting ballots.

Even discounting the minority of people who claim cheating, fraud or any number of Occam’s razor-defying conspiracy theories every time their preferred candidates or causes lose at the ballot box, it is impossible not to notice there is a general unease among the American people when it comes to voting in this country.

That is because the aftermath of Tuesday’s midterm elections is another stark reminder of a seemingly bygone era when America’s voting system was transparent and typically produced same-day results that were accepted by the public.

Little more than a month ago, Brazil – the largest nation in South America – held a presidential election. That night, Brazilians knew who had won the presidency and other races.

Meanwhile, key races in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia – which could decide the makeup of Congress and which major party controls one or both chambers of the legislative branch – are still undecided in the world’s oldest continuous democracy.

Arizona seems to be drawing the most scrutiny for the glacial pace of ballot counting, especially in Maricopa County, where voters took unprecedented advantage of late voting this year. The Grand Canyon State’s largest county received 290,000 mail-in ballots on Election Day, the most ever and a 70 percent increase from the 2020 general election.

Therein lies part of the problem. In Arizona and many other states across the nation, the notion of election night is becoming something of an anachronism in that returns are not counted for days. It is a state of affairs that breeds questions and skepticism – and worse – among the American people.

COVID-19 helped accelerate this trend. American elections radically changed during the pandemic lockdowns when many states made changes to election procedures in the spring and fall of 2020, including legally-suspect orders or executive actions by governors or state elections officials, as opposed to state legislatures. Mail-in and early voting became the norm during the pandemic and look to be here to stay in many places.

Other developments don’t inspire confidence in the election system.

Consider that ballot harvesting is allowed in 31 states. Ballot harvesting occurs when one person gathers absentee and mail ballots from many voters for submission at a mail or drop box.

Likewise, ranked choice voting that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference when marking their ballots has left much of the electorate confused and suspicious. Of course, voters have been conditioned to the candidates garnering the most votes winning elections. See the curious results of Alaska’s at-large congressional district special election in August.

After the rigmarole of the 2020 presidential contest, federal elections officials assured us it was “the most secure election in American history.” They say much the same now, oblivious to the fact many voters are wary of ballots turned in and tallied under extreme and sometimes dubious circumstances.

It is not enough that the election system is above board. It must appear to be above board as well.

Brett Davis

Posted on November 14, 2022 16:28

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