For elections in these tempestuous times, we must ensure that it’s easy to vote, yet hard to cheat. We must also remember that our institutions are strong, and will endure.
This year commenced with the impeachment of the President. The impeachment and trial ultimately resulted in no action, yet it served to further increase partisan division in an election year. Then, a global pandemic—now known as COVID-19—entered the world stage. Widespread fear followed, and politics and those who “never let a crisis go to waste” took over. Using the new virus, many took up the mantra of “ we must all vote by mail” as the only way to administer an election to keep the nation’s citizenry safe.
Add ballot drop boxes financed by private investors and bereft of oversight due to emergency orders; large sums of money from questionable outside sources flooding into county election offices to aid in “the performance of their duties” in a pandemic. Then for Texas, confusion was multiplied by a dizzying array of lawsuits, injunctions, countersuits, stays and confusing media coverage detailing the fight between county officials, Texas law, the Texas Secretary of State, our governor, and the Texas Attorney Generals’ Office—over clearly written rules on ballots and elections.
Such conditions breed a contentious, and adversarial environment and sows distrust in our institutions.
Sadly, the move to all mail-in balloting, rushed to in many states, has proven to be anything but both “safe and secure.” Even MIT was concerned that an almost 4% loss rate could occur. While we cannot ever mitigate all risks in any chain of custody, even one legitimate voter disenfranchised by illegitimate voters or actions is one too many. And mail in balloting has a demonstrable broken chain of custody and weak points that can be exploited to harvest ballots, or even destroy them with arson or otherwise ensure they never reach their destination. And we knew about these problems well before a pandemic.
The reality in our country is that there is and always been fraud in our election systems. As for the mail, if you trust the USPS implicitly, mail yourself $500 in cash (as my colleague Chuck Devore recently suggested). While most of us are inherently good, we also have the capacity for bad (or negligent) actions. And bad incentives often create bad actors in contentious times such as we see now.
Yet even with the challenges we face in this election cycle, the American spirit and our institutions remain strong.
Yes, the lines are long for early in-person voting and likely to be for election day. We may be afraid for our health. We may not always agree with our neighbor’s vote. But, each election we witness a grand process when viewed in the length of those lines. It is the exercise of sovereignty by the governed to select those who govern them. But regardless of how a voter chooses to cast their ballot, public officials must ensure that their ballots will be protected, and that illegitimate votes are properly challenged and removed.
Even if we do not know who the president is the dawn of Nov. 4, I believe our pride in the American tradition of “my ballot, my vote, my voice” will prevail. We have had 45 peaceable transfers of power in our history. And as my colleagues have assured us, the system can handle another—even with the strain of 2020, which we all will be glad to leave behind.