Editor’s Note: With the last presidential debate in the books, we wanted to share some post-even commentary from Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn.
Any candidate who questions the integrity of elections without producing one shred of evidence doesn’t understand how democracy works. Trafficking in rumors and innuendo is an affront to the professionalism of election officials in both parties, raises doubts for candidates seeking office down ballot, and most importantly confuses voters. If a person can’t tell the difference between actual evidence of wrongdoing that should be turned over to authorities, and a forwarded email peddling conspiracy theories, perhaps it’s best to say nothing and allow the professional election administrators who’ve devoted their careers to making sure our elections are fair to do their jobs.
Conspiracy theories weaken our democracy by making people think their votes don’t count. But the same people who question the integrity of elections also refuse to support common sense safeguards, like automatic voter registration, that can strengthen the security of the voting system.
Donald Trump’s escalating rhetoric about voter fraud or tampering at polling places, without any evidence whatsoever, is a danger to our democracy. His calls to supporters to “watch voters in certain places because I’ve heard things,” is intended to intimidate voters and is incendiary and irresponsible. Properly trained poll workers, working through local election boards, or volunteers for large-scale election protection efforts, are two ways citizens can help ensure fair elections by taking the time to get trained and understand how the process works. Thousands of trained volunteers help first time voters, assist voters with disabilities, trouble shoot problems, and work so every eligible voter gets to cast a ballot, regardless of party. That’s a far cry from the rhetoric dominating the media now.
Elected officials from both political parties are right to condemn this reprehensible behavior, and more must stand up against it now. Those same elected officials and their peers must take steps to ensure all polling places are free of intimidation and voters may exercise their right to cast their ballots unmolested.
Election administrators must also take basic steps to ensure voters have alternatives to efficiently cast ballots. Anyone who knows how elections are administered will recognize the nine nonpartisan, common sense solutions we offer below. We invite Mr. Trump, Secretary Clinton, Gov. Johnson, and Jill Stein, and all candidates for U.S. House and Senate, to forcefully reject these irresponsible conspiracy theories or attempts to suppress the vote, endorse the nine nonpartisan back-up steps states can take now to ensure every vote counts, and accept the outcome once a winner is clear.
If, instead, Mr. Trump continues promoting conspiracy theories and urging supporters to be untrained vigilantes who don’t understand the rules that govern polling places, the logical conclusion is that his campaign is more interested in suppressing the vote and causing problems on Election Day than taking simple steps to put in place back-up measures to prevent them.
To every voter we say: you have the power. That power is your vote. Use it. There is so much power in each and every vote that billions of dollars are being spent to influence voters, and in some cases, make people so fearful and cynical they choose not to vote, in which case the people who don’t want you to exercise your power win. Any voter that encounters any issue at a polling place, during early voting or on Election Day, or if you are told you cannot vote, please call the national nonpartisan Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Common Cause has been working for decades to help election officials keep pace with rapidly changing technology and the best practices associated with election security and efficiency. We’ve seen the system, warts and all, from the inside, and we remain confident in its overall integrity and committed to doing the hard work of helping states continue to improve. It’s easier to point out problems, but it is finding workable solutions and helping implement those that is the mostly unnoticed, hard work of democracy too many people take for granted.