Right now, there is no shortage of five-alarm fire articles about the safety of our elections and ballots. From the president’s own false claims to the amplification of instances of illegal voter intimidation by the media, it’s understandable that the narrative surrounding our election may make some voters anxious. But what’s actually happening?
While it’s true there are anti-democratic forces at work in our country to try to suppress participation in our democracy, voters still hold the ultimate power in our process. We cannot allow completely unfounded allegations of fraud or fear of attempts to steal the election to dissuade us of that fact: American elections are secure and voters should confidently cast their ballots this year.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s actually going on.
Across multiple states, voters are already exercising their power by mailing in their ballots and voting early. More than a million votes have already been cast. Despite those who may try to undermine confidence in our democracy — whether pundits, politicians, or foreign actors — elections in America are conducted under the rule of law.
While there’s more attention on the process of mail-in and early voting than ever before because of the coronavirus pandemic, mail-in absentee voting has taken place in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for decades with few issues. Where we have seen snags, such as in Florida when a man requested a ballot for his deceased wife, the matter was swiftly rectified and served as proof the system works.
Because of the pandemic, more people than ever are voting by mail, and it will take time to count the votes. Americans should prepare for the possibility of not knowing who has won the presidency on November 3 or even November 4.
This happens all the time — particularly in larger states — as election officials follow the rules and make sure the count is accurate. This process should make us all confident, not concerned. Upwards of 150 million ballots simply cannot be counted in a day. The time it takes to tally ballots is the system working to make sure every vote counts. That’s why elections are always officially certified a week or more after Election Day.
There are those arguing our democracy will be most at risk during this gap in time between when votes are cast and the winners announced, particularly if President Trump refuses to concede in the face of defeat.
But that’s not the real problem. The larger concern should be over efforts to suppress the vote by some legislators and state officials who’ve been challenging student IDs, requiring government-issued identification, closing polling places, restricting mail-in ballot options, or improperly bouncing people off voter rolls. These voter suppression efforts disproportionately impact young people, people of color and lower income communities. They are anti-democratic and, yes, they’re continuing in this election cycle. But we’re prepared.
Organizations like ours, Fair Elections Center, have successfully challenged these issues in court before and we’re ready to do it again. Voting rights advocates and litigation experts are not only focused on fighting for voting rights during election years. This is what we do every day. All year. Every year.
Right now, we have cases on behalf of nursing home residents in North Carolina tied to coronavirus lock-downs. We’re also fighting on behalf of at-risk voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania whose requested absentee ballots might not arrive in the mail on time. And we are prepared to bring additional cases when necessary.
Just recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a proclamation limiting satellite offices where voters could drop off their mail-in ballots to only one per county. That means some voters could be forced to drive 30 miles to turn in their ballots in big cities like Houston. In response, voting rights advocates sprang into action. Less than 24 hours after the proclamation, the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens sued in district court to overturn it.
To be sure, the American people are reading headlines about people blocking entrances to polling places and mail-in ballots being misplaced. But these are rare exceptions, not the rule. For every attempt to undermine the election, there are many more mechanisms in place working to protect democracy.
We also have a powerful asset: election officials and poll workers. The people who manage the voting process at the polls are our neighbors and friends. Because of the incredible work of the Power the Polls campaign that we helped launch (a non-partisan effort powered by data from our Work Elections project to recruit hundreds of thousands of potential poll workers), we’re sure you and yours will have the support needed to cast votes on Election Day.
So while this year is far from normal, we should count on our rules and laws to preserve the basic tenant of our democracy — our vote. Votes are rolling in. Voter suppression efforts are being successfully challenged.
Mail-in voting is a huge undertaking in our large country, but it’s working, thanks to our postal workers and every voter who takes the time to make their voice heard. Early voting is underway to help people avoid crowds on Election Day while limiting the risk of coronavirus exposure. Finally, legal experts, advocates and election officials have your backs.
So don’t be dissuaded of your power. Use it. Cast your vote and be counted. This is how we safeguard democracy.