Elections matter. The integrity of elections matters just as much. That’s especially true this year, in what will be a highly charged and closely scrutinized election. A health pandemic, the resulting economic devastation, and the sweeping unrest in American cities make it all the more essential that we get the election process itself right. If we don’t, our country is headed for a crisis of enormous magnitude.
The right to vote for candidates who hold the ideals that best represent our own is a bedrock of the American experiment. If we believe elections are fair, we continue to have faith in the democratic process — regardless of who wins and loses the election.
Weaknesses in the election system, whether due to voter fraud, mail-in ballot issues, or inaccurate voter rolls, will undermine confidence in the results and threaten the ideals and institutions of American exceptionalism.
Considering how close past elections have been, every vote truly counts. Take for instance, Kenosha County, the site of great turmoil this summer. President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE won the 2016 election there by fewer than 250 votes. The last thing Kenoshans and their fellow Wisconsinites need is a dispute about election results when the focus should be on healing and rebuilding.
We too often take for granted the fairness of America’s election system. Those vigilant about protecting it are accused of having ulterior motives or blowing things out of proportion. When I get frustrated with such gross mischaracterizations, I think back to my service as U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. For the many Czechs who lived under communism and Soviet rule, the right to vote in a free and fair election was a distant dream. They viewed America and its systems as models for a better way of life.
The upheaval in Belarus is a chilling example of the total lack of civil rights that exists under authoritarian regimes. Citizens have been detained, beaten, and some remain unaccounted for simply for protesting against what they believe was a fraudulent presidential election.
This happens far too often around the globe. We must always cherish living in a country that values each person’s right to vote.
It wasn’t always that way in America. This year’s 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment is a great reminder of the trailblazers who paved the way for women’s voting rights. Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, brave pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement, are true American heroes.
It’s so important to protect the result of those hard-fought battles — and most Americans would agree. Ninety percent of respondents to a recent poll by the Honest Elections Project think action should be taken to ensure voting is done more fairly and with greater integrity.
There are several measures that can make the voting process easy, honest, and accurate.
One step is for municipalities to open as many polling places and enlist as many poll workers as possible. Without question, those who are sick, disabled or otherwise unable to vote in person should be able to vote absentee.
However, all-mail elections are susceptible to mistakes, delivery issues, and fraud. In Wisconsin’s April primary, more than 23,000 ballots were thrown out, mostly because voters or their witnesses missed a line on a form. To put that in context, there was only a 22,748 vote difference in Wisconsin between the 2016 presidential candidates.
Voting can be done safely in person if CDC guidelines are followed, the same as grocery shopping. Wisconsin’s primary is proof — it is now well established that there was no surge in COVID-19 as a result of in-person voting.
Another measure is for states to develop a process to maintain accurate voter registration rolls. According to the Pew Center, one out of every eight voter registrations is outdated or substantially inaccurate. That’s about 24 million people whose votes could be at risk.
Finally, voter ID should be a requirement. As citizens of the freest country on earth, we have civic responsibilities. It is not too much to ask each other to confirm who we are and where we live. ID is required for almost everything, from checking out library books to cashing a check. States have made it easy to obtain voter IDs, including offering them for free.
While this election stands out more than others, fair elections at every level, whether for school board, state representative or U.S. president, matter to the preservation of our republic. If one person’s vote is canceled, that’s one person’s vote too many.
The integrity of our election system should not be a partisan issue. It’s not a white, black, or brown issue. It’s an American issue. As citizens of this exceptional country, we should unite around policies to restore, strengthen and protect it.
Richard W. Graber is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.