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And the 2020 winner is ... dangerous distrust

And the 2020 winner is ... dangerous distrust
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For the most advanced country in the world, U.S. elections have become amateur hour. And the result? Overwhelming mistrust in the way votes are received and counted. 

How overwhelming?

"The share of Republicans who trust official election results has dropped by 43 points,” Morning Consult reported recently. “In a poll conducted in late October, 70 percent of Republicans said official election results will be either ‘very’ or ‘most likely’ reliable. In the latest survey, just 27 percent say the same.” 

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A CNBC/Change Research poll shows a much more eye-popping number, with just 3 percent of Trump voters believing Biden won the 2020 election. Yep — just 3 percent. 
 
It all depends on who wins an election, of course, as to how the voters’ trust numbers skew. For example, four years ago, just 43 percent of Democrats believed that the presidential election was fair. And unlike 2020, which took several days to decide, the 2016 race was officially called less than eight hours after the first polls closed. 

In a related development, after a daily downpour of coverage in 2016 which heavily implied that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE was elected only because the Russians made it so, two out of three Democrats said Russia tampered with vote tallies on Election Day in 2016 to push Trump over the finish line. And now, in 2020, 68 percent of Republicans have concerns about a “rigged” vote-counting process favoring President-elect Biden. 

This is dangerous stuff. Here we have two straight elections where basically half the country believes the guy who won is illegitimate and/or cheated. 

One thing that lucid, objective people can agree on – forget the blind partisans who have an agenda benefiting only their party, one which has nothing to do with what's right or wrong – is that today’s voting system is built to sow doubt. 

Think about how the 2020 election played out to the average American: Trump was leading big in Pennsylvania on election night; he was up in Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia; he’d already won the very key states of Florida and Ohio, comfortably. But then mail-in ballots started to be tallied, and Trump's double-digit lead in places like Pennsylvania steadily shrank; Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia also started to slip away — and the apparent Trump landslide became an avalanche of votes for the Democratic nominee. Four days later, the Associated Press called the race for Biden.  

Trump supporters are obviously angry at seeing the tallies switch from their candidate over a drip-drip-drip of four days of reversing the results. 

How angry? 

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Well, according to YouGov, the market research and data analytics firm, "President Donald Trump, and the vast majority of his supporters in the latest Economist/YouGov poll, deny that Biden was legitimately elected (88 percent),” while 89 percent believe voter fraud affected the outcome.

Think about that: Nearly nine out of ten Republicans say Biden isn't legitimate and voter fraud absolutely occurred. That obviously includes the president, who continues to insist on social media that the election was stolen from him, logging more than 300 tweets on the subject from Nov. 4 to Nov. 16 alone.  

 

This resulting chaos from mass mail-in ballots cannot be permitted to occur again. Yet, Democratic leaders believe otherwise: They want to expand mail-in voting for future elections, even in a post-COVID-vaccine world. 

But Election Day is called that – a “day” – for a reason. So, let's take it a step further, by making it a national holiday to allow more people to vote in-person. When going to the polls (which should open at 6 a.m. and stay open until 9 p.m. in every state), an identification should be required; we don't get to board a plane, drive a car, enter our kid's schools or buy liquor without one. Expand the number of voting locations, particularly in urban areas, to avoid long lines and, by extension, allegations of voting suppression. 

As for mail-in ballots, they should continue — but only for those over 65, those with health problems that may prevent them from physically going to the polls and military service members.  

Early voting should be permitted by mail — but the window needs to be narrowed, until at least after a second presidential debate occurs in mid-October, to allow voters to make a more informed decision. (The 2020 debates attracted an average of 68 million viewers; in 2016, the first two debates were watched by an average of 75 million. Outside the Washington bubble, many Americans don't truly pay attention to the race until the two candidates are on stage, so why allow voting until that part of the process is complete?) Besides, do we really need 50 days of early voting before Election Day in Pennsylvania, or 40 days of early voting in Michigan? 

All votes from early voting also should be counted on or before Election Day. One big reason for the Trump lead evaporating for days after Nov. 3 was the befuddling rule, in states such as Pennsylvania, to start counting early and mail-in votes only after the polls closed. And North Carolina allowed mail-in votes to be accepted until Nov. 12. 

On the other hand, Florida got it right: It allowed early and mail-in ballots to be tabulated starting three weeks before Election Day. As a result, the state was called in 2020 on election night, as it was in 2016. Imagine if all the other pivotal states had run as smoothly as that — we wouldn't have had the perception of something wrong occurring, or half the cries of a stolen election from Trump supporters that we're hearing now. 

After all, the longer a state takes to certify its results, the more suspicion grows. 

America has existed for well over 230 years. And yet, despite all the advancements and all the increased engagement in the process, we're going backwards in terms of the certainty and confidence of the electorate that this simple process is being conducted properly and fairly. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.