A fix for Americans’ election suspicion?
When I flew to Honduras from Wyoming in 2009 as an international election observer, I anticipated violence and conflict.
There was little reason to believe otherwise. The country had the highest murder rate in Latin America; In the days before the election, thousands of protesters faced off with riot police and tires were burned outside the presidential palace.
I found something very different. And what I learned during those surprisingly peaceful, healing days showed me there are some smart and basic fixes for the U.S. election process. What’s more, these fixes, through the simple act of transparency, could become even more vital in coming years as this year’s election turmoil has undermined trust in our processes.
That November day, I saw mothers holding their children’s hands while waiting calmly in line to vote. In a remarkably organized process, voters showed a photo ID card, left a thumb print on a page by their name and were stamped with ink that would last several days to prevent them from voting twice.
After the polls closed, I observed counting at one of the more dangerous areas of the city, along with former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R-Mass.). We saw members of the two principal political parties stand behind the counters and, together with the public, watch the count.
No electricity, no problem.
After the sunset, because there was no electricity, members of the opposing parties held flashlights for those counting the votes. Results were announced via speaker for all to hear. The biggest ruckus were car horns honking. Healey, who understands the U.S. process quite well as a former LG, told me, “We could learn something from how they do things here.”
After seeing our own contested, mistrusted process unfold in 2020, I couldn’t agree more.
Voter fraud in the U.S. is all but non-existent. It’s not because our safeguards are flawless, but because when millions of votes are counted across 50 states, innocent errors (and even small acts of fraud) make altering the outcome all but impossible.
Perception is reality
Nonetheless, half of those who voted for Donald Trump believe the 2020 presidential election was rigged, showing us that perception is reality. The mere opportunity for fraud is enough to leave those on the losing side susceptible. The idea that our ballots are processed out of sight from the public is unsettling. Emotion works that way. It is not sufficient for professors on cable news to reassure us that the mathematics of large numbers protects the outcome. When a single coffee-stained ballot is “cured” out of view, rightly or not it calls into question for many the integrity of the other hundred million ballots.
I don’t believe for a moment that a single Honduran fingerprint was later reviewed, or that stamping a voter’s hand with indelible ink kept a statistically significant number of citizens from voting twice. I doubt the requirement of a photo ID kept away enough impostors to change the outcome. But counting in public was notably reassuring and weeks later, Porfirio Lobo Sosa was peaceably and uneventfully sworn as president. These safeguards left a violent nation that months earlier had their president forcibly removed, reassured in the integrity of the process. It may have been theater, but it worked.
What made the Honduran election work is that the whole event takes place in plain sight. Not just of officials and employees, but of the citizens themselves.
The transparency cure.
Any person can watch their neighbor’s ballot checked off against a name on a voter roll and observe the counting process. Trump’s legal claims are principally that individual poll workers acted illegally in matching signatures, double counting votes, throwing away ballots or accepting ballots after the deadline. But in Honduras, this processing takes place in public view. Not only does that provide confidence to the voters, it also serves as a deterrent to misdeeds — however minor. In the U.S., with the simplest technology, any voter could link to a camera located at every precinct and watch close up every step taken.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey explained that “trust and confidence of the people is fundamental in maintaining a free and open political system.” As we regroup after this last election, we will be wise to not only listen to the statisticians, but also consider what can be learned from a surprisingly peaceful election in Central America.
David Dodson is a resident of Wyoming and former candidate for U.S. Senate. He is on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is a frequent guest on Fox Business and CNBC.