Biden should appoint a presidential commission on election security

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While the legitimacy and outcome of the 2020 presidential election have long been beyond reproach, some could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. A few weeks ago, the Republican U.S. Senators from Georgia requested that the state’s Republican Secretary of State resign despite overwhelming evidence that the state’s presidential election results are sound. After ignoring the Justice Department’s longstanding policy and authorizing federal prosecutors to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race were certified, Attorney General William Barr announced that the U.S. Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election. And last week, some supporters of President Trump used a Senate hearing ostensibly about examining irregularities in the 2020 election to dispute the election’s results, just two days after the Electoral College vote officially affirmed Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

While a recent CBS News/YouGov poll found that more than 80 percent of Trump voters think that Biden did not win the 2020 election legitimately, this is not an entirely new phenomenon; losing candidates and their supporters have been disbelieving results in the U.S. for quite a while, though never at this scale or supported by a sustained campaign from the candidate. In a 2015 paper, professors Michael Sances and Charles Stewart III showed that between every presidential election from 2000 to 2016, Democrats and Republicans have vacillated in their confidence, depending on which party’s candidate won. And following the 2016 election, both Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter suggested that Trump was an illegitimate president, due to Russia’s interference in the election on his behalf.

To help overcome these partisan divisions over election results, shortly after assuming office, President Biden should establish by executive order a Presidential Commission on Election Security (PCES) to identify best practices in election integrity and make recommendations to help ensure trustworthy future elections. Like President Obama’s 2013 Presidential Commission on Election Administration, distinguished leaders who bring bipartisan credentials should comprise the PCES. The PCES should include election administrators, traditional and social media experts, and leaders from across the political spectrum whose experience in the private and public sectors will help identify best practices in election security.

The Commission should seek to identify three kinds of best practices: 1) any additional election administration practices that could help ensure voter confidence in election outcomes, regardless of who wins; 2) any best practices for countering mis- and disinformation from bad actors, both foreign and domestic, who seek to undermine confidence in the integrity of an election; and 3) any best practices for helping Americans both access and believe trusted sources of information. 

From these best practices, the PCES should present Biden with a series of recommendations designed to help election officials, members of the media, civic leaders, social media platforms, and others improve voters’ confidence in American elections. The recommendations should not only review problems that have plagued voter confidence in the past, but also issues that could confront American elections in the future. In formulating these recommendations, the Commission should not only rely on previous related research but also testimony from stakeholders around the country.

Large-scale distrust in the 2020 presidential election results may be unavoidable. But if we act soon, we can ensure that distrust is not a permanent feature of future elections as well.

This cannot be done without the commitment of substantial resources and bipartisan, expert guidance to sustain our democracy through these turbulent times. A presidential commission structure such as the one proposed could help cut through the falsehoods and partisan gridlock and bring real value.

Democracy is not a self-sustaining governance model. As citizens from countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Turkey can attest, it requires attention, nourishment, and care from everyone who is part of it. The PCES, alone, should not be expected to restore trust in our democracy, but it would be a good first step.

David Levine is the Elections Integrity Fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy. He previously served in a range of positions administering and observing elections, and advocating for election reform. Most recently, as the Ada County, Idaho, Elections Director, he managed the administration of all federal, state county and local district elections in Boise and its environs. He worked as the Election Management Advisor for the Washington, D.C. Board of Elections on highly complex matters related to elections operations, data management, voter registration and outreach, and advised others concerning legislation, statutes and regulations impacting election programs. He also served as the Deputy Director of Elections for the City of Richmond, Va., and has observed elections overseas in a number of countries for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @davidalanlevine.

Tags absentee voting Democratic Party Donald Trump election fraud claims Election integrity Elections in the United States Hillary Clinton Jimmy Carter Joe Biden mail-in ballots Republican Party United States Electoral College Vote by Mail William Barr

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