Opinion: Some ways to restore trust in elections

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Dekalb election workers sort presidential ballots in Stonecrest Saturday, November 14, 2020. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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With large segments of the American voting population saying they don’t trust the U.S. election system based upon the administration procedures used in this year’s national vote, steps must be taken to restore trust. With the Senate majority on the line, reform must begin with the Georgia Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5th.

The Morning Consult statistical organization recently released a nationwide online survey conducted during the November 13-16 period consisting of 1,994 U.S. registered voters. They concluded that a whopping 40.6% of the respondents say they do not trust the current election system. Asked whether they believed the 2020 election was “free and fair”, only 30% of Republicans said they thought the vote tabulation process was “definitely” or “probably” legitimate. More than one-fourth of independents agreed. These are alarming and troubling numbers and suggest that a systematic restructuring must immediately occur.

Manageable steps

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Several manageable steps could be taken during the entire 2021-22 election cycle and immediately for the Georgia runoffs. Doing so will begin to restore trust in our electoral system.

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Trey Trainor

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First, while mail-in and early voting options could, based upon their convenience and popularity, be here to stay, let’s commit to adopting the Oregon model for administering the process. Oregon changed its elections to all mail-in back in 2000, so they have had 20 years of experience and relatively few problems. One of the keys to their system is they, like Georgia, require all ballots (with the exception of those coming in from overseas) to be received on Election Day. Those states that extended the ballot reception period are largely the places experiencing the most problems due to accusations of ballot box stuffing after the electoral trends became publicly known. Pennsylvania, for example, didn’t cease accepting ballots until November 6, three full days after the election.

A question of timing

Second, the reporting model adopted by the Republican Secretary of State of Kentucky and the Democrat-run Wisconsin Elections Commission, while a bit frustrating because it delayed the announcement of election results for days, would also help restore confidence. In both cases, officials in all counties held off on releasing their results until every counting entity had finished tabulating results.

In these two states, all county returns were released simultaneously in bulk, thus eliminating the potential for accusations of fraud. This simple step, one which is well within the purview of current law, would go a long way to ending speculation that numbers are being changed to fit a desired outcome. As such, this uniform reporting procedure should most certainly be adopted for the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff elections.

Third, the signatures on a mailed envelope must be corroborated with the individual’s original voter registration card. In Pennsylvania, the county clerks were under a statewide edict not to verify signatures on mail ballot envelopes, under the unsubstantiated argument that an individual’s handwriting changes over time. In Nevada’s Clark County – Las Vegas, which houses 73.6% of the state’s population, signatures were verified through computers programmed to count any and all ballots with match confirmations as low as 40%. Such procedures lead to unverified election results, a lack of trust, and opportunities for fraud.

California has already taken this latter verification step as they confirm every signature presented on the ballot envelope. This is one reason that the Golden State results are almost always the last to report, but the public can have greater confidence that their vote totals are legitimate and correct.

Additionally, if the counting process stops, as we saw in many states throughout the country on election night, the ballots must be isolated in a locked room with security personnel in charge and cameras installed to monitor the votes as they sit unattended throughout the entire non-counting period.

These simple first-step procedures would go a long way toward eliminating warranted concerns pertaining to election fraud accusations which have chastened our election system. It is incumbent upon the various state and county election officials to work together to ensure America’s election protocols once again become reliable, secure, and accurate regardless of the partisan outcome.

Trey Trainor is chairman of the Federal Election Commission, an independent government agency created to promote confidence and participation in the democratic process.