Election debacles erode confidence


God I miss the voting machines.

Dirty curtains. Worn metal levers. The rusty sliding bars that moaned “therplunk” as they took in the votes.

They weren’t perfect – things got stuck, the levers disappeared, the numbers transferred – but there was a mechanical strength to the process that you could mostly believe in.

I also miss election days, as they once were. Voting seemed so simple then. You showed up on a Tuesday in November – and only that day – jotted your name in a ledger and done your business. Sometimes you had to queue. Those who could not come for health or logistical reasons, and who cared enough to do so, requested and voted by mail. It was pretty much it.

Today, the voting process looks like a protean mystery, with laws changing faster than they can be followed, all in the ostensible name of reform. But the more the electoral laws are reformed, it seems, the less confidence we have in the process.

New York City held its Democratic mayoral primary on June 22 – the first to use a ranked-choice voting system many had never heard of a year ago. What a mess. We may not know the results until mid-July or August, despite the fact that voting started 10 days early, which is now allowed under another new law. “Reform” of the vote.

The city’s massive electoral failure on Tuesday, mistakenly adding 135,000 dummy ballots to the official tally, did not help inspire confidence in the new system.

And trust is what we desperately need when it comes to our electoral processes; democracies cannot function without it. But trust, itself, is now at the center of political debate in this country; indeed, it has become political football.

Democrats say virtually any restriction on voting is racist – and Republicans who follow the Trump line convinced 56% of their voters that the 2020 presidential election was fraught with fraud, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll in May. More than half of Republicans still believe former President Trump won.

This orchestrated erosion of faith is not going to go away. It is too politically valuable for the parties. Democrats will continue to push for “reforms” that they know Republicans will push back, often rightly so, and Republicans must keep Trump’s charade with their base, proposing widespread systemic fraud that doesn’t exist.

The average voter looks sideways, dumbfounded.

Confidence in the US elections has never been absolute. For good reason: the parties have always sought to play the system to their advantage. Voting taxes helped prevent poor people, including poor blacks, from voting before the 24th Amendment banned the practice. The dead voted in Chicago, and gerrymandering has always been a reality. But I can’t think of a time when both sides worked so proactively to undermine trust in the system. (Richard Nixon, who some claim lost the 1960 presidential election because it may have been rigged, quickly conceded to preserve public confidence in the election, as did Al Gore after the stormy recount of 2000 in Florida.)

I can’t help but think that we have to get back to simplicity somehow. You cannot trust what you cannot see or understand.

Watch the New York City Hall race.

The views expressed by William FB O’Reilly, consultant to the Republicans, are his own.


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