I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing about election fraud, from my Facebook friends to Presidential candidates. Things like ballots being in trunks of cars to dead people voting are no longer jokes. From my experience as a political operative, most of these stories of fraud come down to incompetence, whether on the part of the voters, the officials running the election, or even the local party offices. While in most cases these incidents involve such a minority of votes being cast that they only impact the local and regional elections, we all saw in 2000 that they can—and do—affect our national elections.
However, there is a solution. The way to stop election fraud is to reduce the amount of incompetence in the system….and that is actually easier to do than you think. In the days of smartphones and social media, the information is at the tip of your fingers, so here are three things you can do to help fight election fraud:
- Know your laws. While the federal government makes overarching rules about elections, the details of the mechanics of voting are left to the individual states. State statute determines the rules about polling places, electioneering, mail in voting, and so forth. One common “disenfranchisement” I’ve seen in Illinois is that if you apply to vote by mail and still come to the polls, you have to vote “provisionally,” meaning that your vote cannot be counted until it is determined that you did not vote your mail-in ballot, usually two weeks after the election. Said that way, it makes a lot of sense—they can’t count your ballot until they know you haven’t voted twice—but since the law allows political parties, assisted living community activity directors, and other third party organizations to facilitate mail-in ballot requests, people often don’t realize the thing they sent to the Tenth Dems or the Lake County Republicans was actually a mail in ballot request and think what they got back was a sample ballot from the party. Fast forward to Election Day, and the only thing the election judge knows is that you already are holding a ballot, so they cannot allow you to vote normally. With so many vote by mail applications going around this year, it’s a great example of a detail you should learn and tell others.
- Downticket matters. While the state legislatures create the laws concerning elections, the actual operation of managing the election falls to local officials. They can be an elected county clerk, like I have, a commission of people appointed by the county board, or even an elected judge. Many people don’t know any of these names on the ballot and just vote by party, often electing people who have little to no experience managing an election or even a basic understanding of election law. If there’s one office on your ballot that is worth taking the time to research, it’s that one, and if I could do it using dial-up in my hotel room 15 years ago, there’s really no excuse for not doing it today. These offices rarely the resources needed to put a full campaign together, so we can all use social media to help exceptional, competent, unbiased leaders are the ones managing our elections.
- Be part of the process. Did you know you can help manage your local election? Election judges are citizens just like you who have been trained to enforce election law and ensure smooth voting processes for all. In my area, the election judges tend to be retirees who aren’t working, but since they are high risk for covid, the need is greater than ever. Don’t have the time to commit to being an election judge? You can also be a poll watcher, a trained volunteer observer that sits in the polling place and monitors if election law is being followed. Both political parties use poll watchers to observe what is going on in specific polling places, and there are non-partisan groups who use poll watchers to ensure a fair election.
If you think it’s too time consuming and complicated to make a difference, note that Russia and China do as well. The sheer amount of resources and coordination needed to change a national election result would not escape notice from the multitude of local election officials, especially in a country where local elected officials have the freedom to speak their mind. As do the media, from the talking heads to the local reporters. Even the much-maligned Electoral College acts as a deterrent because anyone trying to interfere with our election would have to operate in multiple states, rather than just focusing on upping the vote total in one populous state. An organized, Mission: Impossible, type operation is truly impossible.
However, when elections are decided by voters who spend more time focused on celebrities and the British Royal family than the happenings in Congress, the misleading ads and the flat-out false mailers are able to change election results. It’s not isolated to the Presidential race, either. Actually, since people don’t even know their local candidates, voters are easily mislead by negative ads and mailers designed to push buttons instead of inform. Not only do these candidates have websites and social media channels, but they take the time to fill out endorsement questionnaires from the local newspapers, giving us the resources to become educated voters and to help educate others. I mean, should we really be deciding our judges, our coroners, our county clerks based on who is running for President, or should we be picking the best qualified officials with no regard to party affiliation?
How will I be preventing election fraud? I’ll be voting early in person this year. If there are any issues, it will still be before the deadline to request a mail-in ballot. Why not a mail-in ballot? My state uses signature verification to verify voters, and since I registered to vote in 2004, my signature has changed quite a bit. After my horrible experience voting in the primary, I don’t trust my county clerk’s office to verify my signature correctly, so I want to make sure I’m present for that verification. It’s a simple way to ensure that my vote will count, because I’m educated in how our election is supposed to work. I may even volunteer as a poll watcher this fall if I have the time to make sure other voters are given proper treatment.
Now that you know what you can do, what will you do to stop election fraud? Will you endorse a local candidate? Will you post the website from your local election authority? Will you work as an election judge or a pollwatcher? If every one of us did one little thing, we can combat election fraud.