Trustworthy Elections


For democracy to work, the electoral process must engender widespread trust. Yet public opinion surveys show that significant segments of the losing side in a presidential election lack faith in the integrity of the process. Only one-third of Republican voters believe that the 2020 presidential election was “free and fair.” After the 2016 contest, a smaller, but still significant, group of Democrats—28 percent—expressed skepticism that the votes had been counted accurately. Moreover, overall confidence in the fairness of U.S. elections has been falling for more than a decade.

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Essential Reading

  • Voter identification requirements range widely across the 50 states, from mandating strict photo ID to simply signing a poll book attesting to one’s identity. This is a particular flash-point issue between Democrats and Republicans.
  • Long lines at voting places aren’t as common as many believe, but the cases that do occur get a lot of news coverage. Moreover, delays at polling stations tend to happen more in poor and minority neighborhoods. Conservatives should be as eager as liberals to fix those problems.
  • In the U.S., there are two systems for voting outside the voting place: automatic voting by mail in which ballots are mailed to every registered voter and absentee/mail-in ballots by request. Automatic vote by mail is now the primary means by which elections are conducted in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington and Washington D.C. Several other states, including California and New Jersey, made temporary pandemic-related switches to automatic mail-in voting either for the entire state or for individual counties that opted to do so.
  • In the U.S., voter registration is handled at the state and local level. The federal government became involved in further regulating the states’ management of elections with the passage of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Maintenance of accurate voting rolls is key to restoring and preserving trust in the election system. Inaccurate rolls can enable fraud by making it easier for people to vote at their former residence district or to vote using the name of a dead person; they can also fail to prevent voting by ineligible people, such as non-citizens or felons barred from voting.
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