It’s amazing the vast amount of time the media has devoted to the backlash of suggestions by Donald Trump that the ballot might be rigged — or more to the point if he loses it was rigged.
But very, very few media outlets have really focused on reporting the reality of the American ballot box, and just how decentralized and local our entire election process is nationwide.
Kentucky Sec. of State Alison Grimes (D) made national headlines Monday with her simple, but direct rebuttal of how the election process works in Kentucky:
“Recent claims that our elections are ‘rigged’ strike at the heart of our democracy – the foundation on which our government has operated for more than 200 years. They are fanatical scare tactics and bear no resemblance to the truth. Such claims discount the good work thousands of Kentucky citizens and hundreds of thousands of Americans do to ensure everyone has a chance to exercise their right to vote and to make certain that our elections are fair and accurate. Indeed, the integrity of our Kentucky elections are preserved by the bipartisan work of 120 county clerks and 15,000 precinct election officials throughout 3,700 precincts. We all share a common determination to deliver free and fair elections every election cycle, no matter who is on the ballot. I strongly denounce this dangerous rhetoric and its implications.” – Alison Grimes 10/17/2016
And indeed, most states have an incredibly decentralized process that is run by volunteers and paid election officials.
My own personal rule is to always go to the source when I’m curious about how our government works, so I looked at my own county’s election board. They present an amazing amount of information, but I also found that election workers are all part-time workers, some paid only on election day, while there are others that work at advance voting sites that open 13 days prior to the election.
I was intrigued by just how simple the process really is — with election judges from different parties certifying each polling place’s ballot as accurate, then sending the results up the ‘chain’ to the election board and eventually to the secretary of state’s office that certifies the election.
But I was even more surprised at just how many people it took to run the polling places — and the county election board’s standard plea for more people to apply for positions as check-in clerks, machine stewards, site judges, and provisional ballot judges.
Simply put, the election board always needs more people to ensure the sanctity of the ballot box.
Sometimes in political rhetoric, we expect election judges to be a horned demon, with a trident ready to pierce through the heart of liberty at a moment’s notice — but in reality, it’s our neighbors and people in our districts, who have the availability and desire to work long hours on each election day.
Sure, we might question the integrity of voting machines or at times even the decisions of the local judges. The 2000 presidential election in Florida comes to mind, with ‘hanging-chads’ becoming a part of the nation’s vocabulary overnight.
The election board always needs more people to ensure the sanctity of the ballot box.
But in general, the balloting system state-by-state is so uniquely local that widespread fraud is impossible. And frankly, if someone really thinks fraud is an issue, why not donate a few hours of time each election to make sure it is fair by contacting the local election board to help out?
Action always supersedes whining.
As a full-time post-graduate student, I have the time to squeeze in a few days of clerical-type work, so I submitted an online application to my county’s election board.
I have two reasons for doing this:
I’m curious as to how the actual process is conducted, having written about our nation’s politics for several years on IVN. But even more importantly, I was shocked at how ‘desperate’ the standing pleas for more workers seemed.
When we as Americans reflect on the political rhetoric of the sanctity of elections, we really need to look in the mirror and consider what we have done (or not done) to contribute to America’s peaceful transitions of power at the ballot box.
Because we can all contribute to the sanctity of the ballot box and join our neighbors and engage in the political process.
Photo Credit: Stephen Morton for The New York Times