Once again, a sizable percentage of the people are going to spend the next four years disbelieving the results of a presidential election. With an electorate divided so evenly that elections are decided by just a few thousand votes, even the appearance of impropriety sows doubt and undermines the stability of our republic. We must reform our election process to rebuild the confidence of the electorate that the results — whatever they may be — are an accurate reflection of the will of the people.
America’s voting laws have been continuously changed throughout our history and every state conducts its elections a little differently. The twin objectives of our electoral process are to make it as easy as possible for as many citizens as possible to vote while also ensuring the integrity of the process. The former objective is to encourage a large enough turnout of voters to capture the will of the majority. The latter objective is to ensure that that will is accurately recorded.
As we have leaned our electoral system in favor of convenience to encourage turnout, we have opened it to fraud and the appearance of fraud. When election results are overwhelming, a little fraud does not threaten the result. When elections are decided on the knife’s edge, a little fraud undermines our system of government. In a system of government that relies on the losers willingly accepting the rule of the winners, legitimacy is based on the people’s faith in the outcome.
While still encouraging as many citizens who want to vote to vote, Wisconsin should once again lead the nation in electoral reform by creating a system that is the pride of democracy.
First, mail-in voting should be restricted to people who must have them. Overseas soldiers, ex-pats, and home or institutionbound people need a way to securely exercise their franchise. For most of the people who voted by mail this past election, it was simply a convenience. The problem with mail-in ballots is that they are inherently insecure. They pass through too many hands and are susceptible to fraud or being lost (intentionally or not). Greatly restricting the use of mail-in ballots to the people who really need them will reduce actual and assumed fraud.
Second, Wisconsin must insist on paper ballots in all jurisdictions and secure all of them for a reasonable time after every election. Electronic systems are convenient for clerks, but they leave no paper record of a vote in the event of a challenge or discrepancy. The beauty of paper ballots is that if there is a problem, authorities can always pull out the actual ballots and count them by hand.
In conjunction with the paper ballots, no counting machine should ever be networked to anything. Ever. Anything that touches a network is subject to widescale hacking. Simple, standalone counting machines may be inconvenient, but it is impossible to tinker with them on a large scale without a widespread conspiracy with people touching every machine. Such widespread conspiracies are improbable and unlikely to go unnoticed.
Third, local districts must purge the voter rolls on a more frequent basis. Having our voting rolls cluttered with the names of people who are dead or have moved is a ripe field for fraud. The simplest way to keep the rolls more hygienic would be to purge names of people who have been identified as having moved and those who have not voted in two election cycles. Given that Wisconsinites can register again on Election Day if they find their names removed, it is a minor inconvenience for a handful of voters for the sake of electoral security.
Fourth, all of the counting and recounting should be live-streamed and recorded. Nothing pushes away fraud and builds confidence like transparency. Anyone who has seen the incredible detail and angles available to watch a poker game on television knows how easy it would be to show every ballot up close for all the world to see. If there is a legal challenge over the count, the archived video would be easily accessible.
All of these measures would help secure our elections and restore the people’s confidence in our elections. They should also be coupled with measures to expand options for voters to cast a secure ballot. For example, the state should expand and fund a uniform in-person early voting period throughout the state.
For our republic to survive, the integrity of our electoral system must be above reproach. It does not matter if 90% of the people allegedly turn out if a large contingent of Americans do not trust the results. A substantial number on the left have never trusted the results of the 2016 presidential election. It appears that a substantial number on the right will never trust the results of the 2020 election. We have to do better for 2024.
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