Election Day, every school kid learns, is the one day when we are all truly equal and when we come together to make decisions that impact the whole country.
But real equality – and real confidence that we can achieve it – requires that the ballot box be readily accessible to every eligible voter and that every vote be counted as cast. To make that happen, we need elections officers, poll workers, and rank-and-file voters themselves to administer the process legally and engage in it fairly. It also helps to have candidates, particularly for the commander-in-chief’s office, who follow and respect the rules.
That is why it is especially troubling when politicians display disdain for the electoral process by urging their supporters to engage in illicit behavior that games the system.
Last month, Donald Trump called on his supporters to up-end the rules. “I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the eighth [but] go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it is 100 percent fine,” he told attendees at a rally in Pennsylvania. “We are going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas,” he warned, “and watch and study, make sure other people do not come in and vote five times.”
“Certain areas?” You do not need to be a dog to hear that whistle. Trump is not calling for election integrity; he is encouraging vigilantism, playing to people’s fears and deliberately undermining public confidence in the most vital mechanism of our democracy.
A recent poll found that 34 percent of Americans likely to vote in the upcoming general election believe “the election will be rigged.” And why? One big reason is that some of those in positions of power – including one who aims to run the country – have planted and nurtured this fear in voters’ minds, all to rig the system for their own benefit. We have seen this tactic before, with increasing frequency over the past few years.
After President Obama’s election, and again after the Supreme Court eviscerated the full protections of Voting Rights Act in Shelby Co. v. Holder in 2013, many states moved to curb voter access. Strong reforms like same day registration were rolled back, new limits were imposed on third parties’ opportunities to conduct voter registration drives, and restrictive photo ID laws were added to the statute books.
Nearly half the country moved to restrict the right to vote, impacting mostly voters of color, all under the guise of “election integrity.” They got away with it – until they did not. In recent months, courts in Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have called out many of these moves for what they are: vote suppression tactics. For the upcoming election, voters in several of these states (not Wisconsin) will be able to vote without the restrictions their legislators earlier enacted with the intention of keeping them away.
The courts cannot silence the dog-whistling politicians who are stoking groundless fears about voter fraud and rigged counts, much like their elected counterparts did before enacting baseless laws. But “we, the people” can ensure Election Day remains fair for all, despite ill attempts.
By volunteering in non-partisan election protection efforts, organized by independent groups such as Common Cause and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in cooperation with election officials, we can help ensure that the vote is free, fair, and accessible. Volunteer poll workers, trained on the law and deployed across the country, will provide voters with the information they need, make calls when administrative failures occur, and notify the appropriate authorities when they see individuals engage in intimidating tactics.
Volunteers on the ground and voters alike can report problems to a toll free hotline – 1-866-OUR-VOTE (plus 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA and 1-888-API-VOTE for Spanish and Asian languages, respectively) – where trained lawyers follow up as appropriate, sometimes calling on election officials, sometimes filing a lawsuit to ensure the rules are followed, voting proceeds smoothly, and every eligible voter gets to cast his or her vote as intended. Participation in election protection efforts gives Americans a chance to see how elections run from the inside-out. The work is necessary – voters have questions about ID, sites run out of ballots, and translations go missing. Volunteering to help fix these problems empowers us to be part of the solution, not the fear-mongering.
When many of us think about America, we think about fairness, about equality. As citizens, we believe everyone, no matter his or her background, should get a fair shot. We have the power to deflate the scare tactics and bolster belief in our system. Whether you are “with her,” or hoping to “make America great again,” your right to vote must remain free, fair, and accessible. With Election Protection in place, it will stay that way.
To volunteer for Election Protection – and become a part of the solution – please click here:
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections