We know how to hold an elec­tion

The Washington Post - - TUESDAY OPINION - Twit­ter: @Milbank

Pres­i­dent Trump has done ev­ery­thing in his power — and some things out­side his power — to sab­o­tage the elec­tion. He has sug­gested post­pon­ing the elec­tion and hold­ing a re-vote, warned base­lessly about ram­pant fraud and pushed his sup­port­ers to vote twice. The big-time Trump donor now run­ning the post of­fice has im­paired mail de­liv­ery and sent mis­in­for­ma­tion to vot­ers about mail-in bal­lots.

But here’s the good news: It’s not go­ing to work.

Trump has suc­ceeded in sow­ing con­fu­sion about the abil­ity of the United States to hold a free and fair elec­tion. His al­lies in Congress have abet­ted the sab­o­tage by re­fus­ing to give states the funds they need to hold an elec­tion dur­ing a pan­demic while de­fend­ing against for­eign ad­ver­saries’ in­ter­fer­ence. But de­spite the at­tempts to in­ca­pac­i­tate elec­tions, the United States is on course to give Amer­i­cans more ways to cast bal­lots than ever — and more cer­tainty than ever that their bal­lots will be ac­cu­rately counted.

“While it’s crit­i­cal we be clear-eyed about the prob­lems and keep up the pres­sure to do bet­ter, there’s been too much alarmism,” said Wendy Weiser, di­rec­tor of the Democ­racy Pro­gram at the New York Univer­sity Law School’s Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice. “Peo­ple have the im­pres­sion that the elec­tion is not go­ing to work and they’re go­ing to have prob­lems, which is ab­so­lutely not the case for the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans.”

The Bren­nan Cen­ter ex­ists in part to sound the alarm about flaws in the vot­ing sys­tem, so it’s worth not­ing that Weiser says “we’ve watched the elec­tion sys­tem im­prove be­fore our eyes” — es­pe­cially after a pan­demic pri­mary sea­son char­ac­ter­ized by closed polling places, long lines and chaos. Among the en­cour­ag­ing signs: Some­where be­tween 96 per­cent and 97 per­cent of votes cast in this elec­tion will have pa­per backup — as­sur­ance against fraud and in­ter­fer­ence — com­pared with only about 80 per­cent in 2016. If there’s a chal­lenge to elec­tion re­sults, there will be a pa­per trail to ver­ify the out­come.

Trump’s at­tempt to cause chaos by telling his sup­port­ers to vote twice? All states have pro­tec­tions against that, and all bat­tle­ground states (in­clud­ing North Carolina, where Trump has fo­cused his vote-twice ef­fort) have bal­lot-track­ing bar codes on their mail bal­lots — so vot­ers and elec­tion of­fi­cials will know whether some­one has al­ready voted. Their at­tempts to vote twice may cause de­lays (par­tic­u­larly in Repub­li­can precincts) as peo­ple sub­mit pro­vi­sional bal­lots, and slow the count­ing, but there’s a near-zero chance they will suc­ceed in vot­ing twice, Weiser says.

Trump’s at­tempt to sab­o­tage the post of­fice to pre­vent mail-in bal­lot­ing? Al­most all states that have vote-by-mail also have mul­ti­ple op­tions for re­turn­ing bal­lots. With a cou­ple of ex­cep­tions, bat­tle­ground states have some com­bi­na­tion of drop boxes, early vot­ing lo­ca­tions and elec­tion of­fices that will ac­cept dropped­off bal­lots.

As for mail-in vot­ing in gen­eral, elec­tions of­fi­cials and law­mak­ers in Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can states alike have vastly ex­panded the avail­abil­ity, de­spite Trump’s at­tempts to dis­credit this long-stand­ing and re­li­able method. Thanks to re­cent changes, all but six states — In­di­ana, Texas, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi, South Carolina and Ten­nessee — now ei­ther send bal­lots au­to­mat­i­cally or al­low vot­ers to re­quest them with­out need­ing a spe­cial ex­cuse for do­ing so.

Like­wise, all but six states (Con­necti­cut, Delaware, Mis­sis­sippi, Mis­souri, New Hamp­shire and parts of North Dakota) now of­fer some form of early vot­ing (many with ex­panded lo­ca­tions and hours) so vot­ers can avoid Elec­tion Day crowds.

Fi­nally, after primaries plagued by precinct clo­sures and a short­age of poll work­ers, the Bren­nan Cen­ter now ex­pects the num­ber of Elec­tion Day polling places to be close to 2016’s level, even if there’s a resur­gence of the coro­n­avirus.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials, non­prof­its, cor­po­ra­tions and civic-minded vol­un­teers are off­set­ting the short­age of poll work­ers and polling places caused by the pan­demic. These range from Lebron James’s “More Than a Vote” move­ment to re­cruit poll work­ers to pro­fes­sional sports teams’ con­tri­bu­tions of are­nas as polling lo­ca­tions to hand-san­i­tizer do­na­tions from An­heuserBusc­h.

Want to help? Sign up to be a poll worker at pow­erthe­p­olls.org, or con­tact your lo­cal elec­tion of­fice.

Cer­tainly, there are still hur­dles. The big­gest prob­lem may be vot­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion, much of it am­pli­fied by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. On Satur­day, a fed­eral judge tem­po­rar­ily blocked the U.S. Postal Ser­vice from send­ing out a mailer that gave in­cor­rect vot­ing in­for­ma­tion. There’s still some hope Congress will pro­vide states with funds to send out cor­rect in­for­ma­tion to vot­ers — but Se­nate Repub­li­cans may block even that.

The best thing the rest of us can do is counter mis­in­for­ma­tion with ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, such as The Post’s in­ter­ac­tive guide to vot­ing in each state.

Above all, don’t in­ad­ver­tently re­in­force Trump’s van­dal­ism with hand-wring­ing about vot­ing prob­lems. Yes, Trump is try­ing to sab­o­tage vot­ing. But the world’s great­est democ­racy knows how to hold an elec­tion.

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