It must be disheartening for autocrats to witness an open society engaging in the messy but carefully audited work of self-governance.
Under dire circumstances the United States just pulled off a presidential-year election surprisingly well. All signs point to large turnout and an accurate count. But from the nature of his complaints, I suspect the President has never been a poll worker who put in a 14-hour day to assist in a local precinct. Living hundreds of feet in the air tends to put a person out of touch with life on the ground. His claims of vote fraud appear to be baseless. But they are also a libel on the thousands of folks who have offered their time to help run the vote in individual precincts.
In the aftermath of the election, and against numerous discredited charges, the American system of voting held. Virtually all state Secretaries of State have vouched for the process, regardless of their party affiliation or their state’s results. A few thousand votes were found in Georgia. But, so far, that’s about it.
Because the U.S. has a decentralized system for running elections, it is nearly impossible for an individual or organization to engineer significant vote-stealing. Only a fool would think there were individuals or groups conspiring to change an outcome. Their continued rhetoric insisting on the election’s illegitimacy is its own form of Shakespearian treachery.
We perhaps have few things the rest of the world might want to copy right now, but our convoluted process of voting—in person or by mail—seems eminently immune from the possibility of throwing elections. It’s especially disheartening that the President would pick on some of the most loyal Americans in the process: workers at the United States Postal Service, state employees risking infection to staff election tally desks, and the party committee men and women who traditionally organize workers to help in individual precincts. Suggesting that their efforts were tainted is an empty accusation.
It’s easier to nurture conspiracies from ignorance.
The President has planted a seed of doubt among some Americans who probably know little about how our localized system works. It’s easier to imagine conspiracies if a person lacks an understanding of the double and sometimes triple-entry book-keeping that happens during vote counts. In addition, anyone who has been a poll worker understands that the task of helping a neighbor exercise their franchise comes first. Partisanship usually takes a back seat. In the United States we have carried on the process for a long time and, thankfully, enlarged the franchise to include almost every adult.
My own experiences sitting at a table with neighbors of both parties made it unthinkable that a vote would be stolen. If a citizen was not registered, they were directed to the county courthouse to get a provisional ballot. It would have been unpardonable to send them away with no chance to correct the problem. Before the pendemic we lasted out the long day to finally finish by reading the voting machines in the evening. Workers and observers would check and record the final numbers that would be forwarded to the county. If the published tally online or in a newspaper didn’t match, we could say so.
To be sure, there is a history of vote theft in the last century. Many older African Americans and even Jimmy Carter have cautionary stories to tell. But we’ve done far better in the last 50 years. Concerns over crude efforts at voter suppression are still justified, but this year stories of potential intimidation seemed to boomerang and motivate more voters to turn out.
As slow as the count was, it was still impressive to see the confidence of a broad range of local officials confident that all legitimate ballots had been or will be counted. No wonder Vladimir Putin has been so quiet and the President so accusatory. It must be disheartening for autocrats to witness millions of citizens engaging in the messy but carefully audited work of self-governance.