Written by 7:40 pm News

Opinion: America’s elections are at risk. Here’s what the Carter Center is doing about it

Since our first election mission, the center has worked on more than 110 elections in 39 countries. We have prioritized countries with a significant potential to advance democratic transitions or places where democracy has been under threat. Most of these countries have weak institutions and are plagued by political polarization, a lack of public trust, ethnic or racial divisions, or a history of troubled elections. Often, there are fears that the election results won’t be seen as credible or could trigger violence.

In our more than 30 years of international work, we’ve learned that no election is ever perfect. While problems will almost inevitably occur, the key question is whether they impact the overall integrity of the election. We’ve also learned that it’s important to speak honestly and clearly about the electoral process and to make good faith efforts to understand the concerns of all parties. In the next few months, it will be crucial for everyone — especially leaders in both parties — to focus on our shared goal of a credible election rather than using small controversies to score political points.

While some of the problems in US elections will require long-term civic education and electoral reform, there are steps we can take now to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a ballot safely and trust that their votes are counted in November. To help build confidence in the election process and the final results, and fight the inevitable flood of disinformation, we’re planning a public information campaign to make sure voters know their options and what to expect. We’ll also highlight best practices and work with officials to encourage transparency throughout all stages of the electoral process. Like all of our efforts, this will be nonpartisan.

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With the election less than 70 days away, we believe it is critical that election authorities use discretionary authority, with support from political leaders, civic groups and the media, to address the following challenges, many of which were highlighted in a recent report by the independent and bipartisan National Task Force on Election Crises:
Polling locations, polling staff, training. Election districts should ensure there are adequate polling locations, voting stations, equipment and trained staff, especially where recent primaries revealed problems. Polling locations must be spacious enough for social distancing to be possible, with adequate health protection protocols in place and sufficient PPE like face masks and gloves for poll workers. States should ensure that election offices have the resources necessary to conduct elections safely.

Access to polls and voting options. Because of Covid-19, it is especially important to expand safe voting options to the fullest extent possible, including through early voting and vote-by-mail, as well by creating options for curbside or drive-through voting on election day. Where possible, authorities should proactively mail voters absentee applications or make it easier to request and submit absentee ballots by providing prepaid postage, extending deadlines and adding more drop boxes. Election authorities should also ensure there are adequate resources for ballot tracking and enough staff to process mail-in ballots.

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Voter education and information. Election officials, with the support of civic groups and the media, should provide clear and accurate information on issues like voter registration, early voting, vote-by-mail and polling locations. They should distribute this information widely and make an effort to educate Americans on likely time lines for getting final results since due to the pandemic, the number of absentee ballots is likely to be greater than ever before, and they will take longer to process than most people are accustomed to.

Transparency, observation, audits. To build public confidence, greater transparency is needed at all stages. Election authorities should be forthcoming about everything from the preparation of voting machines, for example, to the counting and verification of results. Any audits should allow full access for both partisan and nonpartisan civic observers. Having arrangements in place to help the public understand and see into the election process, so to speak, will be especially important for the tracking, processing and counting of absentee ballots.

Beyond 2020, if the US wishes to resume its position as a global beacon for democracy, Americans should consider other needed reforms, including steps to ensure independent election administration and redistricting, transparency in campaign finance, expanded digital literacy and reforms to the electoral college.

The Carter Center hopes to work alongside bipartisan and nonpartisan groups to support these goals, recognizing that as an organization founded by a former Democrat president, we must be scrupulously neutral. We have done this successfully for over three decades and will continue to do so as we approach the US election.

Now more than ever, all eligible voters should have the confidence that they will be able to participate in elections safely, easily and freely, and that the process will be secure.

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