I have written this piece for the New York Times Sunday Review. It begins;
The strength and integrity of the American electoral process are under tremendous strain, but the worst may be yet to come.
In just the past few weeks, we learned that in the midst of the 2016 campaign the president’s eldest son, Donald J. Trump Jr., was willing to meet with a woman described to him as a “Russian government attorney” to get dirt on his father’s opponent. Voters across the country asked election officials to remove their names from voting rolls so that their personal information would not be turned over to the Orwellian Election Integrity commission that the president established to try to substantiate his outrageous and false charge that there were three million or more illegal voters in 2016. The president has stacked this commission with a rogues’ gallery of people with reputations for false and exaggerated claims of voter fraud. Democratic and Republican state officials have resisted the commission’s call to turn over voting lists.
And yet as bad as things are, the health of our electoral process is likely to deteriorate further, with some of the threats striking at the very basis of democratic society: our confidence that votes have been fairly and accurately counted. What’s worse, we cannot count on the courts, the president, Congress or state legislatures to save us. It will take bipartisan cooperation among state and local election officials, facilitated by nongovernmental organizations committed to sound principles of election administration, to get us past this dangerous point.
Faced with this vacuum, nongovernmental organizations need to take the lead on fostering cooperation across various levels of government and among political parties. The efforts of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (a bipartisan group President Barack Obama appointed to study problems with the 2012 elections), the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Bipartisan Policy Center and others show that this kind of work can be effective. Led by Pew, red as well as blue states have adopted online voter registration and voluntarily cooperated to clean voter rolls in a way that is careful enough to avoid inadvertent disenfranchisement.
The next urgent area of cooperation must be election cybersecurity. Faced with a serious, imminent threat, Democrats and Republicans should have every reason to work together. Unfortunately, Pew has announced plans to cease its work in election administration at this crucial time, and it is not clear who can step up to take its place.
The future is scary. Public confidence in the fairness of the election process is already largely driven by who wins and who loses. State and local election officials need to overcome partisanship and resistance in areas where they can cooperate, and we need to support organizations that foster that. It may not sound sexy, but our democracy is counting on them.
Don’t miss the great graphic accompanying the piece.