I have written this piece as the Saturday Essay for the weekend Wall Street Journal. It begins:
Will your vote be fairly and accurately counted in the 2020 elections? It’s a question on a lot of people’s minds after this week’s fiasco in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, and it reminds us of a troubling fact: Nearly two decades after the Florida debacle over the 2000 presidential vote, too many places in the U.S. are still vulnerable to an election meltdown. Such anxieties add to well-founded concerns about the possibility of cyberattacks on our voting systems, by Russia or other malign actors. What’s worse, in today’s hyperpolarized, social-media-driven environment, such voting problems provide sensational grist for conspiracy theories that may further undermine Americans’ confidence in the fairness and accuracy of the 2020 elections.
Over the past decade, a familiar frame has developed in the contentious debate over voting rules: Republicans express concern about voter fraud and enact laws supposedly intended to combat it; Democrats see these laws as an attempt to suppress Democratic votes, press for measures to expand voting access and rights, and worry about cyberattacks intended to help the GOP at the polls. It is an important debate, in which I have taken part, but it misses a deeper, more urgent reality: Most American voters in 2020 are much more likely to be disenfranchised by an incompetent election administrator than by fraud, suppression or Russian hacking.
While most election officials who set the rules and count the votes do a good job, often under serious budget constraints, we cannot ignore the weakest links in the chain: those bureaucrats who increase the chances of a protracted and divisive 2020 election meltdown. Fortunately, it is not too late to take steps to try to fix the problems.