“Many Americans don’t trust elections. What can be done?”


America’s democratic process has been severely tested in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump’s personal push to overturn results in key states revealed vulnerabilities in the nation’s electoral system – including how many important aspects of voting are defended not by laws, but by norms of official behavior.

Nor has the testing ended, despite the Trump campaign’s dozens of losses in election-related lawsuits, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and Congress’ ultimate certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. Despite no evidence that Mr. Trump’s loss in Arizona was fraudulent, 16 Republicans in the state Senate voted to subpoena ballots from Maricopa County, for an examination that has been widely criticized as a partisan ploy.

Trump supporters are now seeking Arizona-style “audits” in Georgia and other swing states.

Leading up to the 2020 vote, Americans had mixed feelings about election integrity, with about 6 in 10 saying they did not trust the outcome to be fair. Rebuilding trust now looks like a high civic priority. Next in our series, “Democracy Under Strain.”

Can elections be armored against disgruntled efforts to subvert them? Perhaps more important, can changes to the electoral system regain trust that has been lost on both sides?

Complete trust in election outcomes is likely an impossible goal in today’s polarized political environment. But it is possible to have trustworthy elections, ones that impartial observers can agree are free and fair, experts say.

lection audits could be akin to financial audits – activities that occur regularly, follow established professional procedures, and are largely the same in all 50 states, says Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If we weren’t in the middle of partisan wrangling over the whole 2020 election, with crazy things happening in Arizona, we could have a reasonable discussion about making things better,” Professor Stewart says.

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