Americans have fought and died for the right to vote. The alarming developments in this extraordinary election year make clear the fight to exercise that right is far from over, particularly for voters of color in cities like Philadelphia.
The disruptive “poll watchers” the Trump campaign dispatched to the city’s early voting locations — where poll watchers don’t have the right to enter — and the so-called “election integrity” panel Harrisburg Republicans are concocting suggest that partisan attempts to intimidate voters and interfere in the election process are more brazen than at any time in living memory. President Trump, who is trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden in most polls, including those in Pennsylvania, is laying the groundwork to de-legitimize ballot counts nationwide — and has hinted he might not readily concede to losing, either.
Months before preliminary voting began in September, Trump was seeding doubts and sowing fears about the Nov. 3 election. He proclaimed without evidence last May that the only way he could possibly lose his bid for a second term would be if the voting were “rigged”; made fake claims about the capabilities of the United States Postal Service; and falsely asserted that voting by mail is vulnerable to wholesale fraud — which it is not.
Trump unleashed a barrage of disinformation during last week’s debate. He predicted with almost incantatory fervor that the casting and counting of ballots “will be a disaster” and that declaring a winner may take “months” or even “years.” But as Biden rightly pointed out on the Cleveland debate stage, the president can’t “stop you from being able to determine the outcome” of the election.
Biden’s timely note of reassurance bears repeating: there are more reasons for the electorate to be confident than there are reasons to panic.
Trump’s self-serving predictions of “disaster” and “fraud” impugn the integrity of the public servants and civic-minded volunteers who are the backbone of our locally controlled process of voting. The system is not without flaws. But the traditional American way of casting ballots — including by mail, beginning in the 19th century — has served our country well, as have the Democrats and Republicans who work to make sure every vote is counted.
There is also reason to be confident in the fact that the $2 trillion CARES Act on March 27 included $400 million to states nationwide to help them conduct elections in the face of the pandemic. Pennsylvania received $14.2 million and New Jersey, $10.2 million.
These resources could help reduce the potential for significant errors, delays, and even the exceedingly rare attempts to game the voting system. Local election boards in Pennsylvania and New Jersey need to add staff, secure additional technology, and train additional volunteers to handle the challenges of accommodating in-person, and mail-in, balloting. We have confidence that the technical glitches that confounded early voters at election stations in Philly neighborhoods last week will be corrected. And the discovery that several memory sticks for programming voting machines were stolen from a warehouse in East Falls must be vigorously investigated.
Like the memory-stick theft, questionable mail-in ballots, such as those found after a municipal election in Paterson, N.J., earlier this year, often are identified and investigated. The improper disposal of seven mail-in ballots for Trump in Republican-controlled Luzerne County, Pa. — an incident Trump seized upon during the debate — came to the attention of election officials.
Due to the pandemic, confusion would likely have arisen this year even without the president’s falsehoods. It’s also worth noting that worries surrounding elections have long been mostly about low voter turnout and lack of civic engagement. The turmoil of this election has served to motivate voters, with a record turnout predicted.
Every registered New Jersey voter can expect to receive a mail-in ballot. Pennsylvania voters who wish to use that option must request a mail-in ballot from their county election office before the Oct. 27 deadline. Information is available through those offices or online at VotePa.gov, nj.gov/state/elections, or The Inquirer’s election guide.
It’s incumbent on voters to educate themselves, and for those choosing to vote by mail to do so well in advance of Nov. 3. And it’s the responsibility of local election boards and poll workers to make sure that voters are well served and ballots are properly counted. Pandemic and politics notwithstanding, we are confident this American tradition will be upheld.
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer