Defense of the election system

Note to readers:  I was wrong on this column, and I am chagrined by it. Like many in the media, I looked in the wrong direction to defend the system against a bogus accusation while voter suppression — organized activities to prevent legitimate voters from being able to vote — was taking place in several states, perhaps determining the outcome of the election.

You can’t rig a presidential election.

Of all the damage in this presidential election, perhaps the worst is Donald Trump’s allegation that the election is rigged.

Some things will probably go wrong. Bad things can happen, but they will most likely be localized and not systematic. Our unwritten national agreement is that we try to prevent them, but when they happen, we accept the results. The “peaceful transition of power” is not just a slogan. It’s what preserves our republic.

Our elections are so decentralized that it’s logistically unimaginable that anyone could pull off a successful national conspiracy. There are too many different processes, conducted in too many separate places. Any attempted conspiracy would be exposed long before it could be achieved. I don’t think I’m being naïve in saying that.

Our elections are run by thousands of county clerks, with officials and observers from both major parties. The machines are from different manufacturers and built without the capability to be networked, so they can’t be hacked. Most states, including New Mexico, use paper ballots in addition to machine counting.

New Mexico has 33 county clerks, elected in the last election cycle before anybody knew who the 2016 candidates would be. There are about 1,500 precincts in the state, each overseen by local election officials from both major parties.

New Mexico’s election safeguards were outlined for me by Daniel Ivey–Soto, a state senator, executive director of the New Mexico association of county clerks and an expert on election law and procedure. He described the multiple ways the ballot counts are verified, preserved and audited, with every step watched by bipartisan officials and open to the public. Once you’ve cast your ballot and it’s in official hands, it is as safe as safeguards can make it.

But, sure, things can go wrong, mostly before you cast that ballot.

New Mexico had unacceptably long lines in Sandoval County in both 2012 and 2014. When the lines are long, some voters can’t wait and leave without voting.

Long lines can be accidental – such as a technical problem with a machine — or deliberate. We’ve seen deliberately created long lines recently (according to federal court decisions) in a few states that the courts said had a pattern of not enough machines or pollworkers in minority districts. Analysts say these disparities were made possible by a recent Supreme Court decision that weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Weather is a factor. The snowstorm that hit New Mexico’s northern counties on Election Day 1986 affected my life.  I had a good job prospect if a particular candidate won.  He didn’t. We didn’t have the option of voting early in those days.

Our Constitution doesn’t provide for do-overs due to weather or any other contingency. Recounts are possible, but do-overs are not. When the election is done it’s done. In the 2000 election, when recounts occurred in Florida, one issue was the confusing shape of the ballot in certain counties.  Many voters complained that they unintentionally voted for the wrong candidate. But it was done.

I know of one exception. In New York City, on September 11, 2001, a mayoral primary was scheduled. The terrorist attacks were a catastrophic interruption. It was a local election, and local officials rescheduled that primary.

This election season has aroused an alarming degree of divisiveness and suspicion in voters. As this tension feeds upon itself, we forget that our nation was built on compromise. It’s up to all of us to be Americans first and partisan second.  If you’re worried about election procedures, go to your local polling place and observe. It’s a free election and that’s your right.

I said observe, not heckle or interfere. Make yourself part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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