Election integrity

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 25th of September, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

First up on The World and Everything in It: trust in free and fair elections. 

Successful democracies depend on it. For voters to believe elections are trustworthy, elections have to be free of things like voter suppression, voter fraud, and miscounting.

EICHER: With midterms just a few short weeks away, two new polls suggest a loss of confidence: a surprising number of Americans believe our elections are not fair or free from foreign tampering.

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has this report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: NPR and Marist conducted the polls earlier this month. The first found that onout of every three Americans believe a foreign country is likely to change votes and results in the midterm elections.

The other poll found that 47 percent of Americans believe elections aren’t fair, meaning votes won’t be counted accurately in the upcoming midterms.

David Becker is executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

BECKER: I wasn’t surprised by the numbers, but of course I was disappointed by them.

Becker says a hyper-partisan political and media climate contributes to American voters’ doubt about elections.

BECKER: I think we live in an atmosphere where voters are fed a steady diet that they can’t trust elections, that you can only trust elections when your candidate wins. And when the other candidate wins, it was somehow rigged.

People on both sides of the political divide are propagating doubt about U.S. elections, but for different reasons. On the left, voters don’t distinguish between Russia’s social media influence and the fact that there’s no evidence Russia actually changed any votes.

On the right, President Trump has long claimed widespread voter fraud, although to date no evidence of such a scheme exists.

Those partisan narratives show up in the NPR/Marist polls. 50 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of independents said they fear foreign interference in elections while 80 percent of Republicans fear voter fraud and voter suppression.

BECKER: When you’ve got nearly half of Democrats thinking that a foreign country will actually change the results and about a third of all independence and then only 13 percent of Republicans. That’s, um, that’s really troubling that we see such a partisan disparity that we’re having difficulty finding objective fact.

The 47 percent of American voters who think elections aren’t fair include mostly Democrats, women, and non-white voters.

Becker notes people of color, particularly African-Americans, have historical reasons for thinking elections aren’t fair.

BECKER: It is only 50 years ago that the Voting Rights Act was passed. There are many people still voting today who remember literacy tests and other barriers to the right to vote in many places. They are undoubtedly more attuned to any challenges that might be placed in front of them and anything that might be perceived to potentially lead to an undemocratic result.

So is overall voter confidence at a troubling low? Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She says it’s hard to tell because surveys only started asking about voter confidence after the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election, but Bowman says people’s faith in political institutions is often based on who is in power.

BOWMAN: I’m not surprised given the feelings about Trump in the White House among Democrats and women that you would—that you would see skepticism about the vote and everything else.

Adam Ambrogi, director of the Elections Program at the Democracy Fund, says it’s important for local and state elections officials to educate voters on what they’ve done to secure voter registration lists and improve cybersecurity.

AMBROGI: The more there is a public frame that everything is insecure that everything can be hacked, I think the less folks think that their individual vote matters.

David Becker at the Center for Election Innovation and Research believes that even though voter confidence may be down that won’t stop more Americans from turning out to the polls than in the 2014 midterms. That won’t be hard though. 2014 had the lowest turnout in 72 years.

BECKER: We’re also seeing campaign effects similar to what we might have seen in say 2010 or 2006 where one side or the other gets energized and they see higher relative turnout compared to the other side.

Becker says voters doubting America’s free and fair elections should be assured there’s never been more done to secure elections than in the last two years.

BECKER: I think the 2018 election will be more secure than any election in the past.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(AP Photo/Steve Karnowski) Voting booths stand ready in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, for Friday’s opening of early voting in Minnesota. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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