Addressing Voter Confidence

Contrary Evidence — Podcast also available

In this post, we are going to explore some of the threats we face to our democracy. Confidence in our democratic processes has not been this low for more than a hundred years. We will look at some of the real and perceived issues that are contributing to voter concern and the role that both political parties are playing in undermining our trust in the system.

The old saying “Perception is Reality” is a true maxim as it relates to people’s trust and confidence in institutions. Negative perceptions about the competency of the voting public in general and about the priorities of the competing political parties has undermined confidence. According to Pew Research, 59% of Americans do not have trust or have confidence in the wisdom of the American people to make political decisions. That is up from 35% in 1997.

Al Davis, the deceased owner of the NFL Raiders, had a personal mantra “Just win Baby”. This philosophy has clearly been adopted by politicians in both parties. This win at all costs approach has encouraged some pretty bad behavior on both sides of the aisle. Let’s start by looking at the worst culprit, the Republican Politicians.

Donald Trump declared very early in the election cycle that if he did not win, the system was rigged. He has continued that claim and it has been embraced by Republican leaders at the state and federal level. Twelve states have changed voting laws to stop future fraud even though there has been virtually no evidence of voting irregularities in the latest Presidential election.

The vast majority of Republican congressmen and senators voted against establishing a bi-partisan committee to look into the January 6th insurrection. Many have repeated Trump’s claims about the election being stolen. No one has produced credible evidence of wide-spread fraud but that has not stopped the claims.

It is important to keep in mind what is behind these claims and actions. The Republicans have a real issue. The demographics of the country are changing to the advantage of the Democrats. Voter turnout of white voters has historically been higher than the turnout of Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans. If Democrats are able to fully leverage this shift by increasing voter turnout of these groups, they clearly have the advantage.

In response, Republicans have rallied around voter suppression as a way to combat this shift. The losses in Georgia and Arizona scared the hell out of Republican leaders. The easiest way to drive changes in voting laws is to convince people that there is fraud. Consequently, Republicans falsely claim voter fraud to justify “Voter Integrity” legislation. With the help of right-wing media, fully 25% of voters believe that Biden stole the election from Trump.

The Democrats are also contributing to the perception that the election process is rigged. It is easy to forget that both Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election due to Russian interference. Trump supporters remember. This helped set the stage for the circus that has become the Republican party.

In November, the Democrats used valid and reasonable concerns about voter safety tied to Covid to institute changes in the voting processes. These changes were absolutely perceived to be advantageous to Democrats as they were expected to lead to higher turnout of Democratic leaning populations.

The turnout increased in most major voting blocks including groups that tend to lean Republican. The turnout of Asian Americans, Hispanics and non-college educated white voters increased by more than six points. The first two groups lean Democratic while the third group leans Republican. The Contrary Evidence is that turnout among Black Americans and college-educated whites, both groups that heavily favored Biden, increased less than the other voting blocks.

The obvious conclusion is that the rule changes that were put in place largely by Democratic leaders and Democratic leaning Judges, did not actually help the Democratic Party cause. Biden won because of the depth of the animosity towards Trump. This is much different than the public perceptions.

If the 2020 pandemic rule changes did not help Democrats, how much impact will the roll-back to pre-pandemic rules will we see? Clearly, some states are going well beyond simply rolling back the rules. However, the more that Democrats voice concerns about voter suppression, the more voters will lose confidence in the political system. To be clear, I do not support the voter suppression legislation but in this case the bark from the Democrats may be worse than the bite from the Republicans.

Well run businesses try to draw a line between the blame game, let’s point fingers at the people that screwed up, and root-cause analysis — what can we learn about the true causes of past failures. In politics, it is all about the blame game. Blame your opponents, anger the population and mobilize your voters. Just Win Baby. Don’t worry about undermining trust and confidence in Democracy.

The problem that most urgently needs to be fixed is Voter trust and confidence in the election system. These deep concerns will not be changed with partisan legislation or divisive messaging. All those steps will make things worse. We need to tackle this perception issue the way that businesses do. We need to listen to the people utilizing focus groups. We need to spend time to understand why people are perceiving issues with the system. We need to understand from them, what would change their perceptions. Lastly, once we understand the root concerns and once we have potential solutions, we need bi-partisan legislation to address the real and perceived issues. That legislation needs to include bi-partisan efforts at informing voters about the changes that are being implemented with a concerted effort to build confidence versus to make opponents look bad.

As we try to address the trust and confidence issue, we must focus on two goals. First, increase the confidence of the American public in the integrity of the voting system. This might include expanded use of voter IDs. The vast majority of democratic countries require IDs or affidavits to vote. Depending on the data source, it is estimated that only .1-.6% of the US population that is eligible and interested in voting lacks a voter ID. This population is generally poorer and more diverse than the population at large which is why affidavits are also needed as an alternative for those that struggle to get IDs. Second, improve access for legitimate voters. Early voting, mail-in voting, expanded hours and locations would all help increase eligible voter turnout. These are not mutually exclusive objectives. We can expand access to voting without compromising the integrity of the system. Unfortunately, neither political party will benefit from this holistic approach. Each is only advantaged if we address only one of the two goals.

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