For the past several months, President Donald Trump has planted a seed that the 2020 Presidential Election is rigged. The electorate can’t trust the result. Democrats are to blame — if he loses re-election. At least that’s the narrative Trump has pushed forth.
Can the election result be trusted?
“In Oregon, we can trust it,” says Richard Clucas, political science professor with PSU’s Hatfield School of Government and executive director of Western Political Science Association. “And I think everybody involved on the right and the left thinks the system is trustworthy with Oregon’s election.”
Generally speaking, election officials tasked with ensuring an accurate and honest election at the state level are people who will do their best to address any issues, Clucas adds. But there is a noticeable effort nationally to undermine the election.
“At the moment, the efforts to undermine the ability of voters to choose who they want as President seems to be coming out of one particular party,” he says. “The President and some of the Republican leaders, they're doing what they can to cause problems with the election.”
This includes setting the narrative that the result — still unknown — is automatically flawed, as well as direct intervention by individuals.
For example, some conservative groups have threatened to place armed guards at polling stations, which could intimidate voters and prevent them from voting.
“I don't remember any president previously taking a stance to undermine the democratic system,” Clucas says. “I think it's unprecedented.”
Clucas isn’t concerned, however, about Trump refusing to leave office if he isn’t re-elected.
“I think he talks big and doesn't come through,” he says. “It may cause conflict, it may lead more right wing extremists and others to act in a way that is undermining our political system. But I don’t see the ability to retain the office just because he doesn’t accept the results.”
Clucas added that he hopes whoever is elected will take steps to protect future American elections.
Regardless, the ongoing Presidential narrative has caused uncertainty and fear that’s been met by historic voter turnout. Nationwide early ballot returns are surpassing previous records. In some states, voters are waiting upwards of 11 hours to vote early.
At the same time, many states are relying on new voting methods this year as the nation continues to navigate an election during a global pandemic. Oregon has been a vote-by-mail state since 2000.
Stephanie Singer, a data scientist with PSU’s Hatfield School of Government, said generally vote-by-mail is a reliable system. Since ballots are handmarked, attempts to cheat or undermine the system can be caught because those ballots are reviewed by hand by the boards of election. The weakness for these types of systems is the chain of custody between the voter and the board of elections, Singer says.
“What you really don't want is people marking their choices on a computer,” she says. “Because you simply have no way to reliably audit the computer. Even if it spits out a piece of paper afterwards or even if it marks something afterwards, you don't know whether voters check that or not.”
The gold standard would require voting by hand with those ballots counted in full view of any observers at the end of each day, similar to the system in Taiwan, she adds.
As voters, Singer says there are a few steps each individual can take to ensure their ballot is counted.
“First of all, get your ballot in as soon as possible,” she says. “If you can, deliver it to your county directly. Ask your neighbors if they got their ballots and encourage them to turn them in early. And never give your ballot to anyone else.”
Have questions? Go directly to the source, Singer says. Each county has its own board of elections that can provide accurate and up-to-date information.
Most importantly — make a plan to vote.