A thoughtful and well-composed letter from a reader commended me for a column calling on Americans to rally around our new president and commander-in-chief and urging Republicans to seek common ground with Democrats in pursuit of national unity. While I deeply appreciate his kind words and agree with the need for both sides of the political divide to tone down the rhetoric, I must respectfully take issue with the statement that “sowing more doubt regarding the fairness of our recent election is not (consistent with) a call for unity.” That doubt, justified or not, already exists and I sincerely believe that we must acknowledge it and explore reasonable means of ameliorating it and restoring confidence in the integrity of our elections if we are to achieve that unity which we all should be pursuing.
Let me be clear that I fully accept the results of this election and deplore any efforts to delegitimize it, just as I did following Donald Trump’s election. Moreover, I accept the legal findings that claims of election fraud by Trump supporters were not supported by sufficient evidence. But those findings mean just that: claims of election fraud were not substantiated by sufficient evidence. They do not prove that irregularities did not occur. However, I agree with responsible state authorities that even if they did occur, they did not amount to fraud and even if they did, it was not of sufficient magnitude to change the outcome of the elections.
But several polls conducted after the election found that about half of Republican respondents and even as many as 13% of Democrat respondents believed that Donald Trump “rightfully won” the election and, depending upon how the question was phrased, many felt the election “was rigged” in some states. I don’t share that opinion but tens of millions of Americans do and therein lies the problem. Like so many aspects of life, perception matters greatly.
Voter turnout in 2020 was the highest in over a century in spite of a raging pandemic. Yet, only two-thirds of eligible voters bothered to vote, in spite of easy access to mail-in ballots. One survey into the reasons given for why a third of those eligible didn’t vote cited problems with the voting systems, problems with both candidates, issues with ballot access or registration, lack of interest and some simply responded “politics,” presumably indicating a dislike of politics as a reason. In my view, these reasons can be distilled into three: apathy, the belief that their vote didn’t matter and distrust in the integrity of the process. This distrust must be acknowledged and it is not inimical to the cause of unity to urge that the rules governing the conduct of elections, which are, under the Constitution, the responsibility of the various state legislatures to determine, be reviewed and tightened, not to restrict access by voters, but to ensure that in our zeal to count every vote only legal votes are counted, that they are counted only once, that ballots, including mailed ballots, are properly obtained, executed, verified and processed in accordance with state laws and that timelines are such that they can be counted and the totals certified in a timely manner to avoid prolonged post- election counting which invariably arouses suspicion on the part of voters.
In my column, I argued against eleventh-hour changes to the rules and deadlines by election officials. The reader wrote that these procedural changes were necessitated by the pandemic. But that pandemic struck in early 2020. States had nearly the rest of the year to get things right and deal with necessary changes to mail-in voting procedures. Most did. Why were last minute changes in some battleground states necessary?
Rallying around our president and hoping and praying for his health, success and for national unity does not mean that those of us on opposite sides of the political spectrum will always agree or abandon deeply-held principles. Our unity may never be perfect but it will be much enhanced if we always respect the right of others to express their opinion no matter how much we may disagree. The road to unity is a difficult path, made more so by overconfidence in the infallibility of one’s own opinion.