Election night must be reclaimed

It feels like the voters’ ownership of elections is slipping away.

There aren’t too many events or competitions where we get to be active participants.

For most of us, we don’t have the skill set required to be a professional football or basketball player. No college was ever interested in signing us for our athletic ability. We can’t sing or dance well enough to draw adoring crowds on Broadway. No concert venue will sell out with our name headlining it. Hollywood doesn’t know who we are.

We appreciate those who ascend to the highest level of providing the masses with entertainment. Those ball players, singers, dancers and actors provide us with a little relief from the work week. Sometimes, diversion is good. And necessary.

But we fully understand that we’re only spectators during those events.

Elections are different. The Super Bowl of politics gives equal playing time to 150 million voters. We’re active participants. We vote on or before Election Day and are glued to a media source to watch or listen to results come in that night. Forget about whether it’s a red wave or trickle. A blue win or loss. The excitement of Election Day is a hallmark of a vibrant, participatory democracy. Voters are the ones bringing the game to an exciting finale.   

That’s our past glory. Things have changed.

Nobody ever used the word “patience” on Election Day until recently. Now, it’s becoming the awful, new norm. Voters are told to have patience for election results, and that it could take an additional day, week or month before we see the final score.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

First, properly prepare. The pandemic supercharged the mail-in ballot option in 2020. The Pew Research Center states that about 75 percent voted in person before Election Day or voted by mail. Sheer volume overwhelmed many unprepared election officials in 2020. But if that option is here to stay and will be widely used, it can’t keep being a surprise to administrators during subsequent elections. We all know the definition of insanity.

Next, impose a hard deadline of Election Day as the day that mail-in ballots must be received by election officials—not postmarked by Election Day and certainly not any days after that. One of the driving forces behind mail-in ballots is the convenience factor. If voting by mail is truly more convenient, nobody needs to wait until the last second to get a ballot in the mail. Citizens can either conveniently vote at their local precinct or conveniently postmark their mail-in ballot in plenty of time for it to arrive by Election Day.    

We will always need the mail-in ballot option for our military stationed overseas, for the elderly, for those traveling, and for other good reasons. All those ballots can be received by Election Day.    

Lastly, follow the Bipartisan Policy Center recommendation that election administrators should be permitted to process early in-person votes and vote-by-mail ballots beginning at least seven days prior to Election Day. Processing means preparing ballots and then running them through tabulators. Tabulating machines can be set to restrict availability of the results of these ballots to anyone, including election administrators, until the close of polls on Election Day.

The work gets done ahead of time. Hard copies of ballots are securely stored using strict chain of custody protocols. The secrecy of the ballot remains intact.

Timely results are important to participants. If the score card is habitually withheld from the ones playing the game—the voters exerting the effort—they may lose interest. Maybe that’s the real and sinister goal of some, to turn citizens into passive spectators instead of active participants.    

Our elections must not devolve into a spectacle. Now is the time to ask your state legislators and election officials what they are doing to ensure that winners and losers will be confidently announced on Nov. 5, 2024.

It’s voters’ game day. We want it back.   

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