A number of noteworthy things did not happen on Election Day 2022. Everyone knows the red wave didn’t happen. But that isn’t all that didn’t happen.
The chaos at the polls that was going to be caused by the presence of citizen poll watchers did not happen. Despite being hysterically predicted (hoped for?) over the past 18 months by reporters who wrote the same story with some version of the same headline again and again and again — “Election Officials Brace For Throngs of Poll Watchers, Fearing Disruption and Chaos” — or some variation on that theme.
Every story breathlessly claimed that having citizen observers engaged in the election process was a “threat to democracy,” with NBC News warning in early November, “Election officials are bracing for conspiracy-fueled threats — while still hoping for the best…”
The Biden administration did its part to sow seeds of dissension by launching in June 2021 a national hotline at the FBI for reporting “threats to election officials and workers,” creating a task force to address “threats against election workers.” But nary a word from Attorney General Merrick Garland about protecting poll watchers, even though federal law makes it a crime to injure, intimidate, or interfere with poll watchers.
Every training conducted by those of us doing such training included instruction about behavior, and that they must be “Peaceful. Lawful. Honest.” Yet, without evidence, the closer we got to Election Day, the more hysterical the headlines became, warning of violence at the polls resulting from too many observers watching the process.
It didn’t happen. There was no violence, and the citizen observers did what they had been trained to do: watch, observe, document, and report. These citizen volunteers fulfilled an important statutory role of transparency in the election process, a fundamental component of the election codes of virtually every state. Not holding my breath that any reporters and news outlets who attacked these volunteers will ever apologize.
Some other things didn’t happen in the midterms, like transparency in verifying the identity of voters casting absentee ballots. No one outside the election officials themselves can confirm that verification even happened, or how well it was done. Factors such as proof of identity, U.S. citizenship, residence, and eligibility to vote are basically unknown because the process takes place almost entirely in secret.
The election systems and laws built over the last part of the 20th century envisioned an important role of citizen observation of the election process at polling places and in precincts. Virtually every state election code is premised upon the notion that the political parties will each appoint observers and designate election workers who will watch each other and serve as the voters’ eyes and ears.
However, as states have moved to voting by mail, that presumed transparency, oversight, and supervision are eliminated. Most states, including Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina (not to mention the all-mail voting states like Oregon and Washington), conduct voter verification procedures completely behind closed doors, with zero transparency available to observers.
Even in Florida, where the law mandates “reasonable access” to all voting procedures, including the matching of signatures to voter records, the county supervisors of elections allowed very limited access for observers to watch the signature verification. Thirty to 90 minutes per day to observe eight to 10 hours of signature matching is not transparency.
What else didn’t happen? Election officials didn’t always follow state law. Having thousands of volunteers watching and reporting in polling places across the country gave observers a bird’s eye view of the process — and what they saw wasn’t pretty. Observers were trained in their state’s election laws and how the election was supposed to be conducted.
What observers saw and reported were repeated instances of election officials and administrators disregarding state laws on everything from where observers were allowed to stand or sit, to what observers were allowed to see, to the checking-in and validation of voters’ identity at the polls. Other rules that went ignored included: validating the machine tapes at the beginning and end of every day to make sure that the numbers on the machines matched the number of voters recorded as having voted, allowing “assistance” to disabled or vulnerable voters that were tantamount to allowing individuals to bring in batches of voters or ballots, blatantly commandeering their registrations and the casting of their ballots, with no effort by poll managers or officials to stop them, or to ensure that the voters themselves were allowed to choose their own party registration and candidates.
What didn’t happen in Maricopa County, Arizona was the replacement of county election officials Bill Gates and Steven Richer, both of whom tried to sabotage the Arizona Senate audit of their management of Maricopa County’s 2020 general election. They did nothing to ensure that the 2022 general election was conducted properly and competently. The chaos that was supposed to be caused by poll watchers was caused instead by election officials like Gates and Richer.
What didn’t happen is anything in state after state to clean the voter rolls, to remove the dead, the moved, the ineligible, the duplicates, and other entries that don’t appear to be connected to an actual person eligible to vote.
What didn’t happen was the recognition by election officials that their job is to conduct the elections in accordance with the law — and to treat all voters and groups of voters equally. Their job is not to use tax dollars to run voter registration and Get Out The Vote drives in only certain areas of the community, but not in others: Think roving vans on college campuses to register and deliver votes of liberal college students, but never taking similar steps to ensure rural voters or students at technical schools are given the same access.
There was no violence at the polls, thankfully. But so many other things also didn’t happen, which must happen for the electorate — all of it – to have confidence in election outcomes.
It is time to fix the problems in our election system that thousands and thousands of citizen volunteers have now witnessed and documented.