NOTE: This piece is part of a collection of local essays on elections and trust.
Fans of the winning team rarely criticize the umpire.
We all remember the bad calls, but statistically, sports officials make the correct call almost all the time. Good officiating and clear accountability build confidence. And that confidence lets us focus our attention where it belongs: on the game.
Political campaigns can resemble full-contact sports – with fans who are just as invested in the outcomes. When the unthinkable happens on Election Day, every candidate and political party is capable of blaming “the system.” It is much harder to look in the mirror and consider the possibility that voters considered your argument… and were not persuaded.
Objectively, there are many reasons to have confidence in our elections. Three reasons I have confidence in our electoral system include:
1. All elections are local.
There is no such thing as a national electoral system. Because all elections are overseen by local officials, the capacity for direct citizen accountability is virtually unlimited. When we know election officials personally, and understand how to participate in the process, confidence grows. Those same attributes exist in local election jurisdictions across the country. With that much accountability and oversight, there is good reason for confidence.
2. Each team watchdogs its opponents.
Election judges, monitors and poll watchers represent a remarkably simple, yet brilliant insurance policy against electoral cheating. And these judges, monitors and poll watchers are enlisted by the political parties. What better way to ensure one team can’t successfully cheat, than by putting the opposing team in charge of monitoring them?
3. Continuous improvement is the norm.
Election reform proposals abound, and often vary by location. Local elections are laboratories of democratic processes. Methods that perform poorly are not repeated elsewhere, and eventually get reformed. Processes and reforms that prove effective gain wider acceptance and adoption. Over hundreds of years, we’ve learned much, through thousands of local election laboratories. That continuous improvement process never ends. It should be cause for confidence over time.