Elected officials who run for office believe they know how our election process works. In reality, they often do not understand and appreciate the complex, highly choreographed dance that takes place in the months leading up to an election, which takes place in a short time, under immense pressure, but with highly reliable results. Despite the unique challenges this time around, you can count on the men and women on your local election board.
It wasn’t until I became Executive Director of the New York City Electoral Commission that I was able to get a first-hand impression of how complex and difficult it is to conduct an election in the country’s largest city. The Elections Committee’s many responsibilities include reviewing and validating each voter registration application, ensuring that the city’s 1,200 polling stations are staffed with trained polling officials, and processing postal and ballot applications.
After the fiasco of the “hanging ballot” in the 2000 presidential election, the election committees were also given the additional task of implementing the 2002 Help America Vote Act. The HAVA was enacted to help modernize the country’s electoral system; it was not uncontroversial, but each electoral board had its mandate.
There were many obstacles and grievances, but at the time, we and other electoral committees around the country worked with the Department of Justice to help make voting easier as part of our fundamental responsibility to protect our democracy.
That is why I am so disgusted and outraged when I hear President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr and other members of the administration trying to undermine the legitimacy and integrity of our election.
During the first debate, Trump said: “This will be a fraud such as you have never seen before. Barr told CNN in September: “Significant fraud and coercion have been found in elections held by mail,” and continued with an example that turned out to be untrue when the facts were verified.
During my time on the NYC Elections Board, we were very concerned with protecting the accuracy of the voting process – from the vending machines to the absentee ballot requests – and ensuring the accuracy of the counting of the ballots. We also had a comprehensive system of checks and cross-checks to detect any discrepancies, as the boards of directors in our country do.
Supervising an election is difficult in the best of circumstances, but to hold an election in the middle of a pandemic will be a colossal undertaking. In New York City alone, 36,000 additional election workers are needed to conduct an election. Nationwide, the number is growing to 85,000 election workers, 55 percent of whom are over 60 years old.
Of course, New York City is not the only state to struggle with the impact of COVID-19 on election administration, such as budget constraints and personnel issues. So when Trump told his supporters to vote twice to see if the system worked, I was startled. Apart from the stupidity of such an explanation, he did not even think about how it would further exhaust the limited resources and probably paralyze the system.
This shows not only the president’s ignorance and willingness to break the law, but also his complete indifference towards the hundreds of thousands of people who are working for free, fair and secure elections.
The bottom line is that holding an election anywhere in the county is difficult. Really hard. It can be chaotic, and it takes a while to count each ballot. But in the five years that I have served on the board, I have overseen hundreds of men and women who have done their jobs with the utmost seriousness. They were aware of the responsibility each of them had to ensure that New York City voters could exercise their right to vote.
It is inexcusable that the President wants to destabilize our electoral process and reject our democracy. Therefore, although I am a lifelong Republican, I will vote for Joe Biden as President. We must protect our nation and its fundamental principles. We must put the country above the party.
John Ravitz was Executive Director of the New York Election Commission from 2002 to 2007. Previously, he was a member of the New York State Assembly, 73rd District, and is also a member of the Republicans and Independents for Biden coalition, a member organization of the Lincoln Project.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.