(Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)
By Susan Gobreski
Ghost stories can be powerful. Tell people you are going to share something scary to build suspense. Remind them that bad things happen and there are mysterious forces that would do them harm. When you tell people to worry, you activate their fear.
Witch hunts are more powerful still. That threatening force? It lives amongst us. It’s the reason crops won’t grow, that the boy down the street got sick, the factory closed.
It has a face – the newcomer, the spinster, the one who doesn’t go to the same church, who looks different from you. Convince people to turn on their neighbors – the witch is a threat to our way of life; we must find them, search them, take away their power, cast them out.
The biggest ghost story in Pennsylvania right now is the myth that our elections aren’t secure. It is a story meant to create fear. People who feel fear are easier to convince.
It isn’t that we should look for fraud – of course we should. But… we do. We have laws and policies to regulate election activity. Every polling place permits multiple poll workers and official observers. In every county, officials from both parties oversee elections.
There’s a process to check in each voter and each mailed ballot, to ensure it is from a qualified elector, with review and oversight from multiple people.
Pennsylvania Election Code requires every county to conduct a recount of a random sample of ballots and every county did. Most counties in Pennsylvania went through a risk-limiting audit – a statistical process to confirm that the computers counted the ballots correctly. The results are again verified at the state level, including a recount process when the results are close.
The right way to identify issues is with evidence – validated problems and patterns that are identified – things you can see and that can be corroborated.
Conjuring problems is another matter. Paranoia and speculation are not evidence.
Which brings us to snake oil, and the politicians selling it. If they can convince us there is something menacing that we can’t see, that there is someone to blame, then we might buy what they are selling – an easy solution that you can only get from them.
Republicans in the Senate are trying to subpoena detailed information (drivers licenses and partial Social Security numbers) about EVERY voter in Pennsylvania for a so-called “audit” in a committee that doesn’t oversee elections, to give to an unspecified vendor with unspecified experience, who will do something unspecified with it. There are efforts to eliminate mail voting, which is used in numerous other states and has been for years, even though it was a welcome upgrade to Pennsylvania’s out-of-date election system, enacted in a bi-partisan vote.
The big lie is a ghost story. Voter fraud is a witch hunt. Making it harder to vote is snake oil – you pay, they benefit.
Do you really want politicians and their consultants to have detailed information about each voter? Do you really want politicians to change the laws when they don’t like the outcome of an election?
The true fix is transparency and addressing real issues of real people. The true fix is taking care of our neighbors, not turning on them. Pennsylvanians need good paying jobs, small businesses in every community, good schools, healthcare, roads that aren’t crumbling. Pennsylvania lawmakers are sitting on something like $7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars they could appropriate and spend, but they’d rather spend time on ghost stories.
Here is what Pennsylvania’s election system really needs.
We need to make voting more accessible for every “qualified elector” (the legal term for legitimate voters). Early voting, ballot drop boxes and satellite election offices with extended hours. Better electronic systems. Automatic voter registration and the ability to register and vote up to Election Day.
We need to fund the election operations needed to run the elections we want to have. Counties need equipment and staff to manage elections – they need to be able to validate and prepare ballots for counting (pre-canvassing) which takes people, time, and equipment. They should be able to notify voters who made minor mistakes, so voters aren’t excluded from voting (called a “cure” process).
We need a much better redistricting process that ensures that voters are picking legislators, not politicians picking voters, which is what happens now. We need rules that make the people doing the redistricting process follow practices of fairness.
- Good voting policy.
- Supported election administration.
- Fair redistricting
When someone wants to tell you a ghost story, worry more about the storyteller. They want you to be afraid. When someone tells you to fear witches, they want you to turn on your neighbor. And we should all know about snake oil by now. Our elected officials need to stop with ghost stories and snake oil and get to work.
Susan Gobreski is the Board Director for Government Policy at the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
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