A few months ago, a group of Democrats and Republicans from across the country came together to form the National Council on Election Integrity to defend the legitimacy of the 2020 election. At that point, tensions were already running high, with both sides of the aisle accusing the other party of undermining the election.
Both of us are retired from public office. But previously, we served together in the U.S. House of Representatives — one of us a Democrat from Missouri who ascended to the position of majority leader and the other of us a Republican from Pennsylvania who went on to serve as the governor of Pennsylvania and secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. This year, we could not sit back and do nothing. As we saw it, working to protect the integrity of our electoral process was less a question of, and more of an answer to, our democratic duty; less about an affiliation to red or blue, and more of an allegiance to the red, white, and blue.
Election integrity is not a partisan issue — it is a deeply American one. This country’s entire system of governance hinges on our collective faith in the fairness of our voting process and the peaceful transfer of power. This democracy we both love and have dedicated our lives to serving hangs in the balance.
There’s no denying that this has been an unprecedented election so far, especially given the constraints the COVID-19 pandemic placed on how and where we vote. But those restrictions have not stopped local election officials and poll workers here in Pennsylvania, or around the country, from working hard to make sure the process runs as smoothly as possible. More than two million Pennsylvanians have participated in early voting, either through in-person early voting or by returning absentee ballots via mail or dropping them off at county election offices. And millions more were expected to stand in line to cast their votes in-person on Election Day.
Given that Pennsylvania law, like those in a handful of other states, does not allow officials to start processing absentee ballots until Election Day, it is no surprise that the counting process is expected to take longer than normal this year. This delay is not a sign of trouble or a red flag of any kind; it simply means our democracy is working as it was designed to, and every vote is being counted. Rather than entertaining premature speculation or falling prey to soundbites from politicians, we should allow our democracy to do what it has done for the past 245 years — work.
Every citizen — including those running for office — must be patient, trust the process, and let our dedicated election workers go about their business. Poll workers and election officials are your neighbors, grandparents, and fellow churchgoers. They take their jobs very seriously — and they’re risking their own health to ensure those jobs are done right. The very least we can do is give them time, and be wary of any politicians or political operatives who seem as if they are trying to invalidate the process or unnecessarily gum up the vote counting. Our democracy has endured the 1918 influenza pandemic, the Great Depression, and two world wars. We are confident it can survive the year 2020 too.
When our democracy works, anything is possible. We both hail from manufacturing towns. We both come from hardworking families who sacrificed so much to pursue their American Dreams. And in the course of our lives, we both ran for elected office in swing districts and served our communities in Congress. Our stories, and those of countless others, wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.
That’s why we came together, Democrats and Republicans, all those months ago. Because we knew that how we handle the outcome of this election could very well determine the fate of our American experiment. We know that what we have in this country is so precious, and we wanted to do everything we could to preserve it.
Now, we are asking you to join us in giving election officials time to do their jobs, demanding that every vote cast in accordance with applicable laws is counted, and once those votes are certified, accepting the results. For that is how democracy works, and that is the American way.
Tom Ridge, a Republican from Pennsylvania, is a former congressman, governor of Pennsylvania, and secretary of Homeland Security. Dick Gephardt, a Democrat from Missouri, is a former House majority leader. Both are members of the National Council on Election Integrity.