If you think democracy is the best system under which to live, raise your hand. Or, if you prefer, mail in your response. Or download this app and use it to vote. Hopefully, it will be working!
The delay in the results of Monday’s Iowa caucuses due to a system meltdown involving an arcane caucus system, bad phone lines, and a wonky app was perhaps predictably met with memes about Russian interference and Twitter-storms about other nefarious causes involving rigged elections and people named Hillary.
While concerns over democracy, and the stability of our government and its leadership, have dominated the conversation in the last two years, these responses to the Iowa delay are particularly worrisome in their cynicism.
Russia memes may be funny, but they drive another stake in the heart of voter confidence. Once voters lose confidence in the system, or lose confidence that the goal of one person, one vote is achievable, our system dies. And that’s not funny.
Maybe it’s time for us to get off Twitter and take stock of what’s truly at stake. While delays and glitches in our election system signal trouble, they also signal that the country’s voting system — with varying local and state rules, regulations, and oversights — is a complicated exercise unsupported by a simple infrastructure. The delay in Iowa should not impact the ultimate results. We should be more concerned with the accuracy of the results than the speed with which we get them.
That will be especially relevant here, since a changed law in Pennsylvania could delay the results of the 2020 presidential election.
According to a recent Inquirer report, a change in the law that makes absentee ballots more available to everyone means that not all ballots will be counted on election night in Pennsylvania. With ballots available to more people, there will presumably be more ballots to count, so the wait will be all the more charged. Meanwhile, counties across the state are also contending with a series of reforms, including new voting machines that could lead to further delays in getting results.
Given our status as a battleground state and the fevered atmosphere of declaring winners, this election could be a bumpy ride for Pennsylvanians and the rest of the country looking for instant results.
We need to find a happy medium between being vigilant about our systems and panicking unnecessarily.
There are true threats to our system. Outside forces really want to impact or even curtail the vote. And not all of those forces are foreign powers. Voter ID laws and other barriers to voting all make the system — and people’s ability to participate in democracy — vulnerable.