Our democracy’s most revered function, the election, is under attack both from within and without. There is little or no disagreement in the intelligence community that Russian hackers attempted to affect the outcome of the 2016 election, though admittedly their degree of success is still in question. Furthermore, the latest reporting on the hacking indicates that this incursion was initiated by President Vladimir Putin, though I’m sure this comes as a shock to very few. Never before in our history has there been such an audacious effort to influence an election. And the Obama administration’s tepid response to this meddling as well as the Trump administration’s continuing denial of it have only served to further erode my faith in the electoral process.
Then, just recently, we learned that the president’s Commission on Election Integrity has requested voter registration information from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. According to the 10th Amendment, voter registration and elections are squarely state matters, and if there are discrepancies or irregularities in the voter rolls, the states can and should deal with them. No assistance from the federal government is needed or wanted in cleaning up the voter lists. This request, however, does raise two questions: Why exactly do they need to know my party affiliation and voting history, let alone the last four digits of my Social Security number? And does anyone really think that having copious amounts of information on every single voter in the United States cached in a single electronic repository is a good idea?
The fact that resistance to this request comes from both Democratic and Republican state officials serves as an indication the commission is overstepping. Indeed, in some cases, state laws prohibit the sharing of voter registration information. The potential here for voter suppression is almost beyond imagining. The amount of harm that could come from American citizens being denied their chance to vote in an upcoming election — through active voter intimidation or inadvertent record deletion or manipulation — far outweighs any benefit from catching a meager number of people voting fraudulently. And yes, I am quite certain that the number is meager compared to the total number of voters in this country. Even the most generous reports of voter fraud in the 2016 election fail to offer up evidence of the 3 to 5 million fraudulent voters alleged by the Trump administration soon after the November election.
These dual assaults on the integrity of the election process have left me disillusioned and cynical, and I’ve been looking for a way to counter this disaffection. I could easily enough choose to ignore this sad state of affairs and concentrate on my own immediate concerns. In fact, a part of me is advocating for that even as I write these words. But the stakes are now too high. We are looking at the potential degradation of the next election and possibly even more to come. Clearly, there is very little that the average citizen can do to alter the course of national events, but I contend that we can all something. I advocate that we all find a way to help ensure the integrity of our elections.
Personally, I have applied to be an election judge in Montgomery County. I have no idea if I’ll be selected, but at least I have applied. And if I am not selected, I will find another way to assist in ensuring the true integrity of the election, however minimally effective this effort may be. I’ll arrange to drive senior citizens to vote or hand out material on my candidate of choice at the polls or gather signatures on new initiatives. But make no mistake — there needs to be push back here. To quote Dylan Thomas, we need to “rage against the dying of the light.” If we think true and fair democracy is too much to fight for, does that mean we are content to accept its alternative?
Philip Bonner is an adjunct professor at Montgomery College; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.