David A. Graham: Signature-matching is the “witchcraft” of elections
Yet Raffensperger is one of the many elections officials around the country who have performed admirably in the face of great challenges—both logistical, from the pandemic, and political, from the president and his supporters—to produce an election that was surprisingly smooth and effective. Trump’s complaints about a rigged election are baseless and dangerous, because they undermine the legitimacy of democracy, but they are especially ironic because the American electoral system outperformed expectations despite the most challenging circumstances in recent memory.
For months, jittery election experts, pundits, and party officials fretted over the many ways that the election could go wrong. The pandemic meant not only that a record number of voters would cast ballots by mail, but also that officials couldn’t predict in-person turnout. Recruiting poll workers would be challenging. Many ballots might be lost because of signature problems or delays in the United States Postal Service. Foreign powers or other malign actors could try to meddle with the process. Supporters of candidates might try to intimidate voters from going to the polls, and there could be widespread civil unrest once the results were in.
The people offering the warnings had good reasons to be worried, especially after serious problems during the primaries. But in most of these cases, the problems either didn’t materialize or were less grave than they could have been. Although any valid vote that isn’t counted is an affront to democracy, the overall result was remarkably good.
“While every election has a misstep or two—a door to a polling location not opened on time, a printing error, equipment that malfunctions—this election has been a testament to the dedication and fortitude of election officials and the American voter,” Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund and a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises, told me. “Hundreds of thousands who had never worked before worked the polls. Millions who had never voted before registered and voted in this election cycle.”
The positive outcome was not an accident. It was the product of officials from the federal judiciary and executive branch down to precinct-level poll workers scrambling to patch together fixes for the system. Private donors cut big checks to assist them, a practice that would be horrifying if the system became dependent on it, but helped in this unusual circumstance. Most important, voters found ways to cast their ballots, producing the highest turnout in American history.
Read: The election’s biggest threat is no longer the Postal Service
A good place to start is with mail ballots. Officials in states around the country rebuilt election systems on the fly, looking for ways to ensure that voters could cast ballots despite the threat of COVID-19. Although election experts applauded that, they also worried that voters unfamiliar with the process might inadvertently make errors that resulted in their ballots being rejected. In 2016, 1 percent of absentee votes were rejected, thanks to technicalities such as signature mismatching, the security method about which Graham inquired.