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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Voting debacles erode trust and confidence

On Tuesday, NYC's board of elections' erroneously added

On Tuesday, NYC's board of elections' erroneously added 135,000 dummy test ballots to the official mayoral count briefly. Credit: Getty Images/Michael Reaves

God I miss voting machines.

Dirty curtains. Worn metal levers. The rusting slide bars that groaned "therplunk" as they registered votes.

They were hardly perfect — the things jammed, levers disappeared, figures got transposed — but there was a mechanical solidity to the process that one could mostly believe in.

I also miss election days, as they once were. Voting seemed so simple then. You showed up on a Tuesday in November — and only that day — scribbled your name in a ledger and did your business. Sometimes you had to wait in line. Those who couldn’t make it for health or logistical reasons, and cared enough to do so, applied for and cast absentee ballots. That was pretty much it.

Today the voting process feels like a protean mystery, with laws changing faster than one can keep up with them, all in the ostensible name of reform. But the more voting laws are reformed, it seems, the less we trust the process.

New York City held its Democratic mayoral primary on June 22 — its first using a ranked-choice voting system many had never heard of a year ago. What a mess. We may not know the results till mid-July or August, despite the fact that voting began 10 days early, something now allowed under another new voting "reform" law.

The City Board of Elections’ massive screw-up Tuesday, erroneously adding 135,000 dummy test ballots to the official count briefly, didn't help inspire confidence in the new system.

And confidence is what we desperately need when it comes to our electoral processes; democracies can’t function without it. But trust, itself, is now at the center of the political debate in this country; indeed, it has become the political football.

Democrats claim that virtually any voting restriction is racist — and Republicans walking the Trump line have convinced 56% of their registrants that the 2020 presidential election was rife with fraud, according to a May Reuters/Ipsos poll. More than half of Republicans still think former President Trump won.

This orchestrated erosion in faith isn’t going away. It’s too politically valuable to the parties. Democrats will continue pushing "reforms" they know Republicans will push back on, often rightly, and Republicans need to keep up the Trump charade with their base, propounding widespread systemic fraud that doesn’t exist.

The average voter watches from the sidelines, bewildered.

Confidence in U.S. elections has never been absolute. For good reason: the parties always sought to game the system to their advantage. Poll taxes worked to prevent poor people, including poor Blacks, from voting before the 24th Amendment outlawed the practice. Dead people voted in Chicago, and gerrymandering has always been a fact of life. But I can’t think of a time where both parties were so proactively working to undermine faith in the system. (Richard Nixon, who some believe lost the 1960 presidential election because it may have been rigged, promptly conceded to preserve public confidence in elections, as did Al Gore following the heated 2000 Florida recount.)

I can’t help thinking we need to get back to simple somehow. One can’t trust what we can’t see or understand.

Look at the New York City mayoral race.

Opinions expressed by William F. B. O’Reilly, a consultant to Republicans, are his own.

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