A victory for U.S. democracy

Thanks to the tireless work of our grantee partners to strengthen the electoral system, voters across the country were able to securely cast their ballots in the 2022 midterm elections. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

It is typical for post-election readouts to focus on politics: who’s up, who’s down, what did the polls tell us, what’s going to happen next. Those are pertinent questions following the recent midterms, the results of which will undoubtedly have important consequences for policy and governance in the U.S. and beyond. But there is arguably a bigger story here than which party won: namely, that the 2022 midterms were a huge victory for the U.S. electoral system and the countless dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to bolster and improve U.S. elections.

Division is high in the American political system. There has been an increase in political violence and election denial rhetoric, and there is a crisis of trust in our elections. In the face of growing threats and attacks, there has been an exodus of elections administrators — a staffing crisis that, combined with the growing threats of violence, set the stage for a potentially violent and contentious midterm season.

A longstanding contradiction for the elections community is that peak performance is demonstrated not in major news stories, but the lack thereof. Professionally managed elections are boring: complications managed, problems solved, procedures completed. In spite of the wide range of threats this year, a blessedly boring election is what we got. Yes, there was some violence in the form of voter intimidation, election denial, and disinformation. There were administrative problems and delays, and counting still takes too long. But overall, the big stories of the 2022 elections are about politics, not about violence or system failures. That is a victory for which all Americans should be grateful.

That victory is also the result of the tireless efforts of thousands of people and organizations inside and beyond the election system to buck up elections officials, recruit and train administrators, continue to integrate best practices and improve procedures, improve communication with voters, and deter political violence. A few examples from our grantee portfolio include the work that the Center for Election Innovation and Research does to support elections officials, the Center for Civic Design’s work to make voting easier and more intuitive for all voters, and Sojourners’ work to maintain peace at polling places.

As this community knows, the work never stops and there is no off-season for elections. The success of elections to come, whether smaller local races outside of the two- and four-year cycle that dominate the news, or the 2024 general elections, will rely on the continuing efforts to strengthen our system. Those efforts are vast and include:

  • Improvements in election administration, including better support for sufficient staffing, and research and implementation of best practices to make voting secure and easy and counting and audits fast and accessible to the general public. This also includes ongoing research on best practices, both policy and the many procedures and design practices that can make voting easier and more secure. The research and support produced at MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab is a good example of the extensive work being done on this front.
  • Communication between elections officials, constituents, and the media. Our federal system is in many ways a strength, but it also means that elections are managed very differently across the country often in ways that are quite complicated and difficult to understand and therefore require focused efforts to ensure effective sharing of accurate and timely information. An example local to us is the California Voter Foundation which, among many other things, has supported the networking of elections officials as they navigate new communications needs.
  • Policy reforms to ensure that our counting and certification procedures are reliable and immune to partisan influence. Many organizations, including Issue One, are working diligently on a wide range of reforms.
  • Perhaps most important of all, elections funding. We cannot have a resilient, accessible, and secure system that all Americans can trust without sufficient resources for the professionals who manage it. Among others, the Center for Tech and Civic Life is making important strides on the need for sufficient, sustained funding.

The U.S. Democracy Program is proud of the myriad ways in which our grantees contributed to the success of the 2022 midterms, and we will continue to support their important work to prepare not only for the next elections but to build a secure and accessible election system that all voters can trust.

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