Opinion 5 easy ways to increase public confidence that every vote counts

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, center, co-chaired a working group that produced the “Democracy Playbook.” (Al Goldis/AP)
3 min

Unfounded claims about voter fraud after 2020 continue to polarize the traditionally nonpartisan administration of elections in unfortunate ways. The defeat of many high-profile election deniers in the 2022 midterms should have begun to break the fever, but it remains more difficult than it should to rationally discuss ways to improve confidence. Which is why the common-sense ideas laid out in a new report are so welcome.

Election administrators from several presidential battlegrounds, including the secretaries of state from Michigan and Arizona, prepared what is being billed as a “Democracy Playbook” for the NewDEAL Forum, a center-left nonprofit that supports a network of about 200 state and local Democratic officials. They focused on how to improve election integrity, voting access and civic engagement. Here are five of their proposals that we believe would help build confidence across the ideological spectrum that the 2024 elections are free, fair and safe:


Publicly test machines before Election Day.

That would include inviting the media and the public to witness the testing of voting machines before elections so citizens could see for themselves the accuracy of the machines and safeguards against tampering. State websites should also feature explanations, in plain language, of steps being taken to keep machines secure.


Enact ballot tracking measures.

Think of the process by which consumers can follow a package ordered online. Under this proposal, voters could see their ballots move through every step of the process — from when it’s sent after they have requested one to a notification it has been received. California, for example, already allows voters to sign up for a text message letting them know their vote has been counted.


Require a paper trail.

Six states still use voting machines without a voter-verified paper audit trail: Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas. This provides fodder for conspiracy theories, especially in tight races. All but Mississippi and Tennessee have passed laws to phase out these machines.


Pre-canvass early ballots to speed up counting.

Twelve states — including battlegrounds Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — haven’t allowed election officials to process mailed-in ballots before Election Day. This delays the counting and, in 2020, fueled claims by then-President Donald Trump that the election was being stolen from him because his early lead evaporated as absentee ballots were tabulated.


Automatically conduct high-quality post-election audits.

States should consider requiring counties to quickly and publicly hand-count a random sample of paper ballots to spot-check the accuracy of mechanized counting. If done routinely, that could avert bizarre third-party audits like the one conducted in Arizona by Cyber Ninjas in 2021.

Local election offices are experiencing huge turnover because of the toxic environment of the past few years. It should go without saying that threats and harassment of election officials and workers must not be tolerated and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In some states, new laws are needed to toughen penalties. But taking some simple steps toward giving their operations greater efficiency and transparency would help make their jobs easier.

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