America spends millions promoting election integrity abroad while ignoring it at home

U.S. taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions, possibly even billions, of dollars helping developing democracies abroad adopt and implement election integrity measures. Its time America practices what it preaches.

By Catherine Mortensen

In 1999, Tim Meisburger helped Indonesia run its first open election in almost half a century.

“The people were very distrustful of the process because in the past the party in power rigged elections to get the outcome they wanted,” Meisburger, former Director of Democracy and Governance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, explained. The United States helped fund more than 500,000 election observers across the country to prevent voter fraud and ballot tampering.

“Because of that scrutiny, the elections were fair and honest,” Meisburger added.

Today, Meisburger is trying to get America to adopt the same election integrity measures we encourage other countries to use to build confidence in their elections.

According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted in the days following last fall’s presidential election, 70 percent of Republicans didn’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair.

“It’s clear many Americans still don’t trust the results of the 2020 elections, and it is vital that we restore that trust,” Meisburger said. “I can’t predict what would happen if we don’t. But I can tell you what I’ve seen in other countries. When the people don’t trust the election results, they stop voting and eventually take to the streets in protest.”

While a growing number of Republican-led states are passing election reforms measures, left-leaning groups and Democrat lawmakers are actively fighting against any attempt to improve transparency and integrity in our elections.

The latest example of this is in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month signed into law Senate Bill 90, a measure that includes prudent, common-sense reforms that make Florida elections more efficient. These reforms include solutions-based improvements to the voting process like more transparency on voting websites, preventing ballot harvesting, strengthening voter ID requirements, increasing security for vote-by-mail drop boxes, protecting voters from intimidation at the polls, and requiring third-party registration groups to provide voters with reasonable disclaimers.

A group of far-left political agitators (Advancement Project National Office, Demos, and Latino Justice PRLDEF) filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

“It is an anti-Democracy bill that makes it harder to vote by mail, criminalizes line warming activities… violates free speech rights…denies reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office, during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. Dianis went on to describe the new law as “racist, antidemocratic and unjust” adding that “we cannot stand idly by when states lean into Jim Crow 2.0.”

Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, currently serving as National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman, said this lawsuit is part of “the Big Lie that any effort to secure the integrity of our elections is racist.”

Meisburger said reforms such as Florida’s will improve transparency in the system, which he says is essential to building voter trust and participation.

After working in more than 40 countries over a 30-year career in democracy building, Meisburger has developed a blueprint for how to run elections whose results will be trusted. He has six reforms he thinks every state should make.

Use paper ballots

Meisburger has found that the “black voting boxes” such as the ones Dominion Voting Systems sold to states election boards lead to trust issues. “When ballots are not counted at the polling site in full view of the poll watchers, we have the problem of mysterious ballots showing up in the middle of the night with no oversite,” explained Meisberger. “In every single case, when we lost sight of the ballots, it provided an opening for people to claim malpractice and cheating. Paper ballots counted at the polling site is the most secure way to have an election. And it’s also the most transparent and creates confidence in the result.

Require in-person voting

In a recent guest column in American Greatness, Meisburger wrote, “The vast majority of voters should vote in person on Election Day, in what should be viewed as a national celebration of democracy. If this requires making Election Day a national holiday, that should be considered.

Require voter ID 

In American Greatness, Meisburger wrote, “Effective voter ID and accurate voter lists are cornerstones of international standards for fair elections; and the U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars helping other countries with voter ID and voter registration programs to prevent fraud and enhance voter confidence in the integrity of the process.

“In some situations there are marginalized populations that do lack access to ID, but the response in those cases has always been to develop programs to ensure the marginalized have ID (the United Nations even recognizes the right to ID), not to lower standards for election integrity.”

Prohibit external funding of election processes and campaigns

Writing in American Greatness, Meisburger said, “There should be curbs on the undue influence corporations and oligarchs play in American elections. Democracy requires equal influence for every citizen, and a level playing field for all Americans, regardless of their wealth. Laws should be adopted that prevent private funding of elections by corporations and oligarchs, and most importantly, we should prevent corporations and oligarchs from undermining the most basic civil rights of the American people: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. That we allow them to limit our freedoms for profit is unconscionable.”

An example of this was Facebook’s multi-million campaign to influence voter turnout in states such as Georgia.

Eliminate early voting

Offer limited absentee voting

Judged against any international standard, America’s legal framework and election processes are convoluted, inefficient, and nontransparent. We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly billions, teaching other country’s how to run fair and honest elections. It’s time we practice what we preach.

Catherine Mortensen is Vice President of Communications at Americans for Limited Government.

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This post, America spends millions promoting election integrity abroad while ignoring it at home, was originally published on The Daily Torch and is republished here with permission. Please support their efforts.

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The Daily Torch is the featured publication of Americans for Limited Government, with opinion-based content dating back through 2008, dedicated to reducing the size and scope of government and maximizing individual freedom. Permission to republish original op-eds and cartoons granted.