Dinah Voyles Pulver
| USA TODAY
As Joe Biden was declared the victor in the U.S. presidential election on Saturday and the president continued casting aspersions on the election results via Twitter, USA TODAY talked with Robert Brandon, 73, founder of the Fair Elections Center.
Despite President Donald Trump’s attacks, attorney Brandon said when things are said and done, he thinks the 2020 Presidential Election may actually end up leaving people more confident in how the U.S. runs its elections.
The Center is a non-partisan voters rights group that works to remove barriers to voters and improve overall election administration. Questions and answers have been edited for length, clarity and flow.
Q. Why should Americans trust the voting system?
A. There’s fail-safes everywhere. There’s no evidence that there’s been fraud and we just had the largest turnout election in over a century and the largest in absolute numbers ever in history. And these votes are going to be counted. … It’s a tribute to how good the systems have become and how carefully they’ve checked and double checked what goes on. So whenever there’s a question, there’s a group that really drills down.
The real heroes in all this really are the friends and neighbors that go and work at the polls every year, and this year in particular, given the pandemic. Many of them stepped in for the first time.
And, we have to give credit to the election officials themselves, the beleaguered people that are being asked hourly, “When are you going to be done counting?” And they keep on saying, “When we’re done counting because we’re doing this carefully.”
Q. Do President Trump’s criticisms of the election affect citizen’s trust in the system?
A. I think unfortunately it probably has, from some group of supporters of his who take what he says and treat it as the truth. Pretty much everything he has said about mail balloting is false and flies against both the reality of the past treatment of mail ballots and the current treatment of mail ballots.
But the other thing… where we step back and look at how this played out day after day, people I think can feel better about the whole system we have, and frankly the enormous amount of work (done by) volunteers and civilly conscious people who are the poll workers and the election officials. They do an amazing job.
I think frankly in the end it will probably give people more confidence in the way we administer our elections.
Q. What have we learned from the mail-in ballot surge?
A. I think we’ve known for a number of years now that mail balloting works well and states that have adopted it have also adopted systems to manage it correctly and have capacity to read large numbers of mail ballots.
Number one… the main thing we learned is that mail balloting works. People take advantage of it and it’s providing a very important alternative for in-person voting this year for people that feel uncomfortable or frankly just people who want the opportunity to have an easier way to vote.
In spite of all the rhetoric about mail balloting I think we’re going to see in the end that it works very well, it’s very protected, secure and accurate.
Q. What kind of specific safeguards are in place to make sure elections aren’t rigged?
A. There are multiple safeguards. With mail balloting, ballots have individual identifiable codes on them that match the voters that request them or that they’re sent to. They’re checked when they come back. There’s a signature check, or a scan check. If there’s a question because the ballot in some way got messed up or can’t be read, they’re opened and they’re looked at carefully.
If there’s a question at all, there’s a Republican and a Democratic or opposing candidate’s representatives who are part of the counting system. These are not the observers that stand aside and look around. These are the people that actually decide, … if there’s a questionable ballot, what did the voter intend. And if they agree, then it goes forward.
The other is when people vote in person, they’re on a voter roll because they’ve registered and they’ve supplied evidence of their residence. In some states, first time voters have to supply additional ID… When you’re there, your signature is there and there’s just no evidence that anybody has tried to impersonate somebody else at any level that makes a difference.
The handful of times when people try to do something, they’re caught and they’re indicted. … It’s only a handful of individuals and that’s not going to change an election.
Q. Were the same election security systems in place in 2016 as in 2020?
A. There were two major areas of change I would say. Many more states have been adopting paper backup systems, so if they do have failure with the machines they have the ability to look at the same vote on paper. That’s been significant and important.
The second thing is there clearly has been a fair amount done in trying to harden our systems from any kind of outside impact. It’s very hard to actually impact voting machines themselves if you can’t get physical access to them. They’re not connected to the internet.
Q. It sounds like you think the situation is more secure than it was in 2016 with less risk of fraud?
A. Yes. I think the fraud argument is a false argument. There just hasn’t been fraud. The good old-fashioned fraud is where voting boxes were stuffed. That doesn’t happen.
What’s good is the systems generally have just been better and all of our fail-safes work, because this notion of both parties, both candidates, being represented in the counts lead to accurate counts.
Q. How important is it for candidates to accept the election outcome?
A. It is the whole bedrock of our democracy. The beauty of this is democracy is that people serve and when the voice of the people is expressed in an election they accept that, move on and let the person who has been chosen by the voters… continue.
Usually the people leaving congratulate them and embrace trying to help them in the event of a transition. That looks like that’s not very likely this time, but I hope that’s not true.