In an election season challenged by a pandemic, polarization, misinformation, and distrust, Carnegie Corporation of New York continues its longstanding commitment to expanding voter participation by all Americans. Geri Mannion, director of the Corporation’s Strengthening U.S. Democracy program, answers a few questions about what voters most need to know, how the Corporation is working to ensure safe and fair voting, the complications that might arise, and her post-election advice.
With election season quickly approaching, what do voters most need to know about voting this year?
First, and foremost, please have a plan to vote! Check that you are registered to vote. If you have moved, even in the same town, you should reregister. If you plan to vote in person, confirm the location of your polling place. It could have moved. Did you get married or change your name? You should make sure that you have appropriate and matching identification.
Depending on your state or city, you can choose absentee voting (also known as vote by mail), early voting (where you have additional days to drop off your ballot), or vote in person (depending on your health and the potential risks given COVID-19, and allowing enough time to wait in line with social distancing). Rock the Vote and League of Women Voters are two nonpartisan websites that can help voters find the necessary information they need.
Could you highlight some of the work that Carnegie Corporation of New York is supporting to ensure safe and fair voting?
For several decades, the Corporation has sponsored efforts to increase voting, especially among those least likely to vote. This year, for example, we are working to increase voting by youths through Rock the Vote, the Andrew Goodman Foundation, and Fair Elections Center and to increase voting by women (especially, this year, the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote) through Supermajority, Feminist Majority, the League of Women Voters Education Fund, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Mom’s Rising Education Fund. Through funding collaboratives, we are focused on increasing voting by Native Americans, Asian Americans, and new citizens. In addition, we are supporting a range of nonprofits, such as the NAACP, State Voices, Hispanic Federation, UNIDOS.US, and Voto Latino, to increase turnout.
To protect the vote, we have supported research by a number of civil and voting rights organizations to ensure that everyone’s vote gets counted. These include the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights and a range of voting rights litigation groups who collaborate under the auspices of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Finally, we are supporting the NALEO Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to ensure that all voters can safely vote and that complaints about efforts to deter voters can be reported in real time to a number of election protection hotlines. Since 2000, the Corporation has supported efforts to improve voting and ensure that it is convenient and easy for Americans to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and Demos are two Corporation grantees working to improve policies around election administration, including voter registration. The Corporation does not do this funding alone. We partner with both national and state-based funders, all working to improve the functioning of our democracy.
What complications might arise due to the pandemic, absentee voting, or other factors?
To provide context, as a nation, we are only prepared for about 51 percent of eligible voters to cast a ballot in presidential election years. Most election administrators, especially in what are known as the swing states, may not be prepared for a huge turnout. It’s ironic that most Americans (and elected leaders) talk about increasing voting participation, but in general, there is not the same investment in preparing or allowing for this.
In addition to an expected unprecedented turnout, we are dealing with a pandemic and rampant misinformation. Polling places have unexpectedly merged, moved, or closed. Election days have changed.
In addition to an expected unprecedented turnout, we are dealing with a pandemic and rampant misinformation. Polling places have unexpectedly merged, moved, or closed. Election days have changed. Meanwhile, many states have been reluctant to embrace absentee voting, which has worked incredibly well in many states for many decades. Adding to that, President Trump and other elected leaders have suggested that such programs are riddled with fraud.
Let me be clear, there is virtually no evidence of fraud in such programs, which have been implemented well in both red and blue states. And despite other federal investments since the pandemic, there has been much less federal funding allocated to ensure that elections are safer and easier during the pandemic, including providing voters with postage-paid ballots. On the positive side, an extraordinary level of nonpartisan voter education is being disseminated by news media, corporations, the entertainment community, faith leaders, and civic organizations. The country is working hard to ensure this election goes smoothly and that citizens who want to vote can do so.
U.S. citizens and our allies around the world will need reassurance from leaders of both parties that our democracy is strong enough to withstand attacks from both internal and external forces.
What is your post-election advice?
Patience, patience, patience. Because we expect record turnout, the nation may not know the final results of who is elected president on November 3. This is especially true if it is a very tight race. The same will be true for other races, such as the Senate and House. While many states start voting beginning in late September, many states don’t allow for ballots to be counted until Election Day. And there will be millions of ballots cast.
We as a nation will need to have faith that the better angels will prevail. To ensure that the nation will have a peaceful transition no matter who becomes president in November, the Corporation is funding the Bipartisan Policy Center to engage leaders across the two parties to guarantee that the results will be accepted and that our democracy will be protected. U.S. citizens and our allies around the world will need reassurance from leaders of both parties that our democracy is strong enough to withstand attacks from both internal and external forces. As for the future, we should hope that this year’s exceptional interest in voting continues in forthcoming elections, especially local elections.