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Carter Center: Irregularities don't necessarily mean an invalid election

The Carter Center, the international election-observing organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter, posted this reminder that any human enterprise on the scale of the U.S. election is bound to have some suspicious things happen. The key for the public is that lost or mismailed ballots, votes cast by dead people or machine glitches that cause long lines aren't likely to happen on the scale that would make a difference in the end result.

The Carter Center is working to improve U.S. elections for the first time this year. It's known for its efforts on elections in 39 mostly developing countries in South America, Africa and Asia. In 2020, as The Fulcrum noted last week, the organization will be working to improve the U.S. election. It has cited "deep polarization, lack of confidence in elections, obstacles to participation by minority groups and others, persistent racial injustice, and the COVID-19 pandemic," as the reason for its new work in the United States. Earlier this month David Carroll, head of the group's democracy program, said: "We've focused on places where democracy is either poised to take a step forward or in danger of taking a step backward."


In their post on Medium, Larry Garber and Thesalia Merivaki, senior members of the organization's 2020 U.S. Election Expert Study Team, said that international observers and U.S. courts will be sorting through any irregularities as they happen this year. And while voters may be hearing a lot in the news about potential problems, they should keep what they're hearing in perspective. The election won't be considered invalid unless the problems accumulate enough to change the outcome.

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"This is not to say that intentional actions designed to prevent voter participation or to alter the results in one or more polling stations do not warrant post-election review," Garber and Merivaki write. "They do, and where appropriate, they should be prosecuted as felonies. However, such problems do not invalidate an election result unless their impact on votes is larger than the margin of victory."

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The election went remarkably well. Here's how to make the next one even better.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

The election went remarkably well. Here's how to make the next one even better.

We haven't yet seen evidence that would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election — even with the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, the threat of foreign interference, civil unrest and greater turnout than any time since 1900. That counts as a resounding success.

Once the final tallies are certified, we need to thank the election administrators and poll workers whose heroic efforts preserved American democracy. After that, we need to assess what worked best and what needs to improve, so we can identify achievable steps to make future elections even more secure.

Based on what we know so far, here are five things that should be on the U.S. elections to-do list:

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Distorted U.S. democracy underscores urgency of Electoral College reform

On Dec. 14, the Electoral College will cast its votes. Barring any unforeseen outrage, a majority will vote for Joe Biden, the popular vote winner in the general election, to sighs of relief. Many may conclude the creaky Electoral College works most of the time, and that any fixes are just too hard to worry about.

That would be a mistake.

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Stop the presses, says appeals court, even if that means longer Georgia voting lines
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The three steps to ensure a well-run runoff in Georgia

Hold the champagne: The 2020 Election Season isn't over just yet. Neither of Georgia's Senate races resulted in a victor on Election Day, sending both contests to January runoffs that will likely determine control of the U.S. Senate. And while many folks are understandably focused on the political repercussions of these races, I'm pulling for a different candidate: democracy.

While Georgia will likely conduct a risk-limiting audit and recount of the presidential election later this month, the state appears to have done a good job administering the 2020 presidential election. As a former election administrator and expert on the integrity of elections, my assessment is there is no reason to question the integrity of the election outcome. If any concrete evidence suggesting that wrongful disenfranchisement has or will affect the accuracy of the outcome, that assessment could change. Right now, there isn't.

Regardless, these are three steps Georgia officials could take now to ensure the integrity of the state's runoff elections in January:

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Even if it's not official, Republicans should acknowledge Biden's win

Even if it's not official, Republicans should acknowledge Biden's win

The nation has a new president-elect, Joe Biden. At the same time, there is no official president-elect, because the electoral process itself hasn't yet reached that point.

How can both these assertions be true? And if they are, how are Americans supposed to understand that? Most importantly, how can Americans of opposite parties get on the same page, so that we can move forward together as one country, as our new president-elect in his impressive victory speech is urging us to do?

When it comes to ending elections, there are actually two different processes at work, and they operate on different timelines.

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What's next for U.S. democracy after the president's stress test?
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What's next for U.S. democracy after the president's stress test?

In another assessment of the 2020 vote so far, Election Dissection sat down with Laura Williamson, who works on voting rights and democracy at Demos. We spoke about President Trump's election night remarks as a stress test for the United States. Williamson had plenty to say about the state of the elections and some things that need fixing after the votes are finally counted.

What was your reaction to the president?

The president's remarks and actions are a test of our ability to show up, as a people, to mass mobilize and resist his authoritarian calls to end the counting. The basis of our democracy is that we pick our leaders. It's not the president or the courts that choose. So it's a test of our ability as a people to resist what is so clearly an anti-democratic attack.

And Americans are rising to the test. We're seeing masses of people calling for every vote to be counted. They're showing up and exercising their political power. We flexed our political power one way, by voting before or on Election Day. Now we're exercising it again in a different way — showing up in the streets and demanding every eligible vote is counted.

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