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Stop the presses, says appeals court, even if that means longer Georgia voting lines

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:

State officials, candidates and prominent politicians should use responsible rhetoric.

No one should allege that either of January's races are "stolen" unless there's evidence to back it up. President Trump and some of his allies have used such language repeatedly during the presidential election. Democrats such as Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio used similar language following Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's 2018 victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams. Such language feeds a growing cycle of mistrust that delegitimizes the election process. Doubts can be exploited by foreign adversaries, such as Russia, to undermine confidence and legitimacy in our democracy.

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A democracy depends on losers accepting election results, even if the election is not mistake-free. That doesn't mean the public should refrain from pointing out voting problems. To the contrary, identifying and addressing legitimate issues often helps improve the administration of current and future elections. They just aren't, by themselves, enough to overturn the results of an election.

Election administrators must continue to proactively share accurate information about the runoff elections to counter mis- and disinformation.

Trusted sources of information, such as state and local election officials, prepared our country for how the presidential election would unfold. With less lead time, Georgia election officials must continue this trend for the runoffs. Falsely accusing another political party of hacking into the state election system a few days before Election Day, like Kemp did when he was secretary of state in 2018, is unhelpful and counterproductive. Alleging double voting without evidence, as current Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did in September, could sow doubt ahead of the runoff elections.

Instead, election officials need to provide accurate information on where, when and how to vote for the runoff elections to ensure voter confidence, counter any false information, and make it easier to remedy any issues that could arise. They need to conduct robust outreach to remind Georgia voters that Nov. 18 is when absentee ballots will begin going out, Dec. 7 is the deadline to register to vote, and Dec. 14 marks the beginning of early in-person voting. And voters who will be 18 by Jan. 5 should be reminded they're now eligible to register and cast ballots.

Election officials should take steps to ensure that the runoff elections are well administered.

While the presidential election went well, Georgia's June primary election had problems. On Oct. 30, the Georgia State Board of Elections approved a negotiated consent order with Fulton County (which accounts for approximately 10 percent of Georgia's population) after the county had a very difficult primary — some polling places opened late and some didn't have proper equipment. As a result, Fulton County is now required to keep a force of 2,200 properly trained poll workers; provide at least 24 early voting locations; have a technical support staff member at every voting site; and have its elections independently monitored.

With a quick turnaround for the January vote and continuing concerns about Covid-19, local officials will be challenged. They need to prepare for January at the same time they're wrapping up the presidential vote tally. They need sufficient funds to secure voting locations and poll workers, maintain and test their voting equipment, order ballots, and prepare backup plans in case any part of the election process experiences problems.

If Georgia can do each of these three things, it will go a long way towards administering accessible, legitimate and secure elections.

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