There's polling about more than just battleground horse races in the campaign's final days. Two new surveys capture the level of apprehension and anxiety in the days before a historically contentious and complicated presidential election.
In one poll, overwhelming bipartisan majorities of voters in six swing states said they would prefer to wait for a reliably accurate count than to know the winner on Tuesday night. President Trump reiterated Wednesday he does not share this view.
In the second, almost all Americans expressed concerns about violence after the election gets called, especially if the loser declines to concede and alleges fraud. Trump has signaled repeatedly he believes the only way he can lose is because of his baseless expectation of widespread absentee ballot fraud.
Secure Democracy, a nonprofit advocating for secure and fair elections, released its swing state survey Wednesday. The report gauged voters' feelings about how the election is being conducted and how votes will be counted. There was little variance in the responses from Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have a combined 91 electoral votes on the line that remain too close to call.
More than 8 in 10 voters in each state — where millions of votes have already been cast by mail or in person — professed confidence the election was being conducted in a way that would produce an accurate count. Between three-quarters and four-fifths in each said having an accurate ballot count was more important than declaring a winner in the hours after the polls close.
Along those same lines, most voters said they don't expect election officials to finish counting ballots until after Election Day. A majority also said it would be understandable, rather than problematic, if it took longer to tabulate results this year.
"Getting this right is worth the wait, and voters overwhelmingly want to see votes counted accurately and fully accounted for before a final call is made," said Sarah Walker, director of state and federal affairs for Secure Democracy.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has said he's willing to wait to know his future until all valid votes are tabulated, which could take days because many states permit absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to arrive late and still count.
Trump does not see it that way. "It would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on Nov. 3 instead of counting ballots for two weeks, which is totally inappropriate," he told reporters as he left the White House on Tuesday for more campaign rallies, adding incorrectly: "I don't believe that that's by our laws."
The second survey, released by the civic engagement nonprofit More in Common USA on Tuesday, was the latest to analyze perceptions of the risk of election violence.
While voters of both parties were nearly unanimous in rejecting physical attacks as a justifiable response if they come to view the election was stolen, almost half of Democrats and Republicans alike believe the other side is willing to condone violence in such a situation.
Republicans were slightly but clearly more worried about Democratic violence if Biden wins than the other way around.
GOP respondents predicted more than three in five Democrats would justify confronting Trump supporters online or in person after the former vice president loses, and more than half their opponents would condone property destruction or physical attacks.
Democrats say that, if the president is denied reelection, they expect three fifths of his GOP allies will call for confrontation of Biden's fans — but slightly less than half of them predicted Trump's people will destroy property or become physically dangerous.
Despite these beliefs, 96 percent of Democrats and 97 percent of Republicans rejected those types of responses.
"This is not to say Americans should ignore the threat of election related violence. We must take these threats seriously — 3 percent or 4 percent of people justifying such violence is still unacceptably high," More in Common's report concluded. "At the same time, we can be confident the overwhelming majority of Americans are committed to a peaceful election."
Secure Democracy surveyed 600 voters in each of the states between Oct. 1-16 but did not offer a margin of sampling error. More in Common polled 2,000 adults from Oct. 14-20 and pegged its margin of error of 2 percentage points.
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Conservatives hoping to prevent private money from helping Americans vote have so far taken direct aim at just a couple of billionaires: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, who on Tuesday announced another $100 million in donations to help local governments conduct comprehensive and safe balloting in three weeks.
The donation follows their previous gift of $300 million, which has prompted lawsuits from the right in eight battleground states arguing that such benevolence should not be permitted to cover election administration costs.
But the Facebook philanthropists are among hundreds of business leaders who have stepped forward to help cash-strapped election officials scrambling to put enough poll workers, protective gear and infrastructure in place to avert chaos on Election Day. From the four dozen stadiums that sports leagues have opened as polling sites to the millions worth of face shields, masks and safety supplies donated to election workers by major corporations — the private sector's investment in this election is without precedent.
Business leaders say safeguarding the election is a matter of enlightened self-interest. "The headline for me is that this is about participation and not outcome," says Robert Kueppers, a trustee of the nonpartisan Committee for Economic Development, which has urged businesses to help the election with direct and indirect aid. "The underpinning of a full and fair election is good for the economy, and is therefore good for business."
Multiple private-sector coalitions — including the Operation Vote Safe initiative launched by Business for America, a coalition of corporate leaders interested in bettering democracy — have rushed in with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and poll worker recruitment. In Georgia, Cox Enterprises donated 20 ballot drop boxes. In Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington, Andersen Windows & Doors donated 25,000 face shields.
"I've never seen anything like this," says David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, which has received $50 million in Zuckerberg money to distribute to states for voter education on logistics like how to obtain, fill out and return mail-in ballots.
The rest of Zuckerberg's first pledge, $250 million, went to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit that now faces the collection of lawsuits from the conservative Thomas More Society. The suits challenge grants the center has made to several cities — including Detroit, Minneapolis and Philadelphia, the biggest cities in three purple states — alleging that state legislatures must approve private federal election grants to local jurisdictions.
"This partisan privatization of our elections can't stand," Thomas More Society President Tom Brejcha said in a statement. A similar suit filed in Louisiana by GOP Attorney General Jeff Landry prompted local election officials there to drop their plans to accept Zuckerberg grants distributed by the center.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life has defended the private money as legal, calling the effort to block grants in Michigan, for one, "frivolous litigation" that "peddles disinformation." The Zuckerberg grants were made available nationwide, in both red and blue states and regions, and election law experts by and large agree that the money violates no laws and on balance should be applauded.
Congress approved $400 million for elections earlier this year, but it was a fraction of the $4 billion that New York University's Brennan Center for Justice said was needed, a number embraced by election administrators in red and blue states. Majority Republicans in the Senate and the Trump administration have resisted providing anything more during months of tortured negotiations over a pre-election coronavirus economic stimulus package, while majority Democrats in the House have voted to deliver the remaining $3.6 billion.
"Plan A should always be that government pays to provide the infrastructure for our democracy," says Becker, whose organization has not been sued. "But we are in unusual times right now. State budgets are particularly strained. Congress has refused to act. And it's not like we can delay the election."
Still, the role of private players in publicly administered elections raises thorny questions, and not just for conservatives. In New York, a progressive coalition that included Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, has called on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ensure that public funding, not Facebook money, underwrites the state's elections.
"Our view is that elections should be funded by the state instead of private interests," says Tom Speaker, a policy analyst at Reinvent Albany, one of five good-government groups that signed last month's letter. Private election funding raises the potential for interference or conflict of interest, he said, and "undermines public trust in the system."
It doesn't help that Facebook has served as a platform for disinformation, hate speech and foreign election interference, despite recent steps to curb abuses. Facebook's role "just makes what's already a bad story look even worse," says Speaker. But he acknowledges that the line between grants from Zuckerberg and in-kind contributions like drop boxes and face shields from corporations can be hazy.
Corporate executives are sometimes cast as the bogeyman in fights over protecting democracy, says Business for America CEO Sarah Bonk, but "feel they have a duty to preserve the system of government that allows them to create their business and operate in a market-driven system." Beyond protecting the election, Business for America is gearing up to support a full slate of popular democracy reforms, including anti-gerrymandering measures and ranked-choice voting.
Private-sector efforts to salvage the election are part of a larger movement toward corporate social responsibility, says Stephen D'Esposito, president and CEO of Resolve, a non-governmental organization that specializes in public-private partnerships. Resolve has joined with the bipartisan group VoteSafe and the Mission for Masks coalition to deliver up to $1 million worth of protective gear, including N-95 masks and plastic face shields, to voting super centers around the county.
"Let's just have a safe vote," says D'Esposito, "and then we can debate the constitutional issues later."
Carney is a contributing writer.
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