Elections officials can learn tangible lessons from Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Christmas Carol. As we head into the 2024 presidential election, it would be wise to learn from the Ghosts of Elections Past, Present, and Future.
Ebenezer Scrooge spent years in recurring misery, making the same mistakes over and over again. His cycle of selfish harm was only broken when he was visited by three spirits—the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, all of whom showed him the mistakes he had made and what his life would be like if he didn’t reverse course. It was only after the visits from the ghosts that Scrooge changed his life and became an advocate for the public good.
Even without a visit from the Ghost of Elections Past, many voters have nightmares from the 2020 presidential election. It even has some wondering if they can trust the election system. Election administrators also have nightmares from 2020 and in some cases, experienced administrators have chosen to give up on the process entirely and leave their roles.
A visit from the Ghost of Elections Past would show that these issues started before 2020 but continue into the present, as some counties have yet learned their lessons. During the 2020 primary election, Harris County, Texas, was plagued with machine failures and long voting lines that kept voters waiting to vote several hours after polls were closed. Then, after finding 10,000 ballots that were not counted following the primary election in 2022, the Harris County Elections Administrator had to resign in disgrace. Plagued with issues related to electronic poll books, chain of custody, and the printing of ballots, the Texas Legislature intervened and has abolished the office of Harris County Elections Administrator. Yet, the issues still continued into the 2023 municipal elections.
In 2023, the Bucks County (Pennsylvania) Clerk’s office must have seen the Ghost of Elections Past and decided to correct the errors of its undemocratic ways. The county opened its election offices to outside groups on both the left and right to monitor voting, review the election processes, and provide meaningful observation for absentee ballot processing. As a result, Bucks County elections ran smoothly and there have been no complaints of irregularities or fraud. This transparency and cooperation creates confidence in the election process and leads to future successful elections.
The Ghost of Elections Present would undoubtedly bring us to Northampton County, Pennsylvania, where machine errors during the November 2023 election caused votes to flip to the opposing candidate as voters made their selections. Unlike Bucks County, Northampton County still needs a ghostly visit this Christmas so that it can see how election process improvement increases election security.
As for the Ghost of Elections Future? Election Administrators, policymakers, candidates, parties, and voters are in this together and each must do their part to have successful elections that are free and secure. We can’t know now what the Ghost of Elections Future will show us. But election administrators should be transparent and improve the election process. This transparency is paramount to building voter confidence.
That would be the best Christmas gift for America this year.