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New poll shows most American voters have faith in election systems, integrity

Rick Pluta

A solid majority of American voters have faith that the 2020 election was free of fraud and irregularities, and that future elections will be too. That’s according to a new poll of 950 registered voters commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice and R Street Institute.

The poll found that a belief in widespread election fraud and irregularities was overwhelmingly concentrated among Republican voters. That’s not surprising, given that “a lot of the false information about elections has been spread by leaders in the Republican Party,” said Larry Norden, senior director of the elections and government program at the Brennan Center.

But the poll also found that at least some of those voters changed their minds when given further information about election safeguards. “When they're given information about existing election safeguards, all voters and Republican voters have increased confidence in our elections process,” Norden said. “Republicans’ confidence increased by 21 percentage points after learning about some of the safeguards that exist in our system.”

In Michigan, those safeguards include “testing of all voting machines before they’re used,” Norden said. "The state also conducts post-election audits where it's checking the paper ballots to make sure that the machines were recording votes accurately."

Adam Wit has been the city clerk in Harrison Township for ten years. He said that voter mistrust in election security often stems from a lack of understanding about election procedures.

“Especially in Michigan, the procedures that I use in Harrison Township are often the exact same procedures that are used in a community in the Upper Peninsula, because the rules are the rules that everyone has to follow,” Wit said.

“If it's an absentee ballot, we're checking signatures multiple times,” Wit continued. “Those are being worked through a process of having both a Republican and a Democrat inspector looking at them. So there's a number of steps and checks and balances there in the precinct.”

Nonetheless, Norden said an increasingly “vocal minority” of people have raised concerns about election integrity, often trafficking in conspiracy theories about widespread fraud and irregularities. But Wit thinks most people still trust their local clerks to do their jobs properly.

“I really think it's one of the things where clerks have operated in this quiet competence for a long time, where no one was looking at them and now people are looking at them,” Wit said. “And as clerks, we have an opportunity to sort of explain the process and build that trust.”

Norden admitted that a few recent instances of true irregularities in Michigan elections—such as people getting unauthorized access to tabulators and voter data—do have an effect. There’s no evidence that any of these breaches affected election outcomes at all, but “There’s no question that that has an impact on voter confidence.”

But on the flip side, Norden said the fact that these incidents came to light and were dealt with shows that the system’s safeguards are working, and that Michigan “has good security measures in place.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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