State lawmakers have introduced at least 2,328 bills this year that would change the way elections are run at the local level. Some passed, some stalled. Some are mundane tweaks, others are controversial overhauls. But if election reformers want to prevent their laws from being held up by lawsuits, they would be wise to pay attention to how they’re written, says Ned Foley, an Ohio State University professor and election law expert. “Put clarity at the top of the list of things to achieve, maybe before fairness or integrity or access or whatever, because litigators can’t fight over things that are clear,” he said, speaking on an election law panel during a multi-day conference hosted by the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C. “It’s amazing how much ambiguity kind of seeps into laws that is unintended.” But while clear regulations are important, too much can backfire, said Alysoun McLaughlin, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections in Maryland.
Voting Blogs: Maybe It’s Time to Ditch the “Election Official’s Prayer” | Alysoun McLaughlin/Election Academy
Election after election, it’s the same story, different county. Somewhere, a high-profile election is too close to call. The outcome seems to hang on the tiniest of margins. With absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted, disappointed television viewers go to bed at night not knowing who “won”. Discrepancies in the election night numbers come to light that election administrators are accustomed to addressing as part of the canvass process, but voters don’t typically see. Reporters struggle to come up with a sensible narrative to explain what’s going on, and start speculating on air about ballots that have been ‘lost’ or ‘found’. The election administrator tries to explain that the process is working as intended, but eventually throws in the towel and issues a statement pledging to do better next time. In a close election, there has to be a win scenario where the people counting the ballots don’t inevitably look like morons. We’ve all heard the dubious Election Officials’ Prayer: “Lord, I don’t care who wins, but please let it be a landslide.” If we are going to get past the pervasive sense, as a profession, that we are all just one too-close-to-call election away from a career-ending media frenzy, we need to quit doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We need to package our process more understandably.