‘I just don’t trust the system any more’: Voters on edge as election nears

‘I just don’t trust the system any more’: Voters on edge as election nears
"I Voted" stickers spread out on a table at a polling place in Richmond. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON— Widespread anxiety and confusion around voting, compounded by the pandemic that has spread to millions of Americans, including President Donald Trump.

A vastly underfunded and decentralized electoral system that could take days and possibly weeks to certify results.

Attempts to suppress voting, interfere with elections and cast doubt on the integrity of mail-in ballots — including by none other than the president.

These are but a few of the worries consuming U.S. voters in an unprecedented election year marked by more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, ongoing civil unrest over centuries of racial oppression and widespread unemployment.

Trump’s Friday announcement that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the virus further complicates the uncertain election season. At least temporarily it will halt the president’s campaigning and possibly derail the remaining presidential debates.

The most disturbing outcome could emerge after the votes are counted if Trump rejects the results and resists a peaceful transfer of power. The American public is caught between fear of catastrophe and a yearning to believe democracy will triumph.

Experts and elected officials urge calm and faith in a system that’s performed under stress before, but the nation is on edge. “I have always felt confident that my vote counted, whether or not my side won,” said Dana Westmark, a 57-year-old real estate agent in Sarasota, Fla. “I am concerned now, reading the daily news stories about interference, how we might be sidelined by forces beyond our control.”

Some agree with Westmark and are raising alarms that the country’s highly ranked election system may not be up to the task. The main fear is that a protracted certification process will yield inconclusive results on Election Day and the weeks beyond, which could spur an intense and partisan legal battle and public protests.

Rick Hasen, a political science professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of Election Meltdown, says the country is “very poorly positioned” to resolve societal conflict in the wake of a closely contested election, and the U.S. Constitution and federal election law offer little detailed guidance on the subject.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.