We Must All Work Together To Have a Trustworthy 2024 Election

ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: NEWSWEEK

Author: Joan Blades

The attack on the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6 is not forgotten as we see the next presidential election taking shape. False claims by former President Donald Trump persist. Polls reveal that a substantial portion of voters continue to believe him even though charges of election irregularities were entirely dismissed in over 60 lawsuits filed by Trump or his allies.

Meanwhile, many progressives believe that there were active efforts to disenfranchise qualified voters, followed by an attempted coup. Without taking action now it is reasonable to expect that a disturbing number of people are likely to question the 2024 election whatever the outcome. This is a recipe for conflict.

Trustworthy elections are something an overwhelming number of Americans desire. Yet, we seem to have forgotten that losing elections is part of our system. A loss does not have to mean the election was stolen. Instead of continuing to push the stories from 2020, now is the time to make sure that a majority of people agree that the upcoming 2024 election can be trustworthy.

How might we do this?

Some in the media and a few elected officials amplify distrust of election outcomes. Conflict profiteers understand how to use these kinds of stories to raise money, build public outrage and throw facts into question. That can lead to passionate and sometimes violent reactions.

Trust in our government, our media, and each other has plummeted over the last decade. Reducing personal exposure to the news has become a common recommendation for improving mental health.

More Americans today identify as Independents rather than Republicans or Democrats. They are being turned off by major parties. And people that strongly identify with the left or right are increasingly likely to live near and socialize with people that hold similar beliefs. These are not good indicators of a healthy society. Can our deep shared values be a foundation for shifting the narrative?

Bottom line, elections are local and local people are responsible for ensuring they run smooth and fairly. The bridging movement has pointed out the many ways our perceptions of political differences are overblown. It turns out that we agree much more than we realize. Academics that study the different values of conservatives and liberals point to fairness as a core value we all share.

There is time to uplift local pride in the quality of elections. Americans believe elections should be fair and free. We do this through volunteerism and conversation with our neighbors. Communities can collectively step up and embrace this responsibility, making sure that everyone understands the process and why it is a well-run system. If there are aspects of the process that are flawed or perceived to be flawed, they can work to fix that. If there are disagreements about how to do it, there is a national groundswell of organizations tirelessly working to solve problems. Facilitators or mediators can assist in finding solutions that best meet everyone’s concerns.

Then, because a national election requires nationwide trust in the election processes, we must take a critical next step. People in communities across the country are having conferences by video as a successful tool for strengthening our democracy.

Since COVID-19, tens of millions of people have become very comfortable with video meetings as a growing force for good. Research from 2019 revealed that conversations done in person or by video had impacts short-term and long-term that showed improved listening skills and interest in systemic change spurred by mutual understanding and “humanizing the other.” Video conversations were also shown to be effective for meaningful connection. Leveraging video along with structured conversations allows elected officials, community leaders, professors, and experts in bridging and peace building to increase national trust. This effort has the potential to help the next election be more trustworthy by allowing Americans who disagree with each other to hear themselves out and find common areas of agreement instead of sitting home alone attacking each other online further dividing our country.

Come November 2024, we need communities around the country to be able to reject complaints that the election was unfair or stolen.

The beauty of this national mobilization is that we just might be able to begin to shift our story of division and distrust toward trust and good faith, not only around elections, but also with any critical issues. International peace builders know that one of the best ways to create more lasting peace is through working together on local projects.

What better shared project than trustworthy elections?

Yes, this is a big lift, but consider the alternative. For over 7 years the U.S. has been rated as a “flawed democracy” by the Economist Intelligence Unit. If we continue our current trajectory the U.S. will become a failed democracy.

Working together, growing mutual respect, and honoring the dignity of people who hold differing beliefs could be a norm we embrace. We’re running out of time.

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