As our electoral process shifts from voting to counting ballots, fears abound of a delayed or contested result erupting in civil unrest and violence. Even if the results are quick and clear, after months of one side claiming voter fraud and the other voter suppression, concerns are growing that the losing side will see the outcome as illegitimate.
How we weather the coming days will depend on the principles and professionalism of myriad election officials, judges, media, elected officials, prosecutors, and police, each playing their part all across the country. Beyond those directly involved in the election process, conflict prevention experts advise that civic leaders of all stripes can perform a critical function, by setting high expectations for officials and the public, urging responsible and peaceful conduct, and reinforcing trust in the process. Fortunately for all of us, recent days have seen an impressive array of diverse coalitions stepping up in these ways to safeguard our democracy.
In one such effort, coordinated by the World Justice Project, more than 100 organizations and leaders have issued a non-partisan Joint Appeal to Protect the Rule of Law in the 2020 U.S. Elections. Signatories hail from across the country and the political spectrum. They include prominent leaders from the private sector, law, and labor; philanthropy, higher education, and think tanks; professional associations and faith-based groups; and former military, former elected officials of both parties, and former officials from each of the past five administrations.
One thing these disparate voices share is a commitment to upholding a rule-of-law-bound process in which all can have confidence. The statement calls on those in positions of public responsibility to “take all necessary measures to safeguard the election process so that all Americans can have confidence in the ultimate outcome.” It specifically calls for those entitled to vote to be able to do so safely, securely, and without intimidation; for all votes to be counted in a lawful and well-organized process; for authorized election observers to be given access; and for disputes to be resolved fairly, openly, and in accordance with the law. Finally, it urges responsible media and respect for free expression and assembly, and for all Americans “to exercise patience, civility, and restraint, so that the results of the elections can be determined in accordance with the rule of law and peacefully accepted by the American people.” The full statement and a list of signatories is viewable here.
This joint appeal echoes similar efforts across a variety of sectors. Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined with the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Business Roundtable, ITI, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, the National Retail Federation, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association in a statement reminding citizens that results could take weeks and urging all Americans “to support the process set out in our federal and state laws and to remain confident in our country’s long tradition of peaceful and fair elections.” The Chamber has also developed a “primer on what to expect between November 3 and January 20” and a toolkit its member companies and state chambers of commerce are using to educate their constituents.
In a similar vein, the Leadership Now Project has enlisted business leaders in a pledge to respect three principles: all votes should be counted and patience exercised awaiting final results; media should act responsibly and avoid calling the election prematurely; and “business leaders should promote patience, civility, security, and accurate information.” In yet another effort, more than 900 companies have joined Civic Alliance, a non-partisan collection of companies committed to strengthening democracy through voter participation. As part of its “100% In for Democracy” campaign, companies have issued a joint statement to “1. call for safe access to the polls for all voters; 2. recognize state and local election officials as the trusted source for certified results; and 3. encourage patience as officials count every vote.”
A thousand faith leaders also issued a statement urging a free and fair election, that every vote be counted before the election is decided, that leaders share timely accurate information, and that they publicly support implementation of the results. The statement invites “neighbors of all beliefs and backgrounds to join us in this urgent commitment to support free and fair elections.”
Guaranteeing adherence to the principles articulated by these groups may prove challenging, but they represent an impressive and broad-based alliance standing behind our democracy and rule of law. It would be a mistake to bet against them.
Image: A poll worker helps K. Maki fill out a provisional ballot at Park Tavern polling station on November 3, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images