Washington State University’s Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service is joining more than three dozen nonpartisan political institutes nationwide in helping promote election integrity and civic understanding as the United States prepares for next year’s presidential races.
“The deeply concerning rise in threats of violence and harassment directed at election administrators and volunteer poll workers requires institutes like ours to consider what we can do to enhance civics education and fight rampant disinformation about our electoral processes,” Cornell Clayton, director of the Foley Institute, said.
Clayton recently attended a conference in Washington D.C. organized by the bipartisan U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress as part of an effort on election integrity. Former lawmakers and university-based political institute leaders discussed the need to educate the public on the mechanics and security of the elections process, work with communities to meet the demand for poll volunteers, and advocate for laws that protect election workers ahead of the 2024 election cycle.
Much of the distrust in the United States’ elections process is rooted in the complexity of the system, Clayton explained. It’s highly decentralized nature means each state and municipality can have their own rules and ballots. But it’s that configuration that leads the U.S. to have a system that’s among the democratic world’s most accurate and resilient to threats of tampering.
“Our complex system creates confusion, but it is also one of our strengths,” Clayton said. “It can’t be rigged and there are no central levers to manipulate.”
He continued, “It’s vital that we educate the public on the nuts and bolts of how local elections run, who is responsible for what, and how ballot integrity is protected, so that our strong election processes are better understood and trusted.”
It’s vital that we educate the public on the nuts and bolts of how local elections run, who is responsible for what, and how ballot integrity is protected, so that our strong election processes are better understood and trusted.Cornell Clayton, director of the Foley Institute
Washington State University
In addition to bringing current and former elected officials as well as subject matter experts to campus for discussions, the Foley Institute is a longstanding resource for state agencies. Public symposiums held in collaboration with the Secretary of State have provided vital context on topics like election security and media coverage of elections. It’s also important that more civics education take place, both within the K–12 system as well as at colleges and universities, Clayton said.
The Foley Institute is also looking for ways to bolster the number of poll workers and volunteers. Mass resignations of poll workers and volunteers followed the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, as threats of violence and harassment rose. The people who work in election administration and poll works are generally people motivated by a strong sense of civic duty, Clayton said, and they need to have their ranks restocked and they need greater protections to ensure they can carry out their work that is critical to our democracy.
Finally, the Foley Institute must continue to be at the forefront of conversations around civility and political polarization, with research dating back more than a decade, Clayton said.
Election integrity takes center stage
The conference, convened by the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, is part of a bipartisan effort to counter disinformation and ensure the safety of poll workers as well as elected officials heading into the 2024 election cycle.
Just this week, for example, several election offices were evacuated across the state of Washington after workers reportedly found powdery substances inside envelopes, with Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs referring to these incidents as acts of terrorism.
Among conference participants, the widespread belief was that the upcoming 2024 elections will produce greater levels of disinformation, political violence and threats against volunteers as well as elected officials.
“We were honored to host such a timely symposium to learn more about the nuts and bolts of our electoral process,” Pete Weichlein, CEO of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, said in a press release. “It’s clear there is deep apprehension surrounding the 2024 election, which makes organizing opportunities for collaboration even more important.”
To learn more about the Foley Institute and its upcoming events, visit the center’s website.