- - Monday, November 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another victim. In addition to the more than 256,000 dead Americans and nearly 1.4 million worldwide, the virus’ murderous grip has left a dark stain on the vaunted U.S. election system. Regardless of the eventual outcome of the 2020 presidential contest, efforts should be unsparing to restore the process so that it drips with integrity.

Three weeks after Election Day, anomalies in the counting of loosely regulated mail-in ballots are driving Republican President Trump’s legal advisers to contest the outcomes in a handful of closely fought swing states. The final judgment of Democrat Joe Biden’s apparent success in unseating Mr. Trump may require a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. For now, many Americans are still shaking their heads with suspicion.

A survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports on Nov. 17 found that 38% of respondents do not believe American elections are generally free from fraud. Among them are 23% who are very convinced that elections are tainted with fraud. In contrast, 59% of respondents are confident in the integrity of the system, including 36% who are very confident that elections are clean.

Even if a majority of voters have come away satisfied, there is ample reason for grumbling. A 2019 survey conducted by Harvard University’s Election Integrity Project ranked the elections in the United States “lower than any other long-established democracies and affluent societies.” With a score of 61 out of 100, the survey rated U.S. elections on a par with the struggling democracies of Mexico and Panama.

Pandemic fears provided a handy excuse for weakening election integrity rules. In states such as Nevada that decided to mail ballots to all registered voters, whether requested or not, unsecured ballots flew like leaves in the autumn breeze. In Pennsylvania, ballots returned after Election Day were given a stamp of approval. In Georgia, a recount that required no signature matching was as vulnerable to errors as the original tally.

There is every reason to believe that COVID-19 will have been corralled and common sense unleashed in U.S. affairs once again by the next major U.S. election in 2022. And the fast-and-loose methods of voting allowed this year may be studied in years to come — if “The Guinness Book of Records” adds a chapter titled “Epic Errors.”

In the future, states keen on election integrity should return to time-tested, pre-coronavirus practices. These include requiring in-person voting for all but those with unmanageable infirmity or unavoidable Election Day absence — mass-mailing of unrequested ballots is an invitation for fraud. And voters should be required to show identification. Most importantly, state legislatures should stand guard against judges who join in partisan efforts to weaken election rules.

Even an “electoral stain,” a Third World voting integrity practice in which a finger is dunked in indelible ink, would ensure a more trustworthy U.S. election outcome than the ballot bungle of 2020.

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