If the United States is to remain a democratic nation, it is essential that its citizens take the necessary steps to vote for their representatives at all levels of government — national, state and local. If citizens know that the voting system is managed responsibly and their votes will be counted, they will be more likely to take the time and effort necessary to vote.
For these reasons, it is alarming – especially with the forthcoming Anchorage municipal election on April 4 — to hear that Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s newly appointed Division of Elections director is considering dropping out of a system that improves the accuracy of voter rolls and the counting of votes. Even worse is the fact that, at former president Donald Trump’s urging, several other states have already dropped out.
This system, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), was created as a nonprofit organization in 2012 in recognition of the vital importance of voting. Led by the highly reputable Pew Charitable Trust, election officials from Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington worked together to develop ERIC with the mission of assisting states in improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.
A primary focus of the organization has been to identify eligible but unregistered potential voters. In the 11 years since its formation, ERIC has identified more than 60 million potential voters nationwide. The organization also works to keep voter registration lists current, legal and accurate by eliminating those who are no longer able or available to vote.
We want our voter roll to be as accurate as possible, to reduce even a very remote possibility of voter fraud.
Dunleavy’s election director cited cost as a reason for dropping Alaska’s membership in ERIC. But a quick check shows that cost could not be a real factor. Annual dues are based on voting population, and in fiscal year 2022-23 member states paid between $26,000 to $116,000 each. Presumably, Alaska’s cost was close to the lower figure. The fact that former president Trump has urged states to leave ERIC may be a more significant factor.
Last September, the New York Times published an opinion titled “The Greatest Threat to Democracy is a Feature of Democracy.” The article explained, “Nothing forbids voters in a democracy to support an authoritarian or vote itself out of existence (as the ancient Athenian assembly famously did). The history of democracy is full of demagogues exploiting the openness of democratic cultures to turn people against the very system on which their freedom depends. In France, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte leveraged a celebrity name to run for president on a campaign of restoring order in 1884, only to end the Second Republic with a self-coup to become emperor when his term was up.”
The Times piece went on to say “Democracy’s claim to superiority over other political systems is that it offers free expression and the opportunity to confront arbitrary power. (Trump) and his supporters are entitled to the former, using all available means of persuasion at their disposal. They are not, however, welcome to permanent impunity.”
When democracy disappears, slowly people become tolerant of practices that would have shocked them in earlier times — lying to the public, for example. Many of Trump’s followers continue to dwell in the echo chambers of their own opinions and still deny the legitimate election of President Joe Biden. Their ranks are thinning, but there are still plenty of well-educated and informed Republicans who knowingly deny the truth on a regular basis.
Attacks on the institutions that guard democracy are damaging and harmful to the government “of the people, by the people, for the people” to which we proudly pledge our allegiance. Now we see an attack on ERIC, the nationwide system designed to strengthen our country’s voting system. With Donald Trump’s urging and unabashed lie — he said ERIC “pumps the rolls”— three Republican-led states — Florida, Missouri and West Virginia — have pulled out. Other states, including Texas, are considering Trump’s request. Let’s hope Dunleavy takes a wiser course.
Janet McCabe and her husband David came to Alaska in 1964. She is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School and a member of Alaska Common Ground and Commonwealth North.
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