Election highlights our collective responsibility

Democratic process should go on without interference

THIS ELECTION is unprecedented in many ways: our country is still in the grips of a pandemic; millions of Americans are voting early and by mail for the first time; and Election Day comes on the heels of a rushed Supreme Court nomination.

More than any other in recent memory, this election highlights our collective responsibility to ensure the democratic process unfolds without interruption or interference.

From training hundreds of poll monitors to making sure voters know their rights, the ACLU of Massachusetts and allied civil rights groups are working to ensure the will of the people guides this electoral process. We, the people, have the power; the more of us who vote, the more sound our democracy. All voters, whether they choose to vote in person or by mail, should make a plan ahead of time. Those who can vote early should, to help shorten lines at polling stations. But above all, everyone who is eligible to vote should do so.

Massachusetts elected leaders have a special role to play this election, too, and must do all they can to ensure a safe and secure election.

Gov. Charlie Baker was right to publicly criticize President Trump for suggesting that he might not obey the will of the voters, using his bully pulpit to call on those in public service “to do everything we can to make sure that the people’s will is followed through and executed on.”

Similarly, Attorney General Maura Healey showed great leadership when she strongly condemned voter intimidation, making clear that her office will not tolerate any attempt to interfere with people exercising their right to vote. Likewise, after a Boston ballot box was set on fire, Mayor Marty Walsh responded quickly and firmly. Other state and local leaders should follow suit. While there’s not a history of violence or intimidation at the polls in Massachusetts, elected officials must clearly—and publicly—commit to protecting the right to vote.

In addition to ensuring that every eligible voter can vote, we want to ensure that every vote is counted. To this end, Massachusetts elected leaders should provide public reassurances that the election is not over until every eligible voter’s ballot is counted. With a surge of mail-in ballots in Massachusetts and nationwide, we will not have final results on election night—and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean the system is broken; indeed, a lag in results is a good sign that the process is working as it’s supposed to. More mail-in ballots means more time spent counting because these ballots take longer to process. Here in Massachusetts, ballots mailed by November 3 will be counted if received by November 6.

Announcing a winner too soon is both inaccurate and dangerous; conflicting reports of election results undermine election integrity and chip away at voters’ trust in the process. It’s important we all temper our expectations and prepare for an extended election process. Our state and local leaders can help set these expectations—and should do so before, during, and after Election Day.

Massachusetts elected leaders also should publicly speak out against anti-democratic actions by elected officials here and in other states, who threaten to interfere with voting, counting all ballots, or the results of the election. That includes dismissing any premature claims of victory, and again assuring Massachusetts residents that voters—not candidates or pundits—decide the winner.

No matter what happens on election night, people will likely take to the streets to celebrate or protest. Regardless of the election outcome, law enforcement must protect the right to protest and peacefully assemble. Unfortunately, some police have responded to recent protests with tear gas, pepper spray, and baton strikes on peaceful political protesters. Responding to peaceful political demonstrations with violence is antithetical to law enforcement’s duty to protect the public and to keep peace. Mayors and police commissioners should exercise leadership to stop this recent pattern of violent and counter-productive conduct toward political protesters.

Meet the Author

Carol Rose

Guest Contributor

About Carol Rose

Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

About Carol Rose

Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

Finally, Massachusetts officials must not assist federal law enforcement in any effort to undermine the right to protest or peacefully assemble. In the last several months, federal agents have spread fear and panic in communities across the country, and relentlessly attacked people simply exercising their First Amendment right to protest. State and local law enforcement should make clear that abuses like those seen in Portland, OR, Kenosha, WI and Washington D.C., have no place here in Massachusetts or anywhere else. Local law enforcement should reject any militarized federal response to peaceful protests in the Commonwealth, and block any information sharing with federal officials about protests or protesters in our state.

Every voter’s voice deserves to be heard. Massachusetts, let’s prepare for an extended election process to make sure that happens. Our democracy depends on it.

Carol Rose is the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.