Elections in the United States are conducted according to strict rules. They are carefully regulated both by those rules, and by observers from the two major political parties. In this segment of "How America Elects," VOA's Jeffrey Young looks at the vital importance of this monitoring process to help ensure credible election results.
"When I was a kid, I lived in the great city of Chicago," said Johns Hopkins University Professor Ben Ginsberg. "And when I went to vote in the 1960s, Well to my amazement, even though I was first in line, a lot of people had already voted! I sort of peeked at the list, and there I saw [the name of] my wife's grandfather, who had been dead for eight years! And, he had already voted! Now, that's not right!"
Elections the public can trust are essential to a democratic society. And keeping at bay the sort of corruption that Johns Hopkins University's Ben Ginsberg says he saw 40 years ago in Chicago requires strict voter eligibility and procedural rules, and election monitors - - also called judges - - from both major political parties.
"In the United States, at every polling place, there is a Democratic [Party] judge and a Republican [Party] judge. And when a voter arrives to cast his ballot, these two judges check the voting rolls for that precinct against the voter's identification, and both [judges] have to agree that this is a duly registered voter for that particular polling place," Ginsberg said.
And these judges go through a rigorous program to ensure that they are proficient in the regulations and competent with voting machine physical security and operations. The Director of Elections in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., is Margaret Jurgensen.
"The election judges have been trained very, very intensively. They will confirm the tamper tape numbers, they will confirm to see the security seals that we have. Then they open up the units. They run what we call a morning report that will show that there are zero votes on the voting units. Then, throughout the day, they will tabulate that [for example] we have had a hundred voters, and there are 'x' amount [number] of votes on the voting units [machines] so that they are equal to one hundred," Jurgensen said.
Along with official election judges monitoring the vote, polling places oftentimes also have observers from interest groups and even foreign countries.
"Thank you so much for the possibility to visit this polling station," said a Russian federation election observer. Not only for us, but for our colleagues, also. They want to visit other polling places here. Election Official: Good. Good. Well, I'm glad and I hope you enjoyed it and learned a lot."
The principle of a closely watched balloting process goes back to the nation's beginnings according to George Mason University Professor Michael McDonald.
"Our founding fathers did not trust government. So, they wanted to pit ambition against ambition. And, so what are they doing here. They are pitting the ambition of one party against the ambition of another to make sure that elections are run free and fair," McDonald said.
And that is How America Elects.