By Tom Daschle and Bill Frist
Tom Daschle is a former Democratic senator from South Dakota. Bill Frist is a former Republican senator from Tennessee. Both served as majority leader of the U.S. Senate and are members of the National Council on Election Integrity.
As two former U.S. Senate majority leaders, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye during our time together in Congress. But today we agree on one thing: Nothing — including the novel coronavirus — should stand in the way of Americans exercising their right to vote. We are confident the nation will overcome this year’s challenges and conduct free and fair elections.
This November, we must all put country over party, build bridges across ideological differences and defend the integrity of the political system that binds us together as Americans. That’s why the two of us have joined together with more than 30 other former elected officials, former Cabinet secretaries, retired military officials and civic leaders to form the bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity to defend the legitimacy of our elections. The council is sponsoring a new bipartisan public education campaign called Count Every Vote to ensure that every vote cast in accordance with state laws is counted in 2020.
Over the course of America’s nearly two-and-half-century history, we have faced countless trials. From our founding all the way up to the modern era, our democratic process has been a constant source of strength and has made the United States one of the world’s indispensable nations.
The United States has a history of running successful elections in good times and bad. This election is not our first election during a national crisis; it’s not even our first amid a pandemic. Not only did our country successfully hold elections during the flu epidemic in 1918, but we also held successful electoral contests amid the Civil War, the Great Depression and both World Wars.
The election system our Founding Fathers set up was a model for democracy that sparked a global movement of self-governance. This year, already more than 80 other democracies have held successful elections. We can do the same.
Clearly, this election won’t look the same as recent years. The way Americans choose to vote — as well as how long it takes to get results — will be different. That doesn’t change the fact that the election will be conducted safely and securely.
While many Americans are frustrated with government and partisan politics, we should all try to remember that our Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan election administrators are frequently career officials who have been running elections for decades. They know how to properly conduct elections, and they’re going to do it right this year.
We also need to adjust our expectations for when we get results and give election officials the time they need to do their jobs. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, millions more Americans will be voting by absentee ballot, so it will take longer to count the votes. For this reason, it is unlikely we will know the winner on election night or the day after, and that’s okay. Voters, the media, the candidates and the political parties will need to be patient.
Counting every vote is the American way to conduct an election, and the public understands that it’s going to take longer this year. One poll this month found that 75 percent of Americans believe that it’s more important to count every vote than to determine the outcome quickly. Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or an independent — and regardless of which candidate you support — every American wants to know his or her ballot has been counted.
When the winner of the election is determined, there will either be a retention of power by the incumbent president or a peaceful transfer of power; that’s what makes our democratic republic strong. It is our shared patriotic duty to ensure the process that gets us there is fair during the coronavirus pandemic so we can all accept the results.
While this year might be different in many ways, the 2020 election is our moment to protect our country and safeguard America for the next generation. We must all do our part to guarantee that everyone’s voice is heard.