Header-image voter confidence
Credit: Andrey Popov – iStock.com - iStock.com

Eight years ago, a World Justice Project poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans–91%–believed they could vote freely without being harassed or pressured. After the 2020 election, only 58% of people still agreed. Will 2024 be different? 

Ahead of the November presidential election, the World Justice Project (WJP) will again conduct its U.S. general population poll and ask Americans how they feel about voting. It remains to be seen if their confidence has rebounded at all or fallen further still. 

“What is clear,” says WJP Executive Director Elizabeth Andersen, “is that now is a critical moment to restore voter confidence in the security and fairness of our elections. The strength of U.S. democracy requires people to trust the election system, that every vote counts, and that the process is governed by the rule of law.” 

Americans Can Vote Freely Graphic

It is no surprise that Americans have lost confidence in the election system, according to leading election law expert Richard L. Hasen of the University of California at Los Angeles. In his view, intense polarization and relentless claims of a “rigged” 2020 election are considerable drivers of the decline. So what can be done? 

“The most important thing is to continue to try to run free and fair elections, where all eligible voters can easily cast a vote that will be fairly and accurately counted,” Hasen said. “It is also important to provide voters with reliable information so that they know that most claims of rigged or stolen elections are not based in truth.” 

That may be harder than ever in what Hasen calls the era of “cheap speech,” where false claims can easily go viral on social media. 

Concerns about potential violence at the ballot box are another possible driver of falling voter confidence. After heavily armed militias made chilling showings at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and incendiary rhetoric continued to fester, many jurisdictions became concerned that armed protesters could seek to intimidate voters in 2020

Tools for all 50 states 

Thousands flocked to the website of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), which created national and state-by-state resources for law enforcement and election officials to identify and address voter intimidation and any illegal paramilitary behavior.  

“Paramilitary groups are not protected by the Constitution and actually are outlawed in all 50 states,” said Jacob Glick, ICAP’s policy counsel.  

In 2024, ICAP experts think risks of Election Day violence could even be higher than they were in 2020, when limited paramilitary activity occurred during ballot counting in Arizona. Violence only came later, during the January 6th attack on the Capitol.   

But despite many successful prosecutions, including convictions of the leaders of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, the locus and nature of the threat has evolved, ICAP says. 

“We’ve seen the infusion of that paramilitary mindset, for lack of a better word, enter the public square in ways that it was unable to do in 2020, because it was still so far outside the mainstream,” said Glick, who previously served on the Congressional staff of the January 6th Committee.  

Defusing threats 

ICAP experts point out that violent rhetoric and intimidation tactics have escalated around a variety of politically charged issues. New trends have included death threats against school board members, bomb threats against bookstores hosting drag story hours, and harassment and attacks against U.S. Muslims and Jews amidst the Israel-Gaza conflict.  

So ICAP is developing new resources to address new threats in the lead up to the 2024 election. But the team also sees some silver linings. 

“It is disheartening to hear that the faith in the ability to vote in a free and fair election has gone down so dramatically,” said ICAP Special Litigation Counsel Rupa Bhattacharyya. “But I do think there's a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy there, partly because there is so much attention being paid to these issues–for very good reasons.” 

She also noted that there was no large increase in violence at the polls in 2022, which bodes well for the continued capacity to hold fair and free elections. 

Piggybacking on that bit of good news, Glick said there’s another important reason for voters to feel confident: “In our Constitutional system, our legal system already has the tools to deal with and defuse these threats before they spiral out of control.” 

ICAP will continue training law enforcement agencies on how they can effectively contain intimidation tactics within the bounds of the First and Second Amendments. 

Here are actions you can take: 

  1. Make sure you are registered to vote. It’s easy to check on the Vote.org website, where you can also find out how to register if the answer is no. 

  1. Volunteer to be a poll worker. Find out how at helpamericavote.gov, where the U.S. Election Assistance Commission offers a state-by-state tool under the heading “Be Part of Democracy. Help America Vote.” 

  1. Get trained to serve as a legal expert. The national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition trains thousands of lawyers to staff voter assistance call centers. The American Bar Association is also recruiting lawyers and law students to be election workers via Poll Worker, Esq

  1. Help a young person register to vote. That’s among 24 recommendations from the Tufts CIRCLE Growing Voters project aimed at empowering the next generation of voters. Over 8 million Americans who were too young to vote in 2020 will turn 18 before the 2024 election.  

  1. Learn to spot disinformation. Read about 2024 disinformation risks in Common Cause’s Storm Watch report and how artificial intelligence (AI) can make disinformation even harder to spot via the Campaign Legal Center. 

  1. Stay informed. Heed the call from the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) to seek and promote #TrustedInfo2024 directly from election officials. Find your local authorities via the U.S. Vote Foundation’s election official directory, and click through to election office websites to follow them and get updates. For nationwide election updates, follow NASS on Facebook, X or Instagram


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