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Get educated not only on the issues but the election process

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.”

Given that Churchill was voted out of office just months after leading his country to victory in World War II, it is understandable that he was ambivalent about its merits. Still, even with its flaws, democracy remains the gold standard of governments from the local town board to national and international politics.

A key component of any democracy is the principle of one person, one vote. At various times throughout history the ranks of eligible voters has been defined through wealth, gender, skin color, intelligence or other arbitrary standards.

The intent of those limits was to ensure that the “right” people’s votes counted. The challenge is, of course, in defining who is “right” and who is not. Historically, it has been the people who lost the last election or who fear losing the next one that clamor most loudly about ensuring only the “right” people vote.

In Wisconsin this has been seen in efforts to purge people from voting lists who happened to move since the last election, even if it is to a different apartment or dorm room in the same building, and who did not return a piece of apparent junk mail postcard from the state election commission. It has also been seen in the Quixotic crusade tilting at Register in Probate office windmills over legally protected information about mental capacity of nursing home residents that was being improperly included in election information data dumps and who added one and one and got 11 and are crying corruption.

“Democracy is messy, and it’s hard. It’s never easy,” said former attorney general Robert Kennedy.

The ultimate challenge of democracy is that in order for it to work, it requires well educated citizens who are able to wade through the promises, pandering and platitudes of politicians and determine who should be the leader.

By design, Wisconsin’s election system is highly decentralized. At the local level, the town, village and municipal clerks recruit poll workers from within the community, each of which has an independent panel of canvassers who go over the results to address concerns or irregularities. This is then overseen by the elected county clerks who likewise have a check on their board of canvassers who certify elections. These results are then compiled at the state level with the state regularly performing audits of the local and county efforts to ensure that things are being run according to the law.

On the voter side, in much of the state voters may register to vote at the polling place. This ties in with Wisconsin’s strong historical belief in ensuring free access to elections for all eligible voters.

Voters also have the ability to vote by absentee ballot, either through the mail or in person, prior to the election. Outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, the absentee ballots skewed toward people traveling and snowbirds who would not be in the state during the election. As COVID concerns have eased, the percentage of voters choosing absentee ballots will likely return to historical normal levels much as the rest of society is slowly returning to normal.

Like any other system designed by human beings, the election system in Wisconsin is not perfect. However, with checks and safeguards built in at multiple levels, it works and works well, regardless of what peoples’ opinions about the results may be.

Before people condemn the election system in Wisconsin, they need to take time to learn how the system works, and doesn’t work. Each state runs their elections slightly differently with some having a much more centralized structure than in Wisconsin. Centralization may increase efficiency and help ensure uniformity in the interpretations of state election laws, but it also opens the door to greater ability of manipulation.

As another election cycle rolls closer, it is important to take the time to become educated, not only on the candidates and the issues, but also the process.

It is important to dust off that old civics knowledge that was learned, and just as quickly forgotten, to pass a high school test.

The bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission has worked in partnership with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and DPI, as well as with support from the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies, Wisconsin Towns Association, Wisconsin County Clerks Association, and Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association in developing a series of educational lessons for use in state classrooms, but also available for anyone in the public to view at https://elections.

Knowledge is power. It is the power to stand up to those who would make baseless claims and conspiracies about corruption, as well as ensuring accountability over those in authority.

Democracy only works when all people are educated and informed and choose to take part. Together we can continue to make democracy work in Wisconsin and America and resist with every fiber of our beings those who would steal it from us.

Members of The Star News editorial board include Publisher Carol O’Leary, General Manager Kris O’Leary and News Editor Brian Wilson.