Having been involved with several similar efforts, my colleague wanted to know whether, given the short time frame, I thought such an initiative was feasible. In those days, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, just about anything seemed possible. Soon, I was assisting the activists in training prospective election monitors and designing a plan for assessing the accuracy of the vote count.
For election day, the newly formed Bulgarian Association for Fair Elections deployed more than 10,000 volunteers to polling sites throughout the country. Within hours of the polls closing, their parallel vote tabulation confirmed a narrow victory by the ruling Socialists — much to the disappointment of the activists, most of whom had voted for the opposition even as they performed their monitoring responsibilities in a nonpartisan fashion.
My experiences in Bulgaria and elsewhere are receiving renewed interest as the United States prepares for this presidential election.
Ashley Quarcoo and Tom Carothers sought to explain “What Washington Can Learn About Elections — From Abroad” in Foreign Policy in February. Their piece stemmed from a USA Today poll last summer that found nearly 40 percent of Americans said that, if the candidate they support loses in November, they will have little or no confidence in the integrity of the election process.
The reasons for this vary. Some question the legitimacy of a seemingly antiquated Electoral College. Others cite ID requirements in many states preventing many prospective voters from exercising their franchise. And of course, the malign consequences of disinformation and fake news, whether promoted by foreign or domestic sources, have compromised our public discourse.
These longstanding concerns have only been exacerbated by the complications of organizing elections during a pandemic.