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Public Education, Civility Part of U.S. Election Work

With political polarization and democratic backsliding in the United States showing no signs of abating, The Carter Center stepped up its U.S. election efforts in 2022.

“There’s no quick fix for U.S. democracy, and no single organization can solve its problems,” said Barbara J. Smith, vice president of the Center’s peace programs. “But what we learned during our first-ever foray into U.S. elections in 2020 was that our decades of experience working on elections and conflict abroad uniquely positions us to address our struggles at home.”

The Center’s democracy and conflict resolution teams worked to support democratic norms, encourage civil political behavior, educate the public about how our elections work, and organize small-scale nonpartisan election observation missions. Staff undertook several projects.

  • A line of voters extending out the door of a polling location.

    For this year’s elections, The Carter Center worked to support democratic norms, encourage civil political behavior, educate the public, and organize small-scale nonpartisan election observation missions.

Candidate Principles for Trusted Elections

With support from nearly 80 organizations across the political spectrum, The Carter Center launched this initiative in September. Its goal was to get political candidates to agree to uphold five ideals fundamental to a successful democracy — simple, commonsense tenets such as denouncing violence and agreeing to accept election results once courts have made final rulings.

High-profile pairs of candidates who signed on include Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, along with their respective opponents, Stacey Abrams and Bee Nguyen; and Colorado’s Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold and her challenger, Pam Anderson.

Though the principles were aimed at candidates, anyone was able to sign on at principledcandidates.org, thus sending a message to politicians.

Democracy Resilience Networks

Many people who won’t listen to an organization will listen to their friends and neighbors. With that in mind, the Center organized bipartisan networks of community leaders in four states: Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona.

Each state network was led by a team of two — one who leans right and one who leans left. Their mission is to bring people together in support of elections. They also help push out facts about election processes and push back against misinformation. They shared much of this information online, using materials based on months of messaging research. But they also held in-person events; in North Carolina, for example, the network organized a 14-city discussion tour featuring election officials, judges, and cybersecurity experts talking about how elections work in the state.

Nonpartisan Election Observation

While nonpartisan election observation is an internationally accepted best practice and common in much of the world, it remains uncommon in America. In fact, many states’ laws prohibit it.

In Arizona, where nonpartisan observation is not allowed in polling stations on election day, the Center conducted a data-driven observation campaign. And in Michigan, where such observation is legal, the Center conducted a small pilot project to supplement data-driven approaches with direct observation by trained local observers.

In Georgia, the Fulton County Board of Elections and Georgia’s Performance Review Board jointly invited The Carter Center to observe elections in Fulton County. While Georgia law doesn’t allow for nonpartisan observation under normal circumstances, Fulton County’s elections are currently under state review because of alleged problems, and the Center’s impartial findings will be used to help assess the situation.

Other U.S.-themed projects include the creation of a resource guide to assist election workers — who regularly face harassment and intimidation — in protecting their mental health and finding help when they need it.

“Everything we did this year will be relevant in 2024, when the competition will be even more intense,” Smith said. “We’ll take the lessons from 2022 and incorporate them into future programs as we continue to work to restore Americans’ trust in their democracy — and in each other.”

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