I had a phone call from an old friend who follows the work I do on safeguarding the integrity of our elections. He asked me how I could stand the venomous atmosphere of the political world in Washington, or vicious, unfair, and seemingly constant attacks by a biased, partisan media.
As I told my friend, I don’t much like it. But I can’t do anything other than continue trying to preserve and protect the democratic process that makes the U.S. the greatest republic the world has ever known.
What always put this malevolent behavior of my detractors into perspective for me is the knowledge that my family has experienced much worse.
Putting venomous U.S. politics in perspective
I am a first-generation American. My parents met in a refugee camp in the American-occupied sector of Germany in 1946. My mother grew up in Nazi Germany. She was only 10 years old when World War II started in 1939, but she had already seen the brutality of the Nazis.
Her parents were looked on with suspicion because they refused to join the Nazi Party and had a Jewish-sounding last name. During World War II, she and her three sisters experienced starvation, bombing raids, and the looting, pillaging, and worse by Russian troops in the town where they lived.
My father was Russian and considerably older than my mother. He was born in St. Petersburg when it was still St. Petersburg and had not yet been renamed Leningrad by the Bolsheviks. He was a very young Russian Army officer when he fought in the Russian Revolution against the Bolsheviks—a fight he believed strongly in, because, as he said, it didn’t take long to realize that the Bolsheviks had no interest in establishing a democracy when one saw their brutal tactics.
My father managed to get out of the Soviet Union at the end of the civil war and settled in Yugoslavia. There, he completed school, became a college professor in Slovenia, and lived a good life until the Nazis invaded. In 1946, he was forced to flee— once again— his homeland when Josip Broz Tito and the Communists took over Yugoslavia. He literally got a phone call from a friend telling him his name was on a list to be arrested and shot, so he packed a suitcase and walked out of his front door. He ended up in the same refugee camp as my mother.
They were married in 1948 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1951. It was hard at first, but my family eventually prospered. My parents became citizens, had four more children, and were married for more than 40 years.
Their stories made me realize how dependent our freedom and liberty is on preserving a secure, fair, and safe election process. As President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
My Encounter with Vote Fraud in Georgia
My first instance of witnessing this fragility myself occurred early in my legal career, when I volunteered to be a poll observer for a general election in Atlanta. I was shocked when I arrived at my assigned polling place to see the poll officials who were checking in voters at the registration desk asking the voters if they were Republicans or Democrats.
This was an overwhelmingly Democratic precinct. The only reason to ask that improper question was to intimidate the few Republicans in the precinct and discourage them from voting. I reported it to county election officials, who sent someone to the polling place to stop the illegal and threatening behavior of the local poll workers.
At almost the same time, there was considerable news about a widespread investigation of election fraud in Dodge County, Georgia. Eventually, 27 individuals were convicted, including the local sheriff and two county commissioners. They were involved in a widespread scheme to steal the election that included vote buying, double voting, and at least one fraudulent vote cast in the name of a dead person.
The Integrity of the Election Process
My own experience and the outrageous story of what went on in Dodge County got me interested in the integrity of the election process. That led me to where I am today at The Heritage Foundation, where I research and write about the security and integrity of the election process.
Since my first experience as a poll observer, I’ve served as a local county election official in two different states, enforced federal voting rights laws that protect the right to vote at the U.S. Department of Justice, sat as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, and worked on virtually all of the issues that affect how we vote and how our political campaigns and elections function.
I will keep working to guarantee that every American who is eligible to vote is able to do so—regardless of their party affiliation or partisan view—and that their vote is not stolen, diluted, lost, or rejected due to intentional misconduct or administrative mistakes by the election officials and other people responsible for ensuring a safe and fair election process.
Working to preserve the integrity of American elections is the right thing to do, and I won’t back down from this worthy deed anytime soon.
The author is a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation who once served on the Fulton County, Ga., Board of Elections