It is now post-Nov. 3 and we are witnessing what it will take to complete a free, fair and secure election. Most headlines and attention will be focused on the acrimonious presidential contest and we will under-appreciate how much of the rest of the voting is happening without rancor, dispute or distrust.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

As many as 150 million people voted at 230,000 polling places across 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. by the end of Nov. 3. Even with COVID-19 safety restrictions, a record heavy voter turnout and very long waiting lines, America voted and its many voices will now be heard. That process is the same one Sonoma County voters completed here. As many as 250,000 registered voters mailed, delivered or visited a polling place to register their voices in 70 different elections on their various ballots, defined by which of the county’s 668 precincts they live in. The historic margin of error at the county’s registrar of voters’ office is a small fraction of less than one percent. (With that kind of precision, you could land a man on the moon.)

With more vote counting still taking place and the presidential and other important races still undecided, we are reminded that all of our past national elections final results never happen by midnight on Election Day. But this year will require extra patience, perseverance and protections.

As with all elections, the US election of 2020 has demanded much extra work by thousands of journalists, working at county courthouses, state capitals and national newsrooms. Official final election results are declared by registrars of voters and other government officials. But these results must be verified and reported accurately to the voters. It’s the journalists’ jobs to not only tell who won or lost, but also why and how the final tally came to be. These are days of much, much history. Without laser-focused journalists the history of the 2020 election would be as confusing and contradictory as there now exists partisan hacks and hoaxes that are trying to undermine facts and deny us our free and fair election.

The Associated Press (AP) has been covering elections since 1848 when Zachery Taylor was elected president. This year the AP had 4,000 reporters covering America’s elections, plus another 800 election clerks, data sorters and editors. Many of The New York Times’ 1,700 journalists were assigned an election story. And, here at Sonoma West Publishers we had a mighty crew of five journalists working past midnight on Tuesday, only to rise early on Wednesday and check for more incoming local voting results. (Our latest results are located on our websites and are being updated in coordination with the county registrar of voters.)

There are countries that try to have fair and secure elections without permitting independent journalists to do their work. This includes such countries such as Uganda where a popular opposition  candidate was arrested and brutally apprehended by police right after he registered as a candidate this week. In Tanzania, a trio of opposition leaders were arrested when they led protests calling for a recount of a national vote that was full of fraud. In Russia, Vladimir Putin wins his elections with 80% of the majority vote where the results are dutifully reported by a press that is under his regime’s full control.

Try to imagine holding our 2020 election without the oversight and reliable reporting of a free and independent press. It was bad enough as is. Members of the press were verbally attacked as “enemies of the people” and also were subjected to physical threats. Reliable news accounts from trusted organizations like the Associated Press and others were called “fake news” in attempts to discredit the truth. Long into the future, there will be fellow Americans who will claim the election of 2020 was a sham and the final vote count was manipulated and corrupted. With all of that, this election could have been much, much worse. But it’s not Jan. 20, 2021 yet and our journalists still have much more work to do.

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