Community Columnists

YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Can education overcome ignorance about our electoral process?

Attorney David Betras
Attorney David Betras

In the immortal words of Monty Python: “And now for something completely different.”

This means in this week’s column I am going to digress from my usual topic — the vagaries and intricacies of the legal system — and discuss a subject that is equally near and dear to me and every bit as important to the American way of life: the electoral process.

As many of you know, along with being chair of the Mahoning County Democratic Party from 2009 to 2019 I was also and still am a member of the Mahoning County Board of Elections. While the former position could be incredibly aggravating and infuriating, serving on the BOE has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience.

I say eye-opening because although I have been politically active for my entire life, I had absolutely no idea of how hard BOE officials and employees work to safeguard our democracy and knew even less about the complex protocols they utilize to secure and protect the integrity of the voting process.

I can say one thing unequivocally: If every citizen knew what I know about our elections, the cries of “Stop the Steal” that ignited the Jan. 6 insurrection would have fallen on deaf ears.

But because disinformation and deception thrive in the absence of knowledge, the Big Lie being told about the outcome of 2020 presidential contest rings true with millions of Americans, even though 69 cases alleging voter fraud have been laughed out of state and federal courts and hundreds of Democratic and Republican elections officials have vehemently rejected claims that the result was tainted.

How do we convince the legion of doubters that they can and should trust the system? I doubt that browbeating them and calling them “stupid” as some partisans and pundits are fond of doing will work.

Instead, we need to use the one tool that always overcomes ignorance: education.

In the past, elections officials have devoted little time or effort to educate the public about the intricacies of the voting process or provide a close-up view of the work they do. I can understand why. For most of the 232 years since George Washington first won the presidency most Americans had faith in the system so there was no need for those in charge to explain what they did or how they did it.

Obviously, that is no longer the case. To counter the ongoing attacks on the voting process and steel it against new ones, those of us who administer elections must launch an all-out effort to teach people how the system works and give anyone and everyone access to it.

That is the only way to silence the critics, refute the lies and restore confidence in our democracy.

And because I have always been a “put your money where your mouth is” kind of guy, I plan to launch the educational effort I described above now that I have the honor of serving as chair of the BOE. From today forward I will take use every tool at my disposal, including this column, to provide comprehensive information about the processes and procedures we use, answer all questions, and ultimately create thousands of evangelists who will testify to the integrity of the system and the strength of our democracy.

Get ready students, you are now enrolled in Elections U — and yes, there will be a quiz.

Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Markota LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you’d like answered here? Send it to news@mahoningmatters.com.

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