Living in what may be the ultimate swing district in the ultimate swing state, I shouldn’t have been surprised. High-stakes elections are as Bucks County as stone barns.
Still, I was startled the other day to see a sign outside the Bucks County Courthouse addressed to those using the drop box inside. “SMILE! You are on camera,” it read. “1 person. 1 ballot. It’s the law.”
I don’t remember seeing any such signage when I dropped off my ballot at the courthouse in the 2020 election. I wondered why someone thought it was necessary, and how it came to be. There was something about the surveillance reminder—“SMILE!”—that made the act of voting feel shady, even shameful. As if, were it not for the camera, my neighbors and I would gladly shoplift an extra vote or two.
We shouldn’t have to keep saying this, but we do: The incidence of voter fraud in the U.S. is vanishingly small. The results of the 2020 election were investigated, litigated, validated and revalidated ad nauseum. Nonetheless, across the country, candidates are crying foul before a single vote has been counted. Onerous new rules have the effect, if not the intention, of suppressing minority votes. Meanwhile, seasoned election workers and officials are calling it quits, citing unrelenting stress, threats and fears for their safety.
Too many Republican officials have discovered there is electoral hay in ranting about a problem that doesn’t exist – or didn’t, to any significant degree, before so many got in the “election integrity” game. Sadly, our own representative has now joined in. In his pitch to voters in the pages of this newspaper, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick said a bill he authored, HR 102, would “restore faith in our elections” by making it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Given that it requires photo IDs, Rep. Fitzpatrick’s bill certainly won’t make voting easier. And by suggesting that cheating is a significant problem, he is undermining voters’ faith, not rehabbing it. Though I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, he’s contributing to a climate in which election mischief becomes, for some, the necessary, the right, even the patriotic thing to do. “They stole the last election,” this narrative goes, “we can’t let them do it again.”
It’s especially disappointing to see these attitudes take hold in Bucks County. When my husband and I moved here almost 13 years ago, we were struck by the high levels of social trust.
Maybe we were naïve to think Bucks could forever resist the anger and suspicion so common elsewhere. The sign outside the courthouse is a warning. And not just to would-be fraudsters.
Andrea Strout lives in Buckingham.