September 26 – Our Elections: Trust

Reestablishing Shaken Trust

Vital Sign Religious Freedom

In their book, Our Broken Elections, by John Fund and Hans Von Spakovsky, published in 2021, they begin, “It’s clear that Americans are separated not just by political disagreements but by a basic difference in how we regard voting.” 

They described how some “gravitate toward the view that the most important value is empowering people to exercise their democratic rights, regardless of security issues, and they worry about people being denied that right.” At the other pole are those who “tend to pay more attention to the rule of law and the standards and procedures that govern elections.” 

A CNN poll conducted in January 2021, shortly after the January 6 incident at the Capitol, showed 59 percent of Americans with at least some confidence that the elections reflected the will of the people. That included 36 percent who were very confident that elections were representative of the public’s wishes.

William Howell, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said, “Widespread distrust in our electoral system overlays deep divisions over our democracy. [One group] lack confidence, in no small part, because of lies propagated by their leaders. And [the other group] lack confidence because of ongoing efforts of [the first group] to politicize the administration of elections. This is a bad equilibrium.” 

For the public to have confidence in elections means they must first have trust in government, and that trust has been breaking down for over half a century or more. A study by the Ford School at the University of Michigan suggests events such as the Vietnam War, Watergate, the 1970s oil embargo, and President Reagan’s 1982 inaugural address (“government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”) have all added to the steady erosion of trust. Tom Ivacko, the executive director of the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, said he is “worried that the built-up lack of trust has manifested into a more threatening issue: people are losing faith in our system of government itself.” 

A survey by the Pew Research Center in June 2022 found that public trust in government remains low, as it has for much of the 21st century. They report there was a slight uptick right after 9/11, but that quickly washed away.   

A study they published in July 2019—before the 2020 elections and the January 6 incident—revealed that most Americans’ trust in their government and in each other can be improved. The people surveyed proposed an array of solutions to achieve those improvements, including increasing government transparency, improving community cooperation, and performing individual acts of kindness. Additionally, “A share of the public thinks that more political compromise on national issues could restore trust both in the federal government and in interpersonal relationships. Some make the case that more media focus on positive stories, like acts of collaboration, might inspire greater trust.” 

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly.” Alexis de Tocqueville, a French observer of American life at the beginning of the 19th century, said the Americans of that day “have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man… they all consider society as a body in a state of improvement.” This observation is increasingly lost in the divided America of today. 

Christ-followers in America know that there is no perfecting humankind, but also know that there are solutions to divisions and matters of fairness. Colossians 3:12 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” As you pray for those in government and positions of authority, be cautious of yourself. “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (Exodus 23:1-2). 

How then should we pray? 

  • For officials across all government sectors to be more transparent regarding their actions and in dealing with the public. 
  • For public servants at every level to value facts and accuracy, acting and speaking truthfully with integrity.
  • For election officials, poll workers, and candidates to support, defend, and ensure secure and fair midterm elections. 
  • For federal judges and district courts as they continue to hear and decide cases that involve laws regarding voting and elections.
  • For the willingness for God to guide you into new levels of transformation into the likeness of His Son, for His glory.

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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