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Regaining trust in elections starts at local level, panelists at Bush Center event say

"If we don't have an acceptance of the rules and acceptance of the results, I don't think the system continues to work," said Jon Meachem.

DALLAS — It is a conversation vital to our democracy: free and fair elections. 

On Wednesday, the Bush Library in Dallas hosted "Elections. A More Perfect Union." The event was attended by former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"I think we are at an inflection point to say, 'how can we improve the system?'" said Holly Kuzmich, who serves as executive director of the George W. Bush Institute.

The event had three separate panels to discuss the current state of elections, elections processes and the impact of current events.

"If we don't have an acceptance of the rules and acceptance of the results, I don't think the system continues to work," said Jon Meachem, co-chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy.

Seven of ten people polled have eroded trust in elections, and there are forces, both external and internal, that undermine an election's legitimacy. 

Historians, local government officials and elections administrators at all levels met around the table on Wednesday. 

They all spoke unequivocally, saying there was no rampant fraud in the last election.

"Agency is important, local action is important, we still have trust in the local level," said Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow of Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program.

The panelists danced around between topics surrounding former President Donald Trump, voter disenfranchisement and even about the current threats against public officials from extremist groups.

"The big lie they are pushing, it assumes that literally thousands of people are in on it," said Bill Gates, chairman of Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Former Secretary Rice spoke of the events surrounding the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which one panelist described as an extreme reaction to eroded trust.

"It was jarring... it was awful. The peaceful transfer of power is the one thing that distinguishes democracy from authoritarians," said Rice.

They all agree regaining trust starts at the local levels at that means local elections. 

"I'm pretty confident we'll heal ourselves so long as people vote," said Bush.

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