EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is based on weeks of dialogue and learning by a local group called Crosscurrents, which joins liberals and conservatives in discussion of policy matters on topics such as gun control, health care and police reform that are in the national spotlight and carry local importance.
To date in 2021, more than 1,000 voting rights bills have been introduced in state legislatures. The majority are focused on making voting more accessible. However, many emphasize restrictions on registration and voting opportunity, although proponents state that they are also focused on improving election integrity.
The dramatic increase in proposed bills was triggered by: 1. the allowances that were made in 2020 to make it safe for citizens to vote during a pandemic, and 2. the numerous but unproven allegations of fraud frequently supported by the previous administration and further promulgated by its supporters.
Controversial bills have been passed in Georgia or are under consideration in other states. Also, voting rights and election security have been placed prominently on the nation’s agenda by the recent passage of HR 1, a far-reaching and historic effort by the House of Representatives intended to improve multiple aspects of our democracy.
To organize our thinking and present the results of our deliberations, the Crosscurrents group focused on improvements that should be made before elections are conducted, changes we believe are needed during the actual election process, and needed evaluations after the election has been completed. Not surprisingly with a topic encompassing liberal and conservative points of view, our group could not reach agreement on all aspects but did agree on many key improvements that can be made to better safeguard our democracy and our elections.
Importantly, we agreed quickly on the overarching principle that would guide our deliberations, namely that every citizen has a right to vote. As emphasized by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”
Before an election
Several prerequisites or conditions should be met or in place before a free and fair election is conducted. There is a need for federal guidelines to help assure that basic quality voting procedures are in place in all states.
No government official should supervise an election in which they are a candidate.
All citizens are entitled to vote. Since obtaining proof of citizenship is not always easy or feasible for many Americans who are qualified to vote, each citizen should be able to obtain government assistance in meeting the requirements for documenting citizenship.
Any citizens who were registered and voted at any time prior to 2022 should be automatically deemed eligible to vote in future elections. Starting with the 2022 election, prospective new voters will need to register with proper documentation of citizenship.
Registering qualified citizens to vote should be made as convenient and hassle-free as possible. Given that it is a right, voting should not be restricted or taken away from any person via the creation of unnecessary obstacles to voting and/or inappropriate purges of voter rolls.
Whatever necessary or desirable election rules are created, they should not disproportionately have a negative impact on any subgroup or minority group of citizens. Felons should have their voting rights restored after completing their sentences.
Free and fair elections require that partisan politics should not enter the process of setting up the election. Specifically, our group supports creation of independent state election commissions, where they do not exist, with equal representation for each major party and for independents.
Agreed-upon standards must address gerrymandering and other issues of voter access and election security. Commission recommendations would be submitted to state legislatures for an up or down vote.
No changes in a state’s election laws should occur within 90 days prior to an election. There must be laws or regulations on the books about requirements and length of time for no-excuse absentee ballot requests and the number and location of well-secured but easily accessible drop boxes.
To enhance security, voting tabulation hardware and software systems that are a target for cyberattack and manipulation should be tested by the federal government to ensure they can detect and resist cyber-attack, and can block and report authorized persons (or anyone else) attempting to make undocumented changes to system controls.
During an election
Ample time for voting should be allowed, including early voting for between 14 and 21 days prior to election day.
Local officials must be protected in doing their duty to run neutral elections and not be subjected to undue pressure from state legislatures or penalized unfairly. However, to maintain accountability, local officials can be sanctioned for not following established rules and procedures.
At least two persons representing the two major parties must be together at all times in the transport, entry, tabulation and reporting of all ballots in the election process.
After an election
There should be independent state reviews of all elections during the year following those elections, and updates using federal guidelines for best election practices, to allow changes and improvements to be made in time before the next election year.
The Crosscurrents dialogue group is interested in growing to help increase its credibility and impact. If you have an open mind, are willing to learn regardless of your political views or party and would like to join or learn more about our group, contact Richard Hammes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Authors of this article are Roger Bernier, Aiken; Greg Blackburn, Bluffton; Bruce Bunevich, Hilton Head Island; Raymond Dominick, Okatie; Richard Hammes, Hilton Head Island; Doug Kittredge, Hilton Head Island.