Our fight over elections is symbolic of a larger national affliction
Several years ago, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush appointed me as Texas’ secretary of state, where I served as the state’s chief elections officer with the responsibility to work with local officials to both encourage voter participation and to protect the integrity of elections across the state’s 254 counties.
At the time, voter turnout was weak. So in order to secure a better future for the next generation of Texans, I promoted a statewide program targeted at schoolchildren to encourage their parents to vote.
Our office also championed programs designed to minimize voting fraud. Few, if any, elections are free from mistakes or irregularities but, when identified, we should take reasonable efforts to address those. There are fewer instances of intentional wrongdoing, especially at a level that affects the outcome of an election. Nevertheless, casting a fraudulent vote is the same as stealing a vote, the same as cancelling a legitimate vote cast by a properly registered voter. We must not tolerate fraud in elections. The fact that we have relatively secure elections is no reason to ease efforts to prevent voter fraud. To the contrary, elections work because safeguards work.
Today there is controversy over proposed legislation in Texas that critics argue will make it harder for Texans to vote. The right to vote is one of the most sacred privileges we enjoy as American citizens, and we must protect this privilege from abuse. I support ballot integrity and favor reasonable photo ID requirements. I do not support voter ID laws enacted for the purpose of suppressing voter participation. We should couple ballot security with steps to increase voter participation. State and local officials should make it easy for people who are elderly, infirm or differently abled to secure a photo ID or other acceptable voter ID. State and local officials should actively encourage ethnic minorities to obtain the necessary ID and to vote. Anyone who qualifies for an acceptable ID, but who cannot afford to pay for one, should be provided one free. These and other measures will increase both ballot integrity and voter participation.
Based on multiple examinations and certifications by local, state and federal officials, Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. While there may have been (and likely were) some voting irregularities, there appears to be no evidence of irregularities or voter fraud at a level that would make a difference in the outcome of any state election, and thus to the outcome of the general election. This was confirmed by then-U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, by Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and by a host of state and local officials, many of whom are Republicans. No evidence of massive voter fraud was offered in more than 60 court challenges of the results of the presidential election, including several lawsuits before judges appointed by President Trump.
Yet, skepticism of the Biden victory continues, fueled by the former president and many current Republican officials. As we know, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third highest-ranking Republican in the U.S. House, was recently ousted from leadership for acknowledging what the evidence supports and for condemning those responsible for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
We should encourage ongoing efforts by state legislators to strengthen voting requirements and procedures for the legitimate purpose of enhancing ballot integrity and voter participation. Republicans’ claim that substantive changes are necessary now, when there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, appear to be driven by a desire to make it more likely they will prevail in the next election. Newly enacted laws or proposed bills seem to have less to do with election integrity and more to do with suppressing the vote of certain segments of the voting population.
Georgia lawmakers, for example, proposed legislation that prohibits persons other than those working at polling places from providing food and water to individuals waiting in line to vote. This prohibition will likely discourage the elderly and sick from waiting in long lines under the hot Georgia sun.
The fight over elections is symbolic of a larger, deep-rooted affliction that burdens our country. Some of our leaders appear incapable of or unwilling to accept basic facts when they run counter to their political interests. We as voters bear some of the responsibility, since we elected those members who refuse to acknowledge the evidence. If we hope to move on from the 2020 election, then we must confront the truth and those who seek to bury it. There is fear that many in Washington and in state capitals around the country do not have the courage, nor the integrity, to make decisions that could potentially jeopardize their political future. The thirst for political control, as the 2022 midterm elections approach, has been corruptive. In a battle between ambition and power versus duty and service, sadly some have chosen their own self-interest over the interests of the American people.
Still, I remain hopeful that we as a nation will come together to address our immigration challenges, improve race relations, achieve criminal justice reform and secure economic opportunity for all. None of this, however, will be achieved until there is agreement on the truth, and acceptance of the results, of the 2020 presidential election.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former U.S. attorney general and counsel to the president in the George W. Bush administration. He is the dean at Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter: @argonzales
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