A reset on federal election legislation
After congressional Democrats’ unilateral and unsuccessful push on federal voting legislation, only one option remains for Congress to address the crisis of confidence in our democracy: finding common ground to pass bipartisan legislation. In short, demonstrating the way our democracy should work.
The recent debate over voting has been divorced from reality. Republicans’ invented claims of voter fraud at the state level and Democrats’ exaggerated claims of voter suppression at the federal level have polarized what should otherwise be straightforward, nonpartisan goals of election policy: accessibility, security, fairness, and transparency.
Instead of using our democracy as yet another wedge issue in a political system that caters to partisan activists, it’s time for a hard reset that puts voters first.
A bipartisan Senate working group, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), is already considering reform to the Electoral Count Act — which would address critical flaws in election certification, but comes up short on fixing deficiencies in election administration. These Senators should reach further by compromising on voting legislation that, rather than imposing broad federal mandates, provides financial support to states that adopt best practices.
A bipartisan framework for improving election administration should be built around defining minimum state standards, providing federal funds to support their adoption, and giving states the flexibility to implement and innovate locally.
A new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center — in partnership with Issue One, American Enterprise Institute, R Street Institute, and Unite America (the organization we lead) — draws upon a bipartisan task force of two dozen election officials from 20 states to propose ten recommendations for minimum state election standards.
These recommendations pair Democratic priorities on voting access, such as requiring seven days of early voting and access to no-excuse absentee ballots, with Republican priorities on security, such as requiring post-election audits and options for verifying voters’ identity. Adoption of these standards would give states additional much-needed funding for election administration, with less money coming from private sources that many objected to in the 2020 election.
These recommendations are neither onerous nor designed for partisan advantage. In fact, 72 percent of them are already met on average by individual states nationwide, red and blue alike. With federal funding incentives, we could close the gap and ensure an equitable baseline for election administration across the country, while upholding states’ constitutional oversight of their elections.
Two states meet all of the recommended standards: Colorado and, contrary to the mainstream narrative, Georgia.
Seven more states are just one shy of meeting them all: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.
States with the most ground to make up include both Delaware and New York.
Putting aside hot-button issues like mail ballots and voter ID, there are many common sense standards both sides could champion: For example, states should pre-process mail ballots seven days before the election so results (and voter confidence) do not lag far after the election is over. States should share their voter lists with each other to prevent outdated or multiple voter registrations. States should provide physical security to election administrators and their staffs who come under threats or harassment.
Of course, some may argue it’s not enough: funding incentives can’t override state law. That’s the point. Congress can make meaningful progress on elections without turning the temperature up even higher, further undermining confidence in our democracy, or inviting potentially restrictive rewrites of election law a couple years from now.
Congress has a history of bipartisan election reform. Twenty years ago, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in response to the controversy of the 2000 election. HAVA created standards for voting systems, such as replacing punch-card machines, and created the Election Assistance Commission to provide grants that would incentivize their adoption. The Senate passed HAVA 92-2.
This approach is not exclusionary to other steps Congress can and must take to defend our democracy –– including reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act and reforming the Electoral Count Act. The Senate’s bipartisan group of lawmakers would be wise to do all of the above. And if Democrats truly believe the threats facing democracy are existential, they should be the first to agree that something is better than nothing.
Trey Grayson is the former Republican secretary of state of Kentucky, former chairman of the National Association of Secretaries of States, and a board member of Unite America.
Nick Troiano is a former independent candidate for Congress and is the executive director of Unite America, a nonpartisan organization focused on defending and reforming our democracy.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.