We cannot take our eye off voting rights and fail to protect every American’s freedom to vote.
By Nick Penniman
Many of us were disappointed to see crucial democracy reforms fall short in the Senate last week. Our political system is broken. The public is losing trust in our institutions. And an anti-democratic movement has emerged in our country in recent years that’s eerily similar to ones that have severely infected once-vibrant democracies in Eastern Europe, East Africa and South America. If ever there was a need to repair the systems of our republic, protect access to the ballot box and strengthen our elections, that time is now.
Let’s start with a simple point of agreement between Democrats and Republicans: If Americans cannot trust our elections, our democracy cannot hold. That common entry point leads to a bipartisan path to improve the voting experience and protect our elections from threats, both foreign and domestic.
After months of opposing or remaining neutral on the Freedom To Vote Act, several Republican senators took to the floor and to Twitter last week and said what they are for, when it comes to supporting voting and strengthening elections. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) indicated he could back a version of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others have pointed to the need to amend the Electoral Count Act (ECA). Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) had his staff print a large placard of what he stood for — including creating incentives for states to adopt best election practices, updating the ECA and improving cybersecurity for elections — that stood on an easel next to him as he spoke from the well of the Senate. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) spoke up with various suggestions for compromise and collaboration.
These are all good signs. And they’re reflective of a larger consensus beyond the nation’s capital. Election reforms and innovations have a deep history of bipartisan support — in states and in Congress — and there’s reason to remain optimistic about the potential for bipartisan measures to pass this year. These include updating the Electoral Count Act, protecting election workers, ensuring at least seven days of early voting before a federal election, providing absentee voting options to all voters and improving cybersecurity standards.
But let’s be clear: while passing these measures are important, we cannot take our eye off voting rights and fail to protect every American’s freedom to vote or stop politicians from taking over elections for partisan gain.