In our polarized political climate, it is predictable that the major parties and national media would present voter access and election security as competing ideals. In the process, this false dichotomy has served as a powerful wedge issue.
Voting rights and secure elections can, indeed, coexist; strengthening one does not weaken the other, and the manner in which our nation addresses these concerns will help define our democracy.
Indeed, the tension has been exacerbated by former President Donald Trump and his false claims that the 2020 election was influenced by fraud.
To be clear, Trump was the loser. Dozens of lawsuits claiming fraud found minimal evidence to support those assertions, and most were thrown out of court — including by Trump-appointed judges.
In the weeks after the election, William Barr, then the U.S. attorney general, said: “We have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.” The Department of Homeland Security called the election “the most secure in American history.” And a lawyer who had challenged the election admitted in court that the claims were a partisan lie, saying “reasonable people would not accept such statements.”
Fueled by Trump’s constant lies, his supporters have persistently demonstrated that they are not reasonable on this issue. The falsehoods have promulgated political enmity and fueled an insurrection aiming to overturn the democratic process. Claims that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was anything less than an insurrection are shameful attempts to undermine our very democracy rather than defend it.
Because of that, efforts to restore faith in that democracy are more important now than ever before. “Bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country,” President Joe Biden said last week.
That includes efforts to undermine voting rights in many state legislatures. In one now-infamous provision, Georgia lawmakers forbade giving food or water to people waiting in line to vote. Many states in recent years have limited the number of polling places, cynically targeting areas with large minority populations. Georgia also created an election board selected by the Legislature, taking power away from the secretary of state, who is chosen in a statewide election.
Other legislatures — all in Republican-controlled states — have passed or sought provisions that critics say would inequitably target people of color while speciously claiming those measures are necessary for ensure secure elections. Mind you, nobody has uncovered widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Yet while activists and partisans have staked out sides, the majority of the public desires some middle ground. A survey by nonpartisan Public Agenda found that about two-thirds of Americans say the United States can and should ensure that voting is both accessible and secure.
Washington is among several states that have demonstrated the possibilities. Universal vote-by-mail has been in place for two decades, and widespread fraud has not undermined the integrity of our elections. Among the benefits is that vote-by-mail provides a paper trail, allowing for recounts while avoiding concerns over electronic voting machines.
States have the constitutional right to control their elections, but Congress must be involved to ensure those elections are secure and that access to the ballot is protected. As Biden said, it is an “urgent test of our time.”