Common Ground on Elections: Protecting the Vote

Vote by mail ballotWho wins in the 2020 elections is anyone’s guess. But whether Americans can cast their ballots should not be in doubt.

April 19, 2020

Last week, we wrote about the challenges of holding elections in a year upended by coronavirus. Since then, we’ve started to see some of those challenges unfold. Voters in Wisconsin’s recent primary waited as long as three hours to cast ballots because so few polling places were open. Milwaukee, for example, had access to only five polling sites instead of the usual 180. State election officials received 1.2 million requests for absentee ballots, up from about 250,000 in 2016 – but at least 9,000 were never mailed.

Protecting the integrity of our elections is an issue that transcends partisanship. People across the political spectrum are thinking about how to make sure future primaries and – critically – the general election in November are fair and accessible. This week, we asked experts what voters should know about voting in 2020. Here’s what they had to say.

Mindy Finn – Executive Director, Stand Up Republic
“The recent primary in Wisconsin highlighted just how dangerous and disorderly in-person voting can be during national crises. Every state has to have a plan to ensure that voting can be conducted safely, orderly and securely. In light of a pandemic where crowded polling stations can be a mortal danger, that has to mean a heavy reliance on vote-by-mail and online registration. If states don’t start preparing now, they’ll be putting lives in danger and also enabling people to question the legitimacy of our elections.”

Max Feldman – Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice
“As we saw in Wisconsin earlier this month, COVID-19 has the potential to wreak serious havoc on our elections process. It is critical that we prepare now to avoid widespread disenfranchisement in the November general election.

States and local jurisdictions should make a number of modifications to their elections systems, including offering all voters the opportunity to cast a mail-in ballot, ensuring in-person voting options are safe and sanitary for those who can’t or won’t vote with a mail-in ballot, expanding early voting options to reduce crowding on Election Day, and enhancing voter registration access (especially online). In addition, public education about voting rules changes is critical, especially since COVID-19 has created fertile ground for disinformation.”

David Eisner – President & CEO, Convergence
“Convergence believes collaborative problem-solving among diverse stakeholders centered on building deeper mutual understanding is a powerful way to tackle challenges. We have seen the power of cross-partisan dialogue through our own work centered on seemingly intractable issues, including health care, criminal justice, federal budget reform, and education. We need to blow up the barriers to cross-partisan collaboration on elections.”  

Kodiak Hill-Davis – Director of Government Affairs, Niskanen Center
“This is such a critical issue and truly requires all hands on deck to help address it. At the Niskanen Center, we think there are four key considerations when it comes to election security:

  • Every qualified voter must have the opportunity to cast a ballot in a healthy, safe manner. Citizens should not be required to vote in-person to participate in American democracy. There are a variety of ways to make voting safer- voting by mail, curbside voting, expanded polling locations to limit crowds, increasing early voting we think states are best equipped to make those determinations based on their unique demographics and challenges.
  • States oversee elections and the federal government should not issue mandates on how those elections are run. The federal government does have a role to play during this unprecedented coronavirus crisis: it should help states conduct elections by funding the necessary election infrastructure. During this crisis, state budgets are strained as a result of decreased economic activity and loss of tax revenue. Federal funding for election infrastructure could be used for things like more polling place workers, pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots, equipment for processing ballots safely, and educational campaigns to inform the public.
  • Safe, accurate, and legitimate elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. This is a non-partisan issue.
  • Right now, we need to focus our efforts on the 2020 elections. Let’s worry about long-term reforms or changes after this election cycle.”

Learn More

Public Health Necessity: “The legitimacy of our democratic republic depends on the regular continuance of our elections, even in times of turmoil,” says a former aide to Sens. Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint. This year, that may mean holding elections by mail via The Bulwark

Ignore the Horse Race: This media columnist says there are plenty of warning signs that the 2020 elections are in trouble, and journalists have a responsibility to cover the story. Instead, she sees a continued obsession with public opinion polls and pundits – via The Washington Post

Better Elections: This pre-pandemic report makes a number of recommendations for improving our elections, including  seamless voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and paper ballots – via Bipartisan Policy Center

Look at the Evidence: Misinformation and baseless claims about vote-by-mail and voter fraud are circulating. Experts look at the allegations and set the record straight – via

Status Report: What does the landscape look like for expanding vote-by-mail across all 50 states? Here’s where things stand, and what election officials are scrambling to figure out before November – via The Atlantic

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This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2020 issue of Wide Angle, our regular newsletter designed, we hope, to inform rather than inflame. Each edition brings you original articles by Common Ground Solutions, a quiz, and published articles — from across the political spectrum — that we think are worth reading. We make a special effort to cover good work being done to bridge political divides, and to offer constructive information on ways our readers can engage in the political process and make a difference on issues that matter to them.

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