Our political process was tested in 2020 in ways that it has never been tested before.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 nationwide, election administrators were forced to come up with creative ways to make sure voters could cast their ballots safely, while trying to avoid large gatherings at polling places, wherever possible. Election infrastructure and processes had to be updated to accommodate an influx of mail-in ballots. Clerks and County Elections Directors became overnight media mainstays as the counting process took several days to complete. One candidate for President was bound and determined to challenge every step of the democratic process, dragging the election on for months, well into the next year. In fact, just yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected taking up his last lawsuit filed against the Wisconsin Election Commission for their absentee voting rules in the 2020 election.
But American democracy was stronger than each of these challenges, and we emerged out the other side battle-tested, but ultimately unscathed.
In many states, early voting and absent voter ballots were utilized to great effect to give voters a safe and secure way to cast their vote free from potential infection. Clerks and election workers counted every ballot, even if we did have to exhibit more patience than we are typically used to. And our legal process took on the many challenges to our legitimate election and adjudicated them fairly.
And all that happened was that voter participation was up 7 percentage points from 2016, the highest voter turnout in recent American history.
We SHOULD be celebrating the success of our democratic system.
Unfortunately for American democracy, the Republican Party has come to the conclusion that when more people vote, they stand a less likely chance of winning. This is not my editorial opinion, a Republican lawyer actually said that arguing a case before the Supreme Court last week.
As a result, Republican lawmakers in state legislatures across the country have begun a coordinated attack on voting rights in America. One watchdog organization puts the current count of anti-democracy bills at over 250 (the new legislative session is only 2 months old).
Worse yet, these bills have already started to pass and these restrictions are being put into place. In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill that reduced the early voting period in that state, restricted absentee voting, and shortened the amount of time that polls are open on Election Day.
We SHOULD be able to kick our feet up and enjoy a few weeks of rest before the next Election creeps up.
In Georgia, Republicans in the State Legislature have passed measures eliminating no-reason absentee voting, ending automatic voter registration, restricting the use of ballot drop boxes, instituting stricter voter ID standards, and criminalizing providing water to voters who are waiting in line to vote. These laws disproportionately affect voters of color in that State, which is by design. Republicans have come to realize that when people of color turn out to vote, they stand less of a chance of winning.
We SHOULD be thinking about how we get even more Americans involved in the electoral process so that we continue to see increased participation.
Arizona is also in the middle of passing bills that restrict voting access. In addition to requiring that voters sign affidavits with their date of birth, driver’s license number and/or voter registration number (which no one knows), new legislation being considered would not count ballots that arrive at their clerk’s office on Election Day, unless they are postmarked the prior to the Thursday before Election Day. Consider that: If a voter sends a valid absentee ballot on Friday and it arrives at their Clerk’s office on Election Day, their vote will NOT BE COUNTED.
A reminder: there are hundreds of these bills being taken up across the country in state legislatures controlled by Republicans.
Thankfully, there are efforts from local Democrats to oppose these measures. There are Democratic Governors who will veto such bills. We are blessed to have a Governor in Michigan who knows the importance of providing access to voters throughout the State and the Republicans do not have enough votes to override her veto. In addition, some of the measures that Michiganders used to vote by absentee ballot without providing a reason, were enshrined in the Michigan Constitution by Proposal 3 of 2018.
We also elected a President who is unafraid to use the power of the Executive Order to support voting rights. This Order seeks to increase the ability of residents to register to vote with their state through a federally-operated portal.
We also have leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives who recently voted for HR1, a bill that takes on many ethics and voting rights issues, including barring states from restricting mail-in voting, calling for the use of independent redistricting commissions, seeking a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United case, and barring lawmakers from sitting on Corporate Boards. This bill recently passed the House of Representatives and will likely run into opposition in the U.S. Senate.
We SHOULD be enjoying a warm cup of coffee and resting before the inevitable preparations for our next election (which is less than 2 months away here in Ingham County where I am the County Clerk.)
Instead, we must speak up and make sure that we safeguard our democratic process. I will be using my platform to speak at legislative committee hearings, in the media, and to voters in opposition to these efforts. But I cannot do this alone. Residents need to write their state lawmakers, members of Congress, and Senators to urge them to oppose anti-democratic legislation and encourage them to stand up for the rights of voters across the country.