Pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act
Long lines that had voters waiting for hours (and more frequently in lower-income neighborhoods), unofficial ballot drop off boxes set up in California and too few (onedrop box per county) set up in Texas, foreign attempts to influence the US elections on social media continued from 2016, and inconsistency in the number of early voting days available are but a few examples why Election reform is necessary.
Elections in the US are run by states and counties – this shouldn’t change — but there ought to be basic national regulations to ensure fairness and equality in voting across state lines, as well as robust protections against foreign intervention. Currently the federal government’s role in elections is mostly limited to funding support to states and oversight support through the FBI, Justice Department and Homeland Security Department.
Arguably the most pressing reform has to do with an unanticipated phenomenon: a national, uniformed standard to accommodate future crisis like the coronavirus pandemic must be addressed. The inconsistency in response to the pandemic in 2020 undermined fair equal access to voting. In some states (mostly with a Republican majority) mail-in voting was limited to the typical requirements of absentee voting – voters must show evidence why they will not be able to vote in-person like disability or travel. Fear of contracting the coronavirus was not a valid excuse. And unlike in Hawaii where every registered voter automatically received a ballot package by mail, in many states mail-voting had to be requested. Even on safe voting alternatives like drive-through voting – that too, was inconsistent, limited or unavailable.
Due to the absence of national unformed standards, the elections process were plagued by politics. For example, in Alabama voters were not allowed to hand their ballots to workers outside of traditional polling sites that banned drive-through or curbside voting. Even persons of disability or the elderly (susceptible to the coronavirus) were denied that option. Fair elections groups sued the state of Alabama. The case ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court where the conservative-majority voted in favor of Alabama disallowing curbside voting. Critics accused Alabama lawmakers, a long-standing Republican state, of voter suppression. Traditionally higher voter turnout favors Democrats. SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor who went against the majority said the absentee ballot process made is challenging for disabled voters because the ballot must be returned with a copy of an ID card. Curbside voting would have made the process easier for the disabled.
In many states like in Wisconsin (battleground state), the number of polling stations were closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but no additional voting options were provided. The result led to longer lines and increased the risk of community spread of the virus. The restriction ultimately was counterproductive and once again had fair-voting groups complaining of voter suppression.
In Georgia, another stalwart GOP-led state, officials rejected challenges to open up more polling sites to reduce long lines at polling stations. Both Georgia and Wisconsin were key battleground states.
Strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act and Pass the “For the People Act”
Civil rights activists and lawmakers passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) to ensure differences in access to voting were corrected and that certain groups of Americans were not disproportionately at a disadvantage when it came to voting, like poor or ethnic communities. But in 2013, SCOTUS passed a law that critics say essentially gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act and gave way for states to adopt new laws.
Last year, the Democrat-led House that regained a majority in the 2018 midterm, passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) or H.R. 4 that sought to strengthen the VRA. Among its features, the VRAA requires jurisdictions to obtain advance clearance for any election changes with the Justice Department and allow the attorney general to send federal observers anywhere in the country, among other provisions.
It passed in the House, but failed to be heard in the Senate GOP-majority, and was bound to fail as President Donald Trump threatened to veto it.
In the same year, the House passed the 2019 For the People Act that would have bolstered funding and provisions to beef up the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). It also directed the EAC to assess the security, cybersecurity and effectiveness of the commission’s information technology system. It also addressed finance transparency, voting rights, and redistricting (gerrymandering) and government ethics.
Democrats lobbied hard for the bill’s passage in the Senate considering the intelligence community’s reports of foreign involvement once again in the 2020 national elections. In 2016 and in the midterm in 2018, the Russian government was found to be meddling in US elections, US intelligence officials confirmed.
Like the VRAA, the For the People Act was never taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate.
Integrity and Trust
The 2020 Elections was far from the mess President Trump claimed it was with alleged massive voting mail fraud, but there were inconsistencies and unfairness that must be corrected before the next midterm.
The process for voting for Americans should be as close as possible to being “the same” for all voters. Trump has done tremendous damage in casting doubt on the elections process. Confidence in voting must be restored. To begin with, the integrity and trust in elections could be restored with the passage of the VRAA and the For the People Act.<