Today Senators Clinton, Boxer and Kerry, along with Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, held a press conference to unveil an ambitious and very comprehensive election reform proposal, which they want enacted in time for the 2006 mid-term balloting. Thank God they moved quickly on this idea, instead of letting the memories of a second straight presidential election nearly winding up in the courts fade.The proposal itself is pretty far-reaching, including (1) making Election Day a federal holiday, (2) creating uniform rules for handling of provisional ballots, (3) requiring early voting opportunities, along with no-questions-asked absentee balloting, (4) boosting training for poll workers, (5) criminalizing voter intimidation tactics, (6) restoring voting rights for former felons, (7) requiring paper receipts for electronic voting machines, and (8) providing the federal funds to make sure this reform isn’t as shoddily impemented as its predecessor, the Help America Vote Act.The only quibble I have about the specifics of the proposal is that the sponsors should make sure to provide some leeway from the more prescriptive features of the bill for states with an exemplary record of fair and voter-friendly election administration. I’m thinking of Oregon, whose excellent administration of an all-mail-ballot system has produced remarkable voter turnout levels with virtually no complaints. And I’m also thinking of my home state of Georgia, where Secretary of State Cathy Cox (who may well be the Democratic candidate for governor in ’06) has done the best possible job of implementing a statewide touch-screen system. Yeah, I know, Diebold Conspiracy theorists don’t like that, but as Sam Rosenfeld recently explained in The American Prospect, Georgians seem to love the new system, and there have been no allegations of fraud or other irregularities there.The Diebold reference leads me to another point about election reform: Democrats need to go to considerable lengths to establish that this issue is not just about Democratic complaints concerning the outcome of the last two presidential elections, and that supporting election reform does not mean endorsing the views of those who believe the whole system has been completely rigged. Why? Because unlike a lot of Democratic proposals these days, this is one that we actually need to get enacted into law, because it will materially improve our chances of winning elections. And given the broad popularity of most of the election reforms contained in the new proposal, there is actually a fair chance that some if not most Republicans can be coerced, shamed or otherwise stampeded into going along. We definitely need to give it a shot, and keeping the message of election reform on a higher, nonpartisan, “good government” plane is essential to that task. If it doesn’t work, then fine, we can go after the GOP hammer-and-tongs at that point.Beyond that, I hope Democrats who embrace election reform are willing to link this issue to a broader political reform agenda: redistricting reform, lobbying reform, corporate subsidy reform, budget reform, ethics reform, and a recommitment to campaign finance reform. The current system ain’t benefitting Democrats, and ain’t benefitting the country, so we should throw caution to the wind and make it definitively clear that there’s little about the current system we are not willing to take a serious look at and, if appropriate, change.So: I enthusiastically applaud the sponsors of the Count Every Vote Act as trailblazers in what we can only hope will be a whole new theme in Democratic politics from Washington to every state and city. And I hope those bloggers who like to call themselves “Reform Democrats” will get specific about what that means and weigh in with what JFK used to call “great vigor.”
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
As someone who closely monitored Donald Trump’s campaign against voting by mail in 2020, I am discouraged but not surprised to report that Republican state legislators are now reversing the kinds of access to mail ballots they use to support, as I explained at New York:
Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on voting by mail throughout the 2020 presidential-election cycle were clearly designed to set up a bogus election contest by creating a partisan gap in voting methods, an early Republican lead on Election Night, and a host of empty but redundant claims of voter fraud. But while his effort to reverse the election results failed, his determination to restrict the franchise live on wherever Republicans control the state legislature. According to the Brennan Center for Justice,
“Thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 bills to restrict voting access. These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) slash voter registration opportunities; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges. These bills are an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud that followed the 2020 election.”
While voter-ID requirements, tougher voter-registration procedures, and aggressive voter-roll purges are perennial Republican “ideas” in this era of adverse demographic trends for the GOP, the attack on voting by mail is actually rather new. The big bipartisan trend prior to 2020 was toward liberalized voting by mail, a convenience measure favored in some states by Republicans in particular (most notably in the all-mail-voting jurisdiction of Utah but also in states, such as Florida, with histories of heavy no-excuse absentee voting). All in all, 34 states entered 2020 allowing any registered voter to cast a mail ballot without an excuse, including the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Notably, Republicans controlled the legislatures in all of these states other than Maine.
While Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature approved no-excuse voting by mail in 2019, as Michigan voters had before them in a 2018 ballot initiative, some of the states now looking at mail-ballot restrictions haven’t had them in a long time. Florida’s GOP governor and legislature introduced no-excuse absentee ballots in 2002, as did Georgia’s in 2005. In Arizona, such ballots were first permitted in 1991. Thanks to Trump, there are now strong Republican efforts under way to restrict eligibility in all these states.
The most blatant of them may be in Georgia, where Trump-generated hostility toward voting by mail has been augmented by a flank-covering maneuver from Trump nemesis Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, who refused to “find” the 45th president enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s Georgia victory. Raffensperger, who had already annoyed the White House by proactively sending mail ballots to voters qualified for the 2020 primaries, now backs new excuse requirements and redundant voter-ID rules. Legislation is currently moving in both chambers of the Georgia legislature to accomplish these and other “reforms.” The chief state-senate bill would restrict voting by mail to people who (a) are over 75, (b) have a disability, or (c) are physically absent from the voting jurisdiction on Election Day.
Republicans are promoting a subtler effort to undermine access to mail ballots in Florida. Until now, Florida, like a number of other states, allowed people to register in advance to vote by mail for multiple elections (under current law, someone registering to vote by mail in 202a could continue to do so through 2024). Republican-sponsored legislation would require reregistration for every election cycle.
Particulars aside, these developments show a depressing retreat by Republicans from “convenience voting” measures that, before Trump started attacking them, were considered at least as friendly to Republican voters as to Democrats. The countertrend parallels and reinforces the more general GOP retreat from the very concept of voting as a right rather than a privilege, with the privileged having a thumb on the scales. And it underlines the urgency of federal voting-rights legislation to create a level playing field.