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3 Ways to Make Voting Convenient, Safe and Secure

Despite Americans’ pessimism about the state of our democracy, Democrats and Republicans agree on policies to protect election workers, expand voting access and strengthen election integrity.

Denver voter registration
Election judges help voters with registration at a Denver high school on Nov. 8, 2022. (Hyoung Chang/ Denver Post/TNS)
Two and a half years after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and as the next presidential campaign begins to unfold, Americans continue to believe that the state of our democracy is in peril. A recent survey that our organization, NewDEAL, conducted with Mercury Analytics finds that only 27 percent of Americans believe the state of our democracy has improved since the 2020 election. Nearly half say its condition is poor or terrible. Only a quarter believe it is good or excellent.

Whether we strengthen confidence in our system as the 2024 election approaches will depend little on what happens under divided government in Washington and primarily on the steps state and local leaders have already taken and can build on in the coming months. There is no more important or effective way to build confidence in our democracy than making our voting systems as convenient, safe and secure as we can.

Among the reasons that Americans have a right to be concerned: The Brennan Center for Justice’s new voting rights roundup found that over the past year state legislatures have passed “a near-record number” of new restrictive voting laws — 13 of them across 11 states. Given the stark divides between Democratic and Republican policymakers on the issue, one might think there wouldn’t be broad agreement among Americans on what should be the path forward.

However, our poll found the contrary — that solutions should largely transcend politics. For example, 77 percent of all respondents (76 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats) agreed that penalties for threatening or intimidating election workers should increase. The survey found similar support for increasing penalties for intimidating voters.

State and local leaders have the opportunity to develop and implement popular measures to expand voting access, strengthen protections for election workers, and more. Sweeping voting rights legislation, like the recently passed New Mexico Voting Rights Act, can serve as a model for the rest of the country and inspire confidence in our free and fair elections.

Here are three concrete steps that state and local leaders can take, all of which have strong support among voters on both sides of the aisle:

• Enact significant penalties for threats against election officials and poll workers. Models can be found in Colorado’s Election Official Protection Act of 2022, which takes steps to protect election administrators’ personal information and increases penalties for those who intimidate or threaten them, as well as laws recently passed in Nevada and Oklahoma to protect election workers from intimidation and interference. We can hope for more progress in places like Michigan, a swing state where proposed legislation would make it a felony to intimidate an election official or worker or prevent them from carrying out official duties.

• Increase access to voting through automatic voter registration and allowing registration up to and on Election Day. Sixty-five percent of respondents to our survey, including a majority of Republicans (54 percent), agree that eligible voters should be able to register on Election Day and have their votes counted. States can also make it much easier to register well before Election Day. Earlier this year, both Minnesota and New Mexico enacted models for voting-rights legislation. Provisions include automatic registration, such as when eligible voters apply for a driver's license or medical assistance. Other provisions that could be replicated elsewhere include a permanent absentee voter list, stronger penalties for voter intimidation and deception, and expanding the use of ballot drop boxes.

• Create systems that increase trust in the process. We must recognize that voters can have legitimate concerns about how elections are administered and go above and beyond to have transparency. Minnesota and Utah, for example, are among states that require public testing of voting machines. In our poll, more than 60 percent of Democratic, Republican and independent voters said this would help prevent voter fraud.

Despite positive steps like these, the battle for our democracy is far from won, and in many places we see backsliding; the Brennan Center’s report details a host of troubling bills introduced in state legislatures across the country, from measures that would intimidate eligible voters to legislation that penalizes election officials and volunteers.

The future of our democracy depends on leadership that recognizes that our escape from an insurrection in 2021 and the defeat of election deniers in the most prominent races in 2022 do not mean that our fight is over. We must stand up to anti-democratic forces across the country with reforms that have wide public support to protect election workers, expand voting access and strengthen election integrity.

Governing’s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing’s editors or management.
Debbie Cox Bultan is CEO of the NewDEAL network of 150 rising state and local officials and the NewDEAL Forum, which identifies and promotes innovative state and local pro-growth progressive policies.
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