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America’s political parties are divided on many things, from taxes to regulations to (apparently) whether or not Dr. Seuss should be honored on his birthday. But there is nowhere that this division is more apparent than on the issue of voting.
Ask a Republican — virtually any Republican — what they think of the 2020 election, and you are likely to hear a litany of complaints about a lack of ballot security, and a lot of talk about vote fraud and irregularities in the voting system. Even the most moderate and accommodating right-wingers think that there are major problems with a lot of new voting rules this year.
Ask a Democrat — virtually any Democrat — what they think of those complaints by Republicans, and you’ll hear that those on the right oppose expanded voting access laws because of the GOP’s inherent racism, and a desire to suppress the vote in minority communities.
In many Republican-controlled states, there have already been moves to tighten up the voting system. In Georgia, for instance, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would limit both absentee and early voting. Last month in Iowa, the state Legislature voted to tighten the rules around absentee ballots, decrease the early voting period by nine days, and close polls earlier.
Liberal states have been going in the opposite direction. Thirty-seven states have introduced bills that seek to expand voting access, including 125 different bills in New York and New Jersey alone.
And now, on top of the increasing legislative battles, a Supreme Court case is about to poke at this open sore. Oral arguments were heard Tuesday in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, a case that deals with two election policies in Arizona. One mandates ballots to be discarded if they are cast in the wrong precinct, and the other makes ballot harvesting a crime.
It seems likely that the Supreme Court and its conservative majority will rule in favor of the Arizona restrictions, with the left already saying that such a decision will destroy the Voting Rights Act.
This conflict, it seems, will be ongoing. But what is the source of it, and is there a way to end it?
Well, to start, Republicans lack trust in the voting system. Certain features of voting — like the lack of a voter identification requirement — clearly open the system to potential abuse. Whether any fraud actually happens or not is unimportant, the very fact that it is even a possibility is enough to erode trust, and make them wonder if the system is being abused.
Democrats, for their part, also lack trust — primarily in Republicans. They are fearful that any move to make the voting system less expansive, no matter how minor, will leave certain people — usually people important to their voting coalition — shut out.
So what could a real solution look like? It would have to make voting easy and fill Democrats with confidence that all who want to vote can, while also filling Republicans with confidence that the system is protected and secure.
It strikes me that designing such a system should be fairly easy.
Voting should be done with a physical paper ballot, and counted by a machine not connected to the internet. You should have to show identification to receive that ballot. The state should offer free voter identification cards to anyone who asks for one, and if a person forgets their identification on voting day, they should be allowed to vote by signing an affidavit attesting to their identity.
There should be an option for early voting, but it should be open for a week before the election, not a month, to ensure that late events do not radically impact votes already cast. Early voting should be done in a secure location — like a town office — where the chain of custody from the voter to the clerk is immediate and uninterrupted.
Anyone who wants to vote earlier than that should have the ability to request a “no excuse” absentee ballot. No one, however, should be sent a ballot without requesting one. Ballot harvesting should be banned, and there should be no ballot collection boxes in non-secure locations outside of where the votes are counted.
Such a system, to me, affords major security features in the distribution, collection and counting of ballots. It also provides universal access for anyone who wants to vote, as well as several protections to ensure the restrictiveness does not shut anyone out.
I don’t expect my proposal here to actually form a consensus that would forever end the partisan food fight over this issue. But you’ve got to admit, it really should.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.