The election is just months away, and Georgia is running out of time to fix the voting deficiencies that plagued its primary elections.
State and federal leaders must urgently invest in and put in place changes across the country, so all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot box, and no American has to choose between their safety and their constitutional right to vote. As we wait for the U.S. Senate to take up debate on the next Congressional coronavirus response package, we ask you to urge Georgia Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to adopt the election protection reforms and funding included in the House-passed HEROES Act to uphold our nation’s election and democracy. We also urge you to dispel the lies coming from elected leaders, including the president, about the security of our elections.
The HEROES Act: 5 Key Voting Reforms
Experts estimate that a $4 billion investment from Congress is necessary for states and precincts to carry out elections this year ($400 million of which has already been sent to states, without stringent enough requirements to protect voters everywhere). Many of these essential reforms are laid out in the HEROES Act, but five key reforms would significantly boost access to the ballot and ensure Georgians don’t have to choose between their health and their vote:
- Ensuring that Georgia takes steps to protect the health and safety of poll workers and voters.
- Expanding voter registration options such as same-day registration.
- Requiring Georgia to expand early voting to prevent lines and crowded polling places on Election Day, where people could be exposed to the coronavirus.
- Enacting postage-paid vote-by-mail as an option for every voter in Georgia.
- Providing assistance at the polls for voters whose first language is not English, or voters with disabilities, or other needs.
Here in Georgia, we have already passed:
- No excuse absentee ballots
- Online voter registration
- Ballot drop boxes for the June 9 primary election
However, we could strengthen our elections by:
- Providing state-purchased ballot drop boxes for every county that could be used for every election moving forward
- Ensuring every poll worker is offered hazard pay
- Providing enough cleaning and protective supplies for each polling place
- Allowing for same-day voter registration
- Translating voter education materials in Spanish and other languages
- Enhancing voter education by proactively mailing out sample ballots and implementing an aggressive campaign that informs voters about critical election changes
These are common-sense, time-tested solutions that will make it safe and fair for voters to cast their ballot no matter where they live in Georgia. There is overwhelming support from the electorate and leaders in both political parties to pass these pro-voter reforms:
- Two-thirds of voters in a recent Wall Street Journal / NBC News poll favor voting by mail in November.
- Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, recently said in a virtual town hall: “I don’t think vote by mail, as an option in the COVID-19 social distancing environment we find ourselves in, is a Democrat or Republican issue.” Recently, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in “reddish-purple” North Carolina came together to pass a law to expand mail-in voting in the 2020 election.
- Former RNC chairman Michael Steele wrote in a recent op-ed: “[T]he current emergency demands expanded use of vote-by-mail,” and our “democracy depends on it.”
- Recently, even the RNC sent a mailer to voters in Pennsylvania that said: “Voting by mail is an easy, convenient and secure way to cast your ballot. Return the attached official Republican Party mail-in ballot application to avoid lines and protect yourself from large crowds on Election Day.”
Despite this wave of bipartisan support, President Donald Trump has spread lies to fan the flames of false fear about election fraud and thereby block reforms or create a diversion that runs out the clock. Considering that members of the Trump administration voted by mail as recently as the 2020 Florida primary, one would think he would support the program for all citizens.
We cannot allow the right to safely vote to become another polarizing issue in our country. So here are some truths to keep in mind and report to Georgians as this issue escalates:
- There is no evidence that measures to help people vote safely would increase the risk of election fraud. In the 2018 midterm election, more than 1-in-4 voters nationwide, and 6% of voters in Georgia, cast their votes by mail.
- The pejorative “ballot harvesting” is often used (and even more so lately) to criticize and conflate two very different sets of practices: 1) illegal and illegitimate absentee ballot tampering and 2) legal and legitimate assistance to voters casting their absentee ballots. While the former remains illegal, the latter — absentee ballot assistance laws — is a critical lifeline for voters (such as Native American voters, as well as older adults and voters with disabilities) who need this assistance to cast a ballot.
- The HEROES Act that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives does not limit options to voters. It expands options to help voters. These options will help seniors in every state who don’t feel safe leaving their homes to vote as well as nurses in every state who don’t have time to stand in a long line between working their shift in the ICU and making dinner for their kids.
- More people safely accessing the polls in November does not give either party an upper hand. Research shows that it equally increases the number of voters from each political party. So it’s no surprise to see many Republican governors and Secretaries of State join Democratic governors in calling for pro-voter policies.
- Ballots will continue to be counted after election night, and that’s okay. As there is a broader range of options for voting, such as more states adopting mail-in voting as well as increased use of provisional ballots, election officials will simply need more time to canvass ballots and ensure the validity of provisional ballots. Ensuring there’s enough time to accurately count ballots is paramount to an effective democracy.
No matter who wins in November, the test of our democracy starts with the election itself. We can empower Georgians and protect their right to vote during this pandemic. We must.
Last updated on July 19, 2020