Posted on September 17, 2018
Making our elections work for everyone: How to protect the vote this November and every election
The 2018 midterm election is one of the most important midterms in decades. It’s the first since the presidency was decided by just 80,000 votes. And it’s the first midterm election since voter turnout scraped by at the lowest level in 72 years. As we all know, we’ve seen an ugly drive to make it harder for many Americans to vote.
So much is at stake – so what can we do to make sure that this election is fair, free and accurate?
Every one of us can play a role to #ProtectTheVote in 2018.
First, let’s understand the threats.
To start, there are cybersecurity risks. Russia attacked our democracy in 2016. It went well beyond stealing DNC emails. Hackers penetrated registration rolls, counting systems, even – unsuccessfully, we think – voting machines. As voting rights experts and intelligence experts agree, Russia will be back – and so will others. Those in the CREDO community won’t be surprised to learn that our enemies took advantage of vulnerabilities in our voting system and many of the solutions are those we’ve all demanded for years. Paper backup ballots. Audits. Stronger systems.
Congress authorized nearly $400 million earlier this year for states to buy new machines and take other steps. But that’s too little and too late to have the full impact this year. It’s up to all of us to make sure that state and local officials do their part to protect our democracy. Some of this money should surely be directed toward ensuring voter-verified paper records of every single vote. Those records can be used to make post-election audits standard to confirm that machines produced an accurate count.
Then there are the ongoing threats to voting rights. Since 2010, 23 states have enacted new laws to make it harder to vote for the first time since the Jim Crow era. That’s outrageous. It’s based on a lie: the myth of widespread voter fraud. When Donald Trump claimed he had really won the popular vote, because of 3 to 5 million “illegal” voters, he set up a task force to try to prove his bogus claim. It was guided by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who did so much to push anti-voting laws. The task force couldn’t find evidence of misconduct, then imploded before it could even issue a report.
The big risk over the next two months is when local officials find mischievous ways to keep eligible voters from voting. Take voter purges, for example. The voter rolls are full of errors, and we do want to make sure that they’re accurate. But too many states drop voters from the rolls recklessly and in ways that illegally boot eligible voters. A Brennan Center study found that 16 million voters were purged over the last four years. States once covered by the Voting Rights Act – before the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013 – have engaged in what NBC News called “a frenzy of purging.” Let’s guess that’s no coincidence.
So voting rights advocates are making it clear that abusive purges are not just wrong, they are illegal. We’ve sued states to stop them. And we’re making clear that officials should stand up to the vote-suppression lobby that always clamors for more.
Unfortunately, there will be hand-to-hand legal fighting between now and Election Day to protect the right to vote – sadly, a too-regular occurrence.
But there’s good news, too. A democracy movement is surging all across the country, pushing for new reforms to make it easier for people to vote and have that vote counted.
Thirteen states and Washington have enacted automatic voter registration, the bold breakthrough reform that would transform how we run elections in the United States. Fully implemented nationwide, it would add 50 million voters to the rolls. So far this year Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington state have enacted it. In November, it’s on the ballot in Michigan and Nevada.
Then there’s the right to vote for those with past felony convictions. Shockingly, 1.5 million people in Florida are permanently disenfranchised by a racist remnant law. A ballot measure would end felony disenfranchisement for nearly all those blocked from the ballot. It’s a tough fight – it requires 60 percent of the vote – but the measure has wide support. It would be a real, heartening breakthrough.
And then there’s the fight against extreme partisan gerrymandering. Rigged maps make it very hard for voters’ choices to be reflected in the outcomes of elections. A Brennan Center study found that, for example, the Democrats would have to win the overall congressional vote by 11 percent to win control of the House this year, though others see a lower number. In any case, both parties gerrymander when they can. It’s voters who lose.
The Supreme Court heard two cases on partisan gerrymandering this year – then punted and decided not to decide. Then the swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, retired.
If the justices won’t act, voters have to take matters in their own hands. This year, a record five states will have ballot measures to take the act of line-drawing out of the hands of partisan politicians: Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. All but Missouri aim to do so by giving independent commissions major roles in the redistricting process, a model that saw great success after being implemented in Arizona and California.
If these measures win, it’ll be a victory for grassroots activism! Even amid dark money, super PACs, outrageous presidential tweets and voter suppression, citizens are fighting back. This time the health of the vote itself is on the ballot.
Voting is a right. It shouldn’t be a fight. And that’s why we’re working between now and election day to protect the vote. We hope you’ll join us. Let’s put the health of American democracy at the center of our politics, where it belongs.
Michael Waldman is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice, an organization that holds our political institutions and laws accountable to the ideals of democracy and equal justice. The Brennan Center for Justice is a long-time partner and grantee of CREDO, with our members voting to donate over $340,000 to the organization since 2007. CREDO will be hosting a live conversation with Michael on Thursday, Oct. 18 for an in-depth discussion on the topics covered in this blog post. Check out our Facebook and YouTube pages in the coming weeks for more information.