By Adrian Fontes, Lance Gough, and Toni Johnson
With the stroke of a pen this week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp approved the latest escalation in the nationwide assault to clamp down on ballot access, as he signed sweeping new voting restrictions into law.
As current and former election officials, we know firsthand the strength and resilience of American democracy, and we are alarmed at the unprecedented and profoundly dangerous efforts to undermine it.
That is why we strongly support the For the People Act, the comprehensive and democracy reform bill now making its way through Congress, which would stop this attack on democracy in its tracks.
The For the People Act brings together tried-and-true best practices for running elections from across the country, red and blue states alike – things like automatic voter registration, early voting, vote by mail, and same-day registration – and sets a national minimum standard for voting access. We know these policies work, because we’ve administered them ourselves.
Along with its complement, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the For the People Act would restore crucial protections against voter suppression that were gutted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder. And because a second chance is such an important American value, the For the People Act ensures people with prior convictions have an opportunity to have their voting rights restored.
To increase voter participation and ensure that voter registration information is up to date, Republican and Democratic election officials in nearly 20 states have implemented automatic voter registration, one of the reforms in the For the People Act.
Even before the pandemic, we and our fellow election officials across the nation were administering mail voting, with roughly a quarter of all Americans casting mail ballots in the 2016 presidential election. Early voting, another reform in the For the People Act, has become commonplace, with 45 states and the District of Columbia providing voters some opportunity to vote before Election Day.
Some have said that the For the People Act would amount to a federal “takeover” of elections, or that its provisions would be difficult to administer. We and so many of our colleagues support this legislation for the same reason we became election officials: we know that it would ensure that every eligible voter has equal access to the ballot and an equal opportunity to make their voice heard.
Under the For the People Act, elections will continue to be administered at the state and local level just like they are today. States will retain the ability to innovate and develop even better ways of making elections more free, fair, and secure. But unlike current law, voters will be assured their sacred voting rights won’t depend on the color of their skin or which state they live in.
You might ask, if these existing voting rules are working so well in the states, then why does Congress need to act at all?
The unfortunate truth is that former President Trump’s lies about voter fraud did more than spur an attack on the U.S. Capitol and an unprecedented attempt to overturn the result of a presidential election. These myths and conspiracy theories are now driving a wave of bills aiming to restrict the vote at a level this country hasn’t seen since the Jim Crow era.
Unlike previous efforts to merely chip away at the franchise, these increasingly brazen attacks strike at widely popular voting methods used by millions of Americans. In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill cutting back on early voting. In Arizona, legislators are pushing to allow more aggressive purges from the vote-by-mail list, while a Texas proposal would prohibit voters from submitting absentee ballots in person. Some of the most egregious examples of this crackdown are occurring in Georgia, where Gov. Kemp just signed a bill reducing the availability of ballot drop boxes and banning the distribution of food and water to voters waiting in long lines at polling places.
The For the People Act would halt these efforts to make it harder for Americans to vote and ensure a level playing field of voting access for everyone.
Like any omnibus bill, the For the People Act has provisions that need to be refined and improved, and we (and many others) are working with Congress and election officials around the country to make sure that happens. But Congress should not allow the need for a few technical fixes to slow momentum on a bill that is urgently needed to protect our democracy and the voting rights of millions of Americans.
Just like America’s economy needed rescuing from the impact of Covid, our democracy needs its own rescue plan to save it from lies and laws meant to stop voters from voting. The For the People Act is that rescue package–and it can’t pass a moment too soon.
Adrian Fontes is the former Maricopa County Recorder, Lance Gough is the former Executive Director of the Chicago Board of Elections, and Toni Johnson is Chair of the Hinds County (MS) Election Commission (District 2).