The Future of Federal Election Reform: Surprise! It’s Bipartisan.

Beth Hladick
Director, Research & Outreach
Unite America

Congress should turn to incentivizing the adoption of standards through federal funding that rewards states for safe, secure, accessible elections. 

At many moments over the past few years (especially this one), the federal election showdown in Congress has felt quite existential: democracy is quite literally on the line. 

But what’s always given us solace here at Unite America is that throughout our history, the laws and rules of democracy have been written as Americans, rather than as partisans. 

If you look past the doom and gloom of the media headlines, you’ll find that advocates, reformers, and even some politicians, are coming together to seek compromise, common ground, and most importantly, what’s best for the future of voters and election administrators. 

A new report released by Bipartisan Policy, American Enterprise Institute, Issue One, R Street, and Unite America highlights the policy synergies that exist across states — both red and blue — which are fundamental to a free, fair, secure voting experience. The “Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform” report outlines 14 potential policies that states can adopt.

A state-by-state view of how well each state is doing in meeting the minimum standards outlined in the report.

One size fits all mandates have never served states: that’s why the working group identified bipartisan solutions in four key areas built on existing alignment between Republicans and Democrats — voter registration, casting a ballot, counting they vote and cyber/physical security — which have a nonpartisan impact, improve election administration, voter confidence, and ultimately, democracy in the U.S. 

The incentive-based system would reward states with federal funding if they meet the minimum standard, and help close the gaps in the American voting experience. 

Here’s the compelling part: Colorado and Georgia currently meet all proposed minimum standards, and Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington meet all but one. Red, blue, and purple states have demonstrated a remarkable capability to administer elections without favoring one party over another by putting voters first. The variety of states with these election reform proposals already in place reflects that sound policy on democracy can be bipartisan.. 

As those in Washington turn the page on the current debate and look for a path forward on federal voting reforms, bipartisan leaders from both aisles already looking at important priorities like fixing the Electoral Count Act and the Voting Rights Act should consider incentivizing states to make common-sense upgrades to their election infrastructure that make elections more secure, accessible, and transparent. 

Doing so on a bipartisan basis will increase faith in our democratic systems, at a time when we need to boost confidence in our democracy among voters of all political stripes. 

Recommendations in the package include: 

Voter Registration 

  • States should be required to perform regular voter list maintenance, and incentivized to join multi-state voter list maintenance systems (such as the Election Registration Information Center). 
  • States should be prohibited from relying on external groups using undelivered mail to remove voters from rolls. 
  • States should use standard automated voter registration processes based on secure best practices. 
  • States’ online voter registration systems should connect to other state databases to determine voter eligibility for voters who move interstate. 

Casting a Ballot

  • States should adhere to a minimum requirement for verifying voter identity that includes a variety of identification options. 
  • Voters should have the option of voting early and in-person for a period of at least seven days in advance of a federal election. 
  • Absentee voting for all voters should be available with secure ballot tracking, a means of voter identity verification, robust ballot curing measures, and multiple return options.

Counting the Vote 

  • States should begin pre-processing mail ballots at a minimum of seven days before Election Day. 
  • In every state, mail ballots should be received by Election Day at the close of polls to be counted. 
  • States and localities should conduct audits after each federal election. 

Cyber Security and Physical Security 

  • The federal government should develop a program of cyber navigators that seeks to connect election officials with appropriate resources. 
  • The federal government should implement minimum cybersecurity standards for state and local election offices and include comprehensive cybersecurity training, multi-factor identification and moving to the “.gov” domain. 
  • The federal government, in collaboration with the EAC and the DOJ, should provide funding for the protection of election officials and information sharing resources regarding threats to election officials. 
  • The federal government should provide resources and funding for physical security and doxing training for election administrators and their staff.

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