Editor’s note: This commentary is by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.
This month we celebrated the birth of our nation. Since its inception, American democracy has undergone continual transformation. Over the last 245 years many activists and advocates have fought tirelessly to expand the franchise that our democratic ideals depend on: the right to vote.
From suffragettes to civil rights leaders, their work has ensured that the march of progress has been oriented forward, focused on increasing access to the ballot box.
This Independence Day was an opportunity to reflect on the resiliency of our country, and of our democracy. There has been no shortage of challenges over the last year and a half. Despite these challenges, we achieved record breaking turnout for a general election, which non-partisan experts have described as the most secure and the most scrutinized election in U.S. history. We were able to do so with common-sense voting reforms, providing voters with more options for receiving and casting their ballot.
After the ballot counting was completed, and the careful town by town certification process took place, we had official results and a list of election winners and losers, just like every other general election in memory.
Unlike other election years, what has followed has brought our democracy to a crossroads.
Without producing any evidence, the former-President and his allies have used knowingly false voter fraud claims as justification for their attempts to use state legislatures and phony ‘fraudits’ to supersede the will of the people and, more significantly, to restrict access to the ballot box.
Our democratic principles should have to endure constant debate. However, willfully disregarding the certified, official election results in an effort to circumvent the will of the people and prevent the peaceful transition of power sets our country on a dangerous path.
Sending us even further into treacherous territory, some state legislatures are using ‘the Big Lie’ to roll back the voter access expansions made during 2020, and to further suppress voting rights, such as the implementation of more restrictive voter ID laws, limits on the ballot-by-mail request period, elimination or reduction in ballot drop boxes, and closure of polling precincts.
After record-breaking turnout in 2020, and with zero evidence of widespread fraud or election rigging, why would they want to make it harder for eligible Americans to vote? The answer is simple: because they were unhappy with the results and want less people to vote.
Overall, there have been over 350 bills introduced in 47 states with the sole purpose of reducing access to the ballot. In June alone, 17 state legislatures enacted 28 new voter restriction laws. A small few include reasonable, understandable reforms. Most make no sense at all. It is clear that some lawmakers would prefer to pick their voters, rather than voters picking their representatives.
Frankly, I am concerned for our nation. We stand at a crossroads, and the decisions we make now will ripple throughout time.
There is hope. In Vermont, we saw the record turnout as a positive, so we made the mailing of ballots to all voters a permanent fixture of Vermont general elections. We also created a new pathway for voters to correct a defective ballot so that their vote will count. We did this by working across the aisles with the support of Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and independents.
In the face of the alarming rise in state-level attacks on voting rights, we cannot afford to wait for solutions one-by-one in all 50 states. With the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, we no longer have the luxury of a “wait and see” approach. Congress can, and must, create minimum voter access and fairness standards that states must abide by, so that eligible voters are not being denied their voting rights.
The true voter fraud in this country is denying any eligible American their right to register and vote.
Congress alone can put an end to restrictive and unnecessary obstacles to voting, prohibit race-based and partisan gerrymandering, make automatic, online and same day voter registration the law of the land, and make voting by mail accessible for every voter, regardless of which side of an invisible line you live on.
Two federal bills pending, the For the People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, give Congress this opportunity to act. The time has come for the partisan, political games to stop. Those who are prioritizing the promotion of politically motivated falsehoods about the security of our elections, over the voting rights of the people who put them in office, are committing a severe dereliction of duty.
In 2021 our democracy has come to a crossroads. Fortunately, we have a roadmap, we just need to follow it.