Amid the hustle and bustle of a new administration — especially one assembling in the aftermath of attempted insurrection and an ongoing pandemic — it can be difficult to remember that Americans just emerged from the most successful, secure election in our country’s history. Despite a similarly historic and unprecedented effort to deny that reality, we must build on our successes and strengthen our democracy for future elections.
The 2020 elections tested the integrity of our Constitution, the value of our votes and the sanctity of the work done by election officials like us. As secretaries of state, we are here to say with pride that the 2020 election was a resounding success. Amid a pandemic, new voting laws, record-high turnout and unprecedented threats of violence, election officials across this country made sure that every valid vote was counted.
In fact, we ran such a safe and accurate election that judges from both sides of the aisle ruled in favor of the states again and again and again when confronted with more than 60 meritless lawsuits attempting to cast uncertainty about the results. Former President Donald Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, confirmed in December there was no widespread fraud, and former Trump administration top cybersecurity official, Chris Krebs, called the 2020 election “the most secure election in American history.”
This week, as we meet with our colleagues from across the country at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference, we have the opportunity to focus on what actually matters: making sure voting is convenient, accessible and safe. We must commit to building on our progress from 2020 by expanding access to the ballot box, improving election infrastructure and bolstering election security. This normally under-the-radar association meeting will play a pivotal role in determining the agenda for the next phase of election administration in this country.
We hope to see collective cues taken from some of the recently proposed reforms in the battleground states.
In Michigan, for example, the will of the voters is clear. In 2018, they passed a referendum to enshrine in the state constitution the right of every voter to register through Election Day and to vote no-excuse absentee, and, in 2020, they widely exercised these new rights. Accordingly, Secretary Jocelyn Benson announced a legislative agenda this week that would continue to advance voting access, by requiring absentee ballot applications be mailed every federal election cycle, allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day and received shortly thereafter to be counted, and enabling overseas military service members and their spouses to return their ballots electronically. Among other measures, the plan would also prohibit sharing false information that deters or misleads voters and bar open-carry of guns within 100 feet of a voting location.
In Arizona, Secretary Katie Hobbs is introducing a legislative package that would streamline election administration, expand voting rights and enhance election security. By giving election officials more time to process ballots and increase transparency regarding remaining ballots, the package is designed to build even more trust in the process for voters. The reforms also include prioritizing access to the ballot for those who have a right to vote, but may not understand their rights, such as those in pretrial detention. As a tool for ensuring Arizona continues to have safe and strong election administration, the package also calls for post-election audits in every county, regardless of political party participation, and for investing resources into piloting new and innovative post-election audit methods for 2022 and beyond.
In Minnesota, voters expressed their confidence in our election system by voting in record numbers — leading the nation in voter turnout for the third time in a row. The systems of no-excuse absentee balloting for a lengthy period before Election Day, online voter registration and Election Day registration are just some of the ways the state has historically made it easier for voters to make their voices heard. However, in Minnesota, Secretary Steve Simon is still focused on expanding ballot access for all eligible voters — particularly for the 20% of them who didn’t cast a ballot in 2020. The mission is to expand support for new ways to get voters involved and informed — and to tell truth in the face of lies designed to create fear and doubt about election results.
Although these reforms are common sense next steps to ensuring all Americans can exercise their right to vote, some factions of state lawmakers are using lies and myths about the 2020 election as a pretext to roll back voting rights. In Michigan, lawmakers launched a series of legislative hearings to rehash the false claims about the 2020 elections. In Minnesota, there is a push by lawmakers to add a voter ID requirement in the state, despite Minnesotans rejecting a similar measure in 2012 when it appeared on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. And, in Arizona, a lawmaker introduced legislation that would give the state legislature the power to revoke the certification of presidential electors chosen by Arizona voters.
Many of the legislators who are continuing to push false claims about the 2020 presidential election are the same ones pushing regressive election laws in the name of “restoring public faith in our elections.” But the only way for public officials to restore Americans’ faith in our elections is to tell them the truth. We need a willingness to put politics aside and unify around the idea at the very heart of who we are as Americans: our free and fair elections.
If we can achieve that mission — and we believe we can and we will — then we will emerge from one of the darkest chapters in American history with a shared commitment to a brighter, stronger future for every voter.