Posted by Arab American Institute on April 26, 2018 in Blog

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Protecting our most important right

Voting is often referred to as the most important right in a democracy—the mechanism by which all other rights are secured. Because of the fundamental nature of voting, election-related rights and reforms are pertinent not only when campaigns dominate our political landscape, but year-round, every year. Grassroots actions to protect the right to vote are now more important than ever as the United States faces challenges in redistricting, election transparency, maintaining ballot access, election security, and flaws in the fundamental structures of American democracy. To protect democracy, a broad array of reforms must be considered at the local, state, and federal levels.

First, in some states representatives are de facto imposed through a politically driven gerrymandered process supported by both parties for partisan reasons, instead of allowing voters to choose their representatives. Each individual state decides how to redistrict congressional maps for the election following the release of data from the decennial U.S. Census, which is why an accurate accounting of “the whole number of persons in each State,” as required by the 14th Amendment, is critical to the fair functioning of our electoral democracy. An accurate accounting of all people, not just citizens, must occur at the federal level, and the creation of non-partisan redistricting committees must form at the state level.  Such committees are already present in Washington, Idaho, California, Arizona, and Hawai’i. At present, the Supreme Court is also considering two constitutional challenges to political gerrymanders: Gill v. Whitford out of Wisconsin, and Benisek v. Lamone from Maryland.

Next, since the Supreme Court holdings of both Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC struck down both corporate and aggregate campaign contribution limits, respectively, monied interests and wealthy individuals have held outsized influence over law and policy at all levels of governance. Campaign finance reform must restore the influence of all citizens in the political system, regardless of access to financial resources, to ensure elections are fair and represent the views of all voters equally. In addition to financial reforms to ensure equal voice in the political process, the act of voting itself should be as easy as possible for those who wish to exercise their civic duty. However, in 2010, a legislative onslaught to suppress voting led to 23 states passing restrictive voting laws. 14 of these state laws were introduced intentionally to affect the 2016 election’s turnout. These voting restrictions go hand-in-hand with the false notion that voter fraud is a major problem in U.S. elections. Crucially, strict voter identification laws have been found to depress voter turnout in many minority groups. Registration reforms must include both automatic and same-day registration, and voting reforms should include both early voting and mail-in voting. Combined, these reforms would lower existing barriers for many Americans to vote, and allow a broader array of voices to participate in our electoral system.

From 2002 to 2005, several states obtained new voting systems, but alarmingly many have not updated their technology since that time. Before the 2016 elections, foreign actors targeted multiple states’ election technologies, with varying degrees of success. Assuring voters that election technology is up-to-date and secure is essential to maintaining faith in America’s democratic system. Electoral systems must be secure from hacking and computer error. A secure system must include secure voter registration records, paper records of each vote, and post-election audits of the overall election results.

As part of AAI's Advocacy Roadmap - we are organizing around

TWO LOCAL & NATIONAL ACTIONS:


#1

STAND FOR NON-PARTISAN REDISTRICTING COMMISSIONS, PUBLICLY FINANCED CAMPAIGNS, AND FEDERAL ELECTION REFORM

Target: U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, state election officials, state election boards and commissioners, state legislators; and city councils.

Actions:

(1) Depending on your state, meet with your state legislator, circulate petitions to send to the state board of elections, or support ballot measures to create non-partisan redistricting commissions and support publicly-funded campaigns at the state and local levels.

(2) Contact, or meet with, your Representative and Senators to support the following reforms: the Fair Representation Act, which would establish ranked-choice voting for federal elections; the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to the formerly incarcerated; and the Voter Empowerment Act, which improves voter access, particularly to those with disabilities.


#2

STAND FOR ACCOUNTABILITY IN ELECTION SECURITY

Target: U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, state and local election officials, community members, and state election boards and commissioners.

Actions:

(1) Educate voters, election poll workers, and local and state officials on the dangers of election hacking and the spread of disinformation on social media. Hold workshops to explain how voting systems can be hacked, what can be done to safeguard against this, and what disinformation has popularly been propagated online.  Hold discussion panels with local election offices to teach concerned voters how voting systems work.

(2) Call Senators’ offices, set up constituent meetings, and write letters to elected officials demanding community oversight in the funds allocation process. Pending its passage, the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 will designate an estimated $380 million to state officials “to enhance election technology and make election security improvements.” Community stakeholders deserve a say in how appropriations will be spent on voting security measures. Legislators need to know constituents care that their votes are valid and being correctly counted.

(3) Secure voting measures can vary tremendously. Demand election officials consider reforms such as implementing the use of paper ballots, in-person ballot counting, and rigorous post-election audits.