Why easy voter access vs. election security is a false choice. Americans want both.
Majority in Hidden Common Ground poll said America can make voting both highly accessible and highly secure.
Last week, President Joe Biden referred to the pitched political battle underway between Republicans and Democrats on voting rights as the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War."
In response, the president said, Democrats plan to work harder than ever to increase access, starting an effort to “register (people) to vote, and then get the vote out.”
Republicans argue that voter fraud is the real threat to democracy, and that more restrictions and tighter security are the answer. This includes limiting the times and places where people can vote and rolling back systems put in place to make voting easier and safer during the pandemic.
What’s interesting is that the American public reject this argument as a false dichotomy and have their own way of looking at what ought to be done to improve elections.
In my role as a senior fellow at the nonpartisan organization Public Agenda, I recently co-led a survey of the American public on how to fix what’s ailing our democracy, discussed in our new report, America’s Hidden Common Ground on Renewing Democracy.
On questions of voting reform, my colleagues and I decided not to ask whether the public favors one side or the other of the argument described above – plenty of pollsters were doing that already.
Instead, we set out to explore what people think of the argument itself and how they would frame the problem and its potential solutions if given more of a chance to do so.
We gave people three choices to improve America’s elections. One presented preventing voter fraud as a bigger priority than making voting “simpler, convenient and hassle free for everyone.” Only 15% of the American public chose this, including 23% of Republicans and 11% of Democrats.
We also offered the reverse option, prioritizing voter access over preventing fraud. About the same number of Americans support this idea (17%), including 25% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans.
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Neither of these options – essentially mirror images of each other – are well-supported by the American people.
The big, across-the-board winner turned out to be behind door No. 3, which argued that the United States can and should make sure voting is both highly accessible and highly secure.
About two-thirds (68%) of Americans favored this position over the other two, including 64% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans, 73% of independents and 70% of Americans unaffiliated with any of the three major voter categories. This finding also holds up across racial and other demographic groups; it is the clear majority view of Americans overall.
Both parties' arguments incomplete
The people’s verdict, then, is that both the Republican and Democratic narratives are incomplete and limiting. This should not be interpreted as meaning that the Republican and Democratic arguments are of equal merit. We did not ask people that question, and I do not believe there is any credible evidence that the 2020 election was stolen or that voter fraud is a significant challenge to election integrity.
The point here is that most Americans view the warring narratives by our national political leaders as a false choice. They believe that the nation is perfectly capable of ensuring both ample voter access and valid elections results, and this is what we should do.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Plenty of Republicans surely made use of and appreciated the easier and more accessible voting opportunities offered last year. Plenty of Democrats surely believe in the importance of an accurate vote tally.
While Democrats may not be particularly concerned about “dead people voting,” many worry about other threats, such as foreign governments hacking electronic voting systems. Doing all we can to ensure both voting access and election security is a no-brainer for the American people; it’s the politicians and much of the news media who act as if it must be a choice between the two.
Public wants national solution
Should these questions be left to each state to decide for themselves? Not according to our research, where we find cross-partisan and cross-racial majorities of the American people saying the federal government should make sure that “voting is simple, convenient and hassle-free for everyone in every state.”
Survey researchers often accept the framing of politicians and the news media as the starting point for their work. If the political battle on elections is fought as if it’s a zero-sum game, we researchers will tend to ask about which of those two the public agrees with most. This can create the illusion that the American people are just as polarized as the politicians on all sorts of problems facing the country, but this is often misleading.
When it comes to running elections, the bottom line is that there is a great deal more common ground among the American people than there is among politicians to put core democratic values over partisanship.
For the good of our democracy, I hope the public’s majority view becomes powerful enough that politicians are forced to listen and respond.