Commentary: Local election officials shaped changes to the For the People Act

June 21, 2021 6:05 am
People voting in voting booths

The Freedom to Vote Act would make Election Day a national holiday and set minimum standards each state must have for elections. (Getty Images)

No matter what we look like or who we vote for, most of us believe that our elected leaders should deliver for us and protect our democracy. But a handful of politicians in state legislatures across the country and here in New Hampshire are actually working against the will of the voters. However, this week, the U.S. Senate will vote on the For the People Act (HR1/S1), an anti-corruption and pro-voting rights bill that a bipartisan majority of Americans support.  

The For the People Act would curb the influence of dark money in our elections, enact strong ethics laws, end partisan gerrymandering, modernize and harden our voting systems, and guarantee equal access to the ballot box for all voters. Polling shows that 83 percent of Americans – Republican, Democrat, independent – support these policies. Granite Staters, too, want legislation that protects our freedom to vote and our power to make our voices heard in the State House in Concord and in Washington, D.C.

The For the People Act, which has already passed the House, has recently encountered headwinds in the Senate. Every step we have taken toward progress in our nation’s past has been met with resistance – whether it was ending slavery, expanding the franchise to women, or passing marriage equality. Just as we have fought throughout our history for our freedom to vote, we are fighting now to ensure that Americans are able to cast our vote and have it counted.

As an election official in Concord, I’m dismayed at the avalanche of misinformation about the For the People Act at recent legislative hearings, on the airwaves, and in news articles and opinion pieces. I can’t address it all here, but it is important for Granite Staters to know that the U. S. Senate Rules Committee has made crucial amendments to the bill in response to changes that local election officials requested from their representatives in Washington, changes that some New Hampshire legislators are failing to acknowledge.

Local election administrators in some states, including New Hampshire, asked for more time, support, and accommodation to implement key parts of the bill. Our senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, were instrumental in encouraging their colleagues to listen to the ideas of local election officials to improve the bill and ensure that local communities – especially in smaller, rural states like ours – would have the funding and flexibility to implement key provisions as we see fit.  

One of the most significant changes protects smaller rural communities by relaxing the early voting mandate in towns with fewer than 3,000 registered voters. These communities would only be required to hold early voting on one Saturday and Sunday (rather than the original 15 days). This is a critical change for us, as over 50 percent of New Hampshire communities have fewer than 3,000 voters.

As an election official, I also know that New Hampshire needs to modernize our election equipment. Our Accuvote ballot counters date to the early 1990s. Recently, Harri Hursti, a voting machines expert and consultant to our secretary of state, called them “archaic.” The For the People Act provides additional HAVA (Help America Vote Act) funds to help states with the critical upgrades that will bring our election systems into the 21st century. But, again, New Hampshire needs more flexibility than the bill originally allowed. Changes have now expanded the timeline for New Hampshire to implement automated and online voter registration systems (AVR, OVR), which would allow eligible Granite Staters to begin their voter registration (or make changes) when they fill out forms at certain state agencies, like the DMV.

All Granite Staters want accessible and secure elections. We don’t want to mess up what is good in New Hampshire, but it is also clear we need to modernize our systems that are outdated, inconvenient, and not cost-efficient. Some of the individual policies in the bill, such as those noted above, are not novel and radical, just new to New Hampshire. And they have garnered bipartisan support in red, blue, and purple states for many years. 

Most Americans know that our democracy works best when more people participate. And we want our government to be accountable to the people, not dark money groups, corporate special interests, and billionaires. The For the People Act is critical to accomplishing those goals. That is why the common-sense provisions in this bill have the support of over 80 percent of Americans from all across the political spectrum and why I am thankful that our federal delegation is leading on this historic piece of legislation.

The For the People Act will protect the freedom to vote by bolstering our elections systems in New Hampshire and across the country, and strengthen our democratic process for the future.   

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