My Turn: Local election officials helped shaped the For the People Act

  • A sidewalk is shown outside a polling location in Austin, Texas in 2020. Sergio Flores / TNS

For the Monitor
Published: 6/21/2021 8:30:04 AM

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.

On June 23, the US Senate will vote on the For the People Act (H.R. 1/S.B. 1), 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% 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 woman 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 a 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 US 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 NH legislators are failing to acknowledge.

Local election administrators in some states, including NH, asked for more time, support and accommodation to implement key parts of the bill. Our Sens. 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.

In my opinion, one of the most significant changes protects smaller rural communities by relaxing the early voting mandate in towns with less 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% of NH communities have fewer than 3,000 voters.

As an election official, I also know that NH. 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, NH needs more flexibility than the bill originally allowed. Changes have now expanded the timeline for NH 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 our state. 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 commonsense provisions in this bill have the support of over 80% 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.

(Kyri Claflin lives in Concord.)

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