NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Democratic Secretaries of State discuss protecting the vote at Netroots Nation 2020

Wel­come back to our con­tin­u­ing cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation 2020, tak­ing place exclu­sive­ly online for the first time ever due to the nov­el coro­n­avirus pandemic.

It has been long a tra­di­tion at Net­roots — Amer­i­ca’s largest annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sives — to give atten­dees a choice of three fea­tured pan­els dur­ing at least one or two of the times­lots dur­ing the three-day conference.

Today’s menu of fea­tured pan­els con­sist­ed of three com­pelling ses­sions about press­ing top­ics: legal ini­tia­tives to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties from the Trump regime in the courts, tack­ling the cli­mate cri­sis, and defend­ing vot­ing rights.

This post will sum­ma­rize the vot­ing rights pan­el, which was mod­er­at­ed by Vin­cent War­ren, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights and a lead­ing expert on racial jus­tice, crim­i­nal jus­tice and dis­crim­i­na­to­ry policing.

The ses­sion is avail­able to watch on demand if you’re inter­est­ed.

Pan­elists included:

  • Denise W. Mer­rill, who is cur­rent­ly serv­ing her sec­ond term as Con­necti­cut’s 73rd Sec­re­tary of the State, and has worked to expand vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion through Elec­tion Day, online, and auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion through their Depart­ment of Motor Vehi­cles (DMV). She also serves on the Board of Advi­sors to the U.S. Elec­tion Assis­tance Commission.
  • Jena Gris­wold, Colorado’s thir­ty-ninth Sec­re­tary of State, the youngest Sec­re­tary of State in the coun­try, and only the tenth woman in Colorado’s his­to­ry to hold cur­rent statewide con­sti­tu­tion­al office. She has described her world­view as informed by her blue col­lar, rur­al upbring­ing with­in the state and, in 2019, spear­head­ed and passed into law one of the largest pro-democ­ra­cy, bal­lot access reform pack­ages in the nation.
  • Joce­lyn Ben­son, the Sec­re­tary of State of Michi­gan, a for­mer Dean of Wayne State Uni­ver­si­ty Law School in Detroit, a co-founder of the Mil­i­tary Spous­es of Michi­gan and a board mem­ber of the Ross Ini­tia­tive in Sports for Equal­i­ty. She is also the author of State Sec­re­taries of State: Guardians of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Process.

The pri­ma­ry ques­tion put to each of the three Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sec­re­taries of State was how they could pro­tect the vote in their states in the midst of a glob­al pan­dem­ic, the var­i­ous vot­er sup­pres­sion tac­tics of the Trump regime, and the effect of the first two items on mar­gin­al­ized groups.

Gris­wold tout­ed the pri­ma­ry recent­ly held in Col­orado on June 30th, where vote at home, bal­lot drop box­es (of which she’s had one hun­dred and nine­ty-one installed), same day reg­is­tra­tion and in per­son vot­ing were all available.

The pri­ma­ry had the high­est turnout of any non-pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry elec­tion in the his­to­ry of the state, espe­cial­ly among peo­ple of color.

It’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry in New Eng­land. Mer­rill told atten­dees that Con­necti­cut is tied for last with Alaba­ma for ease of access to their means of voting.

Part of the prob­lem is infra­struc­tur­al, but it has also been an uphill bat­tle against the state’s Repub­li­cans, who have not been shy about fil­ing law­suits against loos­en­ing the rules regard­ing absen­tee bal­lots, the imple­men­ta­tion of bal­lot drop box­es and expand­ed access to ear­ly vot­ing. It also does­n’t help that, due to a his­to­ry of vot­er sup­pres­sion that goes back decades with­in the state, peo­ple of col­or are typ­i­cal­ly reluc­tant to not vote at home. That said, 82% of the pub­lic with­in the state in a recent poll want­ed the option of not hav­ing to vote in person.

Ben­son empha­sized secu­ri­ty and acces­si­bil­i­ty as her top con­cerns. She stressed the need for greater secu­ri­ty pro­vi­sions to pre­vent any dis­rup­tion of the 2020 elec­tions. Michi­gan has been focus­ing on edu­cat­ing vot­ers as much as pos­si­ble to pre­pare them for the changes com­ing with the avail­abil­i­ty of vote at home.

(Ben­son has also had to deal with per­son­al attacks by Don­ald Trump.)

She empha­sized that vote at home was ini­ti­at­ed nation­al­ly on behalf of mil­i­tary per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies, and that the dilu­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act in recent years affect­ed two local town­ships; she would like to see the Vot­ing Rights Act restored to its pre­vi­ous, or in a more vig­or­ous, state.

All three offi­cials con­firmed that CARES funds had helped them in their work to main­tain their vot­ing infra­struc­ture, and none have seen any evi­dence that shows vote at home to ben­e­fit either major polit­i­cal par­ty once implemented.

Vot­ing rights are sure to be dis­cussed again lat­er today when Stacey Abrams takes the vir­tu­al stage for the Net­roots Nation open­ing keynote.

You’re wel­come to watch that keynote along with us (it will be free to stream, unlike the con­fer­ence’s pan­els and train­ings). If you can’t watch, we’ll have a recap up here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate after it concludes.

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