By HANS VON SPAKOVSKY
The 2024 primary season is already in full swing, but it’s not too late for states to improve the security and integrity of their election process to the benefit of all voters, no matter their political preferences. The American public wants and deserves an election system in which the candidates who get the most legitimate votes of eligible voters are declared the winners, and elections are not marred by errors, mistakes, fraud, and other serious issues and misbehavior that make voters and candidates question the legitimacy of election outcomes.
Anyone who doubts the need for reform should take a look at the Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database, which is constantly being updated with new cases and convictions of fraud from across the country. In an era of razor-thin elections, guarding against this type of illegal behavior, as well as errors and mistakes made by election officials, is especially important. In 2024, it could prove critical.
The good news is that there is still time to implement the kind of reforms needed to help secure elections and maintain the public’s confidence in them. Although most states only have part-time legislatures, most of those legislative sessions occur in the first quarter of each year, giving state legislators the ability to make final improvements, at least for the general election in November, starting in January. States with full-time legislatures, such as California and Michigan, can pass such improvements immediately.
So what can be done? For starters, states should ensure that election officials maintain current, accurate voter rolls. They should require a photo identification to vote, both in-person and absentee. For registered voters who don’t already have a photo ID, states should provide one free of charge.
States should also ban the private funding of state and local election offices by partisan donors and organizations. This sort of shady funding occurred in the 2020 election and created clear and obvious conflicts of interest. States should prohibit ballot trafficking. Allowing third party strangers such as candidates, campaign staffers, party activists, and political guns-for-hire, all of whom have a stake in the outcome of an election, to handle a voter’s ballot is an invitation to fraud and coercion of voters.
Finally, transparency is fundamental for states seeking to conduct honest elections and maintain the public’s confidence in their credibility. With that in mind, states should reject calls to restrict the access of election observers, and ensure that observers have complete and unfettered access to every aspect of our elections, from the processing of voter registration applications to the casting of votes and the counting of ballots.
The best and easiest toolkit that legislators and citizens can use to determine how to improve their elections is the Election Integrity Scorecard, which the Heritage Foundation launched in December of 2021. The Scorecard analyzes the election laws, regulations, and procedures of all 50 states and the District of Columbia by comparing them to a list of 47 best-practices recommendations. These recommendations outline the best ways for election officials to ensure the integrity of their state elections.
Each state is scored based on it’s implementation of these best practices. No state in the country has a perfect score of 100, which means everyone has some work to do. Tennessee and Georgia are at the top of the ranking, with scores, of 84 and 83, respectively. Nevada and Hawaii find themselves at the bottom, with abysmally failing marks of only 28 and 26, respectively.
Heritage’s Scorecard also includes a detailed analysis for each state (plus the District) informing legislators and election officials what they need to fix. The Scorecard even offers model legislation on absentee ballots, accurate voter rolls, election observers, private funding of election offices, vote trafficking, and other important reforms.
Less than one year away from Election Day 2024, the time for the public, local and state election officials, and state legislators to ensure the integrity of our elections and protect the franchise for all voters is now.
Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the manager of its Election Law Reform Initiative.