Carson’s Commentary: Contested New Jersey race shows need for election reform

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President Joe Biden speaks about his domestic agenda from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. Photo by Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Happy Thursday everyone but, more importantly, Happy Veterans Day! Those who unselfishly serve our country deserve our utmost respect and thanks. 

By post-Election Day standards, this past week has been quite eventful. For one, Congress finally passed the infamous $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The seemingly endless negotiations culminated in a bizarre vote that saw moderate House Republicans joining most Democrats in favor, while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and five other progressives joined conservative Republicans in opposition. In the Senate, 19 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in passing the bill. 

For President Joe Biden, the bill’s passage comes as a desperately-needed bipartisan victory. After all, Democrats took ballot box beatings across the country last Tuesday, losing the governorship in Virginia, a special election in Ohio’s 15th congressional district and an initiative to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a “department of public safety.” 

But, in New Jersey, this election is far from over. At least, that’s the case if you ask gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli (R). Despite trailing incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy (D) by nearly 60,000 votes with less than 10% of votes uncounted, Ciattarelli has refused to concede the race. While it is still technically possible for Ciattarelli to win, Murphy’s lead has steadily expanded to a 2.6% margin. The governor considers the race “over” and has called on his opponent to throw in the towel. 

Ciattarelli says his refusal to concede is rooted in the fact that not all ballots have been counted, and that the remaining votes could bring him close enough to demand a recount. He may also be holding onto hope that errors reported in Union County will swing the election, even though such errors have already been corrected. 

Despite his stubbornness, Ciattarelli said the final result of this election will be legitimate. However, one cannot help but think back to the false “rigged election” narrative that President Donald Trump tried to sell us just one year ago. Of course, Trump’s claims led to the attempted Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. While I certainly don’t expect to see the Proud Boys marching on Trenton any time soon, elected officials in both parties should see this contested race as indicative of the need to take action that restores the public’s faith in their elections. 

Elections are taking place and the results are starting to roll in. Photo by cottonbro/Pexels.

The need to address election reform can be traced to the several contested presidential elections of this century. In 2000, GOP candidate George W. Bush initially defeated Democrat Al Gore by a very small margin in Florida. Gore challenged the result, but his challenge was struck down by the Supreme Court’s five conservative justices in the landmark Bush v. Gore decision. Everyone also remembers the Russian interference that allegedly brought Trump to the White House in 2016, as well as the chaos that engulfed Trump’s downfall in 2020. 

The problem here is that Americans — particularly Republicans — now demonstrate troublingly low confidence in elections. A December 2020 survey found that 38% of all voters doubt the legitimacy of national elections, including 64% of registered Republicans. Because unchecked perception can (and arguably has) become reality in politics, something must be done to lower these figures. 

To their credit, GOP politicians have capitalized on the reservations of their base by pushing for “common sense” reforms such as voter identification requirements. Earlier this year, voter ID was at the center of Georgia’s controversial Election Integrity Act, which Democrats have characterized as a racially-motivated tool of voter suppression. Such outrage prompted Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines to issue statements, as well as Major League Baseball to pull its July All-Star game out of Atlanta. 

The argument that voter ID requirements disenfranchise poor and minority voters doesn’t seem to hold much weight in the court of public opinion. A March Rasmussen poll found that 75% of Americans — including 60% of Democrats — support such a requirement.  

In characterizing voter ID measures as “21st century Jim Crow,” President Biden and top Democrats are clearly fighting a losing battle with the American people. But, their opposition poses a unique problem for Republicans and more moderate Democrats who favor more thorough security measures. 

There are several ways these politicians should address this. First, and perhaps most obviously, obtaining an appropriate ID should be free to every citizen. In most states, it costs at least $20 to obtain a valid driver’s license; this doesn’t include the cost of preparing birth certificates and proof of residency documents.  

Poor and minority voters are also disproportionately affected by the fact that America’s elections are held on a Tuesday. This issue has already been discussed at length by various journalists and commentators, so I will be brief: either make election day a federal holiday (the GOP will never vote for this), or expand in-person voting to a period of two or three days. Earlier in-person voting is also an option, as it makes elections more accessible while reducing wait times at polling places. Under its Election Integrity Act, Georgia actually operates under a more expansive in-person system, which was generally successful this year. 

Lastly, the 2020 presidential election brought the issue of ballot drop boxes to the forefront of voting rights debates. Drop boxes are not the “voter security disaster” that President Trump railed against last year, but their lack of oversight and loose identity measures have certainly undermined voter confidence. The measure was understandable (albeit flawed) at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I would like to see it phased out of future elections as our country recovers. 

Striking the right balance between expanding voting rights while restoring public trust in elections will certainly not happen overnight. But with a little faith in compromise, I can only hope sensible reforms acceptable to both sides will be passed. 

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