President's Letter

ABA Survey of Civic Literacy shows people are in favor of protecting the right to vote

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Reginald Turner

Photo of Reginald Turner by Danny Duran.

The right to vote in America has long been recognized as paramount to the preservation of freedom and justice in our nation.

Abraham Lincoln noted that “the ballot is stronger than the bullet.”

Martin Luther King Jr. called the vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by human beings for breaking down injustice.”

And Ronald Reagan said, “The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties.”

The American Bar Association is constantly working to enhance the integrity and public perception of the electoral process in a nonpartisan fashion with policies promoting consistent and fair ballot-counting and a reduction in wait times to vote. In February, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a policy opposing laws and regulations that have the purpose or effect of restricting voting rights. The policy also opposes permitting state officials or legislators to decertify election results without cause or remove independent election officials from office.

In 2021, the ABA adopted updated guidelines for election administration, reinforcing the standard that every citizen who is eligible to vote is provided with a fair opportunity to vote.

This year’s results

The ABA also actively promotes civic education so that people know their rights and are more informed to participate in the voting process. In April, the association released its annual ABA Survey of Civic Literacy in conjunction with Law Day. In addition to gauging people’s knowledge of our government and Constitution, the survey asked people’s opinions of voting rights and laws.

The results, from a nationally representative survey of 1,000 respondents conducted in March, showed overwhelming support for expanding hours at polling stations (80%) and increasing the number of polling stations (78%). Measures such as increasing the number of ballot drop boxes (59%), allowing drive-through voting (58%) and Election Day voter registration (55%) got strong support but also had more than of one-third of respondents opposing them. The survey found that 66% of the public supports a federal holiday for Election Day.

As far as being engaged, 59% of respondents to the survey said they always vote, while 29% said they vote “most of the time.” That is supported by numbers from the U.S. Election Project, which found 159.7 million ballots were cast by a record 66.8% of eligible voters in the 2020 presidential election.

Because of the pandemic, many states expanded access to the ballot as well as mail-in voting. People responded by voting and, as the survey reveals, support several changes in the ways elections are held. People are engaged. That is the good news.

A more troubling finding from the survey was that 25% of those surveyed said they had no or not much confidence that their vote makes a difference. When asked if they thought that their state has enacted laws making it more difficult to vote, 21% of all respondents said yes, while 38% believe their state has made it easier to vote. However, 41% said they did not know.

Now that health threats from the pandemic have lessened, some states have rolled back some of the expanded access to voting.

In 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access were introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. Many of these laws impose limits on mail-in voting, stricter voter ID regulations or more barriers to people with disabilities. Some of these laws include provisions that could allow interference in election administration where officials can be threatened with criminal penalties for facilitating voter access.

Citizens must make themselves aware of the new laws and rules so they can be assured they can cast their ballot and it will count. People have shown that they want to have easier access to voting while maintaining election security and integrity.

We all need to be confident that our votes matter. We all must work to preserve access to the ballot box for all who are eligible. We must keep the right to vote “the crown jewel of American liberties.”

This story was originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Protecting the Right to Vote: ABA Survey of Civic Literacy shows people are in favor of expanded access to the ballot box.”

Follow President Turner on Twitter @ABAPresident or email [email protected].

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