America needs vote-by-mail in November. Here’s why both parties can embrace it.

In this piece written for USA Today, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen call for bipartisan support for voting by mail to preserve the health of voters – and our democracy.


We’re facing a scenario where many people may decide not to vote in November because of the pandemic. This doesn’t have to happen.

Last month, Lee McFadden Jr., 63, made a choice. After recovering from COVID-19, he made the trek to vote in Wisconsin’s primary. He told a PBS reporter he confronted long lines and, unable to stand for long, went home. McFadden’s decision could be a portent of things to come in November.

The risks related to COVID-19 are considered more acute for seniors. This means long-term, faithful voters, who for decades have done their civic duty, are being asked to choose between voting and their health concerns. A record number of voters cast their vote by absentee ballot in Wisconsin’s primary election, but partisan bickering, legal maneuvering and an overwhelmed system made it so voters like McFadden didn’t have a choice.

We’re facing a scenario where a significant part of the population may decide not to vote in November. This doesn’t have to happen. The organization we co-founded, Common Ground Committee, is dedicated to bringing healing to the challenges of incivility and polarization by showing Americans that consensus can be found and progress made through passionate but civil debate. In the case of vote-by-mail the common ground is right in front of us: At least for November, surely we can all agree that voters like McFadden should feel safe when casting their ballots.

The bickering over how to expand vote-by-mail is more intense than it ought to be. Both sides are seemingly entrenched in their positions — Republicans that the system is vulnerable to voter fraud and Democrats that not offering universal vote-by-mail is another form of voter suppression. But if the two parties look beyond their talking points, they will see there are ways to implement vote-by-mail they can get behind.

Some states have already realized that vote-by-mail, if properly implemented, can enable both secure elections and allow eligible voters to legitimately cast their ballots. Ohio, for the first time, held its primary election by mail. Two-thirds of states allow voters to request a mail-in ballot without having to give a reason. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — vote almost entirely by mail. Vote-by-mail enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in all five. Utah, a state with a predominantly conservative electorate, has the second highest rate of support among that group.

Concerns about fraud are legitimate and should be bipartisan. Across counties in red and blue states, Judicial Watch found at least 2.5 million voter registrations incorrectly listed as valid. Proposals that advocate absentee ballots for all without verification of eligibility would make it easier for bad actors to commit fraud.

Fortunately, we’ve seen there are ways to balance safety and security. Data has shown almost no reported incidents of voter fraud in the five states that employ vote-by-mail. Most importantly, no election results have been overturned, according to data from conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. In Washington, the office of Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, crosschecks ballot and voter registration signatures and uses national data sets to verify voter identity.

A 2005 report authored by former President Jimmy Carter and James Baker is often cited by those with reservations about vote-by-mail. It found absentee ballots are more susceptible to voter fraud and intimidation. Yet it also notes Oregon avoided significant fraud through its safeguards.

Now, President Carter, in part because of concern that the pandemic will discourage the most vulnerable from voting, has called for expanded access to absentee ballots saying, “since 2005, many states have gained substantial experience in vote-by-mail and have shown how key concerns can be effectively addressed through appropriate planning, resources, training, and messaging.”

Both parties can benefit

The general perception is that vote-by-mail would benefit Democrats. At least in 2020, this is a questionable premise. Polls show Republicans typically do well with voters over 65, the demographic most likely to avoid showing up at polls because of the coronavirus. Utah implemented vote-by-mail in 2012 and still has a Republican controlled state legislature. And in 2018, turnout in the state exceeded the national average for the first time in 20 years.

To be sure, vote-by-mail is not perfect and there are real hurdles to overcome. The experiences of the five states notwithstanding, there is always a risk of voter fraud and states will have to invest significant money and resources to minimize that risk. We also recognize that many voters will insist on the need for transparency regarding how disputes would be settled and what constitutes a valid ballot. Even though Congress has provided vote-by-mail funding for states for some, it isn’t enough.

Voters need to feel safe

Still, these hurdles are outweighed by the need to ensure folks, who have voted for years and now fear doing so, can feel safe casting their ballots. We hope states that cannot overcome those hurdles will work to find ways to get mail-in ballots to their most vulnerable, eligible citizens.

Secretary Wyman recently told KIRO Radio that we shouldn’t view this issue through the lens of our parties. “We need to make policy that’s good for our voters, allows a lot of access, and is secure,” she said. We couldn’t agree more.

Vote-by-mail may or may not be the best election system over time. But in this election, it is worth the investment so states that have the means to implement it can help their most vulnerable citizens feel safe.

There will be time after November to assess the lessons learned to determine vote-by-mail’s long-term viability. Now, there is enough common ground for both parties to feel comfortable doing right by our long-term, faithful voters. We hope the states that can will seize this opportunity and implement vote-by-mail for November.

– This article was originally published in USA Today on May 12, 2020.

Finding Common Ground Then & Now: Let’s Put Country Before Party

No doubt, these are challenging times. But in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic there are signs of hope – like legislators of both parties voting unanimously to pass the largest economic package in our country’s history. How can we keep this spirit of cooperation going?

For some key lessons for this pivotal moment, we looked back at highlights from a 2013 forum on how President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill transcended a fierce political rivalry to create a bipartisan working relationship

Finding Common Ground Then & Now: Lessons from President Reagan & House Speaker Tip O’Neill

As the nation’s leading conservative and a classic liberal, these two leaders held very different ideological views. But several key factors made it possible for them to work together to make progress on important issues like stabilizing Social Security and reforming the tax code, including:

  • A common background and time spent together socially, which opened the lines for regular one-on-one communication
  • A shared experience as part of a World War II generation that thought of themselves, first and foremost, as staunch Americans
  • A sense of urgency to not just make speeches that appealed to their bases, but to deliver the goods by creating policies to benefit all Americans
  • A willingness to persuade allies to make concessions for the sake of progress

Today, our leaders no longer share the common experience of having lived through a world war that inspires citizens to put country before party. Yet the moment we are now living through is creating a new shared experience that calls us to set aside differences, and work for the collective well-being of every American.

As leaders, citizens and neighbors, let’s seize this moment to build on this spirit of cooperation by putting our focus on rising above party politics, and seeking ways to advance the common good.

What Good Looks Like, Part 2: Caring for Others in Uncertain Times

By Erik Olsen, Co-Founder

At Common Ground Committee, one of our objectives is to show what good looks like by hosting public forum events. In the face of a global pandemic, we’ve also been heartened by stories of leaders and everyday citizens who are coming together as a community and showing the world we are #InThisTogether.

Drop us a line with your experiences, stories, and observations, and we’ll share them in our new blog series. During this time of social distancing, your stories of connection bring hope and give us all a greater sense of what good looks like – inspiring others to do likewise.


What Good Looks Like During COVID-19

Running Errands (No Tips Accepted)
One family in our NY apartment building just posted to the building’s website that they’ll pick up groceries or do other errands for anyone who isn’t able or too fearful to go out. The posting notes: “We will NOT accept anything in exchange.” ~ New York, NY

Ensuring No Neighbor Is Left Behind
I manage to go to the store during off hours, so lines haven’t been too bad. Although people are intent on getting the groceries they need, I’ve found them to be very good natured, moving around carts with a smile, recognizing that even though we’re in a stressful situation, there’s no need to add to it by being disagreeable. Walking up and back, the sidewalks are pretty much deserted, so I greet everyone I pass. Our building, which has a large number of elderly residents, is establishing a “neighbor to neighbor” program where we check in on each other regularly to see if help is needed. ~ Boston, MA

Getting Back to Nature, and to Family
Seen yesterday on a beautiful day in Hailey, Idaho – parents and their kids fishing in the Big Wood River. ~ Hailey, ID

Bringing Humanity Into Work Interactions
I am working on a project dealing with the state of Washington (from home and for my job.) Instead of calls being strictly business, we inevitably ask each other how the other is coping, if we are working from home and what challenges we are facing. Strangers encouraging each other since everyone in the world is fighting the same fight. Thanks for doing this Erik. ❤️ ~ Nashville, TN

Finding Strength of Character in Adversity
People say that adversity builds character; I’ve also heard (and I think more accurately) that adversity reveals character. Events like this are the great equalizer, in that our pettiness, fears, and self-absorption are stripped away when we think of how we might help others – not necessarily in grand gestures, but in the millions of small ways that we all can. Going to the grocery store is like going to the communal watering hole – there’s usually a spirit of friendliness and humor that’s not usually there. It reminds me of the post-9/11 world, when cynicism disappeared for a while. It’s interesting to be living through something so unprecedented. ~ Phoenixville, PA

Leveraging Technology to Reach People In Need
We’ve got a FB #314Together group that is helping small b2b keep each other afloat here in St Louis.

I’ve also joined an “Intellihelp” group on FB out of Texas that has gone nationwide to support each other on all levels.

Especially those that #need some help and others that are able to #give. Everything from supplies, to encouragement, to healing support.

We’ve got the technology to do it and our human compassion to make it happen.

We are capable, loving and kind! ~ St. Louis, MO

Caring for Our Community…Online & Offline
We are videotaping YouTube church services and studies and sending them to members. Might try a drive-in service showing. Our care team is cooking dinners twice a week for pick-up or delivery, making grocery /pharmacy runs for those who need to avoid shopping and have a nurse making wellness calls and visits if requested. Also working with the town Supervisor and board to identify the elderly in town so we can deliver meals and do shopping and wellness checks. ~ Dover Plains, NY

Giving to Spread Joy – and Receive It
I am a fan of jigsaw puzzles, and they were stacked and stashed in multiple nooks and crannies in our beach house. I sorted them by size and theme and they are now impeccably organized – PLUS I gave away twenty two of them. I set them out on the seawall with a sign that said “Free Puzzles,” and passersby helped themselves to all but three (and I have since found homes for two of those).

I was very pleased to watch from my deck as people paused to survey the inventory, and many would pick one up and carry it off. Several of them went to my immediate neighbors, but many to total strangers. I received one “Thank You” via the Next Door website which was entitled “To the nice person who gave us a puzzle.”

Looking Forward to Liberation
I went on a canoe trip once when I was at summer camp. The plan was to cross Lake Mooselookmeguntic, one of the Rangeley Lakes in Northwestern Maine, not far from the Canadian Border. There were probably 10 of us aged 12 or so and two counselors. The Rangeley Lakes trip was considered one of the high points of the summer, and every camper chosen for the adventure felt lucky.

We set forth on a bright day from Bemis, Maine, and almost as soon as we had dipped our paddles in the water, a powerful wind began to blow in our faces. After a couple of hours of strenuous effort, we made it to an island maybe a mile from our starting point. The counselors decided we should beach the canoes and set up camp and wait for the wind to die down before venturing further into what was a very large lake. And so we did.

And the wind did not die down, not on the next day and neither did it subside on the day after that. On the third day, the wind also blew. It was as if we had paddled into a Biblical Plague of the Wind.

As 12-year olds, after three days we were pretty much out of ideas for things to do, having denuded at least one good-sized chunk of shoreline of all the rocks that could be thrown into the lake. So the counselors, who were also approaching their wits’ end, decided that we should return to Bemis. And so we did, quite easily in fact with the wind howling at our backs.

We spent a night in a motel, which was a novel addition to the itinerary, and the counselors made an ingenious celebratory dinner with all our leftover provisions. So, having moved to Charlottesville on March 1, just in time to shelter in place here, I’m reminded of my incarceration on Lake Mooselookmeguntic, and of the great liberation that came at the end of that strange journey. ~ Charlottesville, VA

Email us to share your stories of “what good looks like” for our new blog series.

What Good Looks Like: A Common Ground Story

In these uncertain times, there’s no better time to reflect on the signs of hope and progress that have come from our Common Ground Committee forums. This look back at some memorable moments with our inspiring panelists and audience members offers a reminder that there is a way through our challenges – and that it’s our job to shine a light on that path by seeking light, not heat.

What Good Looks Like, Part 1: Your Stories of Kindness Inspire

By Erik Olsen, Co-Founder

Recently a friend posted on her Facebook page to share the story of how she helped a mother of five buy milk at the grocery store. It was a simple story, but it showed how she was alert to someone’s needs and helped out during this time of deep disruption to our daily routines.

At Common Ground Committee, one of our objectives is to show what good looks like by hosting public forum events. It occurred to me, in reading my friend’s story, that we can all contribute to what good looks like by relating our own experiences, events we observe or stories we hear from others of how people are coming together as a community. During this time of social distancing, sharing the ways we help each other face various challenges offers both hope and a reminder that we are #InThisTogether.

Drop us a line with your experiences, stories, and observations, and we’ll share them in our new blog series. With your help, we can all get a greater sense of what good looks like – and be inspired to do likewise with our friends and neighbors.


What Good Looks Like During COVID-19

Working Together in the Grocery Line
I want to share my amazing experience at our local grocery store today. I live in Tucson. We rarely have more than 3 people in our check out lines. I live about five blocks from our local grocery store. Ryan and I have been taking turns going to the store and adding a couple non-perishable items here and there in each trip.

Today I was third in line. The young mother in front of me chatted with me as we waited for check out. We swapped kiddos stories. I praised her for being stuck at home with five boys. They aged from 18 months old to 13 yrs. old.

When it was her turn to check out, the cashier told her that there was a two gallon limit on milk. She had five gallons in her cart.

I asked the cashier if I could buy two of the gallons and give it to her. The cashier said. “yes.”
The young mother grabbed several of my groceries and paid for them. I’m still not sure what she bought for me. I know that there was a big bottle of Coke and some artichokes.

We exchanged the two gallons of milk that I purchased for her, and the groceries she bought for me. We practiced social distancing, bumped elbows and went on our ways. ~Tucson, AZ

Finding Connection Instead of Stress
I stood in line for an hour the other day – just trying to get to the check out stand at the grocery store – we had a great time, everyone laughing and joking… it was nice to feel connected with my LA people. ~ Los Angeles, CA

Caring for Community Needs
Church officials and members are contacting each other and checking to see how they are and if they need any errands run and/or need anything purchased for them. Grocery stores are making specific senior citizen shopping hours. There is a Facebook group for the city for people to relay where to find specific items to buy, and reaching out to help. Free breakfast and lunch for K-12 children deliveries/pick-up. ~ Springfield, IL

Rallying Around Local Businesses
One of my restaurant clients in Westchester who is in the midst of the mess in NY sent out an email about their take out. I do their website and social media posts, and within 30 minutes she emailed me and told me they had 31 take out orders for tomorrow… and that was at 5:30 last night. I could feel the excitement and hope that maybe people will still try to support these businesses with the take out services. It was a positive moment in the midst of all this fear and worry. ~ Guilford, CT

Reconnecting Around a (Virtual) Dinnertable
Jim and I had dinner at home while Facetiming with our good friends in Connecticut, while they had their dinner. So fun! It was brilliant! 😄👍❤ ~ St. Louis, MO

******

I [Erik] will weigh in on this, since my wife and I are the friends in Connecticut.

Years ago when we were all “young marrieds,” we lived near each other in Southern California and we would get together frequently for dinner, movies, skiing, beach trips, etc. Twenty years ago my family moved to Connecticut, and more recently Sue and Jim moved to St. Louis. We have maintained contact but obviously our interaction has diminished over the years.

My wife and Sue had a phone call the other day and were discussing how social interactions were being curtailed and everyone was homebound. That led to the idea of having a dinner together remotely. We cooked dinner on our end, and they did on their end. We each set up a computer on the dinner table and commenced having dinner together.

The event was just like old times. The conversations started with the women talking about the kids and home life and ended with the husbands talking about business and technology (we are, after all, baby boomers). We now expect to make this a regular event. ~ Wilton, CT

Putting Others First and Finding a Win-Win
Bought a computer today so a coworker is ready if we have to work at home. There was a mom there shopping for the same style computer to teach her young son at home. The store only had two of those computers, and they had slightly different capabilities. We were telling her to pick first and she was telling us to pick first. We eventually each got a computer that worked for our intended purpose.

Spreading Hope By Making Music
Since I am in Milano and its area, where it seems to be hit the hardest, so far, I will share with you what is going on. After the first panic which saw queues of people buying food as if there was no tomorrow, things did calm down. Be aware that we are at the end of the 2nd week of isolation. I live downtown surrounded by gardens and near a new area with modern architecture. I say this because Milano was the first Roman capital. Its name was Mediolanum (in the middle), since its geographical position takes you everywhere in less than 1hr (either air or car).

At the end of last week the atmosphere was horrible. Beyond the deafening silence you wouldn’t see anyone around except those that would walk their dogs during the day. Last Sunday though, in the complex building near our apartment, there is a famous Italian rapper, Fedez and his wife Chiara Ferragni (the first international fashion influencer in the world – Harvard studies her success story, look it up it’s interesting) who rented speakers and mic, opened the windows and around 4 pm started playing few Italian songs famous around the world like Volare etc. At the end even our national anthem. The interesting thing is that many went to their balconies to sing along and shout. Italians are NOT nationalists, but they have become. Well this idea by Fedez broke the spell under which we all felt like ghosts. People showed up on balconies and started singing along, making videos.

Like in the US, the north is always more “British” i.e. contained, silent, formal, so it was a joy to hear people participate and wanting to share life, show up, even sing. Milano is a thriving city, the heartbeat of Italy, a small New York tougher than NY. I actually rephrased Frank Sinatra’s song: if you make it here, you can make it anywhere else. Trust me! Very business, very cold, very closed up. So the scene was amazing, a huge sign of wanting to carry on straight up, and hopefully with even some music in the heart.

It looks like they will keep us in house for another 2 months, because Italians have great talents, but as excellent creatives are disobedient, so for the fault of some we all must pay the price, at least that what seems to be today. But on the other hand, a wave of huge generosity has sprang from everyone, with donations (again this is not customary, the concept of Trust of Foundation was born in UK/USA) from simple employees to billionaires like Giorgio Armani and the not so loved Berlusconi, of course.

I attached a picture of the area where I live, modern and old, not too old :)) 1800s buildings. The skyscraper on the left was designed by Zaha Hadid, and on the right by japanese architect Isosaky and the third which is not in the picture is by Libeskind. I also attached the most recent video I could find of the area fairly updated. I live in the one old house turn of the century near the new ones. ~ Milano, Italy

Email us to share your stories of “what good looks like” for our new blog series.

#InThisTogether During Covid19

By Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

#InThisTogether. That’s a “hashtag” circulating widely through social media right now. 

We love the spirit of that phrase and the message of reassurance it sends. We consider this not from the view of being “in a crisis” but rather the idea that when problems in a community arise, people’s natural reaction is to help and support rather than exploit the situation to serve a personal agenda or opportunity. This is why so many of our leaders are making the firm declaration that we will get through this current challenge even as they update us on the problem.

This conviction that we’ll be ok is not mere wishful thinking. Helping and supporting each other is one of America’s great strengths. It has enabled Americans to accomplish great things both nationally and internationally, seize previously unseen opportunities, and successfully navigate through extraordinarily difficult times.

In that spirit, and the spirit of Common Ground Committee’s motto, “bringing light, not heat to public discourse” we hope you and all of America will set aside any political differences and let your ability to help and support shine brightly in all that you do as you navigate through this situation in your own experience. As you do so, we encourage you to follow the requests of authorities, be present for your family and consider how you can help those around you and in your community who might be dealing with more disruption than others.

This is, indeed, a time of great challenge. But we can be confident that we will emerge from this experience stronger, wiser and closer as a people because, in the end, we are all #InThisTogether.

To stop coronavirus, we must set aside partisanship. Here’s how we can do it.

This USA Today piece by CGC Co-Founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen calls for citizens and politicians to stop using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to push partisan politics and cites cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians as an example we can follow. Three of the Common Grounder Attributes are used to show how we can put our differences aside.


– This article was published in USA TODAY on March 20, 2020.

‘It’s a 50-50 nation’: Chris Wallace on Fox News, Trump and America’s great divide

This article from The Guardian explores Chris Wallace’s thoughts on bias in the media and the role of journalists, quoting comments he made as a panelist at our Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & The Media forum at Columbia University on February 25th, 2020.


– This article was published in The Guardian on March 7th, 2020.

Chris Wallace and Maggie Haberman on the Value of a Common Ground Committee Event

Our Co-Founder and CEO Bruce Bond talks with our Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & the Media forum panelists Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times about the value of modeling civil, real-time conversation on difficult topics.

 

 

Community Takeaway: Jonathan Ferziger

Jonathan Ferziger attended our Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & The Media forum on February 25, 2020, at Columbia University School of Journalism featuring New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace on the role we all play in moving forward through today’s explosive era of modern journalism.

Jonathan liked the event’s goal of enriching civil discourse, and his views were shaken up in a positive way by seeing two prominent journalists from news outlets representing very different perspectives interact as friendly colleagues.

Jonathan Ferziger on what he took away from our Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & The Media forum: