Monthly Action: Make Your Plan for Voting Now – May 2020

Though social distancing might have you staying at home, you’re still empowered to make change. We’re excited to introduce a new series of monthly actions that invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. First up: get educated on your options for voting during COVID-19.

May 2020 Action: Make a Plan for Voting

As the global pandemic impacts America’s economy, education system, healthcare and more, the stakes are high for voters to make their voices heard to reimagine our collective future. But with states making varying decisions on how to conduct elections during an unpredictable health crisis, it’s key for voters to act well in advance to understand how they can weigh in – not just in November, but in any primaries and special elections.

This month, make a plan for voting by visiting your state’s election office website and answering five quick questions:

1.) What is your state’s vote-by-mail policy for COVID-19?
Every state has some method of voting by mail, but some state’s laws require a voter to meet eligibility criteria to receive an absentee ballot. See if your state requires an excuse, and/or has made temporary procedural changes to increase access to voting by mail. 

2.) What do you need to do to get an absentee ballot?
Some states will automatically send ballots to registered voters. Others will send voters an application to request an official ballot. Or, voters may need to reach out to request a ballot for voting by mail. Do your research now to determine the process, and keep an eye out for changes between now and November.

3.) Is there a primary or special election coming up?
Though the general election may still seem far off, some states rescheduled their primaries and special elections from the spring to early summer – so your next opportunity to vote may be just around the corner. Find out what state and local elections may be coming up, and when.

4.) What is your deadline to act?
Often, absentee ballots must be requested well in advance. They may also need to be received or postmarked by a specific date in advance of Election Day. Find out these dates – then make a reminder on your calendar well in advance.

5.) And make sure you’re registered to vote!
Not yet registered? Act now to give yourself enough time to complete the process. (Some state’s deadlines are up to 30 days before an election.) Haven’t voted recently? Check your registration status to ensure your name has not been purged. If you are no longer showing as an active voter or have moved to another state, it’s time to re-register. It’s always a good idea to check your registration to ensure it’s current, even if you’ve voted recently.

What does it take to lead in times of crisis?

In times of social turmoil and economic uncertainty, the American people have looked to elected officials for both hope and leadership. Here’s what presidents throughout history have shared as a common message in times of crisis – and why it’s so essential to our work in the present moment, as we seek to navigate a shared path through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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: 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.

#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.

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:

 

 

Community Takeaway: Susan Doubilet

Susan Doubilet 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.

Susan was inspired by the event’s fairness and civility, and by these two top political journalists’ commitment to getting the facts right rather than focusing on opinions.

Susan Doubilet on what she took away from our Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & The Media forum:

 

 

Community Takeaway: Reed Alexander

Reed Alexander 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.

Reed, a journalism student at Columbia, was inspired to see two powerhouse journalists from outlets many consider to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum agree on so many key points; showing that it is possible to find common ground, even in a fractious media landscape.

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