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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.

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.

Engaging in tough conversations is worth it. Even if we can’t find agreement.

In this opinion piece Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee argued that the point of common ground is not to force an agreement on issues – it’s to foster conversations that lead to greater understanding.

They also position CGC as one of many members of the common grounder movement, and a link to the 10 attributes of a common grounder is included.


— This article was published in USA Today on January 23, 2020.

Finding common ground isn’t about ‘being nice’ or losing values. It’s about understanding.

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee wrote a letter is in response to the new poll numbers from the Hidden Common Ground initiative.

They write that common ground can be found between Democrats and Republicans but, in order for that to happen, we have to dispel the myth that finding common ground is somehow compromising your values.

The letter also includes mention of the 10 common grounder initiatives and includes a link


As co-founders of an organization focused on the state of our political discourse, we are not surprised by the results of the newly-released USA TODAY/Public Agenda/Ipsos poll published in “America is dangerously divided. USA TODAY and partners launch ‘Hidden Common Ground’ to find solutions.” Common ground can certainly be found between Republicans and Democrats — but first, we need to dispel a common myth.

One of the most consistent critiques we hear is that finding common ground means “being nice” at the expense of one’s values. The real point of common ground is not to force-feed agreement on a particular issue — it’s about a conversation that leads to understanding each other.

Before Thanksgiving, we released the 10 attributes of what we call common grounders. One of those attributes is to listen and learn from personal experiences. This is the essence of the common ground movement. When we brought Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Susan Rice on stage for an event recently, the audience was inspired by just how much they found agreement despite their different backgrounds.

–This article was published in USA Today on December 13, 2019.

“If you want to fix the polarization crisis, use your vote to shift the political climate”

Common Ground Committee co-founder, Bruce Bond, shared his thoughts on how and why we should vote for common ground this election in an op-ed for USA TODAY.

As you research candidates before heading to the polls, look for those with a track record that demonstrates a bias toward making progress on issues, not destroying the other side.


If you want to fix the polarization crisis, use your vote to shift the political climate

Polarization has reached a tipping point. To fix it, start by voting for candidates with a record of bipartisanship, regardless of their party.

The spate of suspicious packages and pipe bombs targeting prominent Democrats and the recent hate crimes have been horrifying. As someone who works full-time on mitigating the increasing polarization that divides our nation, I see intense disagreement every day. This was something else entirely — heartbreaking, appalling and shocking. These attacks and an increase in incendiary rhetoric have further exposed the festering divisions in our country. But they also spurred a bipartisan call for civility.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, expressed how we need to “tone down the rhetoric. Both sides. We’ve got to see people as opponents, not enemies.” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tweeted a statement saying, “Despicable acts of violence and harassment are being carried out by radicals across the political spectrum — not just by one side. Regardless of who is responsible, these acts are wrong and must be condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike. Period.”

On Tuesday, I will join Americans in voting for members of both chambers of Congress. In 36 states, my New York included, we are voting for governors as well. Only 38 percent of Americans say the United States is heading in the right direction, and an annual poll tracking discourse shows 93 percent say America has a civility problem. It is evident. The divisive, angry tone of our public discourse is increasingly dangerous and too often perpetuated by those we elect to public office.

Vote for those who will find common ground

Your vote has the power to reverse the deepening abyss of destructive politics if you divert from voting along ideological lines and choose candidates who prioritize making progress on key issues over attacking the opposition. Cast a ballot for those who are not only capable of finding common ground but who also seek opportunities to repeatedly reach across the aisle.

If we don’t vote common ground before party, the pernicious effects of incivility following the midterm elections will only intensify.

To be sure, I am not advocating voting for “nice” people. The best leaders never compromise their fundamental principles. But our country needs leaders who are aware that their default approach needs to be finding common ground, not solely standing their ground. When they do dig their feet in on an issue, good leaders attribute their firm stance to their principles, not flaws in their opponent’s character.

As you research candidates before heading to the polls, look for those with a track record that demonstrates a bias toward making progress on issues, not destroying the other side. Utilize the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index and the Allegheny College’s Prize for Civility in Public Life to learn more about politicians known for working civilly with their opponents to find common ground. Ask candidates to describe how they work with members of other parties to move forward on issues you care about — whether that is health care, guns or immigration — then cast your ballot for those you believe will work across party lines to solve those problems. In other words, vote common ground.

Use your vote to shift our political climate from destructive to constructive. Vote for candidates who understand that impactful and long-lasting solutions come only from a wealth of input from voices who bring different experiences and views to the table. Today, our politics are rooted in the mindset that the other’s perspective is, at best, a “check the box” consideration. This approach is unproductive. Just look at how the Senate voted along party lines for the Affordable Care Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The minority party vowed to significantly change or repeal these bills once they resumed power. In the case of ACA, they did just that.

We need leaders in office who will stand tall on the two or three issues that matter most to them and their constituents yet prioritize working with others with differing views, not to check a box but because it is necessary to bring lasting change.

Historically, politicians have worked across party lines. President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich found common ground on welfare reform. Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold joined forces in regulating the financing of political campaigns. Though harder to find, it’s happening today, too.

A Democratic gubernatorial candidate in South Dakota chose a Republican as a running mate. Ohio politicians reached across party lines to create the Congressional Civility Caucus so Congress can reach results, not fight. Politicians like Donna Brazile, Michael Steele, John Sununu, and Barney Frank took part in public forums hosted by the Common Ground Committee, an organization I co-founded that inspires action on polarizing issues by bringing prominent leaders with opposing views together to find common ground.

We can still fix polarization

We are not past the point of no return. According to a recent study on polarization, 77 percent of Americans say the differences between us are not so big that we cannot come together. Regardless of your political affiliation, it is crucial to your vote. Vote and help others vote common ground as well.

In a recent heated election, rather than vote for ideology, I decided to vote for the candidate who earned my respect for the strength of character, and in previous positions, demonstrated an ability to work with opponents. Fighting along ideological lines has buried us deep in this political quagmire. Let’s wield the power of our democracy and use our vote to move in a new direction, one that puts the country’s need for common ground and progress before ideology and party.

— This article was published in USA TODAY on November 5, 2018