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Is Common Ground Committee Biased?

Magnifying glass with bias text words

We need to talk with you about something important.

We at Common Ground Committee (CGC) have taken some heat from time to time about an issue that cuts close to home. We’re coming right out and addressing it head-on because it’s something we care deeply about and strive hard to get right.

It has been suggested that CGC appears biased toward a particular political ideology based on the type of content it presents. For an organization that is wholly dedicated to bridging the divide between left and right, committed to the importance of active listening and dealing with objective facts, it is crucial to us and to our mission that we not have a political agenda, nor that we be perceived as having one. We can say without reservation that as an organization we do not have a political agenda. We lean neither right nor left, having purposely built a board whose members span the political spectrum. But sometimes people of good faith and discerning minds perceive that we are biased in some way. We have been accused of having a conservative agenda and at other times a progressive one.

Working through Biases

Let’s consider for a minute what it means to be unbiased. As a concept, and as an organization, Common Ground Committee has no bias. It was formed expressly in the service of shared communication, in hopes that shedding light on the issues that divide us—turning it in the light like one would a gem to see from all sides—so that we can better understand one another. While there is no guarantee, understanding can lead to common ground or compromise, and finally to progress on the issue. Certainly, it can lead to increased civility.

Individuals, however, have bias. Everyone, no matter how hard they work to behave with impartiality, has a way they naturally lean, a set of beliefs that influences their perspective, the decisions they make, and the votes they cast. The most impartial of journalists have the moment where they step into the voting booth and pull the lever. But it’s how aware you are of your biases, and how you work to recognize and handle them, that makes you effective at objective discourse and achieving common ground.

Sometimes the biases slip out. In a recent podcast, former Senate Secretary Kelly Johnston, a Republican and founding board member of the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, discussed a moment of his own “intemperance” – a message he regrets tweeting in 2018 that fanned the conspiracy flames about left-leaning financier George Soros helping immigrants bound for the U.S. border.

“I did campaign work, 35 campaigns in 25 states. That’s combat. So my instincts and my experience and my work was all about doing battle. Then, when I got into the private sector about two decades ago, Rob Fersh (a Democrat and Co-Founder of Convergence) actually inspired me to look at bridge-building as a much more productive activity. And I realized that I was part of the problem because I was busy tearing other people down and fighting on issues, and I was accomplishing really nothing to advance the ball,” he said. “And I realized, ‘You know what? I would like to really solve some of these problems.’ Do I fall off the wagon on occasion? Yes, guilty as charged. But I try to get back on, which is important.”

This sticks with us from that podcast, as it is a tremendously good point. We each have our biases and they can surface from time to time. We know we have differences because that’s why one person is a Democrat and another is a Republican.

Occasionally, we have found that something as simple as a slight difference in the choice of words — for example, the murder of George Floyd, rather than the death of George Floyd; or equality instead of equity — signals bias to readers of different parties. Such is not our intent, and we appreciate hearing your feedback on the nuances of language.

We also find that, every now and then, referencing buzzwords that are commonly used to frame issues to appeal to the values of a particular party — for example, voting access versus voting security, or immigration reform versus border security — can serve as a dog whistle in and of itself. But that shouldn’t make the topic itself taboo in our journey to reach common ground. It makes it all the more important.

Continuing to Find Common Ground

We hope we’ve shed enough light on this question of bias so that you’ll accept that we do strive very hard to keep Common Ground Committee on a track that leans neither right nor left. We know words matter. You might read a “trigger” word or phrase in our content, but we hope you’ll recognize that we use it in our effort to build the understanding that can bridge the particular divide we are discussing, not to take a position. And should that happen, we invite you to partner with us in this process of discussion and transparency, by giving us feedback so that we can continue to build Common Ground Committee’s brand as an unbiased, nonpartisan organization. Our emails are bruce.bond@commongroundcommittee.org and erik.olsen@commongroundcommittee.org.

Thank you for listening to us on this question that is so crucial to our work!

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.

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.