After months of arm-twisting and cajoling for federal voting legislation in 2021, Democrats’ path for sweeping federal voting legislation is coming to an end. Centrist Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin would not blow up the filibuster, and the legislation failed to attract more sympathetic Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Susan Collins.

Still, leaders in both parties agree that there is work to be done to make the process of voting less frustrating and to rebuild trust after 2016 and 2020. If they are serious about finding agreement before 2024, now is the time to empower states to implement better election practices through incentive-based reforms like this one recently proposed by five nonprofit think tanks spanning the political spectrum.

The primary responsibility for conducting elections resides with the states, as laid out in Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution. Federalism allows states and localities to innovate as they see fit, whether with statewide vote-by-mail or ranked-choice voting, while at the same time containing election mishaps within state lines. In keeping with this federalist tradition, Congress should employ an “all carrot, no stick” approach to federal election funding. While Congress has attached strings to funding to influence state policy in the past, even famously tying highway funding to the drinking age, successful election reform relies upon the kind of broad, public buy-in that’s not possible through mandates or coercion.

Under this innovative framework, Congress would provide matching funds to states that put in place baseline voting access, ballot integrity, and election administration standards. These minimum standards serve the dual purpose of improving voter confidence in elections while also improving the voting experience. A keen eye may recognize that some of the provisions in this new report have been called for by Republicans and others by Democrats. Some may notice that many states have already implemented the recommendations in the report. In particular, Colorado and Georgia currently meet all of the framework’s standards, with Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington missing just one each.

That this list contains states from across the spectrum with substantial political, geographic, and demographic diversity is further evidence that the standards in this proposal can work everywhere and are not designed to create a partisan advantage.

For example, the framework proposes that states should automatically add or update voter registrations when voters come into contact with a state agency and that election officials should regularly conduct reviews of voter lists and work with officials in other states to update or remove out-of-date listings. These standards not only make the registration process much more convenient for voters, but they also make the voter rolls more accurate.

Additionally, more accurate lists mean fewer improper ballots would be sent out to absentee voters. When combined with voter identity verification standards, voters across the political spectrum would gain confidence in absentee ballots, paving the way for yet another of the proposed standards: no-excuse absentee voting. In order to ensure that absentee ballots do not slow down the reporting of election night results and to allow for timely audits, the framework recommends that states require absentee ballots to arrive by the close of polls.

Elections should be trustworthy, and the voting experience should be convenient. Congress should adopt this framework as a way to help elections run smoother and be more voter-friendly without giving up the principles of federalism.

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