John Barrow, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, in a May debate. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Opinion: Safeguard access, security of democracy’s sacred rite

Not too long ago, the Supreme Court wrote, “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a choice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, they must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.” And there are many ways to undermine the right to vote.

Any thing we do that makes it harder than necessary for honest citizens to register, stay registered, or vote undermines their right to vote. I believe that it should be as easy for every Georgia citizen to vote as it is for any Georgia citizen to vote.

Throughout my time in public office, I’ve worked to ensure that everyone who is eligible can exercise their right to vote. For example, I voted to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This important law protected the right to vote from small and subtle policies that would make it harder than necessary for some citizens to vote.

I’ve worked to make our elections safe, accessible, and fair — to increase the ease of access and reduce the chance of fraud. In Congress, I voted for new and improved ID laws recommended by the 9/11 Commission, and I also voted to require those IDs to be used for voting, so long as they made commonsense exceptions for honest citizens who cannot get or produce their IDs. (Think of seniors for whom there literally are no birth certificates, or our soldiers on the battlefields of Afghanistan.)

Many of the issues these past weeks have centered on former Secretary Kemp’s purging of the voter rolls. Of course we need to update and maintain accurate voter rolls. That’s good practice, and federal law requires it. But I believe we should update our voter rolls with information that is accurate, like death certificates and change-of-address notices filed by voters themselves, so that honest citizens are not purged by mistake. Both of these are more reliable and fair then sending out a notice that is easily mistaken for junk mail.

It is true that we’ve had Democratic and Republican secretaries of state who have resigned to run for higher office, and it is also true that we’ve had Democratic and Republican secretaries of state who haven’t. My father, the late Judge James Barrow, taught me when I was a little boy that no man can be judge of his own case, and I guess it’s even more obvious that no politician can be judge of his own election.

And finally, we’re long overdue for a new and improved way of casting our votes. You can’t say that our votes are counted exactly as we cast them if they are recorded on an electronic medium that cannot be read by the voter or by those charged with counting the votes, much less recounting the votes. I was the first, and now I’m the only, candidate for Secretary of State to call the decertification of our current machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots and optical scanners in our elections. That’s the gold standard of reliability and security, that’s what other states are doing, and that’s what we should be doing. And I pledge to ensure that every vote is counted. Citizens take time to cast their votes for the government that will represent them, and they deserve to have their votes counted.

For many years, most folks haven’t put much thought into the office of Secretary of State. But on November 6th, all of us received a civics lesson on the importance of this office, and how that office affects all of us at the most sacred time in our democracy — on Election Day. The good news is that another Election Day is fast approaching on December 4th. And on December 4th, we get to make a decision.

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John Barrow is the Democratic candidate for Georgia Secretary of State in the Dec. 4 runoff election.