U.S elections are secure but recent partisan-fueled efforts to overhaul the process are undermining years of voting and civil rights progress.

That’s the consensus of national experts who gathered Thursday to talk about election security. The virtual roundtable was the fourth installment in “Reimagining Democracy,” hosted by journalist and former CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve. The monthly series is sponsored by Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and Issue One.

The latest roundtable discussion comes as lawmakers in 18 states, including Georgia, have enacted 30 election-related laws that critics say make it harder for people to vote. 

In March, Georgia became the first state to pass an election reform law, known as the Election Integrity Act of 2021 or SB 202. The law shortens the time voters have to apply for and submit absentee ballots, requires additional steps in providing identification and provides fewer drop boxes. It also makes it a crime to pass out food or drinks to voters in line. While other states like Florida, Texas and Arizona have similar features in their laws, Georgia’s is believed to be among the most extensive.

“There’s a blatant attempt to turn back the clock, to obstruct some of the progress made since the civil rights movement,” said panelist Steven Reed, mayor of Montgomery, Ala.

The tumultuous election cycle of the last year has made maintaining election security and regaining voters’ trust top priorities heading into next year’s midterm elections.

A recent CNN poll found that 56 percent of Americans feel U.S. democracy is under attack and just over half believe elected officials will one day successfully overturn an election that didn’t turn out as they wanted.

Thursday’s discussion centered on false claims made about the 2020 presidential election, a disturbing trend in election-related legislation allowing elected officials to insert themselves in the election process, and partisan efforts to make voting more challenging.

“Checks and balances are being tested to the extreme limits now,” said Katie Hobbs, secretary of state in Arizona, which just concluded a GOP-led audit of the 2020 presidential election results. (The results showed Pres. Biden picked up 99 more votes than officially tallied.)

“Election protection guardrails are weakened but won’t be overturned,” said Thomas Hicks, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “There are safeguards in place so that one party can’t overturn an election.” The commission was created shortly after the 2000 election debacle—remember the hanging chad?—to bring sweeping reforms to the U.S. voting process.

Hicks said many of the changes instituted in these new election reform laws, like more voter identification and fewer days for early voting, do not improve election security.

“Early voting helped get people involved in the process during the pandemic,” Hicks said. “It keeps people from being stuck in 10-hour lines.”

Plus, he added, the U.S. election system already is secure: “I’ve worked in elections for 35 years, and I believe [elections] are more secure now than when I began working.” 

Hobbs said the audit of her state’s 2020 presidential election results proved to be “a sham and a waste of time since it showed what we already knew.”

To voters still skeptical about the process, Hobbs suggested getting information from trusted sources.

The panelists also suggested creating more civics classes that would show children as young as elementary school how government works.

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