ELECTIONS ARE THE essence of democracy. They allow people to select their political leaders and then, to hold them accountable. Standards must be set to define what is ideal. Most countries meet those standards imperfectly. Thus, the devil is in the details.

A free election is one in which all citizens are able to vote for the candidate of their choice, and a fair election is one in which all votes have equal power and are counted accurately. Standards must be met before, during and after an election. Political people and state legislatures disagree on the details.

Most people would agree that in-person voting is the ideal, but that isn’t always possible for a number of reasons. Mail-in voting is allowed, but it has exposed shortfalls: you can’t see who votes and how ballots are collected, transported or stored.

There are red and blue states with voting rules and requirements that contradict the ideals and standards associated with free and fair elections. It would help if there were uniform national voting standards. Currently, the two major political parties can’t agree what are reasonable restrictions.

Congressional Democrats have passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act. The 800-page bill creates a national system for automatic voter registration, puts in transparency requirements for political advertising and ends partisan gerrymandering.

Backers say the new voting rules would make it easier for voters in underrepresented communities to cast ballots, while opponents say the rules would fail to preserve election integrity. Backers insert accusations of racism into the debate.

At least 33 states have introduced restrictive bills to tighten voting requirements which Democrats claim are meant to suppress the votes of minorities and the poor. Thirty state legislatures are controlled by Republicans and 18 states have a Democrat majority. Democrats have a natural voter majority advantage in elections.

By restricting, some say suppressing, voting, Democrats accuse Republicans of unfairly and intentionally denying millions of people the right to vote. With so many elections decided by just a slim margin, Republicans say the proposed Democrat-written law would drown the political system in cheating allegations that can’t be disproved.

The concept of having a defined general election day the first week of November is under attack. With absentee and mail-in voting, many states allow voting anytime up to five weeks early, and even accept and count ballots received up to 10 days after the in-person voting date.

One party’s effort to make elections honest and legitimate is another party’s claim of voter suppression. A few independent studies have found claims of voter fraud as invalid and that cheating is not a problem. No court or legislative body has found evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Nearly everyone agrees that governments can place some restrictions on who can register to vote based on age, residency or citizenship status, but governments can’t prevent or make it more difficult for some groups of people to register. Misinformation should not be spread online or through social media. Voters need access to reliable and unbiased information.

People should have access to a polling place. If unable to vote in person, for legitimate reasons, such as a disability, health condition, lack of transportation or travel plans, they should have an alternative method of voting. This standard has drawn a lot of scrutiny. Is vote harvesting acceptable? Are sufficient safeguards in place to deter bad behavior?

Can the public be confident the ballots are counted accurately? Ballots must not be altered or discarded after they are legally cast. Once the outcome of the election is decided, the candidates must respect the results of the vote. Peaceful transitions of power are vital to democracy.