Democrats are desperately trying to find a way to convince all of their members to set the rules for the Senate to pass two bills on elections and voting reform – the Freedom to Vote Act and the Advancement Act John Lewis’ voting rights – which they think could be all of that. stands between us and a total collapse of our system of government over the next two years.
In the Great Ideas podcast with Matt Robison, renowned electoral reform expert Alex Tausanovitch from the Center for American Progress explained what the biggest threats to American democracy are and how these bills would solve them.
Listen to the full conversation here:
This conversation has been condensed and edited.
Why is the situation so dangerous?
We only escaped a major political crisis in 2020 because a relatively small number of predominantly Republican officials protected us. For example, in Michigan, we almost did not certify the election results. Only massive public pressure saved us from total catastrophe.
Are things getting worse?
Yes. In 2020, there were multiple instances where there was intense pressure, especially on Republican officials, to change the election results. Many of them held on. They are now receiving death threats. Angry activists harass them. The Republican Party is punishing them. Trump loyalists challenge them in the primaries. They will likely be replaced by people who do not believe in protecting elections.
The other thing we are seeing are new laws aimed at electoral subversion. These are laws that allow partisan interference in the very process of counting the votes. Georgia is a good example. But there are at least 17 states that have passed such laws.
You say there are three broad categories of threats we face. Which is the first, and how would the Democrats’ bills fix it?
The number one threat is that future election results will not be certified, as we almost saw last time. Our certification process is different in each of our 50 states and in our more than 3,000 counties.
One solution is to make these processes more consistent. We need federal law that says here is the timeline for certifying the election, and that only one official should certify based solely on actual results. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act deals with this. It also prohibits officials from voluntarily refusing to certify election results.
What about threat number two?
It is becoming increasingly difficult to perform electoral administration functions. There is so much pressure on these officials. They resign or retire. We’re going to see a lot more conspiracy theorists running our elections.
One of the essential things the Freedom to Vote Act does is ensure that these officials cannot tamper with election results. For example, in Georgia, there is a new law that allows state officials to replace local election officials and build supporters. The free vote law would prohibit replacing local election officials unless there are good reasons. It also prevents harassment and intimidation of election workers and election officials.
What is this third threat? And what would you do about it?
The third threat is that Congress could overturn the results of the Electoral College. And the reason we know this is a threat is that in 2020 a majority of Republicans in Congress voted not to certify the election results.
We have a very old law called the Electoral Count Act which governs how Congress is supposed to review and accept Electoral College results. So we need to update this law, make sure we don’t deal with frivolous objections or wacky legal theories like the legal memo that Trump’s lawyer handed to Vice President Mike Pence, saying he could just ignore voters and cancel elections.
Longer term, what should we do to try to protect American democracy if we can overcome the current threats?
The difficult thing we need to tackle is that a majority of Republicans in the public currently believe in the big lie. About 70% of Republicans say in the polls that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president.
We must have confidence in our elections. Some places have used things like rank voting, which eliminates primaries which tend to favor the more extreme candidates. We could also try to set up multi-candidate districts.
How hopeful are you that the system will hold up?
I think we have to be vigilant. But I think we must also keep hope. It is truly an opportunity for this generation to do our part for democracy. We cannot take it for granted. There is a chance to ensure that democracy endures for future generations.
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