By Christine Todd Whitman
March 11, 2021
It is time for our nation’s leaders to stop spreading conspiracy theories and start getting serious about protecting the freedom to vote.
Recently on the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) stage, former President Donald Trump revamped the Big Lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent and vowed revenge on those few Republicans in Congress who dared hold him accountable for his role in the January 6 insurrection.
Last week, former Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed opposing the For the People Act, H.R. 1, to further peddle misinformation about election security in 2020. This all happened in just a few weeks.
Given the strain the pandemic placed upon the U.S. voting system, it is an incredible accomplishment that the 2020 elections were as problem-free as they were. Officials from both sides of the aisle worked tirelessly to ensure access to the ballot box was protected and that every legal vote was counted. States from Michigan to Florida were lauded for the extensive efforts taken to make sure the people were able to make their voices heard.
To be sure, despite official affirmations from all branches of the federal government that the election was safe and secure, millions still don’t believe it. Conspiracy theories, misleading statements and lies offered by the former president, former vice president and other associates have cast a long shadow of doubt over the safety and security of American elections. These unfounded theories continue to put our public safety at risk—just as we saw unfold on the conspiracy-fueled January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. If we do not act quickly, we risk continued harm to the bedrock of our democracy: free and fair elections.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the last of the remaining cases touching upon the 2020 election: Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Degraffenreid, Corman v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party and Trump, Donald J. V. WI Elections Commission, et al.
Although the Court has upheld democracy in refusing to hear these cases, the country is far from unified in our confidence about the election results. These cases, alongside others in front of the Court like two out of Arizona, which could ultimately gut the remaining protections secured in the Voting Rights Act, together signal the appetite among some in this country for divorcing election outcomes from the will of the people, undermining the bedrock principle of democracy.
Thankfully, there are actions we can and must take to ensure confidence in our elections from both sides of the political spectrum. Protecting the freedom to vote is simply not a partisan issue. In fact, it should be of particular interest and importance to anyone running for office that voters have access to the ballot box. After all, that is how one gets elected in the first place.
H.R. 1, known as the For The People Act, is one such measure designed to strengthen voting rights across the country. Like most large bills, it is not perfect, but the progress it makes for the foundations of our democracy is vital. But to make election security a truly bipartisan issue, congressional Democrats also need to open up key processes to bipartisan input.
H.R. 1 is even more pressing because states are considering alternate policies using baseless conspiracy theories about election interference to restrict the right to vote. Since the 2020 elections, at least 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills which add barriers to voting. Capitalizing on false claims of widespread voter fraud, states including Florida, Georgia and Iowa have introduced new restrictions touching on the use of mail ballots, early voting and absentee ballots.
The For the People Act offers an alternative approach to ensuring the security of American elections, one that relies not on baseless claims of fraud, but instead on structured, uniform updates to the efficiency and safety of the voting process across the United States.
We need updates to our voting system, but we need improvements based on good faith efforts to preserve the franchise for eligible voters, not craven attempts to restrict access to the ballot box based on lies. The proposed legislation, H.R. 1, does not supersede state laws; rather it bolsters good state laws and helps fill critical gaps in others, all under the power of Congress to regulate federal elections and ensure the preservation of our democracy.
In order to advance H.R. 1, which enjoys unanimous support by House Democrats, Democrats must recognize that election security is a bipartisan issue and seek to meaningfully include Republican voices on the bill including Republicans at the state and local level.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would be wise to reverse course or at the very minimum consider the bill in the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposed commission to investigate the events of January 6 is a prime opportunity to demonstrate this commitment to bipartisanship by giving equal seats to Democrats and Republicans.
Insulating this commission and issues of election security from partisanship by ensuring equal participation and input from both sides of the aisle, while challenging, will allow the country to move forward with united confidence in our electoral system and democratic process.
The concerns about election security—whether founded in conspiracy or not—exist for millions of Americans. It should be of the utmost importance for leaders of both parties to come together to address concerns, set the record straight and improve the systems that protect and secure the freedom vote.
The For the People Act can and should be part of the process.