We must pass legislation to protect our democracy following Capitol insurrection (opinion)

We must pass legislation to protect our democracy following Capitol insurrection (opinion)
A small group of Trump supporters gathered at the Washoe County complex alleging fraud on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the general election. Officials said they were there to ask questions. Image: Trevor Bexon / This Is Reno

Submitted by Tiffany Muller, PA AG Josh Shapiro, MI AG Dana Nessel, and NV AG Aaron Ford

The violent attack on our Capitol on Jan. 6 was the first time since the Civil War and reconstruction that we saw our nation struggle with upholding one of the foundations of our democracy. Never had an American president not only refused a peaceful transfer of power but proactively worked to overturn our free and fair elections and urged people to storm the Capitol building to stop the certification of our elections.

While the siege was unsuccessful and Congress moved forward with our democratic process, there has since been a dangerous anti-democratic trend that is reverberating across the country and threatening to destabilize our American democracy.

Since Jan. 6, local election workers and officials have faced over a hundred threats of death or violence and at least 800 intimidating messages in 12 states alone. Nineteen states have enacted 33 anti-voting laws to make it harder for people to access the ballot. And in several states, that includes new penalties and laws to make it easier to sabotage and overturn election results by taking power away from local and nonpartisan officials, criminalizing assistance for voters and empowering partisan poll watchers who can harass voters and poll workers.

An unprecedented one in three election officials reported feeling unsafe. In Michigan and Nevada, the Democratic and Republican secretaries of State described the graphic nature of the violent threats made against them and their families. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was even forced to have 24-hour police protection because of specific threats. In Pennsylvania, nearly half of county election directors have resigned with many citing personal threats. Former Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt detailed the violent threats made against him and his family, which as he stated were done “to terrorize, to intimidate … and to prevent our democracy from functioning as it should.”

In Georgia and Arizona, legislators have moved to empower partisan appointees to exert greater control over elections, which could result in extremists in those states preventing the certification of election results they don’t like. It’s already happening in Georgia, where the state election board purged trusted local election officials from county election boards and instead appointed partisan politicians to oversee elections.

At the same time, it has become a trend for Trump-backed candidates for attorney general and secretaries of State to make challenging the validity of the 2020 election and promoting false election conspiracies a centerpiece of their platforms. In 2020, attorneys general across the country fought back against anti-democratic efforts to overturn election results and pushed back against violent threats made against election officials. But there is no doubt that if new extreme candidates take charge and radical election laws stay in place, there will be fewer safeguards to uphold fair and free elections.

America is at a critical crossroads. At risk is the core of our democracy—respecting the will of the voters and having trust and faith in the system. Without that foundation, the potential for Jan. 6-style violence increases exponentially.

We can avoid that outcome if Congress acts before it’s too late.

Right now, the U.S. Senate has the opportunity to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. Along with protecting the freedom to vote, banning partisan gerrymandering and ending dark money, it would protect against attempts to sabotage or overturn our elections.

Some of the steps it takes include protecting election officials from harassment and from being removed from their job by partisan lawmakers who want to use these positions to rig our elections. It would protect voters from intimidation. It would also provide national standards for federal elections, increasing transparency and ensuring that people’s voices will be heard and their votes protected.

The Freedom to Vote Act is overwhelmingly supported by voters including Republicans, Democrats and Independents. This common sense legislation will protect the fundamental principles of the Constitution and the rights of all Americans.

The insurrection on Jan. 6 reminded us that our democracy is not guaranteed. It’s something we must continue to strive to uphold. The Senate must act and do whatever it takes to pass the Freedom to Vote Act before it’s too late.

Tiffany Muller is president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote Action Fund.

Dana Nessel is the attorney general for the state of Michigan. 

Aaron Ford is the attorney general for the state of Nevada.

Josh Shapiro is the attorney general for the state of Pennsylvania.