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Scholars: Congress Must Act to Protect American Voting Rights and Democracy

You don’t need to be a university professor to recognize that radical right-wingers are threatening to kill democracy in America. But 119 (and counting—they’re still inviting signatories) prominent “scholars of democracy” affiliated with universities across the country have issued a “statement of concern” about the danger Republican-controlled legislatures and their voter-suppression laws pose to our democracy and our prosperity:

We, the undersigned, are scholars of democracy who have watched the recent deterioration of U.S. elections and liberal democracy with growing alarm. Specifically, we have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election. Collectively, these initiatives are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections. Hence, our entire democracy is now at risk.

When democracy breaks down, it typically takes many years, often decades, to reverse the downward spiral. In the process, violence and corruption typically flourish, and talent and wealth flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity. It is not just our venerated institutions and norms that are at risk—it is our future national standing, strength, and ability to compete globally [“Statement of Concern: The Threats to American Democracy and the Need for National Voting and Election Administration Standards,” New America, 2021.06.01].

These concerned scholars say we need to beat back this new Jim Crow the same way we took down old Jim Crow—through national reforms:

The most effective remedy for these anti-democratic laws at the state level is federal action to protect equal access of all citizens to the ballot and to guarantee free and fair elections. Just as it ultimately took federal voting rights law to put an end to state-led voter suppression laws throughout the South, so federal law must once again ensure that American citizens’ voting rights do not depend on which party or faction happens to be dominant in their state legislature, and that votes are cast and counted equally, regardless of the state or jurisdiction in which a citizen happens to live. This is widely recognized as a fundamental principle of electoral integrity in democracies around the world.

A new voting rights law (such as that proposed in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) is essential but alone is not enough. True electoral integrity demands a comprehensive set of national standards that ensure the sanctity and independence of election administration, guarantee that all voters can freely exercise their right to vote, prevent partisan gerrymandering from giving dominant parties in the states an unfair advantage in the process of drawing congressional districts, and regulate ethics and money in politics [“Statement of Concern…,” 2021.06.01].

The scholars say bipartisanship would be nice—and hey, why wouldn’t members of all parties want to protect voter rights?—but given Republican cowardice in the face of the tyrant of their own creation, and given the historic importance of saving America from decades of violence, corruption, and painful rehabilitation, the scholars say Congress must “do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster” to stop the Republican rigging of our elections.


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-06-01

    The trumpies will lie cheat and steal, who knew?

  2. O 2021-06-01

    I cannot help but notice the New Jim Crow voting restrictions are also accompanied by a GOP push to restrict schools and universities from discussing issues of race. It would seem that as people of color in the US begin to effectively use democracy to begin to address their needs (and frankly. “their” needs are my needs), the GOP is doubling down on the old days of repression to keep the nation unaffected and deaf to the plight of the other.

  3. O 2021-06-01

    I would also pessimistically add that given the stacked Supreme Court and the minority (Political — not ethnic) absolute obstruction power in the Senate, we are fooling ourselves to think that our political institutions will remedy the very disenfranchisement they have worked so hard to foster over the past decades.

    Party first will not end because it is succeeding.

  4. cibvet 2021-06-01

    Seems like it was chief justice john roberts who declared racism dead and gone.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-06-02

    In Tulsa, where a hundred years ago white people killed 300 blacks and destroyed an entire black neighborhood just to keep black folks from gaining wealth and power, President Joe Biden called on Congress to get moving on voting rights:

    With the effort to secure voting rights stalled out on Capitol Hill, Biden also announced a renewed legislative push to enfranchise Americans — just as Republican state lawmakers chip away at ballot access throughout the country. After identifying state laws passed in the wake of Trump’s loss an “unprecedented assault on our democracy,” he said that Vice-President Kamala Harris will lead the movement to secure votes to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. “With her leadership and your support, we’re going to overcome again,” Biden said. “I promise you. It’s going to take a hell of a lot of work.”

    Notably, the president also called out members of the Democratic Senate caucus who have been reluctant to do that work. “I hear all of the folks on TV saying why doesn’t Biden get this done?” Biden said. “Well, because Biden only has the majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate — with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.” For Harris to whip up the support to pass a new Voting Rights Act, she’ll need more than just the support of Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, the Arizona and West Virginia Democrats who were referenced by Biden and have been reluctant to sign on to different aspects of his agenda [Matt Stieb, “Biden Vows to Renew Voting Rights Push in Speech Commemorating Tulsa Massacre, New York Magazine, 2021.06.01].

    Livelihoods and lives are at stake right alongside fundamental human dignity and equality. Congress needs to act now to protect American democracy from the resentful white radicals who would take away our liberty to preserve their privilege.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-06-02

    O is correct that the GOP has already succeeded in doing deeper cultural damage that will take decades to remedy. But we need to use what power we have now, before their electoral machinations win them back any more seats in Congress.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-06-02

    Do notice what the scholars say about the breakdown of democratic institutions causing “talent and wealth [to] flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity.” I get the feeling we see some of that already in South Dakota: our failing political system, with its absence of viable political opposition and its rejection of change, drives many people to invest their capital elsewhere, leaving South Dakota permanently behind the prosperity curve.

  8. Donald Pay 2021-06-02

    It’s great to put this in terms of “voting rights,” but to the average voter it makes more sense to think of voting in terms of customer service. Businesses want customers to plunk down their money, and they figured out rather quickly that they do that more often and more easily when and how shopping is convenient to them. During the pandemic, we’ve seen how businesses adapted. My neighborhood Target adopted drive through pick up and they would ship products, too.

    We always bitch about government not following good business practice, but some elections officials, faced with a pandemic that would make in-person voting a challenge, figure out they could be more like Target. In Wisconsin, election officials figured out ways to make voting during the pandemic safer and easier. They allowed people various options to submit their ballot. Guess what? Although the focus was on trying to make voting safer during a pandemic, it also had the effect of encouraging more people to vote. In business, such an outcome would be recognized with plaques and a bonus, but Wisconsin Republicans are still stuck in the 19th century.

    Republicans have become the party that makes buggy whips, ie. they make a product that no one is buying. They know that, which is why they hate having more people come to the polls to vote for the guys who are making electric cars. When people vote, Republicans lose. And it isn’t just minorities who like various options. Seniors, once part of the Republican base, are loving the option of mailing in or dropping off our ballot.

    In business, it’s known as creative destruction. The Republican Party is being destroyed by its own inability to creatively face reality. Unable to compete, it is trying to manufacture a monopoly position through rigging the vote. It won’t work.

  9. Edwin Arndt 2021-06-02

    Donald, if what you are saying is true, why are some democrats
    so worried that republicans will take control of congress in
    the next election?

  10. jerry 2021-06-02

    Mr. Arndt, huh?

  11. Donald Pay 2021-06-02

    Edwin Arndt, I don’t know why “some democrats” are worried about Republicans gaining control of Congress. I am worried about that because Republicans are making voting more difficult for people in general and are beginning efforts to further gerrymander where they have control. They can’t win without such cheating, and they have no problem with cheating.

    I live in Wisconsin, and Republicans have submitted legislation along these lines. What that means, of course, is they are attacking the system they set up themselves, because the laws and regulations they think are now inadequate were the same ones they said were needed just a few years ago during Republican Scott Walker’s governorship.. Democratic Governor Evers will veto all of their efforts, as well as their gerrymandered redistricting maps, so they won’t succeed here. They are doing it because the Republicans have to look like they are bending over for Dear Leader.

  12. Jake 2021-06-02

    Donald Pay, they don’t have to look like they’re ‘bending over’ – they ARE bent over-open and willing to obey the con-artist that they elected to bring them to the dance.
    So right you are, that the very rules they bragged on just 6 yrs ago are now so wrong that newer, more restrictive ones need to be installed to ‘prevent’ fraud. And this, from the party that hates regulations imposed by government. Obfuscation and obstruction seems to be the motto for the GOP anymore. Oh but yeah, still don’t have a policy statement of ideals–no party platform, just whatever the former president that lost big time might want at the moment.

  13. Edwin Arndt 2021-06-02

    What I can’t understand is how a dying, self destructing party can
    possibly have enough power to do all the terrible, dire things you
    are predicting. The fact is, these republican legislators were duly
    elected (without evidence of wide spread fraud) by their constituents.
    Democracy does not always give the result that we might like.

  14. mike from iowa 2021-06-02

    Edwin Arndt apparently has paid magats no attention for the past 50 plus years. Especially the past 10 years with McCTurtlefartface in charge of the Sinate. magats blocked a large portion of Obama’s federal judicial appointments and Scotus Appointee so those seats would be filled by a magat potus. McFartface even said if HRC won in 2016, which it appears she did, he would block her appointees. He wanted a solid magat judiciary to carry on the magat gameplan if and when Dems won back the senate. He made no bones about his intentions. Too bad Dems refuse to play hardball and keep losing the ground they scratch back from magats.

  15. Edwin Arndt 2021-06-02

    Politics has been going on for way more than 50 years, Mike.
    Even dirty politics. And there are those that might argue
    that’s the only kind there is.
    Call me cynical. Getting older does that to you.

  16. Donald Pay 2021-06-02

    Mr. Arndt, You have a point. At this point, you really don’t have a viable Republican Party. They don’t have a platform. They don’t believe in anything, except allegiance to Dear Leader. Whatever Trump believes, they believe. It is is more of a gang or cult, held together by lies and threats. Such entities are very dangerous, as we have seen throughout history. The Nazis never could get close to a majority in German. Same with Trump. He won in 2016 with the help of Putin and the undemocratic Electoral College. In any other democracy, Trump would have remained out of the White House in 2016. But, Trump won by the rules of Constitution with an assist by Putin. I will leave it to you to decide whether this was right.

    It is not surprising at all the the Republican cult should be feared. There is a lot of history to show that failing political movements turn to dangerous tactics. The Nazis had to come to power through the fecklessness of the center-right parties, gangs of fascist thugs beating up people and other such undemocratic maneuverings. Today’s Republican Party has similar gutlessness, similar violent extremists and the same caving to fascism of the center-right politicians. They are a danger to everyone.

  17. Edwin Arndt 2021-06-02

    Donald, I stopped calling myself a republican in the early years of
    the George W. Bush administration. I certainly lean toward republican
    policies. Basically, I’m a conservative.

    By the way, through dirty tricks and other dastardly means, Hitler
    got around 90% of a plebiscite vote.

  18. Donald Pay 2021-06-02

    Edwin, Good one. The referendum vote fits with the Republican playbood. Hitler was already ruling the country. The Nazis were intimidating voters. There was no alternative on the ballot. That’s what Republicans want. Thanks for making my case for me.

  19. Mark Anderson 2021-06-02

    Oh Edwin, its not that bad, Republicans will someday not have to lie, cheat and steal to win elections. After they get wiped out in 2022 maybe they will realize that trump is really a con man.

  20. Edwin Arndt 2021-06-02

    In states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and some other states,
    republicans can win without campaigning.
    Face reality gentlemen, we don’t all see the world in the same way.

  21. cibvet 2021-06-03

    edwin arndt– that says a lot about the people in those states who love socialism, yet live in denial while shouting everyone else is a socialist. Granted, it is much easier not to have to think, just fall in line.

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