As many states and Congress consider changes in how Americans vote, it is timely to consider the views of those who have devoted their professional careers to the study of democratic processes, especially to how the people choose their leaders.
Nearly 200 renowned scholars in political science, constitutional law, history and economics from more than 100 top universities across the nation have jointly expressed deep concern with the possible consequences of such proposed changes. As reported by New America (described as a Washington think tank and civic innovation platform — www.newamerica.org) these scholars express alarm that some states are in danger of being transformed into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.
These “scholars of democracy” do not base their analysis just on threats to historic American institutions and long-accepted norms. As important as those are, the threat they perceive is far more tangible and immediate — a weakening of our stability and prosperity, an increase in violence (Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol?) and political corruption that erodes the will of the majority.
Their joint statement declares: Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations should Democrats win more votes. They are seeking to restrict access to the ballot, the most basic principle underlying the right of all adult American citizens to participate in our democracy. They are also putting in place criminal sentences and fines meant to intimidate and scare away poll workers and nonpartisan administrators. State legislatures have advanced initiatives that curtail voting methods now preferred by Democratic-leaning constituencies, such as early voting and mail voting. Republican lawmakers have openly talked about ensuring the “purity” and “quality” of the vote, echoing arguments widely used across the Jim Crow South as reasons for restricting the Black vote ... The reason that Republican voters have concerns is because many Republican officials, led by former President Donald Trump, have manufactured false claims of fraud, claims that have been repeatedly rejected by courts of law and which Trump’s own lawyers have acknowledged were mere speculation when they testified about them before judges.
Perhaps due to its currently noncompetitive political landscape, similar legislative proposals have not yet materialized in West Virginia, but if they become law anywhere they become a threat everywhere. Our state will not be immune.
These scholars conclude: Elections must be neutrally and fairly administered. They must be free of manipulation. Every citizen who is qualified must have an equal right to vote, unhindered by obstruction. And when they lose elections, political parties and their candidates and supporters must be willing to accept defeat and acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcome.
Finally, realizing that Republican-majority legislatures in some states may render opposition to this undermining of democracy politically futile, these scholars urge action by Congress to enact a new national voting rights law with national standards to guarantee that all voters can freely exercise their right to vote. Although as of this writing congressional efforts have been stymied, it appears certain that those efforts will continue.
Sen. Joe Manchin appears to understand clearly and agree with this scholarly analysis of democracy. Will Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and our three West Virginia members of the House of Representatives similarly reconsider and commit to protect and preserve our democracy?