By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Democracy makes us masters of our political destiny; and elections are the lifeblood of our democracy--or its death-knell.. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, America’s polarized partisan politics have put democracy on life support. This November American voters will have a chance to resuscitate their democracy, or witness its further demise.
The health of any democracy depends on providing for the common good. That’s an altruistic moral imperative in politics derived from the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. It’s the primary moral standard of political legitimacy, and our elections put it to the test.
Elections in America’s polarized partisan politics have failed that test. Altruism no longer shapes the moral standards of political legitimacy. It was once the province of the church, but today less than 50% of Americans identify as Christians, and only a minority of white Christians relate the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus to their politics.
It’s a voter’s right and responsibility to promote the common good in elections. Lincoln cited Jesus warning Americans to avoid dangerous political divisions: When a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand (see Mark 3:24-25). Trump’s election in 2016 and the January 6 insurrection indicate that many Americans have forgotten that painful lesson in legitimacy.
President Biden has pushed a voting rights bill that emphasizes convenience over voting rights and responsibilities. The danger to democracy in America is not the lack of voting rights, but the failure to elect those in Congress who will cross party lines to promote the common good. Our polarized partisan politics prevent the compromise needed in a healthy democracy.
There is a major flaw in our election laws. The Constitution provides that electors from each state elect the President. It would allow an unprincipled President running for reelection to manipulate electors with a supplicant governor, then have a partisan House accept a fraudulent electoral vote and the Vice President affirm a fraudulent election. That was Trump’s plan.
Legitimate elections don’t always produce legitimate results. Voters have elected demagogues in state and local elections in the past, and at the national level in 2016. Voters are masters of their political destiny, but when they fail to vote, or vote for a demagogue, they are bound by the results; and those election results have often reflected voter irresponsibility.
Political legitimacy in democratic elections requires both voter rights and responsibilities. Deficiencies in the electoral college need to be corrected, and laws that protect voting rights need to be enforced; and in a libertarian democracy the first priority of voters should be to exercise their moral responsibility to elect candidates committed to provide for the common good.
The Editorial Board of The Washington Post has urged the passage of Democratic voting rights legislation that seems more focused on voting convenience than voting rights, and has been blocked by Republicans; but it went on to say, Here is one thing that Congress still might do. “The focus of the Democrats’ failed bills was on ensuring Americans access to the ballot box — a response to voting restrictions imposed in 19 states by Republicans. But at least as important is ensuring that Americans’ votes are counted fairly and the results respected. U.S. democracy’s most severe test in modern times came when President Donald Trump tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election by pressuring local election officials, state lawmakers, Congress and the vice president. He failed, but exposed critical vulnerabilities in the nation’s political system. Foremost is the 1887 Electoral Count Act, a creaky law prescribing how Congress tallies presidential electoral votes. This process was the focus of the Jan. 6 attack. The mob that assaulted the Capitol was riled by Mr. Trump’s insistence that federal lawmakers or then-Vice President Mike Pence could object to counting the electoral votes that states had submitted. Congress should change the law to make clear that the vice president has no power to object, overturn or otherwise refuse to count states’ electoral votes. Also needed is a curb on the ability of members of Congress to launch similar partisan maneuvers Currently, it takes only an objection from a single member of each chamber to force a session on whether to accept a state’s electors — and majority votes in each chamber can sustain such an objection. This raises the possibility that a partisan congressional majority can throw out election results it does not like. If Congress is to have any role in counting electoral votes, these thresholds must be far higher. The basis on which lawmakers can lodge objections must also be explicit and narrow — for example, that an elector was constitutionally unqualified to cast an electoral vote. The law should treat as presumptively valid electors certified by governors, under court oversight, according to the popular vote systems in each state. Likewise, the law should refuse to acknowledge electors state legislatures might try to appoint outside this process, after a vote has occurred. Congress should extend protections to election workers, both from partisan officials seeking to pressure them and from members of the public who might threaten them with harm. And the federal government should provide money for better election equipment, staffing, training and statistically-sound vote auditing.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has convened a bipartisan group to discuss such sensible changes; Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has put forth a smart proposal. These are modest reforms to which no one who cares about the nation’s democratic system could reasonably object. Senators cannot let this convergence of interest in reform pass. What they do now could determine whether the United States faces a crisis on the scale of — or worse — than what the country experienced on Jan. 6, 2021.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/30/democracy-remains-under-threat-here-is-one-thing-that-congress-still-might-do/?utm.
“In an extraordinary rebuke” that illustrated the extent to which Trump has corrupted the GOP, “on January 28, 2022 the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to condemn Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill) the two Republican members of a House committee investigating the January 6 2021 attack Congressional investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. The censure resolution passed overwhelmingly on a voice vote without debate or discussion, with the whole process taking about one minute. The party said the behavior of Cheney and Kinzinger ‘has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic.’ The resolution accused the two of participating in a ‘Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse as the committee investigates the insurrection in which a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building, injured 140 members of law enforcement and vandalized the Capitol to stop the affirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral college win. The attack led to the deaths of five people.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/02/03/rnc-cheney-trump/?utm.
The Electoral College is a body of electors established by the United States Constitution, which forms every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president of the United States. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors, and an absolute majority of at least 270 electoral votes is required to win the election. According to Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution, each state legislature determines the manner by which its state's electors are chosen. The number of each state's electors is equal to the sum of the state's membership in the Senate and House of Representatives; currently there are 100 senators and 435 representatives. Additionally, the Twenty-third Amendment, ratified in 1961, provides that the District of Columbia (D.C.) is entitled to the same number of electors as the least populated state (presently three). U.S. territories are not entitled to any electors. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Electoral_College.