‘Scholars of Democracy’ Sign Statement to Support U.S. Voting Legislation

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A collection of prominent American-based “scholars of democracy” – the majority of them political scientists – have signed a statement in support of the Freedom to Vote Act. The legislation, according to the summary on Congress.gov, expands voter registration and voting access, limits removing voters from voter rolls, allows voting for ex-convicts, establishes election day as a federal holiday, requires states to audit federal elections and sets out criteria for redistricting congressional districts.

The legislation was introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, on September 14, and the first vote on it – to allow it to proceed to debate – occurred  on October 20. By that time the bill had 50-co-sponsors, and yet that vote failed on a 49-51 vote – not even a majority much less the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. As the League of Women Voters has explained, “One may wonder why a bill with 50 cosponsors did not receive a least 50 votes in favor. This does not reflect a loss of support but a procedural necessity to keep the bill alive. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer strategically voted down the bill to ensure that he can bring it up for consideration again. Immediately following the failed vote, Senator Schumer filed a motion to reconsider, which empowers him to bring the FTVA to the Senate once more.”

The scholars who signed the statement in favor of the act “urge all members of Congress to pass the bill, if necessary by suspending the Senate filibuster rule and using a simple majority vote.”

They argue this is a point-of no-return moment for the American experiment.

“If Congress fails to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, American democracy will be at critical risk. Not only could this failure undermine the minimum condition for electoral democracy—free and fair elections—but it would in turn likely result in an extended period of minority rule, which a majority of the country would reject as undemocratic and illegitimate. This would have grave consequences not only for our democracy, but for political order, economic prosperity, and the national security of the United States as well.

“Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act. But time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching. To lose our democracy but preserve the filibuster in its current form—in which a minority can block popular legislation without even having to hold the floor—would be a short-sighted mistake of historic proportions. The remarkable history of the American system of government is replete with critical, generational moments in which liberal democracy itself was under threat, and Congress asserted its central leadership role in proving that a system of free and fair elections can work.”

The statement is found on the New America website. New America, formerly the New America Foundation, is considered a progressive, in the political sense, think tank that bills itself as “a civic platform that connects a research institute, technology lab, solutions network, media hub and public forum.” It’s not overly political, and its reports (e.g. What We Know About Ranked-Choice Voting or Coastal Risk is Rising How Will We Respond) and programs (e.g. Better Life Lab, Center on Education & Labor) reflect a focus more on problem solving than politics. Nonetheless, in the 2021 United States, these positions would likely be viewed as liberal on the political spectrum.

In that vein, the statement calls out those Republican voters who accept the “Big Lie” of a stolen presidential election and Republican-led states that “have enacted partisan laws intended to make it harder for Democrats to win elections.”

The signees, who numbered 176 at the time of this writing, include from Margaret Levi of Stanford University, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Stella M. Rouse of the University of Maryland, and Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. A full and current list is appended to the statement.

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