By Donna Brazile and Michael Steele
The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol showed democracy itself is threatened, not just from foreign adversaries but also domestic terrorists.
In the wake of this deadly assault on our political system and government institutions, we must now cleanse our nation’s wounds with truth and facts, disinfect them with accountability and reform, and bandage them with a renewed vow to honor the first word in the name our founders bequeathed us: United.
Accomplishing this work will require the goodwill and determination of every citizen, both political parties and all three branches of government.
We remain optimistic. If we, two former chairs of opposing political parties, can find common ground on election-related reforms that need to be made, so, too, can the American people and the U.S. Congress. Now is the time for Congress to make such commonsense improvements to our laws.
Here are seven reforms that would safeguard our democracy:
►We call for the updating of the Electoral Count Act so that members of Congress from both parties are dissuaded in the future from attempting to consider competing slates of electors by invoking this 1887 law.
►Congress should establish a more regular stream of funding for elections via the Election Assistance Commission so states and localities do not need to rely on private philanthropy and corporations for election costs in the future. And to protect voters, Congress should amend federal criminal law to prohibit any person from knowingly communicating false information about how, when and where to vote.
Hold social media accountable
►Congress should pass the Honest Ads Act, a bill with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate that would close major loopholes in campaign finance law by making the internet abide by the same rules that govern media companies. This legislation would require social media platforms like Facebook and Google to maintain standardized public databases of all online political ads regardless of whether they mention specific candidates.
►We further urge Congress to review the Ethics in Government Act as well as the Hatch Act to ensure the appropriate application of their provisions to a president’s political activities as well as those of federal or presidentially appointed employees on behalf of the president. And Congress should strengthen current laws protecting whistleblowers and strengthening the offices of Inspectors General throughout the executive branch.
►Congress should incentivize all states to join the Electronic Registration Information Center to strengthen the efficiency and integrity of their voter rolls. And Congress should also incentivize states to implement a variety of best practices for absentee ballots, including providing election officials with ample time before Election Day to process the absentee ballots they receive. This would prevent the delayed reporting of results we saw in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in November.
►It is time for every state to adopt automatic voter registration — a practice successfully passed along bipartisan lines in red and blue states across the country. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that automatic voter registration increased registration rates in every state that implemented it. As a bonus, experts believe the streamlined database created through automatic voter registration actually deters voter fraud.
Don’t tolerate candidates who lie
►And here’s a novel reform that we as former party chairs believe can be effective for political parties: Ban lies. We don’t mean factual mistakes. We mean the parties must hold candidates who lie and mislead accountable. One lie, first strike. Two lies, they’re out of the party.
The Republican Party and Democratic Party — as well as parties like the Green Party, Libertarian Party and Constitution Party — should refuse to financially support candidates who lie about the integrity of an election or our electoral system.
They should refuse to allow such candidates to participate in party-sanctioned debates, and they should refuse to allow them to be nominated.
The events of Jan. 6 underscored the need for all candidates to have a willingness to accept the results of elections, regardless of whether they win or lose, and to oppose, not foment, calls for political violence.
When someone asked what sort of government the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention had created, Benjamin Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Well, we’ve kept it. But we will only continue to keep it by consistently cleansing its wounds and disinfecting them through accountability and reform. And by the continued grace of God we shall, but Congress, the states and the political parties must all rise to the moment we now find ourselves in.
Donna Brazile is a former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Michael Steele is a former chair of the Republican National Committee and former lieutenant governor of Maryland. They are members of the National Council on Election Integrity, a bipartisan group of more than 40 political, government and civic leaders devoted to defending the legitimacy of our elections.