More than 100 academics have issued a stark warning that American democracy is at risk because of efforts by Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country to pass restrictive new voting laws in the wake of the 2020 election.
In a “Statement of Concern” published online Tuesday, the academics, including nine from Massachusetts institutions like Harvard, UMass Amherst, and Boston College, called such laws a “betrayal of our precious democratic heritage” and urged Congress to pass national election administration standards that would allow everyone equal access to the ballot. The statement was posted to the website of New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The statement comes as Republican-controlled legislatures in several states are pushing laws that restrict voting access and in some cases also strip power from state and local elections administrators in favor of the more partisan legislature.
Georgia recently passed a sweeping bill that curbs absentee voting and removes the secretary of state as a voting member of the elections board, among other measures. In Texas, a bill that was temporarily defeated by a Democratic walkout would have made it easier to overturn an election. In addition to Texas — where Republicans are expected to renew their push for the voting bill — and Georgia, 13 other states this year have passed laws that restrict access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
“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,” the scholars wrote.
The academics, many of them experts in political science and government, came from a wide array colleges and universities across the country, including Notre Dame, the University of Minnesota, Duke University, the University of Utah, and the University of West Virginia. Local signers included seven from Harvard University — Jennifer Hochschild, Steve Levitsky, Jane Mansbridge, Pippa Norris, Robert D. Putnam, Nancy L. Rosenblum, and Daniel Ziblatt — as well as Kay L. Schlozman of Boston College and Alexander George Theodoridis of UMass Amherst.
Theodoridis, an associate professor of political science, told the Globe in a phone interview that “there’s a very troubling trend of democratic backslide in this country.”
“We’ve just witnessed, through [Donald] Trump’s big lie, an effort to overturn a free and fair election. And it seems like there are a lot of efforts going on out there in various states to, instead of making it more difficult to overturn the will of the voters, [make] it easier, and that’s very concerning,” he said.
In their statement, the scholars called out Trump and his Republican allies for their relentless campaign to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election, even as independent experts, the courts, and high-ranking Trump administration officials found that no widespread voter fraud had taken place. That campaign culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, in which Trump supporters stormed the building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying President Biden’s Electoral College victory.
In the weeks leading up to the attack, local elections officials in key battleground states ― many of them Republicans ― refused to entertain requests from Trump and his allies to take action that would interfere with the vote counting and certification process. Now, the scholars are warning that Republican attempts to wrest control of those processes from elections officials is a threat to the democratic system.
“In future elections, these laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election,” they wrote. “More profoundly, these actions call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy. As scholars of democracy, we condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms as a betrayal of our precious democratic heritage.”
Theodoridis emphasized that while there was a sense after Biden was sworn in that the American elections system worked, what it really did was showcase vulnerabilities that Republicans are now trying to exploit with new election restrictions.
“All of this doesn’t mean the system worked, it exposed vulnerabilities that we didn’t really like to think about before and those vulnerabilities are being increased, not decreased by the efforts since the 2020 election,” he said. “We like our electoral systems to be robust to somebody trying to steal an election. And I think our experiences leading up to and after the 2020 election suggest that we’re not particularly robust.”
The statement called for passage in Congress of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but said that alone was not enough and also called for passage of a larger set of national standards for election administration ― dispensing with the Senate filibuster to do so if necessary.