There are few areas of agreement between Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and me. But this is one of them.
“The most basic principles of a strong democracy are accountability and respect for the Constitution and rule of law,” Raffensperger said in a statement Tuesday after former president Donald Trump was charged with leading a sweeping, antidemocratic criminal enterprise to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results. “You either have it, or you don’t.”
Those principles, however, need more than strong statements. They require stronger guardrails.
The federal and state indictments of Trump and those who aided his alleged dictatorial bid to illegally and unconstitutionally hold power will work their way through the courts. That process — the thorough investigation by prosecutors’ offices and the deliberative, fair adjudication by the courts — stands as a sterling example of the vital role the executive and judicial branches of our governmental system play in protecting democracy.
But when it comes to ensuring this never happens again, the nation’s legislators need to step up.
At the heart of the despotic attack Trump and his acolytes stand charged with is the right of Americans to vote and to have their vote be counted. That is sacrosanct. The need for lawmakers to protect the right to vote is more important than ever, as there are far too many legal loopholes for the next, and perhaps not-so-motley, crew of would-be despots to exploit.
The floor of that work is fully restoring the Voting Rights Act. We have a system of minority rule, and it’s a direct result of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision gutting a key provision of the act. What followed has been a decade-long gambit by GOP state lawmakers of gerrymandering and voter suppression laws that restrict access to the polls for too many citizens, disproportionately voters of color.
This is where Raffensperger and I part ways, because despite his rebuke of Trump’s Big Lie, he’s always enabled and supported this type of voter subversion. Voting rights shouldn’t be partisan, but the fact is we currently have one party limiting them to hold power and another not doing enough to boost them to save our nation. Every member of Congress needs to reread the indictments against Trump, see the disastrous effect of their actions (or inactions, as the case may be), and step up.
The indictments shine a clear light on additional laws that are needed, including specific protections for election workers and strong penalties for threatening, intimidating, or attacking them. We need a Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss Act, honoring two Americans who had their lives turned upside down just because they volunteered to help the 2020 election process run smoothly in Georgia. They represent untold others who faced similar attacks, leading to a shortage of those willing to follow in their footsteps.
Massachusetts’ Bill Galvin is among 15 secretaries of state calling for passage of the Election Worker Protection Act, which would give states more resources to recruit, train, and retain election workers and would also make threatening, intimidating, or coercing them a federal crime. Congress should pass it and honor Freeman and Moss by doing it in their names.
But this isn’t just about the law, it’s also about politics. So it’s equally vital for us to remember that all of this could have been avoided if we had an impeachment process that worked. There are many reasons why the two impeachment trials of Trump failed to hold him accountable, including his own work to attack and politicize the process that made them mere exercises in partisanship rather than those of constitutional accountability. We need an independent counsel statute to put the interests of a nation above the interests of political parties.
Independent counsel investigations preceded the resignation of President Richard Nixon and the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. They were not without problems or risk, including overreaching. But if they can help begin restoring the faith of the American people in the process of holding public officials accountable and discouraging the next attack on democracy, the risk is worth it.
This is not an exhaustive list of needed reforms, and as my critics point out repeatedly, I am not a lawmaker. But I am a proud American who wants our government to better protect all of us. I’m using the tools available to me. Lawmakers should do the same.