One year after January 6: The time is now to protect our democracy

The far-right is relentlessly attacking American democracy. As we approach the one year mark of the insurrection that epitomizes that attack, our nation is at an inflection point. We must be even more relentless in our fight to protect American freedoms and to ensure that we have fair elections whose outcomes are respected.

The Freedom To Vote Act is a powerful pro-democracy bill that has been sitting in the Senate for far too long. It’s a bill so urgent that people have trekked hundreds of miles by car, bike, and foot to show support because, they know, our democracy itself rests on its passage.

The Freedom to Vote Act would protect the freedom to vote nationwide. It will stop election sabotage efforts that endanger American democracy, and fight dark money that corrodes our democracy.

While this bill has been languishing in the Senate, the need for it has increased. Election officials are facing death threats for following the law and doing their jobs honorably. Legislatures in Arizona and Georgia took away the power of election officials who refused to break the law and deny the vote. Texas has made it illegal for election officials to offer someone a mail-in ballot application — even if a voter tells them they will be out of town on election day or are disabled — unless they specifically request a mail-in ballot application. The Freedom To Vote Act would strengthen legal protections for election officials through certification and limit efforts to retaliate or replace specific election officials for partisan purposes.

The Freedom to Vote Act would also implement basic cybersecurity standards for voting equipment and records long called for by tech experts. It expands penalties to prevent the tampering we saw in the Arizona sham election review, where the voting systems had to be replaced after reviewers broke countless security protocols followed by law-abiding election officials. The Freedom To Vote Act allows candidates and Attorneys General to enforce these protections.

Far-right legislators have proposed bills to allow the state legislators to overturn the will of the voters, a direct assault on our American democracy. The Freedom to Vote Act would give voters the ability to sue to ensure their votes are counted and the election certified. There are three other critical democracy bills that should also be passed by the Senate — the Protecting our Democracy Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Washington DC Admission Act. Two of the bills enjoy bipartisan support. The Protecting Our Democracy Act would rebalance power between the executive branch and Congress, ensuring that the President cannot abuse his or her position. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would once again prevent voting changes meant to make it harder for people of color to vote.

The DC admission act is also critical. DC Metropolitan Police were the force large enough to stop the coup attempt on January 6th — they saved our democracy and paid a heavy price alongside the U.S. Capitol Police. Had DC been a state, empowered to use its own National Guard, the response would have been much greater, and it is possible the national embarrassment of January 6th would have been cut short. Giving the 700,000 teachers, truck drivers, construction workers and small business owners that live in DC full voting rights is not only fair and just, it’s part of the bulwark of our democracy.

A number of lawmakers are shortsightedly seeking partisan gain — risking all the peace and opportunity fair elections offer — for the kind of autocratic power that destroys countries and economies, rather than heals them. Populist leaders are by definition beloved by their followers. By the time people grow tired of a populist autocrat, they may no longer have the power to vote them out. By supporting policies that weaken our democracy, far-right leaders are sprinting down the well-worn path towards tyranny.

This is not who we are. But this is the path being pursued by the far-right to weaken and compromise democracy. The House has shown the way. What better way to acknowledge the travesty of last January 6th than for the Senate to finally reform the filibuster and move these reforms.

Lisa Gilbert is the Vice President of Public Citizen.

Aquene Fairchild is the co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign.

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Public Citizen champions the public interest in the halls of power. We fight to ensure that government works for the people — not big corporations.