This was the first sentence of the Washington Post’s headline for its January 2 editorial. As a blogger who has frequently lamented the continued existence of the Electoral College, the overrepresentation in Congress of states with relatively fewer people, gerrymandering and other efforts by some states to restrict and discourage voting (especially of minority citizens) and the ongoing Republican effort to overturn last year’s presidential election that gave Joe Biden and Kamala Harris over seven million more votes than Trump and Pence, I was thrilled with this editorial, which is reprinted below.
Washington Post Editorial[i]
“SINCE LOSING reelection, President Trump has failed to overturn the results. But his post-election tantrum, not to mention his behavior before now, has magnified legitimate concerns about weaknesses in the nation’s democratic institutions. Mr. Trump lost the electoral college by a secure margin. What if he hadn’t? What will happen when a wanton president, an out-of-control state legislature or a hyper-partisan congressional majority sees a riper opportunity, based on a cockamamie legal theory or bad-faith execution of its duties, to reject the will of the voters?”
“In short, Mr. Trump and a disturbing number of Republican officials have made obsolete the old assumptions that each major party will play fair, that electoral results will reflect the will of the majority and that each side will willingly turn over power when defeated at the polls. The nation needs a top-to-bottom review of how it conducts elections, counts votes and assures the public of the democracy’s health, so that it resists those who want to restrict voting, trash legitimate ballots and leverage positions of trust to upend valid results. Among President-elect Joe Biden’s first acts should be to convene a high-level commission to recommend a democracy overhaul.”
“The review must be wide-ranging, beginning with the electoral college itself. The commission should examine ways to reduce the chance that a candidate can win the presidency without winning a majority of popular votes, or for a tied electoral college vote to be decided by the House. Maybe the cleanest way is simply to abolish the electoral college in favor of a straight national popular vote. Or maybe there is another idea — such as proportional allocation of electoral college votes between the top two candidates in each state — that makes more sense.”
“The commission should look at encouraging more voter participation. That could mean universal voter registration, which would make the process less arduous but potentially more secure, or making Election Day a holiday. Or perhaps mail-in balloting should be expanded, along with ditching signature-matching for more sophisticated methods of verifying voters’ identities. The commission could even review how mandatory voting has worked in places such as Australia.”
“A clearheaded review of ballot security could recommend smart ways to prevent fraud and promote voter confidence, while nixing measures that are more burdensome than helpful, such as strict voter-ID laws.”
“Some states and cities are experimenting with ranked-choice voting, which deserves more attention. This promising reform could eliminate the threat of third-party spoilers throwing elections to candidates most voters dislike.”
“Voters must be assured that their ballots are secure from malicious actors and administration incompetence alike. That means stronger national standards — and federal money — for voting equipment, staff and support, including stipulations on using statistically sound methods to audit vote counts. Simple changes — such as paying poll workers more, training them better, opening better-organized polling places more often and for longer, keeping better records, buying better machines — can make substantial differences in voters’ experience.”
“Americans should also have confidence that partisan officials will not be able to reject voting results. Internationally, the United States is unusual in that its chief voting administrators — state secretaries of state — are partisan elected officials. Mr. Trump has raised the specter of state legislatures assigning electoral college votes to their favored candidates or of partisan-influenced state canvassing boards failing to certify legitimate vote totals. The commission must find ways to reduce the possibility of partisan interference in the democratic process. For example, secretaries of state might be barred from running for higher office for a certain number of years or go through an accreditation process.”
“Finally, Americans should never again have to dig up rickety old laws to determine whether arcane electoral college counting procedures might offer federal lawmakers a route to overturning a presidential election by congressional vote. The commission should recommend a thorough update of the 1887 Electoral Count Act that eliminates the possibility that a partisan Congress could reject properly certified electoral votes, as Mr. Trump would like to see happen on Jan. 6.”
“There is much more that a democracy commission could consider. The nation’s democratic system, wounded and exposed from a rough 2020, cannot limp into 2024 in comparable or worse shape. Many of the questions raised in the past several weeks are not ones most Americans previously imagined they needed to contemplate. But they are now arguably the most important issues facing the country as it reckons with the Trump era.”
The editorial concludes with hyperlinked citations to several of the Post’s articles and editorials related to this editorial.
I thank the Post for this timely and meaningful editorial.
[i] Editorial, The U.S. needs a democracy overhaul. Here’s what Biden’s first step should be, Wash. Post (Jan. 3, 2021).