The historic elections taking place this November will not just decide what candidates win or lose, or even "just" what policy directions our states and country will take. They will also be a test for democracy itself.
I served as Secretary of the State in Connecticut during the 1990s, and we had our share of close elections and controversies. But the job of election officials is far harder today. The rise of Super PACs, the hyper-partisanship, the sheer volume of negativity, and the new efforts to complicate the system and discourage voters with restrictive laws are all challenges. And now, most dangerously, with the possibility of widespread efforts to interfere with people attempting to vote (as Demos and Common Cause discuss in a recent report) election officials will have their hands full this election season.
But while I am concerned about the efforts to discourage the vote, I am also proud of the level of successful pushback that there has been. Judicial rulings, even from conservative judges, have set aside some of the restrictive laws (see our recent post on a key ruling in Pennsylvania on voter ID) and the Justice department has invalidated several others. Advocacy and grassroots organizations are working to resist these attempts, and also to educate people about the new requirements for registration and voting.
As we come in to the home stretch, it will be critical for election officials to step up to defend that most precious right of every citizen in America, to cast a free and unfettered vote. Election officials, including Secretaries of State and local registrars and clerks, can play a key role in educating voters about the new rules, and encouraging everyone to participate.
And on Election Day itself, they need to stand firm against any attempts to harass or intimidate voters, slow down the process, or create disturbances. Election officials, law enforcement, the media, and campaign and party officials who seek a full and fair election need to work together to ensure that everyone can cast that unfettered vote.
This is clearly a year of great challenges for democracy. But if voters can sift through the negative fog and the new complications, and participate fully, and if election officials ensure that they can do so, November 6 may yet turn out to be a day where democracy wins and wins big.