Scholars warn democracy is threatened, call for voting rights protections

A group of university professors and scholars on Tuesday signed onto a statement calling for increased federal voting protections, warning that U.S. democracy is “now at risk” with the wave of recent GOP-led legislative proposals across the country seeking to implement sweeping voting overhauls.

The dozens of academics, which included political science and government professors at schools like Stanford, Harvard and Cornell, in the letter called themselves “scholars of democracy who have watched the recent deterioration of U.S. elections and liberal democracy with growing alarm.” 

“Specifically, we have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election,” they added. 

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“Collectively, these initiatives are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections,” the scholars added in the statement, which was published by public policy think tank New America. 

The scholars went on to say that with these proposed election changes, “our entire democracy is now at risk.” 

The statement comes amid a series of proposed election changes that Democrats and voting rights activists say will make it harder for minority groups and low-income voters to cast their ballots. 

In Texas, state House Democrats staged a walkout late Sunday night to prevent the passage of a sweeping elections bill that would have banned drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting and imposed felony penalties on public officials who offered mail-in voting applications to voters who did not request them. 

The signatories in Tuesday’s letter wrote, “Every citizen who is qualified must have an equal right to vote, unhindered by obstruction,” and, "when they lose elections, political parties and their candidates and supporters must be willing to accept defeat and acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcome.” 

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The scholars wrote that the “refusal of prominent Republicans to accept the outcome of the 2020 election, and the anti-democratic laws adopted (or approaching adoption) in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Montana and Texas—and under serious consideration in other Republican-controlled states—violate these principles.” 

“More profoundly, these actions call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy,” they added. 

Republicans across the country have argued that the election bills are necessary to restore American confidence in the electoral system, which was repeatedly called into question by former President TrumpDonald TrumpPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Has Trump beaten the system? MORE and his allies through repeated unsupported claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. 

The scholars on Tuesday called on the federal government to take action against the wave of proposed voting restrictions, including a “new voting rights law (such as that proposed in the John LewisJohn Lewis Rep. Hank Johnson among demonstrators arrested at voting rights protest 10 books that take readers inside the lives of American leaders Biden says he doesn't want voting rights 'wrapped up' in filibuster debate MORE Voting Rights Act),” as well as “a comprehensive set of national standards that ensure the sanctity and independence of election administration," and "guarantee that all voters can freely exercise their right to vote." 

The academics end the statement by calling on Congress to “do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster—in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want.”