Want to prevent a repeat of Jan. 6 in 2025 — start with civics
Recently, Major General Paul Eaton said understanding civics is key to preventing another Jan. 6. It’s true that understanding our laws and processes would make it harder to be swindled with disinformation. Civic knowledge is our vaccine against that — and right now, a lot of us are not vaccinated.
In fact, almost half of Americans can’t name the three branches of government; three-fifths don’t know the First Amendment applies to Congress, not private companies; two-thirds don’t know that senators serve six-year terms and a not-insignificant number were led to believe the vice president has the power to overturn Electoral College results.
Of course, these gaps and fallacies would be quickly refuted with a cursory reading of our Constitution.
Today just eight states require at least a year of civics or government education. Most depressingly, the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress survey found only 24 percent of the nation’s eighth-graders are proficient in civics, a number that’s been consistent since testing began in 1998. Those 14-year-olds from 1998 are now the oldest members of the Millennial generation.
A clear solution is to return civics to the classroom as many individuals, groups and even a federal bill have proposed. But what about those who are no longer in school? How can we teach ourselves civics to help prevent another Jan. 6 in 2025?
Beyond the major general’s suggestion to start with the Constitution, which I endorse, here are four specific things Americans can do in the next three years.
- Work to Reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887: In October 2020, I warned the Electoral Count Act’s (ECA) ambiguity could lead to chaos on Jan. 6. because the law, under some conditions, lets state officials and congresspeople submit, certify, and count electoral votes that differ from a state’s popular vote. Between Election Day 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021, this was tried in at least seven states. But in the past year, despite almost being killed from it, members of Congress have not closed these loopholes. Fixing the law isn’t hard. But revisions require a filibuster-proof Senate majority. In other words, most representatives — and at least 60 senators — must vote for commonsense changes to the ECA. If they don’t, its loopholes will remain in effect in 2025. I recommend contacting representatives and senators ASAP to encourage action on this.
- Vote in congressional elections in 2024: All of the House and a third of the Senate are up in 2022. But if your representative and senators don’t support reforming the ECA, your last chance to vote most of them out is 2024. That election will also determine 87 percent of the congresspeople in attendance for the electoral vote count in 2025, because the new Congress starts at noon on Jan.3 and the electoral vote count starts at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6. This presents a huge opportunity to influence congressional objections to electoral votes in the 2024 congressional elections.
- Vote in state elections in 2022: In November we’ll elect 34 of the senators in attendance for the electoral vote count on Jan. 6, 2025. But when it comes to the integrity of electoral votes the biggest elections are at the state level. In his now-infamous memo, attorney John Eastman cited alternate (and uncertified) electoral slates being considered in seven states after the 2020 election (prior to the Inauguration). These states are the ones still most likely to determine the presidency in 2024. Six of the seven — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — were closer than 3 percent. This November, every single one of their governors, secretaries of state and state legislators are on the ballot. In other words, every official in those states with the power to let the legislature choose the electors, or to send alternate slates of electors to Congress that don’t match the popular vote, must first win in November. This fall, America will choose 72 percent of its governors, 72 percent of its secretaries of state (including appointments) and 84 percent of its state legislators, which amounts to 89 percent of its state legislative chambers. So, while the president isn’t on the ballot until 2024, the entire integrity of that election is on the ballot in 2022.
- Move to where your vote carries weight: State legislative and U.S. House elections are district-based, which means they’re prone to gerrymandering. Plus, new district maps that take effect this year will last for 10 years. So, if you really want to do everything in your power to prevent another Jan. 6, here’s another idea: Move. Gerrymandering only works because of where we currently are. The Supreme Court has punted the issue of partisan gerrymandering to the states, so it’s up to each one to set its own rules for redistricting. Some are up to partisan tricks. And while U.S. House districts have roughly 762,000 people in each, state legislative districts are not large. In fact, the average state house district in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin has 78,000 constituents. A smaller subset of those are voters, and a smaller subset of those voters are needed to flip the district, which means going where your vote carries the most weight is a surefire way to combat gerrymandering. Obviously, many of us can’t just pick up and move to another state or district. But some of us can. If anything, the pandemic has led millions of us to realize our job can be done from anywhere. Cities and states with lower costs of living are booming. In 2022, that’s bound to continue.
Lastly, here’s your civics homework. Take the next few weeks/months to learn the names and views of your U.S. representative, U.S. senators, governor, state secretary of state, and state legislators (and those of their challengers). If you don’t know who they are — which is most of us — use Google or go to openstates.org and enter your address.
And maybe download Zillow, just to look.
Ben Sheehan is a political scientist and author of “OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say?” and “What Does the Constitution Say? A Kids Guide to How Our Democracy Works.” Follow him on Twitter @ThatBenSheehan.