This report was joint authored by:
William T. Adler, Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT)
David Levine, Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD)
The deadly events of January 6, 2021 have made it abundantly clear that there is a severe crisis of trust in American democracy.
The thousands of rioters who stormed the Capitol building and disrupted the Congressional certification of the election had their anger stoked by repeated unproven claims about the 2020 presidential election. Five people died in the insurrection, including two Capitol Hill police officers. Despite no evidence of major successful attacks on our election infrastructure or voter fraud on a scale that could change the outcome of the election, confidence in the 2020 presidential election results is sharply divided along partisan lines.
A functioning democracy depends on widespread trust in its electoral systems. As President Biden begins his term, one major task for his administration and leaders across the country is to understand why so many Americans refuse to accept the results of the election, and to take steps to bolster trust in democracy.
After years of domestic and foreign attacks intended to sow distrust in democracy, rebuilding trust will be neither fast nor easy. But as a first step, the President should issue an executive order (EO) establishing a Presidential Commission on Election Resilience and Trust (PCERT).
The Commission would identify best practices and make recommendations to ensure that more Americans believe our elections are legitimate. In 2013, President Obama established a Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), which produced recommendations that ultimately were widely adopted. The successful PCEA can serve as a blueprint for how this new commission can effectively address the problems of today.
We suggest this Commission focus on the following three topics, at a minimum:
- Best practices for bolstering trust in elections, such as more widespread adoption of robust post-election audits, which can increase voter confidence in election outcomes regardless of who wins;
- Best practices for countering false information from foreign and domestic actors that undermines confidence in election integrity; and
- How and whether to make permanent some of the administrative and policy changes state and local officials made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, such as expansion of absentee voting, early voting, and others.
There appears to be growing bipartisan support for tackling these challenges. The Capitol siege should serve as a call for the parties to transcend partisan divisions and work together. The Commission will not solve all the problems that ail our democracy, but its recommendations should lay the groundwork for a more informed, rational, and sober discussion of these issues.
The Commission should ultimately present a series of recommendations for election officials, lawmakers, members of the media, civic leaders, social media platforms, and others aimed at improving U.S. election administration and voter confidence.