Distrust in American democracy is nearing catastrophic levels. The violent insurrectionists at the Capitol were partly driven by false claims of widespread fraud. And just days ago, the Department of Homeland Security warned about threats of violence from domestic extremists partially “fueled by false narratives” and “anger over… the 2020 election results.” Confidence in the 2020 presidential election results has become sharply divided along partisan lines.
Many things have gotten us to this low point: years-long campaigns to falsely raise the specter of voter fraud, the rapid spread of misinformation over the internet, and the rise of far-right extremism. Accordingly, we will need all hands on deck to understand how to address this crisis. Election officials, members of the media, social media stakeholders, and experts in misinformation from across the political spectrum will need to collaborate to study the problem and recommend next steps.
That’s why, today, CDT and the Alliance for Securing Democracy are calling on President Biden to create a bipartisan commission of experts from multiple sectors, to recommend ways to restore public trust in democracy. We are calling this the Presidential Commission on Election Resilience and Trust, or PCERT.
In 2013, President Obama established by executive order the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. He tasked it with identifying ways to make election administration more efficient, improve the voter experience (for example, by reducing wait times), and improve ballot access for marginalized voters such as those with disabilities. Many of the recommendations made by this commission were ultimately adopted, and the commission was generally considered a success.
If the membership of PCERT is well-chosen, drawing from the public and private sector, including people with relevant experience, we believe PCERT can replicate the success of the previous commission.
We recommend PCERT focus on three topics:
- 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 and early voting.
With the House and Senate set to consider democracy reform in the For the People Act, Congress is actively engaged in debate on these issues. But even if the legislation passes, our work will not be over. As President Biden said in his inaugural address, “democracy is fragile.” And it will take all of us to strengthen it.
A commission is not a panacea, but its recommendations should lay the groundwork for more informed, rational, and sober ways to help strengthen and protect our democracy.