This year’s 2021 Netroots Nation conference kicked off with two featured panels, including one featuring four female Secretaries of State: Jena Griswold of Colorado, Denise Merrill of Connecticut, Shenna Bellows of Maine, and Jocelyn Benson of Michigan joined Daily Kos’ Carolyn Fiddler discuss their role in state government as well as the current threat to democracy
Fiddler began the panel by asking the panelists what they believed to be the biggest threat to democracy. Overwhelmingly, all four secretaries stated that voter suppression and election sabotage currently pose a dire threat.
Secretary Merrill noted that since the 2020 election America has been plagued with what she termed the “3 D’s: distrust, disinformation, and downright lies”.
To address the threat to democracy, we need a federal response employing basic standards everyone can understand. Secretary Bellows echoed this sentiment.
Secretary Griswold said that Democratic leaders and elected officials need to band together and take a hard line against those who break the law or tamper with elections. Secretary Benson added that the truth, facts, law, and the Constitution are on our side. Collectively, our work over the next year must be to push back against efforts to dismantle democracy by reframing when elections are attacked.
Fiddler then asked the secretaries what they can do as election administrators to knock down barriers to voting and improve ballot access.
Secretary Benson said she became an attorney mainly to enforce the Voting Rights Act and since then has dedicated her entire career to protecting the vote.
Secretary Griswold said that secretaries have three main duties: leadership, administrative work, and making good decisions. She explained she’s been committed to dramatically increase voting rights in her state for several years.
For instance, Colorado has increased dropboxes by 55%, created forty-two new voting centers, partnered with tribes and increased tribal voting, and implemented automatic voter registration during the pandemic.
Secretary Bellows noted that she introduced an automatic voter registration bill in the Maine legislature when she was a lawmaker. Now, as secretary of state, she has had the opportunity to implement that legislation.
Secretary Merrill contended that secretaries can be powerful agents of change. In Connecticut, she said that she has increased voting at home by about 30% and deployed permanent ballot return boxes.
Looking forward to 2022, the four secretaries concurred that they are very concerned about the integrity of the midterms.
Secretary Benson says it is important to recognize that threats aren’t merely targeting individuals; they are targeting democracy and voters.
The 2020 election was very successful, but Republicans are peddling a false narrative of fraud, believing that Donald Trump was robbed. They’re now working overtime to undermine public confidence in America’s elections.
To protect our democracy, the secretaries agreed that we need to make sure liars are held accountable by the public and in the court of law. That means getting Trump-enabling attorneys disbarred and seeking sanctions against those who wasted court resources with false allegations of cheating.
Whenever Democratic Party leaders and elected officials can engage in bipartisan coalition building and get reasonable Republicans to help them protect democracy, they should, the secretaries suggested.