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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

Saving democracy one vote at a time: Democratic secretaries of state review the 2020 election and look ahead to 2022

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.

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