Editor’s Note: Jocelyn Benson is Michigan’s 43rd secretary of state and the author of “State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process.” The opinions expressed here are her own. View more opinion at CNN.
Last December, as I was putting the finishing touches on my Christmas tree with my son, the peace, serenity and spirit of the evening broke as dozens of individuals showed up on my doorstep. They shouted, “Stop the Steal” into bullhorns in the dark of night. In a scene that would be repeated in greater magnitude and violence one month later at the US Capitol, these men and women called on me to “come outside” and “show myself” so that they could confront me about the results of the 2020 presidential election.
As the death threats made against Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs reminded us last week, efforts to bully election officials who are standing guard and protecting every citizen’s vote continue to escalate in a reflection of the ongoing battle over the future of our democracy.
Democracy deniers, many of whom now lead the Republican party, champion this effort as they grasp at every maneuver to gain power and influence. They continue to find new ways to sow seeds of doubt about the accuracy and security of the 2020 presidential election, keeping “the Big Lie” alive and in the national consciousness with shenanigans like the sham Arizona “audit.” They’ve also launched a coordinated effort in states across the country to enact legislation that would undo the policies that voters on both sides of the aisle embraced in the 2020 election. Efforts to cut back early voting, make it harder to register to vote or vote absentee, and eliminate drop boxes – a secure way many citizens returned their ballots in 2020 after the mail system proved unreliable – are center stage in Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Montana, Iowa and Texas. Here in Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vowed to veto any attempt to restrict access to the vote, there are still plans afoot to override her veto by collecting signatures from just 340,000 voters – a loophole in the law that allows the legislature to adopt any proposed bill without the governor’s approval.
And, even more troubling, building off the hateful rhetoric and threats they’ve levied at election officials across the country, democracy deniers are working behind the scenes to change the rules surrounding the selection and placement of election officials charged with counting and certifying the vote at the state and local levels. This would empower partisans to interfere with election results and the fair and secure counting of every vote, permanently undermining faith in our elections and enabling authoritarianism to end our democracy.
Think about that for a moment. In 2020, democracy prevailed against an unprecedented effort to undermine the will of the people because election officials on both sides of the aisle – particularly in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Nevada – chose integrity and truth over party loyalty. Despite threats on our lives that have continued long after the votes were certified, we remained undeterred, staunchly protecting the rule of law and the power of the vote.
And now partisan state lawmakers are seeking to remove the very authority of those charged with guarding democracy and hand it over to partisan politicians and legislators – individuals who in 2020 alone demonstrated they were much more likely to choose party over country if and when they are called upon to undermine the will of the voters.
It’s a challenging moment for those of us on the side of protecting the vote, as the threats to our democracy are real and significant.
But there is a path forward, one in which democracy prevails and remains accessible to all.
It begins with recognizing our collective responsibility to push back on every lie, every shred of misinformation, and in the words of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, “speak the truth” because “our election was not stolen and America has not failed.” Indeed, the 2020 elections were the most accurate, secure, successful elections in history – marked in part by the record-breaking levels of voter turnout across the country. And even under intense, unprecedented scrutiny, no evidence of widespread fraud has surfaced in any state. Period.
We must demand that every elected official or candidate seeking to serve, on either side of the aisle, affirms this same truth. Just as you wouldn’t hire a mechanic who lies to you about how to fix your car, don’t support politicians who lie to their constituents in order to curry favor, gain attention or raise money. Call them out instead.
Next, new laws are being enacted in nearly every state in the country that build hurdles to the ballot box. Prepare for the reality that – while legal challenges to the constitutionality of these laws may prevail – it’s a very real possibility that in many states it will be harder to vote in 2022 than it was in years past. Don’t let those enacting these pernicious policies succeed in deterring you or anyone you know from casting your vote and ensuring your voice is heard. Your vote is your most sacred, hard-fought power as a citizen. Don’t let anyone take it from you.
Finally, consider serving as an election worker or applying to work as an election administrator in your community. Protecting our democracy requires that we not cede the positions of counting ballots and certifying elections to those who would use that power to undo democracy. Last year, hundreds of thousands of citizens all across the country stepped up to serve as poll workers and helped ensure the elections were a success. Serving as a poll worker, applying to work as an election administrator or even running for a local clerk or statewide secretary of state position is one of the best ways we can ensure those seeking to undermine democracy don’t have the power to do so in the future.
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Woven throughout our country’s history is the struggle between those who would seek to limit access to the vote to a select few and those who believe in the right of every United States citizen to have equal say in who governs all of us. But every time those on the side of accessible and secure elections have stood guard, democracy has prevailed.
It will again, even in this challenging moment, but it will require all of us working together, staying vigilant and affirming the truth to ensure that it does.