For the second time in five months, some of America’s leading “scholars of democracy” are sounding the alarm on voting rights — and condemning what they call Republican efforts to deny them.
“This is no ordinary moment in the course of our democracy,” says a 700-word letter posted Monday on newamerica.org. “It is a moment of great peril and risk.”
Academics signing a letter titled “Statement in Support of the Freedom to Vote Act” include luminaries such as Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Laurence Tribe of Harvard and Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
And from San Diego: Gary Jacobson, distinguished professor of political science emeritus at UC San Diego.
The 77-year-old academic, author of several books, once served on the Board of Overseers of National Election Studies.
Notified of the Nov. 21 letter by Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the Political Reform program at the nonprofit Washington think tank New America, Jacobson said he signed because it is “essential to establish electoral rules that prevent voter suppression and keep politicians from intervening in election administration and overturning election results when their side loses.”
He called this prospect a real threat via legislation passed by Republican-controlled state governments “pandering to believers in Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen election.”
A key ask in the letter signed by 175-plus:
“We urge members of Congress to do whatever is necessary — including suspending the filibuster — in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want.”
The letter added: “Our democracy is fundamentally at stake. History will judge what we do at this moment.”
Jacobson told Times of San Diego: “There is already precedent for the selective suspension of the filibuster and this is an instance where it is necessary to help preserve American democracy.”
Asked the worst-case scenario if such legislation doesn’t become law, he said: “Republican state governments nullifying election results based on spurious claims of fraud of the kind that have been circulated by Trump and his enablers since the 2020 election. Such actions would be a direct assault on American democracy.”
Jacobson said at least five other signatories received their Ph.Ds in political science at UCSD and one who studied there as an undergrad. He listed:
- Deborah Avant, Distinguished University Professor, International Studies, University of Denver
- John M. Carey, Professor of Government, Dartmouth College
- Jeffrey Lazarus, Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University
- Stan Oklobdzija, Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Policy, UC Riverside
- Charles Anthony Smith, Professor of Political Science and Law, UC Irvine
- And [undergrad] Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Associate Professor of Political Science, George Mason University
On June 1, Jacobson joined fellow academics in signing a 900-word “statement of concern” titled “The Threats to American Democracy and the Need for National Voting and Election Administration Standards.”
“In future elections,” the statement said, “[certain GOP-sponsored] laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election.”
Further, these laws could entrench extended minority rule, violating the basic and longstanding democratic principle that parties that get the most votes should win elections.”
November’s letter concludes: “We urge the Senate to suspend the filibuster rule for this measure and pass the Freedom to Vote Act. This would uphold the Senate’s noblest tradition of preserving and strengthening American democracy.”
An explainer by Democracy Docket said: “The Senate only requires a simple majority, or 51 votes, to actually pass a bill after debate has ended. But since it takes 60 votes to close debate, the 60-vote threshold is effectively the new requirement for passing most bills.”
It’s thought that the filibuster could be ended but for Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, defying pleas by fellow Democrats.
She recently said she remains firmly opposed to changing federal election laws on a “partisan basis.”
The Washington Post quoted Sinema as saying: “My opinion is that legislation that is crafted together, in a bipartisan way, is the legislation that’s most likely to pass and stand the test of time. And I would certainly encourage my colleagues to use that effort to move forward.”
Updated at 6:50 p.m. Nov. 24, 2021