It's Time to Address the Cracks in Our Democracy

By Rep. Chellie Pingree | Seacoastonline (Op-Ed)
Nov 17, 2020

The 2020 presidential election has ended with a decisive mandate for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. America has turned the page on the last four years, and I am eager to have a new president who has pledged to serve all Americans, not just those who voted for him. It’s time for new leadership to face our greatest challenges and it’s on us to deliver. 

Unfortunately, this election — like many events in 2020 — has exposed existing cracks in our fragile democratic experiment, and Congress must work with the incoming administration to strengthen our democratic institutions. We must double down to end voter suppression, mitigate threats to election security, stop the influence of big money in politics, and make sure every American has access to the democratic institutions the founders fought for.

After witnessing rampant voter suppression nationwide — from phony voter ID laws and purging of voter rolls to poll taxes — it’s clear that Congress must rebuild access to the ballot box and restore the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s why, last year, six years after the Supreme Court gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act, I joined my House colleagues to pass H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore critical safeguards for voters of color.

Our nation’s intelligence agencies all confirmed that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and there’s evidence of foreign meddling in the 2020 race as well. To better secure our elections, last year, I joined my House colleagues to pass the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act. If it had been adopted by the Senate and signed by President Trump, the SAFE Act would have provided funding to protect US election systems, required the use of paper ballots, mandated post-election audits of vulnerabilities, and helped defend against foreign hacking and attacks. I am hopeful that we can pass this vital legislation in the next Congress to stave off future foreign attacks.

Last March, the House passed H.R. 1, a comprehensive package of democracy reforms to clean up our elections. The bill includes campaign finance reform, automatic voter registration, restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals, and ethics reform — all of which will restore power to the people. The bills were not even given a hearing by the U.S. Senate due to unprecedented obstruction from Majority Leader McConnell. However, I believe that under the Biden administration, Congress will pass these bills to protect the sacred right to vote. 

We’ve seen how extreme partisan gerrymandering disenfranchises Americans. It has a particularly pervasive effect on the function of the U.S. House of Representatives, since the boundaries of our district maps are redrawn after every census. While it’s not Congress’s job to draw congressional maps, I am heartened by state-level initiatives like independent commissions to draw districts across the country that would empower states to fight gerrymandering and draw fair maps. In a truly representative government, voters should choose their representatives — not the other way around.

The electoral college is an antiquated system that was established in an era when only white men who owned property could vote — meaning women, Native Americans, and Black people, among many other historically disenfranchised groups, were denied access to the ballot box. There have been five presidential elections in which the eventual president didn’t win the popular vote. This outdated system continues to subvert the will of the people and Congress should abolish it.

Congress must also pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed vast amounts of money to pour into our political system from anonymous donors. Fortunately, in Maine, we’re celebrating 20 years of our Clean Elections system, which allows legislators to turn down corporate special interest money. In 2019, Maine became the first state to pass ranked choice voting, which ensured voters no longer had to worry about splitting their votes. We can take pride in the powerful measures taken in Maine to protect our democracy and embolden the voice of our voters.

As a representative elected again by the majority of voters in Maine’s First Congressional District, I never take for granted the sacred trust you’ve put in me. Thank you. Your votes must be the ultimate authority of our nation’s elections — not the court system, not gerrymandered legislative bodies, and certainly not politicians with an agenda.