Free and Fair Elections are the Heartbeat of our Democracy

October 26, 2019

America’s democratic republic was founded more than two centuries ago on principles of equality and self-governance, what President Abraham Lincoln described in his Gettysburg Address as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” In our United States Constitution, America's founders laid the cornerstone of these principles by establishing the right to vote for every American, their purpose inscribed in the opening lines:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

For hundreds of years, people of good conscience have built on that foundation, fighting to expand voting rights and working to make America a freer nation with a more representative government. Countless patriots have sacrificed lives and livelihoods to preserve these hard won gains, some as service members in wars overseas, others as civil rights champions facing shocking brutality here at home. They fought to ensure that American self-government would not perish from the Earth.

Yet after more than two hundred years, we are facing a hard truth. We have been shown clear, irrefutable evidence that America’s enemies are targeting our election systems to threaten our security and stability as a nation. They have been working night and day to exploit any weakness they find, and to sow seeds of doubt and discord that subvert the integrity and legitimacy of our elections at every opportunity.

Our democracy is under threat. This is no longer in question and Congress must act accordingly. In 2016, it was unanimously determined by our own Intelligence Community that the Russian government had orchestrated a sophisticated counter-intelligence campaign to interfere in our Presidential elections. This interference was not isolated, and we have been warned that Russia again worked to interfere in our 2018 elections. Every day, 365 days a year, foreign entities are working to weaken and undermine our democracy.

I wish I could tell you America's election security was not a political issue. It absolutely should not be. But to date, we have watched as our own President has deliberately, publicly and repeatedly asked foreign leaders and their governments to dig up dirt on his political rivals, announce investigations with dubious legal purpose, and more. These invitations for foreign governments to interfere in our elections not only put our national security at risk, they cast aside our history and legacy as the world's greatest self-governing nation.

Even more troubling, evidence continues to mount that our own President used his power and position to withhold taxpayer-funded, Congressionally-directed assistance to one of America's allies, not to further our national interest but for his own personal and political gain. Putting personal gain over one's duty to country is a betrayal of the oath we take as public servants, a betrayal of our Constitution and our founding principles.

As public servants, we swear an oath of office to protect and uphold the Constitution. It is in furtherance of that oath that I cast a vote earlier this week in support of H.R. 4617, the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act.

The SHIELD Act takes vital steps to safeguard our elections and our democracy:

  • Creates a duty to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign governments and their agents.
  • Helps prevent foreign interference in future elections by improving transparency of online political advertisements.
  • Closes loopholes that allow foreign nationals and foreign governments to spend in U.S. elections.
  • Restricts exchange of campaign information between candidates and foreign governments and their agents.
  • Prohibits deceptive practices about voting procedures.

This bill joins two others that House Democrats have passed this year and that now sit on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk. H.R. 1, the For the People Act is a bold, visionary effort to expand voter access, strengthen election integrity and security, amplify the voices of individual donors and advocates, and raise ethical standards for all three branches of our federal government. Among other things, the bill:

  • Calls for states to establish independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions
  • Makes Election Day a federal holiday and limits removing voters from voter rolls
  • Develops a national strategy to protect the security and integrity of U.S. democratic institutions
  • Establishes a National Commission to Protect U.S. Legislative Institutions
  • Shines a bright light on campaign spending, including expanding a ban on foreign nationals contributing to or spending on elections
  • Expands enforcement of regulations governing foreign agents

H.R.2722, the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, provides financial support to enhance election security through grant programs and voting system requirements. First, it mandates that our voting systems:

  • Use individual, durable voter-verified paper ballots
  • Make a voter’s marked ballot available for inspection and verification by the voter
  • Ensure individuals with disabilities are given equal opportunity to vote
  • Be manufactured in the United States

Second, this legislation would develop and improve accessibility of voting systems through grants from the National Science Foundation and the Election Assistance Commission.

We know foreign attacks on our elections are happening every single day. With House passage of the SHIELD Act, that now makes three common-sense national election security bills awaiting action in the Senate.

When it comes to our nation’s security and the integrity of our representative democracy, partisan division in Congress is no excuse. Protecting the integrity of our elections and our national security must be a priority for every single member of Congress. We owe that much to the American people. And my colleagues and I are still pushing to get it done.

As I write this, I find myself preoccupied with memories of my dear friend and colleague Congressman Elijah Cummings, longtime representative for the people of Baltimore and a champion for justice and truth for all Americans. He fought harder than anyone else to lift our nation up and fulfill the promises of our founding as a free nation governed by the people, for the people. And he offered us stern warning on this very issue:

“It’s about loving democracy. It’s about loving our country. It’s about making a difference for generations yet unborn. I’m begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on. Because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children’s children, and generations yet unborn, we have got to guard this moment. This is our watch.”

America’s elections are under threat and Congress must act. We made important progress this week, but this work is far from done. I will continue to fight to uphold my oath of office and ensure that our country has the free and fair elections so integral to our democracy. Thank you to each of you who have raised your voices to demand our leaders protect this precious thing that too many of us still take for granted: our votes.

Last, but by no means least, I look forward to exercising my own right to vote as we approach Election Day here in New York. I hope to see you at the polls!

As always, thank you for reading.

Your friend,