Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Threats to Future Elections Are Real. Here’s What’s Being Done to Protect Democracy

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Image credit: Blink O'Fanaye/Flickr

People who have studied the rise of right with authoritarianism and the January 6th insurrection say American democracy could be hanging by a thread.

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Sunday marked one year since President Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. But, of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. That victory over then-President Donald Trump also sparked the beginning of a dark and insidious attempt by Republicans and Trump loyalists to overturn the results of the election. It was a decision that suddenly called into question the stability and security of our own democratic system. And it resulted in a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

There are a number of provisions in place to protect against election subversion. However, they all depend on, for the most part, individuals in various positions doing the right thing and the courts enforcing the laws.” — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

Many Americans would like to forget that day — to put it in the past and move on to times that feel more normal. But people who have studied January 6th and the growth of right wing authoritarianism that led to that day say that our democracy could still, today, be hanging by a thread. 


Listen: Countering attempts to hijack American elections in 2022 and 2024


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Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says this is the “paramount issue of our time.”

The biggest shortcoming that I experienced for myself and my work is that I underestimated how far people would truly go to try to block the will of the people and advocate in courts of law for entire states’ votes and electors to be tossed out based on nothing,” she says.

Benson says she and other elections officials are working hard to counter attempts to hijack future elections and sow doubt in the nation’s democratic system. She says there are a number of safeguards already built into Michigan law.

There are a number of provisions in place to protect against election subversion,” she says. ”However, they all depend on, for the most part, individuals in various positions doing the right thing and the courts enforcing the laws.”

Sarah Longwell is a Republican political strategist and publisher of the conservative news and opinion website The Bulwark. She’s a co-founder of the group Defending Democracy Together

It’s important to recognize that there is a whole crop of politicians running in 2022, people like Herschel Walker, Kari Lake for governor of Arizona, Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania, Josh Mandel in Ohio, they are all running on platforms that are about saying that the election was stolen.”

The bedrock of conservatism is having free and fair elections, undergirding the functions of our democracy, telling the truth,” says Longwell. “And so much of that has been lost.”

Shikha Dalmia is a visiting fellow with George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, where she has started a new program to study and resist the rise of right-wing populist authoritarianism in America and around the world.

I’m from India and a native of India,” she says. “As an immigrant who had come from the world’s most populous democracy to the world’s oldest democracy, I just thought there were some things that just couldn’t happen in America. It was a strong democracy … and so there were just some bedrock liberal democratic principles like elections, peaceful transfer of power that I just thought were unquestionable, and Trump put that to rest for me when he got elected.”

I have come to the conclusion that right-wing authoritarianism is the challenge of our time, it’s the biggest threat that we face going forward,” says Dalmia. ”And my program is dedicated to studying that.”

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