Elusive bipartisanship


A year after a mob broke into the U.S. Capitol in an attack that overwhelmed law enforcement, posed a threat to lawmakers debating the presidential election results and led to the deaths of seven people, Americans seem more divided than ever about the 2020 election and whether the future of our democracy is at risk.

While it appears that a majority of Americans trust that elections are fair and are confident that vote tallies in 2022 and 2024 will be honest regardless of whether their preferred candidate wins, there remains a disturbing, yet significant minority of voters who still don’t accept the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election as president in 2020 and don’t trust the process in place for the upcoming contests.

Over the past several weeks — in the runup to and aftermath of the anniversary of Jan. 6, 2021 — we have seen a number of opinion pieces in right- and left-leaning media that paint dramatically different pictures of what happened a short year ago, its meaning and its implications for the future. The disconnect is alarming. Yet the narrative of each view is disturbingly familiar — complete with the finger-pointing and accusations of impropriety and unlawful overreach on both sides.

Much of that debate comes to a head in response to Democrats’ efforts to pass a comprehensive voting rights and election law — a move they back up with repeated threats to change Senate filibuster rules if Republicans won’t agree to allow the bill to be considered. But the threat is relatively hollow. And, more importantly, engagement between the two sides is unlikely, since there isn’t even agreement on the definition of the problem. Democrats want to address perceived problems of voter suppression and want the federal government involved directly in setting voting rules, while Republicans express concern about voter fraud, oppose what they call “the federalization of elections” and believe that each state should have primary responsibility for setting election rules for its citizens.

Voting rights doesn’t appear to be the right issue for a cooperative effort at this time. We hoped we found some first steps toward cooperation in the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, but it was a short-lived respite in the endless bickering. But perhaps a unified, non-accusatory response to an issue relating to Jan. 6 may present an opportunity for another shot at cooperation.

As pointed out in a recent post by Ryan Clancy, chief strategist of the bipartisan governance advocacy group, No Labels, there is an opportunity to reform and clarify the Electoral Count Act of 1887, in a manner that will make it impossible for the vice president or Congress to overturn or reject presidential electoral votes reported by the states. Granted, clarification of the ECA will not be a big deal, but Republican leadership has indicated a willingness to engage on the topic, and it could present an opportunity for some bipartisan cooperation.

In these disturbingly confrontational times, any opportunity for cooperation should be embraced. It makes sense to start with small steps and easy issues.

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  1. Bravo to WJW for an exceptionally well balanced and comprehensive analysis of the controversial issues concerning the 2020 election and the debate over voter fraud v. voter suppression.
    I do have questions about some statements in your editorial and a significant omission:
    First, it is my understanding that only one death, not seven, is directly attributable to the violence that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021. Of course, one death is one too many. Nevertheless, WJW should clarify the discrepancy.
    Second, there is certainly an unbridgeable partisan divide over the Democrats’ proposed election law particularly on the question of whether present state voting laws properly balance the need for sensible voter ID requirements to mitigate potential voter fraud, or whether those requirements go too far by having an effect of unduly suppressing the vote of certain ethnic or racial groups. That question aside, in my opinion Congress should tread lightly on questions involving voting regulations so as not to run afoul of Article I of the Constitution that gives the individual states the primary responsibility to regulate elections. As Justice Louis D. Brandeis aptly pointed out, in certain matters the Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, gave primary legislative responsibility to the individual states, rather than the federal government, in order to encourage experimentation on a state-by-state basis. Thus, intervention by the federal government in these matters should be rare indeed.
    Finally, it concerns me that your editorial omits any mention of the highly partisan House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol Building which was set up by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. To my mind, this committee is an affront to bipartisanship as all of its members apparently were chosen on the basis of their clear animosity toward former president Donald Trump. As a result, it is inevitable that the committee will blame the attack on Trump and his administration regardless of the evidence — a political joke and an insult to the intelligence of the American people.
    I totally agree with WJW that any opportunity for cooperation should be embraced. On the other hand, any vindictive action of extreme partisanship by either party should be strongly condemned.

  2. The concept that individual states may serve as “laboratories of democracy” in local matters was popularized by Justice Louis Brandeis in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262 (1932). The primary basis for this concept is found in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    And, as noted in my previous comment, the power of each state to legislate its own election procedures is also grounded in the Constitution itself (Article I, Section 4).


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