Commentary: Reject conspiracy theories by reforming election laws

By Mike Brickner

On Jan. 6, the nation watched in horror as insurrectionists besieged the Capitol in Washington, D.C., with the goal of disrupting the certification of the presidential election — a hallmark of our time-honored peaceful transition of power. In the weeks and months that lie ahead, there will be many important investigations into how this transpired and how our nation can bring ourselves back from the brink of authoritarianism.

Mike Brickner

Integral to understanding how this unfolded is to recognize that the mob was fueled by anger over baseless conspiracy theories promoted by some at the highest levels of government that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent and that the election was somehow stolen.

I say these are baseless conspiracy theories not because that is my opinion but because dozens of courts, bipartisan teams of elections officials and state legislatures have all reviewed these wild accusations and have roundly dismissed them.

There is zero evidence that widespread fraud that would have impacted any outcome occurred in this election.

In reality, the 2020 presidential election ended up being a triumph for democracy, despite overwhelming odds against it. The pandemic presented unimaginable challenges to voters casting their ballots, but states like Delaware responded by allowing voters to cast mail-in ballots and ensuring that those voting in person had safe means to do so. The result was record numbers of Americans casting their ballots, with both major-party presidential candidates garnering record-shattering numbers of votes.

In this moment of grave danger to our nation, it is even more critical that we embrace our democratic principles. President-elect Joe Biden said in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurgency that America is so much better than that day’s events. Now is the time for Delaware to lead the way and prove it.

Our state legislators can strengthen our democracy through passage of a suite of election-reform bills currently pending in the General Assembly. Among the critical changes would be allowing any Delawarean to cast a ballot by mail without an excuse, which proved to be secure and essential in the 2020 elections. Legislators can strengthen the vote-by-mail laws by also guaranteeing prepaid postage on all election mail, requiring multiple drop boxes throughout communities in Delaware and ensuring that voters have an opportunity to fix technical errors on their completed ballots.

The other major advancement that legislators should pass is same-day voter registration, which allows voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day. Twenty-one states and D.C. have securely implemented same-day registration. In the November 2020 election, Michigan’s new same-day registration system saw over 24,000 voters register and cast ballots on the same day. Studies of same-day registration across the U.S. show that voters who are most likely to use it are young people, low-income voters who move frequently and Black and Brown communities. These are the very groups that have historically faced voter suppression, but same-day voter registration eliminates some of the barriers that these communities too often face.

As our nation begins the long recovery process from a dangerous flirtation with eschewing our shared democratic norms, we must reject those who wish to undermine our core beliefs. One way to do so is for our elected Delaware leaders to show the nation who we are and reform our election system, ensuring we can be a beacon for democracy for generations to come.

It is not enough to simply condemn the baseless conspiracy theories, but we must take this opportunity to reaffirm who we are and what we believe in as a society — and that means ensuring everyone can participate in our democracy.

Mike Brickner is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.