National Constitution Center’s “Restoring the Guardrails of Democracy” Project

I’m honored to be a participant in this new initiative of the National Constitution Center. As its name indicates, the “Restoring the Guardrails of Democracy” project aims to redress the erosion of democratic norms that has occurred recently in the United States and to help achieve a reinvigoration of constitutional democracy. The National Constitution Center assembled three teams to consider the topic from differing perspectives. Franita Tolson and I formed one team (with helpful input from Rick Hasen and Lisa Manheim, as well as my Election Law at Ohio State colleagues). Three noted writers at The Dispatch–Sarah Isgur, David French, and Jonah Goldberg–formed a second team. Cato scholars Clark Neily and Walter Olson, along with George Mason professor Ilya Somin, was the third team.

The three reports produced separately by these teams had some significant overlap. As was noted at the town hall discussion of these reports, the recording of which is available, all three teams embraced the urgent necessity of Electoral Count Act reform.

More broadly, the reports collectively diagnosed three distinct threats to democracy: election subversion, polarization, and disinformation. There was consensus on the need for structural reforms to ameliorate the problem of polarization, although less consensus on what specific structural reforms would be best for this purpose. By contrast, there was definite disagreement on how to handle the problem of disinformation, with one report willing to consider the possibility of carefully crafted criminal prohibitions against deliberately orchestrated falsehoods designed to negate valid electoral outcomes, while another report specifically rejected anything along those lines.

Even more broadly, some of the reports addressed potential reforms beyond those relating to the conduct of elections. The relationship of Congress to the presidency was a matter for consideration, and also the idea that in a federalist system changes might be made to make it easier for citizens to vote with their feet, so to speak, if they didn’t like the laws or policies in the state where they currently reside. (I confess personally to some skepticism about the practical realism of this “foot voting” idea for many citizens: it’s not so easy to switch jobs for some citizens, and spouses will live together even if one of them would prefer to relocate elsewhere.)

One additional point of agreement was the need for improved civics education.

I encourage anyone interested to read the reports, watch the video, and to otherwise engage with the National Constitution Center’s ongoing efforts on this topic. On the assumption that revitalizing our democracy is a worthy goal, one which will need to be pursued within the context of our existing Constitution (unless and until we replace it with some new one), we will have to figure out how we can achieve the necessary measures despite the current polarization and the institutional obstacles to reform. The National Constitution Center’s organization of this project is a useful step in this process.

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