U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben


A Republic, If You Can Keep It

Dear Fellow Marylanders: 

James McHenry, a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention, recorded in his journal on the last day of convention that “a lady [Elizabeth Willing Powel] asked Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, ‘Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or monarchy?  — A republic, replied the Doctor, if you can keep it.’”

In 2022, as America approaches its semiquincentennial anniversary of independence from a tyrannical monarch, our nation again stands at a crossroads. Disturbingly, after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which sought to block the peaceful transfer of power after a free and fair election, a growing number of Americans currently believe that violence against government can be justified, according to recent polling. We have witnessed a distressing rise of threats against law enforcement officials from various domestic extremist groups, as well as threats and intimidation against public officials such as school board officials and election workers that are simply doing their job.

You probably have seen recent reports about threats to FBI agents and offices after they carried out a legal search for classified documents at Donald Trump’s Florida estate, which was authorized by the U.S. Justice Department and approved by a federal court magistrate. No matter if you agree or disagree with the veracity of the federal search, we all should keep in mind that no one is above the law –including a current or former president of the United States.

We must condemn acts of violence from all corners and prosecute those who seek to harm public and civil servants to the fullest extent of the law. Prosecutors must follow evidence where it leads without fear or favor, and judges must follow their oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

Another disturbing trend is the rise of “election deniers” in the 2022 mid-term election. These are individuals running for elected office – in some cases, running for the very office responsible for elections – who repeat the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. They continue to support and justify efforts by Trump and his enablers to overturn a free and fair election won by President Joe Biden. And the Supreme Court is poised to hear a case that could exacerbate the problem by opening the door for state lawmakers to try to overturn the results of the 2024 presidential election, if they don’t like the winner.

Free and fair elections, and the peaceful transfer of power, are fundamental to who we are as a nation. For this reason, about six months ago I joined a bipartisan working group of roughly 20 senators to make urgent changes to our presidential election processes. In July, our group reached a bipartisan agreement to modernize the Electoral Count Act of 1887 (ECA) and make other needed changes to improve the presidential transition process.

Unconventional interpretations of the ECA are at the heart of the Big Lie and our bipartisan working group’s legislative proposal, the Electoral Count Reform Act, clarifies the appropriate state and federal roles in selecting the president and vice president of the United States. It also makes it easier for Congress to identify a single, conclusive state of electors for each state, in part by requiring states to follow the rules they set before the election when designating their electors. 

Our bipartisan legislation reiterates that the vice president has a purely ceremonial role in the mandatory joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes. This was in direct response to President Trump’s unconstitutional pressure campaign against Vice President Mike Pence to throw out electoral votes from some states.

Other reforms include increasing the threshold needed to lodge objections against electoral votes to lessen the chance of frivolous objections in the future. Our legislation has a strong provision for expedited federal judicial review to resolve legal challenges more efficiently before the Electoral College votes.

Led by Senators Susan Collins and Joe Manchin, our bipartisan working group made several additional, useful recommendations, as part of another legislative package including the Presidential Transition Improvement Act and Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act. This legislation also would strengthen presidential transitions, improve the U.S. Postal Service’s handling of election mail, stiffen criminal penalties for those who threaten or intimidate election officials and reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC helps administer grants to states and provides best practices for election officials in various areas, including cybersecurity, election audits and voting accessibility.

The Senate Rules Committee already has held a hearing on our legislative proposals, and the legislation has been endorsed by a broad and diverse coalition of public interest organizations and editorial boards.

I am proud to have been a part of the group of lawmakers who came together to find a meaningful package of reforms that we could all support. However, Congress will need to take additional steps to protect and enhance voting rights. Voting is a fundamental part of who we are as a nation and I am gravely concerned that after the 2020 election many states enacted laws that made it harder to vote, including new criminal penalties that could deter legitimate voter turnout efforts. Many states also have passed laws that could increase partisan interference in elections, citing baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.

In addition to our bipartisan proposal for election reform, we should debate and pass more comprehensive voting rights legislation that safeguards the right to vote. We must guarantee the right to vote for all Americans, regardless of their background.

Between now and November, I will remind you often to exercise your right as an American and vote. I urge you to also get involved in your community and use your voice to defend our republic and the rule of law. Keeping our republic, in the spirit of Ben Franklin, is not a one-and-done type of task. It takes hard work day after day and year after year.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply with your thoughts on our bipartisan election reform proposal or what you think would be most effective.

Stay well.


Ben Cardin