U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

January 8, 2022

The Big Lie and the Ballot Box 

January 8, 2022

Dear Fellow Marylander:

This week marked the first anniversary of one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history. One year ago Thursday, a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol – a mob of Americans, incited by a sitting president determined to prevent the peaceful transition of power that hallmarks our representative democracy.

This mob of Americans savagely attacked and overwhelmed the men and women of the U.S. Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Departments, smashed their way into our sacred Capitol, and disrupted the Joint Session of Congress fulfilling its constitutional duty to count the Electoral College ballots. 

I refer to the U.S. Capitol as a sacred space because it is so much more than a building where the Senate and the House of Representatives meet and conduct business. It is the embodiment of our ideals, aspirations, and hopes.

Insurrectionists desecrated the Capitol and everything it stands for, including liberty, self-government, and the rule of law. The Architect of the Capitol can measure the damage they did to the building in millions of dollars. But the damage that mob did to our moral standing in the world is inestimable.

The danger we faced on January 6, 2021 has not dissipated. As the New York Times editorial board recently wrote, “The Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends.”

The leader of this movement, of course, is Donald Trump.  The organizing principle is the “Big Lie” that Democrats “stole” the election. The mindset is what historian Douglas Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” which “produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed.”

The response to nearly non-existent voter fraud is to engage in massive voter suppression. The objective is not election reform. It is election repeal.

It’s important to understand that the insurrection on January 6th was not a spontaneous event.  As Ed Kilgore wrote in a New York magazine, “The insurrection was a complex, years-long plot, not a one-day event.  And it isn’t over.” Right-wing media personalities and conspiracy cranks feverishly and cynically stoke the movement for self-aggrandizement and financial gain. Elected Republican officials – fearful of Donald Trump’s wrath or eager to curry favor with him – enable it. At best, they are the appeasement caucus. At worst, they are actively conspiring with him to undermine our elections and our Republic in the naked pursuit of raw power.

I understand that many Americans are disinclined to believe that the President of the United States would blatantly lie to them.  But that is exactly what Donald Trump has been doing since he claimed that “millions of people who voted illegally” cost him the popular vote majority in the 2016 election.

We have the opportunity and the imperative for a course correction to save our democracy. To do so, we must restore, expand, and protect voting rights. Specifically, the Senate immediately must consider S. 2747, the “Freedom to Vote Act,” and S. 4, the bipartisan “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

On multiple occasions, Senate Democrats voted unanimously just to begin debating these bills to protect people’s right to vote, which has come under sustained assault. Each time we have tried to proceed to these measures, however, every Republican senator has voted sustain a filibuster.  Senate Republicans put gridlock and partisanship before the rights of voters. They are blocking the Senate from having the chance to consider options and amendments and do what the Founding Fathers intended it to do: Debate and Legislate.

President Biden rightly called efforts to limit ballot access across the country as a “21st Century Jim Crow assault.” He warned Americans that the Republican efforts to restrict voting rights as a result of their “selfish” challenge of the 2020 election results represent “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.” And President Biden is absolutely correct that we need to enact voting rights legislation to repair the damage the Supreme Court did to the Voting Rights Act.

In many states, Republican legislatures and governors have responded to the falsehoods of the 2020 election by restricting voting accessibility. Donald Trump’s Big Lie has directly led to the disenfranchisement and suppression of the right to vote.

I urge my colleagues and my fellow American citizens to reflect on the state of our democracy and the rights we hold dear. A blatant attempt to falsify an election and persistent efforts to deny the American people access to the ballot box have eroded American democracy to a dangerous level and undermined the freedom and liberty that so many Americans have fought to defend and advance.

Repressive, autocratic regimes never accept the will of the people, so they look at ways in which they can undermine the voting record, what the voters want to do, and the voters’ will.

We should all celebrate the record number of people who cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election. More Americans cast their votes for the presidential candidates than ever before.

After the election, both Democrats and Republicans conducted numerous reviews at the federal, state, and local levels. Those reviews verified the simple fact that there was no widespread corruption or election fraud, the will of the people prevailed, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were duly elected.

Congress and Vice President Pence counted the electoral votes for the offices of president and vice president, and did their duty under the Constitution on January 6, notwithstanding the armed insurrection at the Capitol.

But that did not stop Donald Trump from promoting the Big Lie. And that, in turn, has prompted Republican-led states to make it harder for people to cast their votes. These laws are making it more difficult to register to vote. They are making it more difficult to vote by mail. They are making it more difficult to vote in person. Republicans apparently believe that demographic trends will prevent them from winning elections so they are surgically attacking the voting rights of people – mostly people of color – they believe will not vote for them.

We have states that have 100 percent voting by mail. There has been no indication of fraud in voting these states. But now, some states have shortened the time for requesting mail-in ballots, making it more difficult for individuals to vote by mail.  And they are making it more difficult for people to deliver their mail ballots by limiting the availability of ballot drop boxes.

The Republicans in charge of these states want to make it harder for people to vote in person, too. Stricter signature requirements, reducing the number of places where people can vote, and purging voter rolls simply because a person did not vote – the list goes on.

The “Freedom to Vote Act” provides a basic federal “floor” on protecting the right to vote. This legislation includes commonsense items such as automatic and online voter registration; uniform early voting; same-day voter registration; voting-by-mail and drop box standards; and uniform national standards for voter identification.

The “Freedom to Vote Act” ends political gerrymandering by creating non-partisan redistricting commissions; requires voter-verified paper ballots and reliable audits; and ends the dominance of big money in the political system by increasing disclosure and transparency.

S. 2747 includes two provisions I have authored. First, it includes the “Democracy Restoration Act,” which deals with laws many states passed after the end of the Civil War still on the books that disqualify a person convicted of a felony from voting for a lifetime. The definition of a felony can be quite general, so the impact of these laws falls disproportionately on people of color, which was the intention. There are states where 1 of 5 Black Americans has been disqualified from voting because of a felony conviction, even when that individual has served his or her sentence and returned to society. We need to remove that disqualification on voting.

I am proud that S. 2747 also includes my “Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act.” Spreading false or misleading information and intimidating the electorate remain regularly employed and effective methods to keep individuals, particularly Black Americans and other racial minorities, from voting. Advancements in communications, including the rise of social media platforms, have made it easier for bad actors to use these strategies. My provision prohibits individuals from knowingly deceiving voters about the time, place, eligibility, or procedures of participating in a federal election. It criminalizes intentional efforts to hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from voting, registering to vote, or aiding another person to vote or register to vote.

The late John Lewis of Georgia was a dear friend and former colleague.  We first won election to the U.S. House of Representatives on the same day. Representative Lewis recalled an important lesson the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught him. He said, “Each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act. And each generation must do its part.”

We can do our part by passing S.4, the bipartisan “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”  Congress has a historic and bipartisan tradition of coming together across party lines to safeguard and strengthen the right to vote, which is the bedrock of our democracy.

Congress passed and the states ratified the 15th Amendment after the Civil War, which declares that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 15th Amendment also states that “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

That is exactly what the Senate is trying to do with the John Lewis legislation. This bill would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that the Supreme Court severely weakened in its Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich decisions.

Fifty-seven years ago, Congress designed the VRA to protect equal access to elections for all eligible Americans, and passed the measure in response to widespread disenfranchisement – particularly of racial and language minority groups – between the post-Civil War period and the 1960s.

S. 4 would require federal preclearance for certain changes to voting law and procedures. It would block changes that restrict the right to vote, particularly changes that disproportionately disenfranchise minority communities. The bill would allow plaintiffs and the Justice Department to bring lawsuits against laws that deny or abridge the voting rights of minority voters and restore legal tools needed to enforce nationwide, permanent federal bans on voter suppression efforts targeting minorities.

We cannot pass voting rights legislation as long as Senate Republicans continue to filibuster even proceeding to S. 2747 and S. 4. Inaction on voting rights is not an option as we prepare for our 2022 elections, which must be free and fair so that the American people have faith in our elections and their outcomes, particularly after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

We also need to change the filibuster rule.  As President Biden said just before the holidays, “If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster.” I agree.

We cannot take action to safeguard voting rights if we don’t start right now. States are already drawing their 2022 political boundaries to comply with population changes the 2020 U.S. Census detailed.  And we cannot start our work unless my colleagues allow us to proceed to this issue on the floor of the Senate. I urge my colleagues not to filibuster the right of the Senate to start the debate on protecting voter integrity, where each member will have an opportunity to debate the issues and offer amendments. Many senators have offered suggestions about how we can improve these two voting rights bills. Collectively, we have the chance to come together for the American people – something they elect us to do.

We will not reach a consensus if we cannot even proceed to these bills. If motions to proceed to S. 2747 and S. 4 fail again, I will support changing the Senate Rules to restore the Senate to its historic role of debating and voting on critical issues such as voting rights. The Senate needs to debate, vote on amendments, and act by majority vote on critical issues such as voting rights. That is how the Senate historically conducted its business. Our rules should be updated to allow us to do so now.

By doing so we can follow the blueprint our Founding Fathers, restore the Senate, help preserve our democracy, and take affirmative action to make sure January 6th never happens again.

Thank you for your time. Stay well.


Ben Cardin