To Chris Wallace, Susan Page, Steve Scully, and Kristen Welker:
Debates present a special forum for the American people to hear directly from presidential and vice-presidential candidates about their vision for how to grapple with the problems facing the country. During a year marred by crisis, it is more important than ever for voters to be able to understand every candidate’s plans for the future of the country.
In a time when so many Americans feel shut out, distrust their elected officials, and worry that only the powerful get a say, a conversation about the future of our country must include candidates’ plans to restore that trust and bring people back to the table. Today, the 42 undersigned organizations urge you—the debate moderators— to insist that every candidate address how they will work to ensure that voters are fairly represented by our government and can trust that their needs will not be unjustly drowned out by powerful corporate and wealthy interests. Coming into one of the most unique elections in our nation’s history, with attacks on the voting process and the need to secure our elections from foreign interference as front and center issues, it is imperative that democracy reform is given special attention and ample discussion time during the upcoming debates.
Make no mistake, candidates discussing democracy reform would not be forecasting solutions to a future problem—but instead addressing our present reality: Voter suppression tactics run rampant and unchecked all across the country. Wealthy special interests have overtaken so much of the debate, silencing the voices of those who need to be heard the most. Gerrymandered districts twist the political process into a haphazard jigsaw puzzle of corruption, oftentimes created with the sole purpose of directly keeping communities of color and low-income communities excluded from the political process. America’s democratic institutions have been under attack, and voters deserve to be able to determine which candidates are truly ready to fight for them. In addition to the ongoing conversation about efforts to guarantee access to the ballot amid the pandemic, questions could be asked about debates in Congress around the For the People Act, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, and Washington, D.C. statehood.
Not surprisingly, the urgent need for democracy reform is recognized near universally, as polling consistently shows that a growing majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support measures to improve the state of our democracy. Two thirds of Americans, including 58% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats, responded that too few people voting was a major problem in our political process. Sixty-nine percent of voters are in favor of automatic voter registration. Eighty-seven percent of voters nationwide believe corruption is widespread in the federal government. And finally, nearly two thirds of Americans believe there should be more robust campaign spending limits and that new laws would be effective in reducing the role of money in politics. Americans have made their concerns clear.
So just as our presidential debates will undoubtedly heavily feature timely conversations regarding the economy, racial justice, climate change, gun control, national security, and public health, it is imperative that you ensure that democracy reform remains central to the discussions on stage—because who has a voice and vote in our democracy impacts every single one of those issues. As America collectively turns toward the task of recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, fixing the cracks in our democratic foundation may be the only way to rebuild trust in government so that the nation is strong enough to address the many problems we face.
In a functioning democracy, everyone has a role to play. And as debate moderators, you have the special role of facilitating an accessible platform for voters to truly learn who the candidates are and what they stand for. We ask that you do not forget the importance of democracy reform as you work to achieve this goal.
California Clean Money Campaign
Center for Digital Democracy
Citizens for Voting Integrity New York
Clean Elections Texas
Declaration for American Democracy
End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund
Fix Democracy First
Government Accountability Project
Indivisible California Green Team
Keep Our Republic
League of Women Voters of the United States Movement for a People’s Party
National Association of Social Workers NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice New American Leaders Action Fund
New York Democratic Lawyers Council Patriotic Millionaires
People for the American Way (PFAW) Progressive Turnout Project
Protect Our Vote Philly
RepresentUs New Mexico
Secure Elections Network
Stand Up America
Take on Wall Street
Voices for Progress
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign