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It’s Our Democracy if We Choose to Keep It

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 05 January 2022 in Wisconsin

trump-insurrectionSen. Jeff Smith writes about challenges that have arisen threatening our rights as citizens in a democratic republic. As Americans, participation by the people is key to holding onto our democracy.

BRUNSWICK, WI - Abigail Adams once wrote, “May the foundation of our new constitution be Justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or tempests will overthrow it.” These words are worth revisiting during times when the core idea of democracy is challenged. In her letter, Adams expressed concern that outside forces or forces from within could challenge our country’s founding principles that were granted by the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, we’ve experienced this concern in recent times.

trump-insurgentsOne year ago this week, on January 6, 2021, the nation was rocked by the vicious attack on the U.S. Capitol. American citizens, angered by the election result, decided democracy wasn’t working for them, so they chose violence in an attempt to overthrow our government. It seemed as if we were heading toward an autocratic government–a system in which one person or group holds all the power, without the participation, or sometimes even the consent, of the people. The 2020 Election results shook our fragile democratic republic to the core.

Participation by the people is key to holding onto our democracy. There are plenty of examples throughout history showing the value and importance of voting. As Susan B. Anthony famously said, “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” Participation by casting your vote is the most powerful tool to a civilized society that rules itself. Participation by force of violence is not, in any reasonable thinking, how we achieve liberty and equality for all citizens.

Maybe democracy is just misunderstood by some. It’s really a simple premise: the majority of votes cast by its citizens determines who wins, like scoring points to win a game. When the all votes are counted, the person with the most wins. No question, no debate. No matter how disappointed someone may be that their favorite lost, we move on and prepare for the next contest. It may mean reconsidering our positions, the leader we trusted to deliver for us or it may even mean questioning our own beliefs. However losing affects you, be grateful we live where we’re free to have a voice and can have open debate that can change minds and hearts including our own. Then the next opportunity we have at the ballot box, we can learn and grow from the last election—because we still have free elections.

voter-us-electionsThe 2020 election was conducted fairly, safely and securely thanks to the hard work of Wisconsin’s election officials, National Guard members and poll workers. As a former town official myself, I learned how elections work. Each polling place is managed by clerks, election officials and trained volunteers who are serious about their election responsibilities. Even after the 2020 election, votes were recounted and audits conducted and the results were still the same.

So much has happened since January 6th to help our country move forward, but feelings of bitterness and resentment still remain. The misinformation out there has only intensified these feelings. This is hurting Americans’ faith in our democratic process, and our country as a whole.

jeff-smithThe Senate Committee on Elections I serve on is chaired by someone who spent twelve years as a county clerk overseeing Wisconsin elections. Senator Kathy Bernier (R–Chippewa Falls) has pushed back on the conspiracy theories that have been perpetuated by those who think they may benefit from doubting elections. Senator Bernier said recently, "We have a great system here, and no one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating."

The danger of sowing distrust in elections was demonstrated on January 6, 2021. I fear for the future of our government—one that is by the people and for the people—if something doesn’t change, especially in the important year ahead. Our republic was founded on the premise it will only continue as long as the people keep democracy alive. Benjamin Franklin was asked "What kind of a government have you given us?" he replied, "A democracy, if you can keep it." It’s our job as Americans to do just that.

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