Above, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addresses a meeting of ALEC in 2015.
In the greatest democracy in the history of the world, it should be easy to vote. Everyone should have confidence in the votes cast and the result of each election. These statements aren’t contradictory. And, neither has anything to do with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the pro-business state legislator organization I lead.
But if these two ideas can’t exist in concert, then we are failing ourselves and our democracy. Instead, the target should be understanding our systems and understanding each other.
Fueled by lack of understanding, or even a desire to understand, the politics of bad faith has reached a new peak. This week, Common Cause and a collection of progressive, labor and climate activists sent a letter to a handful of companies demanding they end support for ALEC. The charge: By using template legislation, ALEC is “lobbying” to make it harder to vote.
There are two problems here. ALEC doesn’t have “template legislation” on voting because ALEC doesn’t work on voting issues. And, ALEC doesn’t lobby on any issue. The allegation is a literal fabrication. But in today’s world of guilty-until-proven-innocent and unsubstantiated finger-pointing, the claim — based only on rumor and innuendo — passes as news in progressive outlets like Salon and MSNBC.
From there, media consumers hear, believe and repeat a falsehood about who is “restricting voting rights.” They sign petitions, attack companies, make social media posts and, through all this effort, achieve nothing. Because they are aiming at the wrong target.
If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, you can take a bank shot and attack a company, as did so many activists when pressuring Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines in April, but you’d be wasting your voice. The activists succeeded in forcing public statements from these companies, but when the dust settled and people actually read the Georgia legislation, they found the laws expanded ballot access rather than diminished it. Both Coke and Delta repositioned their statements, took a step back and refused to engage further.
There’s more at stake than just misunderstanding, too. Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game from Georgia, a state with newly liberalized laws, to Colorado, a state with more restrictive voting rights. But by the time the truth came out, the damage had already been done.
When activists shoot before they aim, they hit the wrong target, just as they are with ALEC partners.
States have authority over elections. It’s in the Constitution. Every state has different laws — also in the Constitution. In fact, the states’ differing approaches to law and government are why the Framers created a federalist system of government back in 1787. If you don’t like it, you can change the Constitution. The document itself includes instructions on how to do it. It’s called Article V. If you don’t understand the system, you will never be able to achieve systemic change, up to and including a completely new way of electing leaders and operating government.
But more importantly, we need to focus on understanding each other’s motivations. We need to lower the volume on our TVs, look up from our smartphones and actually see one another. I firmly believe no legislator in America wants to make it harder to vote. As the keepers of our democracy, we’ve charged them with asking the tough questions to ensure government works. When they ask tough questions, we attack them for doing so. We should reward the rigor with which legislators are looking at their laws and their audit systems. It isn’t political. It’s how we ensure the government works for all of us.