The CBA Rule of Law Committee hosted its fourth CBA Rule of Law Conference: The Integrity of the American Election System, virtually over Zoom on June 28 for an audience of 135 attendees. The event was divided between two panels hosted by CBA past presidents and Rule of Law Committee Co-chairs Ralph J. Monaco and Jonathan M. Shapiro. The first panel featured Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill; Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea; and David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research in Washington, DC. The second panel featured Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and two university deans, Heather K. Gerken of Yale Law School and Sudha N. Setty of Western New England School of Law.
The conference began with an introduction from outgoing CBA President Amy Lin Meyerson. The first panel discussed the changes made to voter registration laws and processes in Connecticut and Rhode Island in recent years. Secretary Merrill thanked the CBA’s attorney volunteers that assisted with election day issues this past fall. The panelists promoted the technological advancements made in expanding access to voter registration and ease of participation, such as allowing eligible citizens to register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles. They also stressed how the paper trails created by increased mail-in voting and the introduction of ballot drop boxes have improved election security. They roundly rejected the claims that largescale voter fraud has occurred in recent US elections. Panelist David Becker declared, “In 2020, there is absolutely no doubt we had the most accurate voter list in the history of the United States.” While all the panelists were confident in the security of our state and federal election systems, they emphasized that increasing federal funding for elections could expand voter access and help defend against potential hacking attempts.
The second panel’s discussion focused directly on the partisan disputes over the process of the 2020 presidential election. General Tong began by referencing how he was forced to engage in arguments with attorneys general of other states over their actions in attempting to overturn the results of the election. He also mentioned that he personally reached out to thank Republican colleagues who resisted political pressure that demanded that they attempt to overturn the popular vote counts of their states. He cautioned that false statements by elected officials can be extremely damaging to the public trust in elections.
The panelists warned that the recent rise in disinformation, political polarization, election litigation, and gerrymandering as well as the loss of critical elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have conspired to create a voting rights crisis in the United States. Dean Gerken noted, “There isn’t a simple and robust conception of what is the right to vote and what is an acceptable limitation upon it.” The panelists suggested that multiple federal reforms are necessary to combat the current voting rights crisis, but they argued that the US Congress likely lacks the political will to pass legislation that would further define the right to vote and provide increased protections for it. They warned that the current politicization and partisanship over voting rights issues will likely further worsen before it improves. The panelists encouraged the public to remember that it is the voters who decide the results of an election and it is their responsibility to uphold the integrity of our election processes.
Incoming CBA President Cecil J. Thomas closed the conference by thanking all those involved with it and encouraging the attending attorneys to continue to protect and advance the rule of law.