Democracy Platform 2020: A Presidential Blueprint for Protecting our Democracy
Protect Democracy’s 2020 Democracy Platform offers common-sense democracy reforms and commitments for presidential candidates to consider and build upon, centered around 3 planks:
- Restoring Checks and Balances. Our system of checks and balances protects a democratic form of government that serves the people, and does not allow any one person to accrue too much power or place himself or herself above the law. The next President must restore the balance between the branches and demonstrate that the President is not above the law.
- Ensuring Free, Fair, and Accessible Elections. Vibrant, active, and equal participation in elections is essential to a healthy democracy so that citizens can choose their representatives. The next President must protect our elections and expand voting access.
- Protecting Civic Discourse and Marginalized Communities. Effective democracies are built upon a discourse which values facts, and does not seek to divide and demonize certain communities. The next President must commit to government transparency and accountability, with protections for the press, dissent, open debate, and minority communities.
1) Restoring Checks and Balances
The Constitution establishes checks and balances to make sure that power is spread across the government and that no person or branch can exercise complete control over other branches. In a healthy democracy, this means that the President faithfully executes the constitution to support democratic values, and that no one is above the law.
The Problem: In recent decades, our system has become imbalanced — the Executive has amassed disproportionate power, Congress is too willing to cede power to the President, and the courts’ independence is under attack due to attacks from the President and a politicized judicial nomination process.
- Prevent Political Interference in Applying the Law — The President must commit to support equal application of the law and guarantee the independence of the Department of Justice, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies. The President should prevent improper White House interference and involvement in specific law enforcement matters and report to Congress and the public on contacts between the White House and agencies in specific cases.
- Restore Congress’s Role in Decisions of War — To go to war, the President must make a transparent case to the public and get Congress’s approval. This means providing the legal reasons for using military force and consulting with and seeking approval from Congress before proactively launching new conflicts.
- Use Emergency Powers Responsibly — The President must not invoke emergency powers for dubious or improper purposes and must respect Congress’s authority as a coequal branch. He or she should amend the National Emergency Act to clarify that it doesn’t supercede Congressional spending authority.
- Appoint and Confirm Qualified Officials — The President must respect the Constitution by seeking and obtaining Senate approval for nominees to high offices. The President should not appoint family members to key positions and should select people for their excellence and experience.
- End Conflicts of Interest — The President and Vice President must demonstrate that their decisions are made in the public’s interest, not their own. This includes: disclosing tax returns, not accepting profits from domestic and foreign business interests, and following conflict-of-interest rules.
- Respect the Pardon Process — The President should create structures to ensure that pardons serve the purpose of relief from unjust sentences. The President must never dangle or issue pardons that put himself or herself — or those who might implicate him or her — above the law.
- Protect the Civil Service — The President must protect the independence of civil servants, and not intimidate, discriminate, or retaliate against them based on political affiliation or work in prior administrations.
- De-Politicize the Security Clearance Process — The President must ensure that the security clearance process is used for national security purposes, not to exercise political favor or retribution.
- Respect Court Orders — The President must protect the independence of the judiciary. The President should commit to ensuring that executive branch officials comply with court orders.
2) Ensuring Free, Fair, and Accessible Elections
Free, fair, and accessible elections form the cornerstone of democracy, allowing citizens to exercise their most basic political right: to choose who governs them. All eligible voters should be able to exercise their civic duty with ease. In a democracy, the people are the best constraint on the abuse of power.
The Problem: Our democracy is threatened by voter suppression, deficient election infrastructure, and foreign and domestic interference. In recent years, there has been a renewed strategy to systematically disenfranchise certain groups of voters — including through intimidation, improper/illegal roll purges, and bureaucratic hurdles based on race, age, and other demographic factors. When Americans do vote, they often face long lines at the polls, confusing rules, and faulty/insecure election machinery.
- Ensure Unbiased Elections — The President must prevent government officials from interfering with campaigns or inappropriately intervening in the administration of elections. The President must also support reforms to protect voter rolls from improper purges.
- Ensure a Non-Politicized Census that Counts All Persons —The decennial census must be non-partisan and non-politicized, as it determines who the government counts as an American. The President must support measures to protect the independence of the census and should prohibit political interference in the development of census questions.
- Support Reauthorization of Voting Rights Act — The President must support the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act to make sure that no one is prevented from voting on the basis of race.
- Expand Access to Voting — The President must support reforms to expand access to the ballot, including (but not limited to): automatic voter registration, the expansion of early voting, same day registration, making election day a national holiday or a weekend, and the restoration of voting rights to formerly incarcerated citizens.
- End Partisan Gerrymandering — The President must support reforms to ensure voters choose their elected officials — not the other way around. By removing partisanship from the drawing of legislative districts and encouraging transparency and public participation, we can better ensure the rights of racial, ethnic, and other marginalized communities are reflected and respected.
- Reduce Corruption in Funding of Campaigns — The President should support transparency rules to help reduce corruption and increase accountability in political campaigns.
- Secure Elections from Domestic and Foreign Interference — The President must commit to hardening election machinery and protecting campaigns against attacks from foreign or domestic actors by increasing funding and setting federal standards.
3) Protecting Civic Discourse and Marginalized Communities
The First Amendment protects freedom of expression and dissent, based on opinion, religion, or other factors. The Fourteenth Amendment declares that all Americans are equal in the eyes of the law. The United States has a sometimes ugly, tragic, and flawed history of living up to its founding principles in protecting the rights of all Americans. America must live up to that promise. A functioning democracy must embrace the voices of all Americans — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity — in a public discourse rooted in a free press, tolerance, and respect for transparency, facts and scientific inquiry.
The Problem: The free press, a foundation of our democracy, has been under ongoing, relentless attack from political forces. Official power has been used to threaten and punish critics, in many cases marginalizing and dehumanizing minority or disadvantaged communities. This has led to the rise and emboldening of militant hate groups. Online disinformation campaigns and fake accounts on social media spread false and misleading news to divide Americans. Presidential candidates who have committed to transparency and a free press have, when in office, shielded information about the government from Congress, the press, and the public.
- Protect Civil Rights and Liberties — The President must use the authority of his or her office to represent the entire nation, both in action and rhetoric. This includes protecting the civil rights and liberties of all Americans, across all demographics. Law and immigration enforcement agencies must be de-politicized; they must treat all marginalized groups with dignity and respect.
- Protect the Press — The free press acts as a watchdog of our democracy and makes sure government officials are held accountable and responsive. The President must protect the press and prevent the use of government as a weapon against the press. The President must never intervene in regulatory, antitrust, or contract decisions based on their view of the media’s coverage of his or her administration. The administration must provide fair and open access to government data, records, and events.
- Protect Political Dissenters — Free speech and the right to protest are protected. The President must ensure that government resources are never used against political dissenters. Federal officials must not coerce private employers from stifling the political speech of their employees. The administration must never make decisions about regulation, enforcement matters, grants, or contracts based on political views or speech. Lawful and peaceful protest must be protected, and the President should enforce the law against violent acts that impede it.
- Ensure the Administration is Truthful — The President must commit to preventing the government from spreading disinformation. Government data should be accurate and non-partisan. If the government inadvertently releases inaccurate or misleading information, it must retract it.
- Ensure Stronger Privacy Protections Online — In order to protect Americans from nefarious foreign and domestic actors that seek to reduce American participation in our democracy, the President should support efforts to strengthen digital privacy rights so that Americans have more control over their data and digital footprint.
- Support Legislation to Promote Transparency on Social Media — The President should support legislation like the Honest Ads Act, which would subject social media companies to campaign ad disclosure requirements.
Protect Democracy stands proudly with the Declaration for American Democracy coalition
On May 15, Protect Democracy signed an open letter that was sent to all 2020 presidential candidates urging them to make comprehensive democracy reform an integral part of their campaign platforms. The letter was written and signed by a coalition of more than 100 democracy, environmental, religion, good government, civil rights, and other groups from the Declaration for American Democracy (DFAD) coalition.
You can view the letter here.
Below is a list of the reforms that the coalition urged all candidates—Democrat and Republican—to campaign on and ultimately make policy priorities once in office:
- Expand the right to vote and make it an easier, more inclusive process.
- Adopt stronger, more enforceable ethics laws for the executive and legislative branches.
- End the dominance of big money in our political system.
- Create more transparency over campaign finance donations and federal influence.
- Limit the revolving door and create stronger guidelines for the Washington influence industry.
- Strengthen the checks and balances system to protect against bad actors.
We launched a presidential candidate tracker with the DFAD coalition to identify where all 2020 presidential candidates stand on over 90 issues relating to strengthening our democracy.
Visit our 2020 Democracy Platform website to learn more about what candidates are saying on these important issues.
Protect Democracy opinions and mentions:
- Kathryn Olmsted, Watergate led to sweeping reforms. Here’s what we’ll need after Trump, Washington Post (November 15, 2019)
- The Lawfare Podcast: 2020 Candidates and Executive Power, Lawfareblog.com (November 13, 2019)
- Charlie Savage, Presidential Power Must Be Curbed After Trump, 2020 Candidates Say, New York Times (September 10, 2019)
- Ian Bassin and Justin Florence, The Candidates Want to Fix Our Democracy But They’re Missing a Critical Piece, Concord Monitor (August 5, 2019)
- Erica Newland, Democratic Hopefuls Will Be Asked Whether They’ll Prosecute Trump — There’s a Right and Wrong Answer, The Bulwark (August 5, 2019)
- Corey Dukes and Justin Vail, Congress Should Take Mueller’s Testimony as a Call to Action, Los Angeles Times (July 23, 2019)
- Jessica Marsden, Foreign interference is a threat to the 2020 elections — presidential interference is, too, The Hill (June 19, 2019)
- Ben Berwick and Kristy Parker, President Trump argues he is above the law. A thousand prosecutors say he is wrong, Los Angeles Times (May 30, 2019)
- The Editorial Board, The President and his Power to Pardon, New York Times (May 19, 2019)
- Ian Bassin and Justin Florence, If William Barr is Trump’s lawyer, then who is representing America?, Los Angeles Times (May 2, 2019)
- Ian Bassin and Justin Florence, Trump’s Acts Show the Urgent Need to Curb the Imperial Presidency, New York Times (April 1, 2019)