Book Review: Our Nation at Risk – Election Integrity as a National Security Issue

A significant book will be released at the end of July by NYU Press, authored by a group of writers under the supervision of political history professor Julian E. Zelizer and researcher Karen J. Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University, titled:

Our Nation at Risk: Election Integrity as a National Security Issue

The authors, combining expertise in political science, history, and law, study how the lack of stability and integrity in the electoral process has become a threat to American national security. In recent years, the sight of armed citizens patrolling polling stations and voting sites has become increasingly familiar, while major news channels propagate false claims of election fraud, ballot stuffing, and faulty voting systems, creating a new normal.

In an era of global anti-democratic movements, the sanctity of democratic electoral processes has become a significant concern for U.S. national security. Protecting elections from foreign interference, misinformation, voter intimidation, and the risk of overturning election results is now an urgent necessity.

How Did America Reach This Point?

The book is divided into three sections. The first section explores the sources that have caused and continue to cause insecurity in the American electoral system, dating back to the design of the Constitution itself. It examines how the electoral college, voting rights, foreign intervention, misinformation, polarization, and racial discrimination have led to instability and declining trust in American elections.

The second section discusses the various forces—presidents, Congress, the Supreme Court, and states—that have significant power to address the weaknesses in American democracy but have been limited for various reasons. Finally, the last section focuses on the critical area of administration, covering the fundamentals of the electoral system, from those who tally votes to the moment Congress certifies the electoral college results, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the integrity of the selection process.

Emerging Challenges in the 21st Century

New realities have emerged in the 21st century. Technology, misinformation, and foreign influences pose new and evolving challenges to the electoral process. These reflect the main challenges to the electoral process and their consequences for U.S. national security.

The authors explore these issues from various angles, including the interplay between foreign policy and election interference, the basic technology used for vote counting, and the use and abuse of laws, powers, and policies surrounding elections. A comprehensive approach to reforming and strengthening how we elect officials is essential to address the structural problems revealed in recent years.

The Insecurity of the American Electoral System

The book’s authors agree that the American electoral system is insecure. The January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was a wake-up call, and the 2020 election and its aftermath showed that the American electoral system remains fraught with risks, posing an existential threat to American democracy.

Political forces in the U.S., including the President, have shown a willingness to challenge and undermine the basic processes of democracy. Americans only realized this danger after signs of it appeared on January 6, 2021. However, America learned unforgettable lessons: election safeguards are weak and need fundamental revisions. Those who lose elections must accept the final results, adhere to the will of voters and the rule of law, and maintaining faith in institutions and laws is the greatest guarantor of democracy. If this faith is weakened, and those seeking power only accept election results when they win, American democracy, which is a few centuries old, will gradually or perhaps quickly collapse.

The Threat of Election Denial

The danger of denying election results is not just the possibility of one major political party controlling the country but also the means to achieve the goal of declaring election results illegitimate. The current constitutional system in the U.S. for determining the president has multiple vulnerabilities that can be manipulated, exploited, and weaponized. Despite long-standing efforts to implement safeguards, the possibility of arriving at an illegitimate outcome remains.

If Vice President Mike Pence had made a different decision on January 6, 2021, succumbing to pressure from President Donald Trump and his advisor to delay vote counting, or if a state official in Michigan or Wisconsin had proceeded with sending an alternative slate of delegates, it is not hard to imagine Donald Trump remaining in the White House and the ensuing chaos in America.

Historical Context of Election Threats

This is not the first time America has been threatened. The worst moment occurred in the 19th century when the political system proved incapable of resolving the massive divisions over slavery, leading to a devastating civil war that almost destroyed America as a nation. The promise of Reconstruction was undone by organized white violence in the South, and an agreement following the contested 1876 presidential election dismantled ambitious federal programs established by Northern Republicans.

In the early 20th century, the Deep South implemented Jim Crow laws that fundamentally undermined efforts to expand political rights and establish a truly democratic system representing all citizens, regardless of race.

Legislative Milestones

It took a popular movement and a sympathetic president to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965, eventually mobilizing the federal government’s power to protect every American’s right to vote. When the Republican Senate and President reauthorized and expanded the legislation in 1982, it seemed that the Voting Rights Act had established a new era where voting rights were firmly embedded in American political culture.

However, the 2000 election, where the electoral college winner lost the popular vote, and a close election led to the Supreme Court deciding the outcome, signaled the start of a new set of problems eroding trust in the democratic process. Despite numerous initiatives aimed at improving election administration, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to invalidate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act opened the door for states to impose new voting restrictions, often disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities, and becoming a focal point for political battles over democratic rights.

The Necessity of Institutional Reforms

America cannot continue in this manner. Presidential and congressional elections determine its future, and each election brings the promise and risk of change. Domestic politics, foreign affairs, economic viability, and safety on American streets are just a few realities elections are expected to impact.

Defining national security must include the challenges to free and fair elections, which we rely on to prevent authoritarian forces from gaining a foothold in the U.S. While many national security risks we have focused on stem from external sources, it has become increasingly clear that some of the most serious challenges come from within. These internal and external threats are interconnected, as foreign adversaries seek to exploit the country’s political instability, and the same vulnerabilities provide avenues for foreign actors to influence our process.

Lessons from the Past and the Future Path

A decade ago, most Americans believed we could maintain democracy automatically. Today, we know that preserving democracy requires fundamental institutional reforms to provide stability and predictability in our decision-making mechanisms. While past lessons helped lay the foundation for recent abuses, they also highlight the remedies available for stronger, more secure, and trusted elections. This book offers pathways to ensure we can maintain our republic.

Key Pillars of the American Democratic System

The authors identify three pillars of the American democratic system that are particularly important and have not been as stable as assumed. The first pillar is the electoral college, enshrined in the Constitution. Under the U.S. constitutional system, a certain number of electors are allocated to each state based on the state’s congressional delegation, who vote for a presidential candidate. While the Constitution does not mandate it, most electors vote for the candidate chosen by the majority of voters in their state. In 1887, Congress passed the Electoral Count Act, establishing more specific procedures for counting electoral votes. Although the system has generally ensured a smooth and peaceful transfer of power, several chaotic and contested election results have occurred. The 2020 election also demonstrated how the process could be deliberately exploited by bad-faith actors.

The 2022 Electoral Count Reform Act sought to address some of the exploited gaps, though, as the authors note, much remains to be addressed.

The second pillar is voting rights. At the heart of the ideal democratic system lies every individual’s ability to exercise their citizenship rights by voting for their leaders. The Constitution did not originally grant the right to vote, limiting it to white male citizens aged twenty and older. In subsequent decades, Congress gradually took on the responsibility of protecting this privilege. Resistance to extending the franchise was fierce. From the start, white men fought hard against granting this fundamental element of citizenship to other Americans. The Fifteenth Amendment marked a historic moment when the nation pledged not to deny individuals the right to vote based on race. However, this promise was quickly undone as restrictive measures were implemented post-Reconstruction.

Women did not gain the right to vote until 1920 with the Nineteenth Amendment, while Americans aged eighteen to twenty-one, though eligible for military service, could only vote after 1971 with the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. The 1965 Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination in voting and established mechanisms for federal government intervention when there was evidence of wrongdoing within states. When the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, conservative states swiftly imposed voting restrictions based on unfounded claims of widespread fraud. As we write, the Voting Rights Act continues to face attacks.

Finally, the third pillar concerns the multitude of other institutions within the democratic system crucial for the security and stability of the process. For example, news media has served as a primary platform through which citizens receive information about public issues, their elected officials, and the elections themselves. The proliferation of social media has only increased the potential for misinformation. When these platforms are filled with misinformation or even foreign propaganda, democracy becomes unstable. Similarly, state and local governments’ ability to manage elections has been central to ensuring citizens can express their will at the polls.

Recommendations for Reform

The authors argue that relying on well-intentioned and law-abiding actors as a bulwark against corrupt elections is insufficient. All contributors agree that passive waiting is not an option. Election security and national

security go hand in hand. All the weapons in the world and the best defense systems America possesses will not protect it if the core of democracy is broken from within.

The authors provide recommendations for reform and best practices to address the threats elections pose to U.S. national security. They also suggest ways to strengthen the structural and legal foundations and the American public’s understanding of presidential elections.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

Articles: 14402

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *