In the spirit of trying to find common ground on election reform, Donna Brazile and Michael Steeel recently came together for a free online conversation for the 92nd Street Y’s website. A member of the Democratic Party, Brazile was the first African American woman to direct a major presidential campaign, acting as campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000. She is also a political analyst for ABC News and has twice been chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Michael Steele is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, was the first African American chair of the Republican National Committee, is a political analyst for MSNBC and is a regular columnist for The Root. He is also host of the Michael Steele Podcast.

Steele and Brazile sat down to discuss election reform, an issue made all the more urgent in the midst of midterms, and the all-important 2024 election looming on the horizon. The talk was moderated by Emmy Award-winning journalist Jacqueline Adams. They focused on three key areas: faith in elections, federal election law reform, and new state election reforms.

Adams pointed out that contrary to overwhelming evidence of the opposite, many Americans continue to believe there was widespread fraud in the 2020 elections and even that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected as president.

Brazile replied, “There are many steps that we can take, but we have to get as much of a partisanship out of it as possible and we’ve got to focus on it in terms of democracy itself. This is a system that has been weakened, and it’s being drained of trust. And if we don’t take proven steps to revitalize our democracy, I think we’re in trouble.”
Added Steele, “If you don’t fundamentally believe that those who don’t look like you, live where you are, do not come from your background, have any role to participate in this wonderful, wacky experiment we call America, then this doesn’t work.”

The discussion also touched on HR4 also known as The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which aims to restore enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court. The Senate failed to vote for it, with House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reasoning that since it is already against the law to discriminate in voting based on race, the bill is unnecessary. Steele chimed in with his opinion on McConnell stating, “He’s dead wrong. He knows it and everyone knows it.”

Later discussion pointed to the changing demographics of the country as the real reason for McConnell and his party’s current stance. “There is no spirit inside the party to engage in that space in a vigorous way. In other words, to fight for that to support the John Lewis Act,” stated Steele. “So it is incumbent now on others to do that. And that falls back on we the people.”

Brazile agreed with Steele’s assessment, stating that in the area of voting rights in recent years, “The Republican Party has made a total reversal. We have work to do. And the first thing we should do is restore the Voting Rights Act as an anti-discrimination act. That should not be diluted.”

The discussion also veered to the recent shocking discovery that the Republican Party is training its poll watchers to be poll workers, placing them in Democratic areas, increasing the likelihood of baseless accusations of fraud. Stated Brazile of the practice, “This is a cynical, nefarious scheme that is targeted toward minority communities in places like Detroit and Philadelphia.” Steele explained the ultimate goal of the policy: “The sought-after outcome is to create chaos in that precinct; it is to create confusion in that precinct. It is to gum up the works as much as possible.”

Steele also pointed out Republicans are going much further than that. “They’re gaming the system on the front end. They’re grooming the lawyers, they’re grooming the police. They’re trying to groom the judges. So when all that confusion is created in that precinct gets processed through, those ballots are not going to get counted. They’re doing it in Detroit. They’re doing it in Philadelphia, they want to do it in Atlanta. They want to do it where Black and Brown voters are, because they can’t get those votes.”

Brazile felt the weakness of the United States system is in its decentralization: “We shouldn’t have 50 different types of voting systems in this country. Because of that, the power rests with the states and the governor and the lawmakers. And of course, the municipalities.”

Brazile added, “We are breaking down our system to where only a few people will be able to participate. This notion of fraud is a big lie. There was no fraud. In fact, it’s rare in American politics.”

The discussion of state election reform centered around gerrymandering and its alienation of many voters at the primary level. Stated Brazile, “Gerrymandering has rendered us to essentially two major minority parties when indeed non-aligned voters, independent voters, outnumber both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.”

Ultimately concluded Brazile, “We need to educate, we need to put civics back into our conversation not just in the classrooms, but also in our community. We need to provide people with the tools they need, give them the opportunity to cast their ballots when they have the time to cast their ballots. There are ways in which we can increase access, make it fair and transparent enough so that we increase voters’ trust in our system.”

On Tuesday, June 21, the 92Y will also host U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, live on stage and online, for a talk on his new memoir, “A Way Out of No Way,” and his vision for the future of American democracy. Joining him in conversation will be Presiding Episcopal Church Bishop, the Rev. Michael Curry. For more info and for tickets, visit www.92ny.org/event/senator-raphael-warnock.

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