Commentary

Is preserving the filibuster worth risking our ability to even conduct elections?

I saw firsthand in 2020 that American elections are in danger

January 19, 2022 10:48 am

Supporters of President Donald Trump demonstrate at a “Stop the Steal” rally in front of the Maricopa County Elections Department office on Nov. 7, 2020. The protesters believed unfounded allegations pushed by Trump and other Republican officials and activists that Joe Biden was elected president through cheating or malfeasance, assertions that have been rejected by elections officials in Arizona and across the country, and also by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which concluded that there “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Photo by Mario Tama | Getty Images

I was one of the workers inside Maricopa County’s vote-counting center doing my job as “a crowd of protesters, some of them armed, claimed the vote had been stolen from President Donald Trump as they gathered outside the counting center.” And as we were updated on the situation outside the counting center I could not believe the feeling that came over me: I did not feel safe simply counting votes. 

I remember the day vividly. It was roughly a week after Election Day, and we had just wrapped up our hand audit of the Maricopa County election results, certifying that Joe Biden won. 

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The work was long and meticulous, but it was also cordial and bipartisan. Everyday during this audit, I would sit at a table with a Republican counterpart and we would count ballots, checking each other’s work in the interest of being as accurate as possible. 

All during this process, we could hear “Stop the Steal!” (and other more obscene) chants echoing from outside. 

That night, after the certification of Biden as the winner, things changed. As we were wrapping up some formalities, we could hear the noise and vitriol steadily increasing outside. As I stepped outside to leave, I was confronted by the sight of heavily armed, masked pro-Trump protesters facing off with another crowd that was smaller, but decidedly anti-Trump. The deep divides in our nation could not have been more starkly illustrated for me. 

The potential for violence was such that a sheriff’s deputy who was helping secure the election center asked me if I’d like to be escorted to my car. I’m an election worker in 2020 in the United States, and I had to have law enforcement escort me past the barricades and an armed mob — simply because I helped count votes. The barricades around the county’s elections center, a building meant to be easily accessible to all, still stand today.

The symbolism of bipartisan cooperation inside a barricaded elections center, surrounded outside by vitriol, is not lost on me. There is still hope to save our democracy.

For hundreds of years America has held elections where, despite what happened in the lead up to the election, the act of counting the votes and releasing totals was held sacrosanct. Given the events of Jan. 6 and the rest of 2021 that followed the protests outside my vote counting center, it is safe to conclude that nothing is untouchable. Everything is subject to the ferocity of a radicalized mob galvanized by the political whims of those who do not see a future for democracy in the United States.

I do not think people understand how grave a threat this is to the future of our nation.

So, let me reiterate: If not for the brave men and women of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, I could have been harmed after the 2020 election for counting your votes. 

This same threat now looms large over the 2022 elections, but there is a solution on Congress’ table to many of these issues: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both have passed the House of Representatives and now await action in the Senate. While the pillars of democracy erode all around us, these two bills are being blocked by Republicans invoking an old Senate procedural trick, the filibuster.

There have been many before me who have written far better researched and more scholarly arguments on the merits (or lack thereof) or the filibuster. I do not need to re-hash those here. 

For me and the thousands of election workers around the country in 2020 who feared for our safety because we counted votes, I’ll say that we represent the last legs of American democracy. If we are afraid to do our jobs, if our elections officials need armed security simply because they certify a result, and if people feel they can now freely bring semi-automatic guns to voting centers (or into the U.S. Capitol), then I think it’s time to re-evaluate whether the preservation of the filibuster — a rule with a history of sustaining racism and impeding compromise — is worth the tradeoff of failing to safeguard our ability to even conduct an election. 

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Natacha Chavez
Natacha Chavez

Natacha Chavez was an election worker in Maricopa County during the 2020 election and lives in Phoenix with her husband and two children.

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