This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Continuity of Government: Presidential Succession

December 5, 2022

Questions about the continuity of our key institutions have arisen at pivotal moments throughout our nation's history. Watershed events such as the Cold War, the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy brought continuity-of-government issues into sharp public relief. Ultimately, these events led to significant reforms, including the 25th Amendment and a new Presidential Succession Act.A decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 attacks forced continuity issues back into the public consciousness. One result was the creation of the first Continuity of Government Commission, the predecessor to the current commission. More than two decades after 9/11, we still have to ask ourselves, Do we have the legal and constitutional framework in place to ensure that our key institutions of government could recover from a catastrophic event?America has in place legal and constitutional provisions that address presidential succession. These provisions serve us well in the straightforward case of a president's death while in office. However, the current system does not adequately address less straightforward scenarios, such as a mass attack on multiple people in the line of succession, the simultaneous incapacity of the president and vice president, and unique succession issues that could arise between Election Day and Inauguration Day.In this report, the Continuity of Government Commission recommends several changes to the Presidential Succession Act that address these vulnerabilities. These recommendations would not require constitutional amendments; they are achievable through simple legislative changes.

The Continuity of Congress

April 11, 2022

The Continuity of Government Commission was originally formed after 9/11 to address how our key institutions can reconstitute themselves after a catastrophic attack. A new version of the commission, including previous members and new ones, who have experience in all three branches of government, met in 2021 and 2022 to consider continuity-of-government issues in light of the recent pandemic and other developments. In this report, the commission issues its recommendations on the continuity of Congress.The core continuity problem for Congress is that if many members of the House of Representatives were killed in an attack or other catastrophe, the House would likely have no quorum and be unable to meet for months after the event. Unlike the Senate, the House can fill its vacancies only by special election, and those elections are likely to take months to conduct.The key recommendation is for a constitutional amendment to allow for temporary replacements to be appointed to fill the seats of deceased members until special elections are held to elect a permanent replacement. With immediate successors to fill the seats of deceased members of Congress, a Congress with nearly full representation could be reconstituted within days to work with the president to face the challenges of the present emergency.The commission makes several other recommendations that deal with other continuity-of-Congress issues:Creating a limited provision for allowing remote proceedings when members of Congress cannot meet in person in Washington,Allowing temporary replacement members to fill in for incapacitated members in the extreme case when deceased and incapacitated members number more than a majority of the House or Senate, andAdopting procedures to ensure that a new Congress could commence, perhaps even remotely, if a catastrophic emergency prevented the regular opening of a new Congress.


Lessons Learned From the 2020 Election

September 23, 2021

The 2020 primaries and presidential election took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated changes to how states planned and held their elections, and how they protected voters, poll workers, and administrators.From political and institutional battles over procedural changes, to record-high turnout levels, administering elections in 2020 proved to be a series of anticipated — and unanticipated — challenges. Surges in voting by mail meant many states were breaking new ground; maintaining access to in-person voting also proved uniquely challenging during a global pandemic. Our new report looks at how well the challenges of 2020 were met, from the first primary election to the last vote counted. It also examines the technologies employed, the costs involved in running elections, and the confidence voters ultimately had in the results.

Campaigns and Elections

Improving the Voter Experience: Reducing Polling Place Wait Times by Measuring Lines and Managing Polling Place Resources

April 1, 2018

Long lines at the polls can undermine the voting experience, even to the point of discouraging people from voting. Reducing polling place wait times by measuring lines and managing polling place resources can improve the voting experience.

Campaigns and Elections; Government

The New Realities of Voting by Mail in 2016

June 29, 2016

The vote-by-mail process can be more convenient for voters who are unable or unwilling to contend with lines at polling places on Election Day. However, voting by mail is not a voting option without risk. Outdated laws, new administrative policies, and the realities of the political process today introduce obstacles voters may not be aware of. Without recognizing that voting by mail in 2016 is very different than in years past, voters are more likely to unwittingly disenfranchise themselves.

Campaigns and Elections