People For the American Way

Five Executive Orders Biden Can Issue To Protect Elections Before It’s Too Late

Five Executive Orders Biden Can Issue To Protect Elections Before It’s Too Late

First published in The Hill.

With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries in the rearview mirror, Election Day 2024 is closing in fast.

That means a few more months of a flawed but functioning democracy, with no clue what comes after. A few months until an election where almost any antics could occur and where some — like dangerous voter suppression and intimidation — are practically guaranteed.

A few months left to do everything possible to protect elections and strengthen democracy against coming assaults.

And if you’re like me, you’re worried.

Right now, despite Democrats’ best efforts, Congress does not appear up to the job. The GOP-controlled House has followed up its Speakership debacle with squabble after squabble. This Republican majority is struggling just to keep the lights on. And when Democrats have reintroduced vital voting rights bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, far-right Republicans have been determined to ignore them.

That leaves an urgent need for action that is meaningful — and achievable — before the next election is here. And the White House has the power to do that.

By issuing executive orders in a handful of major areas of concern, President Biden can do a lot to protect elections and increase transparency around who is trying to pull strings in our elections and undermine democratic institutions.

The good-government Declaration for American Democracy coalition, of which my organization, People For the American Way, is a member, has outlined five types of executive orders that President Biden can issue.

They include orders that require the Department of Justice to set up an election protection task force and order government contractors to disclose political spending. Other orders would require that the DOJ crack down on foreign enterprises that use shell corporations and other corrupt means of pouring money into our political system and that the DOJ’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel publishes its decisions.

Another critical order could restrict presidential power so someone such as Donald Trump can’t put unqualified lackeys in top government positions.

All of these are important. But we can’t stress enough the need for action, now, to prevent the kind of voter suppression, disinformation and intimidation we saw in 2022.

Back in 2021, President Biden anticipated risks to the next election with an executive order directly related to protecting it. That executive order instructed federal agencies to find ways to improve access to voting, including making it easier for their own employees to vote. This was a great order, but it still needs to be fully implemented.

We also need to focus more resources on the most serious intimidation threats, like the ones we saw in 2022. In that election, armed vigilantes harassed and followed citizens casting their ballots at drop boxes. We need the Justice Department to create a more efficient framework to step in and stop illegal harassment. Yes, we still need the Freedom to Vote Act, which among other things would increase penalties for harassment. But it will be an uphill battle to advance in the current Congress.

Which brings us back to the urgency of White House action now.

We should be clear: government by executive order is not the ideal in our representative democracy. It is also not a panacea. Executive orders can be revoked as easily as they are issued, by a current or future president. They can be overturned in court or defunded by Congress.

But right now, we have a clear and urgent need that executive orders can address in the immediate short term. It would be wonderful if all the reforms in these executive orders became permanent. But first, we need clean and fair elections in 2024.

As someone who has run for and held office and believes deeply in the good that government can do for real people, I desperately want our democracy to survive this next election.  President Biden needs to act now to shore up our democratic institutions because we can’t afford to leave any options on the table.

Time is running out.


Biden Administration, Elections