‘Growing alarm’ that American democracy is in danger, University of Utah professor says

She joins group of experts that warn pushing falsehoods about the 2020 election could cripple United States

(Jason Andrew | The New York Times) A pro-Trump mob storms the Capitol building in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.

A University of Utah political scientist is among 100 scholars and experts warning the Republican Party is putting American democracy in danger by pushing the falsehood that the 2020 election was rife with fraud.

The “Statement of Concern” from the New America think tank sounds the alarm about bills in Republican-controlled states to curtail voting rights, prompted by unfounded allegations about the 2020 election.

“People are surprised when I tell them Venezuela had one of the most stable democracies in the region,” said University of Utah Assistant Professor Laura Gamboa. “Venezuela was rich. They had a two-party system, a stable court system. Everything you need for a democracy to survive. Well not anymore.”

Republican legislators have introduced hundreds of bills around the country and at least 14 states have passed new voting restrictions in the wake of Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden last year. Most of those changes are introduced under the guise of election security or combating election fraud.

Utah lawmakers did clamp down on elections during the 2021 session, approving legislation to stop voters from switching parties prior to a primary election. Despite that, Utah is one of the few states with universal vote by mail. That drove turnout in 2020 to the highest levels recorded since the 1960s as more than 1.5 million Utahns cast a ballot.

“It literally raises every single red flag that I’ve seen in other countries,” Gamboa said. “There was an electoral outcome the Republicans did not like, so they’re literally just changing the rules so the game benefits them a little bit more.”

The publication warned that cynically exploiting the false claims of a stolen election could lead to long-term or even irreversible damage to American democracy.

“Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations should Democrats win more votes,” the statement reads.

Signers of the letter criticized Republican leaders for refusing to push back against Trump’s false claims that Biden’s win was illegitimate, which led to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Utah Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens both bought into the allegations of election fraud and voted to throw out the Electoral College votes from Pennsylvania following the attack on the Capitol. Both Stewart and Owens’ social media posts were highlighted in a report from California Democrat Zoe Lofgren for pushing the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen.

“When they lose elections, political parties and their candidates and supporters must be willing to accept defeat and acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcome,” the post from the collective group read.

“In future elections, these laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020; reverse the outcome of a free and fair election,” the scholars added.

“Let me be really clear. I think it’s equally important to stand behind a fair electoral playing field, regardless of whether your favorite candidate won or not,” Gamboa said. “You need to stand by the Constitution, not by the outcome.”

The statement concludes that lawmakers should “do whatever is necessary” to pass national voting standards to ensure that elections remain free and fair.