(RNS) — In Georgia, a runoff election for a U.S. Senate seat is less than a week away, with most polls showing the difference in the race to be within the margin of error. Whoever wins on Tuesday (Dec. 6), here’s the real news: No one is storming the state Capitol or camped outside election officials’ homes. No one is assaulting police officers. No one is threatening violence.
That we count Georgia’s peaceful runoff, and the relatively orderly election midterm season that just passed, as a victory is both wonderful and a caution. Democracy won the midterms. Voters won the midterms. Free and fair elections won the midterms. The beautiful diversity of our country won the midterms. Resoundingly.
We ignore that at our own peril.
Despite our long history of accepting election results and peaceful transfers of power, what happened in this election was far from guaranteed. In 2021, nearly 20 states passed laws restricting voter access. This included limiting mail-in balloting, purging voter rolls and reducing voting hours on Election Day itself. The intent was clear: Limit who can vote. When. Where. How. This makes it much easier for those in power to remain in power.
Direct attempts to undermine our electoral system, coupled with the widespread false belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, made the midterms a real test. Add threats of violence and Election Day 2022 could have been a disaster.
Instead, voter turnout exceeded the turnout in the 2018 midterms in many areas (although not overall). Despite the numerous new obstacles to voting erected in so many states, people stood in line, endured the rain and snow and did what needed to be done to ensure their voices were heard.
In in my home state of Ohio, where I served as a poll chaplain, people turned out in droves to cast their ballots, despite numerous threats against election workers and organized efforts at voter intimidation and suppression.
Everywhere, first-time voters showed up in unexpectedly large numbers, catching many pollsters and prognosticators off guard who hadn’t adequately factored in their influence. In the face of this welcome development, candidates, even some who had claimed fraud in the 2020 results, have generally accepted the results.
But this is no time for complacency. The promise of democracy and the future of our country still hang in the balance and Congress can still act to protect us. There are efforts right now to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 before the current Congress ends. They have real momentum, with a bipartisan group of senators working to find common ground. This can be an easily overlooked sleeper issue of the lame-duck session.
Voters have to continue to show up for their democracy as well. As Quakers, we affirm that voting is only the beginning, not the end, of our civic obligation. Once officials are sworn into office, we need to keep them connected to communities they represent and hold them accountable for their actions. We need to build relationships with them, share our stories and demonstrate the kind of bipartisan problem-solving we expect from them. Remember, they work for us. Not the other way around.
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Over the longer term, we must work together to make our electoral system fairer and more equitable. This will ensure that all voices are heard, the will of the majority is respected and the rights of the minority are protected. Our leaders must make it easier for people to participate and harder for those so inclined to manipulate the vote.
Quakers and people of faith recognize that voting is more than a basic civic right — it’s a moral requirement. Democracy does not allow its citizens to sit on the sidelines. Central to our faith is the unwavering belief in and commitment to the equality and dignity of every human. Safeguarding the integrity of the voting process for all people is vital to our democracy and our integrity as a nation.
(Bridget Moix is the fifth general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation as well as director of Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)