For an alternate viewpoint, see “Counterpoint: January 6 Was a Protest/Riot — Not an Insurrection.”
The chaos and fear wrought by the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, still stings fresh in the minds of millions of Americans — and particularly mine, as someone who served as a congressional staffer that day. But as a country, I don’t think we’ve adequately grappled with the gravity of what an insurrection means for our democracy. When future generations look back, how will they view our response? Will they see an America that languishes and yields power to tyranny? Or will they see an America that rose to meet the moment, working to refortify a democracy they stand to inherit?
At the time of the insurrection, I lived only a few blocks from the Capitol. I worked as one of fewer than 20 Senate Rules Committee staff members tasked with organizing the January 6 joint vote-counting session. Many of my colleagues in the building that day — a structure that stands as the physical embodiment of our democracy — feared it would be the place where they died.
With the grave consequences of that day in mind — the lives lost and the psychological trauma — we need to be able to reflect on this moment in history with unflinching honesty and humility. If we’ve learned anything from the disaster of January 6, it’s that we can’t afford to take our democracy for granted. This means that we cannot sit by and watch over it like a relic; we must protect it by constantly and diligently working to strengthen our electoral processes for future generations.
It feels surreal knowing Congress will gather again just a year from now to count electoral votes for the 2024 presidential election. It feels even more surreal knowing those votes may again be counted for the same two candidates. While, in some ways, we’re watching history repeat itself, not everything is the same this time around — we’re certainly not going into this election assuming our democracy is invulnerable.
As tangible proof of that reassurance, we can look to the passage of the bipartisan Electoral Count Reform Act in 2022. This critical piece of legislation clarified language in the original 1887 act that had formed the basis of disinformation and conspiracy theories about the ability of the vice president to subvert the vote-counting process — disinformation that was widely promoted by the 2020 Donald Trump campaign. Since January 2021, many states have enacted measures to securely expedite the counting of electoral votes to reduce the potential for disinformation to thrive while at the same time shoring up their legal processes for the certification of elections.
However, much more still needs to be done to prevent the subversion of state election certifications. Even as many states have enacted measures to protect the integrity of elections over the past few years, we’ve also seen many states shift more power to partisan bodies to oversee their elections — creating dangerous opportunities for bad actors to subvert the certification process.
It’s increasingly clear that the deepening partisan divide across our country has seeped into the administration of elections and threatens to once again interfere with Americans’ right to decide how to be governed. This coming election year will serve as a decisive test for our democratic institutions and will test the lengths Americans are willing to go to — knowing the country has already suffered an insurrection — to protect or compromise our democracy for political gain.
There is no room for partisan interference in our elections. We cannot stand for the people’s will to be overruled. It is a sacred tenet of our nation that power rests with the people and that we freely choose our leaders, and we cannot allow those sworn to serve the people to subvert this.
It’s important to remind my fellow Americans that, like many national tragedies, the January 6 insurrection will never indeed be over. It will be remembered by the members of Congress and their staff members who walked back into the Capitol just a few days later, and it will be brought up as a critical point of conversation in every foreseeable joint congressional vote-counting session. Perhaps most important, it will forever be a stain on the legacy of American democracy.
But while its memory will outlive us, it is our collective responsibility as Americans to ensure such an insurrection never happens again and that we decisively turn back the tide eroding our democracy. There’s no time to lose.