A Ray of Hope for the 2024 Elections from Pennsylvania
In November's local elections, Pennsylvanians chose officials committed to honest administration and the rule of law.
FOR A GENERATION OR MORE, Americans have been advised every four years that the next election will be the most important in our lifetime. In 2024, that may finally be true. The future of our democracy is at stake, and it’s critical that the election is administered fairly, without undue influence from election deniers in positions of power—especially in swing states like Pennsylvania.
Across the country, candidates are running on platforms that amplify the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and attempting to whitewash the horrific political violence of January 6th. Many even refuse to say whether they’ll accept the results of elections if things don’t go their way. With the 2024 primary elections around the corner, American voters need to be clear-eyed about the potential catastrophe for our country if election deniers are handed the reins of power. And this danger isn’t just about the top of the ticket. Candidates for positions up and down the ballot that will determine how elections are administered in this country, and it’s critical that candidates for any office face scrutiny about where they stand on these important election and voting issues. Fortunately, there’s reason to be hopeful about how voters will decide next year—and our elections in November were proof of it.
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Two months ago, Pennsylvania held state and municipal elections, including for county-wide offices that will play an instrumental role overseeing the 2024 presidential election. These closely contested races for county or city commissioner and county council didn’t attract much attention outside of Pennsylvania, but these offices have a significant role in the commonwealth in election administration, vote counting, and certification. County and city commissioners decide the location and number of polling places, ballot drop box access, and if and how voters are notified about errors with their ballots that may lead to their vote being discarded. County and city commissioners are also responsible for thefinal certification of the countywide election results. Anyone trying to change the way elections are run in Pennsylvania would have set their sights on county commission seats.
That’s precisely what happened. Over the last two years, a group of anti-democracy politicians laid the groundwork to oust faithful county commissioners and replace them with 2020 election deniers. The prospect of such people running the 2024 elections in the Keystone State set off alarm bells for those of us who understand Pennsylvania election law.
So we—one Republican and one Democrat—along with more than 100 countywide candidates from both parties, made four simple commitments: support every eligible American citizen’s freedom to vote; denounce threats or acts of political violence against election workers or candidates; refuse to spread lies and misinformation about the electoral process; and accept the outcome of the election, certify the result, and support the peaceful transfer of power. This is the democracyFIRST Promise, part of a campaign in Pennsylvania by democracyFIRST, a cross-partisan, pro-democracy, organization. All five living former Pennsylvania governors, eight former members of Congress, and numerous other former election officials of both parties supported the campaign.
The group first got involved in the May 2023 Republican primary, targeting anti-democracy candidates and supporting the reelection of pro-democracy Republican incumbents for county commission in eight counties. Pro-democracy Republican candidates prevailed in seven of those eight counties, ultimately ensuring bi-partisan, pro-rule majorities on their commissions. In the general elections, democracyFIRST helped elect pro-democracy majorities in nine of the 11 counties where they invested. Thanks in part to their work, heading into the 2024 election, of the 16 most competitive counties in Pennsylvania, which include 3.3 million registered voters, 13 will now have pro-democracy majorities on their county commissions. Pennsylvanians should take heart that, by and large, next year’s election is in safe hands.
And Pennsylvania voters expect no less. As we campaigned through 2023, we heard time and again from voters of all partisan affiliations that they were fed up with lies and misinformation about the 2020 election, and they don’t want their elected officials to sow doubts about the integrity of our election system. DemocracyFIRST’s research bears that sentiment out, showing that significant majorities of voters—Democrats, Republicans, and independent—support the principles of the democracyFIRST promise and want their candidates for office to do the same. In a post-election poll by democracyFIRST, 45 percent of voters identified “keeping extremists out of offices that control the board of elections” as the “top issue” in deciding who to vote for in the county commission or county council races.
Americans should be heartened by these results. For the two of us, and so many of the pro-democracy county candidates elected in November, defending the rule of law and supporting the foundational principles of our democracy are why we entered public service. At this uncertain and divisive moment in our history, it’s clear voters want unifying leaders who will defend the principles of our democracy.
As 2024 campaigns get underway in earnest, we urge all candidates of all political stripes to state early, clearly, and often that they reject political violence and election misinformation, support the right of every eligible voter to cast a ballot, and will accept the ultimate election results regardless of the outcome. Those commitments are fundamental to making sure the next election—the most important in the history of American democracy—isn’t the last.
Commissioner Seth Bluestein (R) was elected to his first full term in November to continue serving as one of the three City Commissioners in Philadelphia and one of three members of the Board of Elections in charge of election operations for Pennsylvania’s most populous county.
Commissioner Neil Makhija (D) was elected in November to the three-person Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and will serve as the Chair of the Board of Elections. Neil is an election law expert, lectures at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and is the President of Indian American Impact, an organization that encourages voter turnout among the South Asian community.