The Shameful Silence of the Democracy Promoters

While public confidence in our democracy is plummeting, organizations set up to strengthen democracy are strangely silent. There are now more of these democracy-promoting organizations than ever before, but nowhere do we see them leading the charge to preserve our rights or fix our broken elections. Why is that? 

Some of the democracy groups have been around a long time (League of Women Voters, American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center), but most have been set up in the last few years or decades. They focus on things like human rights, fair elections, rule of law, and voter education. When most people think of these organizations, they imagine principled and plucky amateurs standing up to authoritarian governments and unaccountable corporations (like Ralph Nader in the ’60s). That mental picture might have been accurate at one time, but it certainly isn’t now. 

Today, these organizations are run as businesses. They hire top experts from academia, the media, and the legal profession as staff or consultants, and pay them top salaries, in the expectation they will provide a positive return on investment through increasing the number and values of grants from government and private donors. It is no exaggeration to say that these organizations combined have more expertise in democracy, elections, human rights, and rule of law than all universities or any government; so, it is odd that as the United States suffers through the greatest loss of public confidence in democracy since the Civil War, they are silent. 

Having myself spent almost 30 years overseas as a democracy promoter, I look around and see plenty of things deserving commentary. For example, it’s well-documented that in 2016 a candidate for president conspired with corrupt government officials in the CIA, FBI, and the Justice Department, along with a sitting president, to undermine the campaign of a political rival. Although this effort was unsuccessful in preventing Trump’s election, the same civil servants ran a disinformation campaign for the next four years to cripple his presidency. In every country that I ever worked in overseas to promote democracy, this would be called undemocratic and criminal; but none of the “democracy-promoting” organizations like the International Republican Institute (IRI), The National Democratic Institute (NDI) or the Carter Center (CC) have ever mentioned it. 

How about voter ID? The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), the Carter Center, NDI and IRI are all organizations with a lot of election expertise, and all of them know that effective voter ID is viewed around the world as an essential element for secure elections, yet none have weighed in on the ongoing debate over voter ID in this country. None have explained to the public that requiring voter ID is normal and not voter suppression; and none have explained that concerns over lack of voter ID in marginalized populations are best addressed through programs to provide voter ID to the marginalized (as is done overseas). 

Although they are the experts, none of these organizations had any comment on the many egregious examples of election malpractice and fraud in 2020 and 2022, which included intimidation and censorship, statistically impossible results, election officials ignoring election laws, and ballot box stuffing caught on video. Interestingly, the Carter Center has not only failed to share its expertise on best practices for free and fair elections, but actually seems to be promoting bad practices

First, the Carter Center tried to walk back a 2005 report that concluded mail-in voting and ballot harvesting are insecure. Then they began deploying “zombie observers”—fake observers deployed to “certify” fraudulent elections—in fraud hotspots like Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia. In Arizona, these Carter Center “observers” issued a report pre-bunking any concerns that might be expressed about voting machines, but on election day more than half of the machines failed. After the election, when Cochise County officials wanted to delay certification to investigate allegations of fraud, the Carter Center issued a press release stating that delaying certification of the suspect election could disenfranchise voters, while not noting that certifying a fraudulent election would most certainly disenfranchise voters. 

The human rights and civil rights organizations have also failed to engage. When corrupt federal agencies, Big Tech, and media combined to censor and suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story in advance of the 2020 elections, and Joe Biden’s classified document scandal in advance of the 2022 elections, they clearly violated fundamental rights and materially affected the outcome of those elections; yet organizations devoted to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, like the ACLU, Freedom House, and Article 19 have nothing to say on the this merger of corporate and government power to suppress and censor conservative journalists and ordinary voters. 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have failed to call out the increasing dehumanization of 73 million Trump supporters (labeled deplorables and terrorists by media and public officials), the apparent murder of several Trump supporters by the Capitol Police on January 6, 2021, or the detention without trial of the protesters arrested after January 6. 

The ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center cut their teeth fighting discrimination in the 1950s, but neither have mentioned the increasingly open racism against Asians by “elite” educational institutions. Nor have they spoken out about what happened in Maricopa County during the 2022 elections; the clearest example of voter suppression since the 1960s. 

There are many more examples of silence in addition to what I have mentioned here, but you get the point. You might now ask yourself why these organizations—organizations expressly created to promote and defend democracy and human rights—have remained silent when human rights and democracy are under assault; but you probably already know the answer. As these institutions have been captured by the Left, they have lost their principles. Those people and institutions we relied on to protect us, to stand up for the little guy, now work for the other side, for the state, the corporations, and the one percent, and seek to censor, suppress, and disempower anyone not aligned with their ideology. Or, if not actively promoting a leftist agenda, they simply remain silent. 

We can only hope these individuals and institutions can someday regain their principles, their moral compass, and fight for the rights of all people, rather than to advantage a single ideology. But until they do reform, until they become neutral and impartial advocates for freedom, rights and democracy, Congress should not be funding them; and private donors interested in supporting and promoting democracy, rule-of-law, and human rights should do a little investigation before they cut that check.


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About Tim Meisburger

Tim Meisburger is an election integrity and international development specialist. During the Trump Administration, he was a Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID, and the Director of the Center for Democracy, Rights and Governance.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images