Q&A: Elections Matter

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: What is fundamental to our system of self-government?

A: The number one check on government “of, by and for” the people is the ballot box. In 1776, the nation’s founders issued a clarion call for freedom with the Declaration of Independence, listing dozens of grievances against King George III that paved the way for our system of self-government. One of the first civics lessons students learn in the classroom is the American colonists’ rallying cry: “No taxation without representation.” The charter of freedom that established the framework for our current electoral system was ratified in 1788 and the U.S. Constitution became the supreme law of the land in 1789. The founders divided Congress into a bicameral legislature, often called the “people’s branch” with elected representatives held accountable to voters at the ballot box. Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms with congressional districts apportioned according to each state’s population. On the other side of the U.S. Capitol, each state is represented by two elected senators who serve six-year terms. Every two years, all 435 members of the House are up for re-election, as well as one-third of the U.S. Senate. Voting at the ballot box holds office holders accountable for their votes in Congress. Another important way is through dialogue. I often remind Iowans that representative government is a two-way street. It’s one of the reasons I hold a meeting in every county, at least once, every year. Keeping in touch with constituents helps me keep up with what’s on the minds of Iowans. From health care to immigration and taxes, keeping open all lanes of communication informs my decisions on public policy that matter to Iowans. In this era of heated political rhetoric, it’s important for people across the political spectrum to keep check on the temperature of their words and actions. Freedom of speech and peaceful assembly are sacred rights of citizenship. But we are way too near the boiling point when acts of political violence make their way into our civic life. Our American way of life is deeply rooted in mutual respect for our neighbors. We ought to be able to talk about issues with civility and respect for different points of view. For example, during the recent confirmation hearings for Justice Kavanaugh, extremists schemed to derail the proceedings with unprecedented tactics of mob rule. Unfortunately, it wasn’t America’s finest hour of civility. Political violence, such as recent death threats and pipe bombs mailed to elected officials and prominent political figures, have absolutely no place in our society. In our system of self-government, we solve our problems and resolve disagreements at the ballot box. Every voter has a right and a responsibility to cast a ballot in the 2018 midterm elections. It is the most effective, responsible way to ensure government is run “of, by and for” the people.

Q: What is Congress doing to protect the integrity of U.S. elections?

A: Protecting the integrity of our elections is another inviolable principle of self-government. The American electorate must have full faith and confidence in our election system to uphold the legitimacy of the outcome. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I led seven congressional hearings during this Congress to examine improper foreign lobbying and meddling in U.S. elections. Effective federal, state and local election infrastructure must be in place to detect, deter, prevent, investigate and punish foreign adversaries for seeking to peddle influence in U.S. elections. Following the 2016 elections, Presidents Obama and then Trump levied sanctions against Russian organizations and individuals for election interference. In March, the president expelled 60 Russian diplomats and several Russian entities have been charged with crimes linked to interference in the U.S. election. I have co-sponsored the Disclosing Foreign Influence Act which would amend the Foreign Agent Registration Act to help the Department of Justice better investigate and root out illegal foreign influence. I’m also a co-sponsor of the Shell Company Abuse Act that would criminalize concealing activities of a foreign national in connection with contributions or donations to a campaign or electioneering communications. I recently led the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act through the Judiciary Committee, which the Committee reported out unanimously to the Senate floor.  Under the DETER Act, anyone found to have interfered with a U.S. election would be subject to removal if present in the United States, or inadmissible if seeking to enter our country.

While no vote counts were changed in the 2016 presidential election, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that Russian actors attempted to probe our election systems. Russian cyberattacks and propaganda efforts seek to undermine confidence in our democratic process. DHS has assured me and other members of Congress that it is working closely with all 50 states -- on a voluntary basis to respect states' authority over their elections -- to better secure the integrity of each states' election systems. While that process continues up through the election, the FBI and the intelligence community are closely monitoring foreign influence efforts. DHS and the intelligence community will be responsible for providing a report of their findings shortly after the 2018 elections, so that we can quickly assess foreign activity and our ability to defend against it. For their part, social media companies have been working to identify and root out foreign actors who use fake accounts and inflammatory rhetoric to show discord on those platforms. In short, everyone is doing their part.  But I will continue working to hold executive branch agencies, as well as the private sector, accountable for their respective roles.

Finally, as an outspoken advocate for transparency, I’m glad the president signed into law in September mandatory electronic campaign finance disclosure filings to the Federal Election Commission for U.S. Senate candidates. It improves transparency and saves taxpayer money. In fact, in 2016 I was the first Senate candidate in Iowa to voluntarily file my campaign donations electronically. The more we can do to restore public confidence in our elections, the better. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. I encourage every voter in Iowa to exercise this sacred civic duty and make your voice heard.