A year after a mob broke into the U.S. Capitol in an attack that overwhelmed law enforcement, posed a threat to lawmakers debating the presidential election results and led to the deaths of seven people, Americans seem more divided than ever about the 2020 election and whether the future of our democracy is at risk. 

While it appears that a majority of Americans trust that elections are fair and are confident that vote tallies in 2022 and 2024 will be honest regardless of whether their preferred candidate wins, there remains a disturbing, yet significant minority of voters who still don’t accept the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election as president in 2020 and don’t trust the process in place for the upcoming contests. 

Over the past several weeks — in the runup to and aftermath of the anniversary of Jan. 6, 2021 — we have seen a number of opinion pieces in right- and left-leaning media that paint dramatically different pictures of what happened a short year ago, its meaning and its implications for the future. The disconnect is alarming. Yet the narrative of each view is disturbingly familiar — complete with the finger-pointing and accusations of impropriety and unlawful overreach on both sides.

Much of that debate comes to a head in response to Democrats’ efforts to pass a comprehensive voting rights and election law — a move they back up with repeated threats to change Senate filibuster rules if Republicans won’t agree to allow the bill to be considered. But the threat is relatively hollow. And, more importantly, engagement between the two sides is unlikely, since there isn’t even agreement on the definition of the problem. Democrats want to address perceived problems of voter suppression and want the federal government involved directly in setting voting rules, while Republicans express concern about voter fraud, oppose what they call “the federalization of elections” and believe that each state should have primary responsibility for setting election rules for its citizens.

Voting rights doesn’t appear to be the right issue for a cooperative effort at this time. We hoped we found some first steps toward cooperation in the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, but it was a short-lived respite in the endless bickering. But perhaps a unified, non-accusatory response to an issue relating to Jan. 6 may present an opportunity for another shot at cooperation. 

As pointed out in a recent post by Ryan Clancy, chief strategist of the bipartisan governance advocacy group, No Labels, there is an opportunity to reform and clarify the Electoral Count Act of 1887, in a manner that will make it impossible for the vice president or Congress to overturn or reject presidential electoral votes reported by the states. Granted, clarification of the ECA will not be a big deal, but Republican leadership has indicated a willingness to engage on the topic, and it could present an opportunity for some bipartisan cooperation. 

In these disturbingly confrontational times, any opportunity for cooperation should be embraced. It makes sense to start with small steps and easy issues. JN