The fate of American democracy hinges on preserving the legitimacy of November’s election. As CEO of The Leadership Now Project, a membership organization of business leaders committed to protecting democracy, I know business leaders play a vital role in restoring faith in the upcoming election. A few weeks ago, amid the emerging risks in the upcoming election, we saw the need for business voices to join experts and election officials of both parties who were already speaking out.
Americans agree: According to a recent poll, 3 in 4 Americans say that large companies have a role in preserving and protecting democracy. Last week we launched our statement, “America Has Held Successful Elections Amid Crises Before. We Can and Must Do So Again,” which compels business leaders to support a legitimate election and use their voices and influence to call for civility as we count every vote.
The truth is we are in the midst of a crisis for our democracy, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Even before the pandemic and this chaotic election cycle, democracy was in peril. In 2017, we started digging into what was happening in American democracy, and what we found was deeply worrying. Trust in government was at an all-time low. Indicators of democratic functioning which we analyzed, such as money in politics, weak civic culture and distrust in our elections, led us to be concerned early on about the state of the 2020 election.
The pandemic and uncertainty around the election has exacerbated the strain to our democracy which we anticipated. We face significant operational challenges that make it difficult to vote: long lines, closed voting locations and a general collapse of voting infrastructure. In addition to these very real challenges, we’ve seen countless false narratives about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and election fraud. This misinformation — combined with the reality that it will take days, weeks, or even longer to confirm the results of the election — has caused experts to worry that Americans will not trust these results.
Doubt about election integrity, combined with fears about a contested transfer of power, has left our country anxious about what will happen in November and afterward. Experts, like those at the National Task Force on Election Crises, are preparing resources to counter these many threats we face.
Business leaders have skin in the game, and we must step up to the plate. Premature or inaccurate election results — and the resulting long-term harm to democracy — would be detrimental to the stability of our economy and markets. Political dysfunction is, according to research by the Harvard Business School, the single greatest obstacle to U.S. economic growth. The health of the economy and of markets is directly tied to the strength of our democracy and election integrity.
But the business community does not have to accept this fate. Business leaders have the power to strengthen democracy, and, according to our polling, the majority of business leaders agree our system needs reform. Business leaders have the power to inspire their communities, employees, customers and networks. Business leaders have the responsibility to use their voices in this election.
Signatories of our statement, which include more than 200 business leaders in every industry from media to finance, call for patience and civility until every vote is counted. These business leaders affirm that they will not accept election results that are presented too early or that are based on insufficient data. As these leaders know, America has held secure elections in past crises like the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the 1918 flu pandemic. We can and must do so again.
In this last push until Nov. 3, the business community must do its part to reassure Americans that every vote will be counted. But our engagement can’t end in November. Fixing democracy is a long-term project. Although this critical moment demands all hands on deck to protect our democracy, the seeds of dysfunction were planted before 2020. And the business community must be involved with the efforts to reform our system and secure election integrity as we move toward a more inclusive and fair country for all.
Image credit: Wiki Commons