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Build election reforms on Jan. 6 findings

Tonight, when the House Select Committee on January 6 holds the first in a series of televised hearings, all Americans owe it to themselves and the country to watch. There may be drama as the nation relives its reactions to the sight of the infamous attack on the Capitol but the takeaway is equally compelling: the need to reform election laws and safeguard the expressed will of voters. The committee's report will lay out the evidence of that need by looking back at what happened and how.

This evening's orderly proceedings will be as unlike the events of Jan. 6, 2021, as anything could be. On that afternoon, members of Congress were in hiding in the Capitol. The Senate Chamber, where the certification of presidential election results was to be held, was overrun. The vice president was being rushed to safety. Americans watched a mob breach the symbolic center of democracy disrespectfully, crudely, brutally.

What we saw was the first violent attempt to prevent the transfer of presidential power in the history of the United States. It was a grave and unnerving sight that unfurled for hours in plain sight.

Since then, the select committee has been working backwards from the events witnessed by millions to the earlier part of the day, the days before and the whole period surrounding the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election. The committee has found evidence of wide involvement and in-depth planning by elected and appointed officials as well as political supporters. They colluded to wield a variety of strategies with one purpose: to ensure the re-election of Donald Trump, even if he lost.

Many Republicans — the minority party in the House — have insisted that the committee's work is strictly partisan. Two Republicans, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, are the only members of their party who agreed to serve on the panel. But by methodically investigating and reporting on the events that led up to Jan. 6, the select committee is doing what the Constitution establishes Congress to do: govern the nation with laws, not powerplays.

Good lawmaking requires factfinding. Congressional committees and their staffs do such work every day. Nonetheless, even though this investigation follows normal congressional practice, it is anything but ordinary. The stakes are high for future elections and the stability and unity of the country.

For that reason, The Day urges everyone to tune in to the proceedings in prime time tonight and as more are broadcast this month. Viewers of Fox News, however, will have that opportunity only if they change channels. While most of the major networks will pre-empt other programing for the broadcasts, Fox will not offer its viewers the chance to hear, see and judge for themselves about responsibility for what happened on Jan. 6.

Some Americans may think they have heard enough, that it is just politics as usual, or that it won't affect their own state, their vote or themselves. They may feel that mass shootings, inflation or lingering pandemic effects take all their attention.

The truth is that a plethora of threats to our system of fair elections emerged before, during and after the 2020 elections. Attempts to "find more votes" and subvert state elections officials began before all the votes were tallied. The Jan. 6 attack was meant to stop the last step of the electoral process — certification of the vote. Legislatures in many states have prepared for the next election by re-rigging voting districts and registration requirements.

Any one of those is potentially dangerous to democracy, but taken together they present a powerful force. It can only be stopped by an informed citizenry that acts to keep its freedoms. One person, one vote is the foundation of our democracy, but it can become a weakness in the system if people cannot or will not exercise that right and stand up for it. 

The point of watching the committee hearings is to see the big picture and accept our individual responsibility to keep it from getting to this point ever again, for any party or candidate. Elections always have winners and losers, but this time it is democracy that could have been lost.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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