The Journal Gazette
Friday, September 18, 2020 1:00 am

Coats calls for panel to oversee election

In op-ed, ex-senator warns of 'enemies'

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Former federal lawmaker and ex-national intelligence director Dan Coats is urging Congress to create a bipartisan commission to oversee the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Coats warned in an opinion piece published Thursday by the New York Times that “catastrophe,” “poison” and “death” loom for American democracy unless the integrity of the voting process is ensured.

The proposed commission would monitor electoral reporting systems “and confirm for the public that the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed,” Coats wrote.

He said the panel also would monitor “those forces that seek to harm our electoral system through interference, fraud, disinformation or other distortions.”

Coats, a Republican, did not make reference to his former boss, President Donald Trump, who has said Democrats “are trying to rig this election” and that voting by mail “will lead to massive electoral fraud.”

Commission members would be sworn “to put the integrity and fairness of the election process above everything else, making public reassurance their goal,” Coats wrote.

He suggested that members include congressional leaders, current and former governors, “elder statespersons,” former national security leaders, the leaders of social media companies and “perhaps” former Supreme Court justices David Souter and Anthony Kennedy.

Coats represented northeast Indiana in the House in the 1980s. He was an Indiana senator in the 1990s and again in the 2010s, U.S. ambassador to Germany in the 2000s and Trump's national intelligence director from 2017 until 2019.

The Journal Gazette asked three federal lawmakers who represent northeast Indiana for their views on Coats' proposal.

“I'm for anything that safeguards our nation from the Democrats and their enablers in the media who have sought to undermine our elections since the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and have committed to do the same once he wins again in November,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, said in an email. Banks stands for re-election in November.

Neither of Indiana's senators expressed support for a congressionally appointed election oversight commission.

Republican Sen. Todd Young “is confident we will have a free and fair election in November,” his office said in an email.

“Elections are run by individual states not the federal government and I have full confidence in Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson,” Republican Sen. Mike Braun said in an email. “Furthermore, Congress already has intelligence and oversight committees, and unlike the Obama-Biden Administration that allowed Russian interference, the Trump Administration is working hard to safeguard our elections.”

When he was director of national intelligence, Coats said Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and tried to interfere in the 2018 midterm election. He also predicted interference by Russia and other nations in this year's election.

His opinion piece for the Times cast a wider net.

“Our democracy's enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace,” Coats wrote.

“If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh,” he wrote.

Coats wrote that his proposed election oversight commission would help to “firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people's will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted.”

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