America’s system of constitutional democracy has long been the envy of the world. Yet, this is an incredibly fragile time; each day seems to bring news that further divides and angers the American public. This election year has already been rocked by a global pandemic, continued instances of racial injustice, a Supreme Court nomination battle, and increasing threats of political violence.

An insidious form of hyper-partisanship — negative polarization — leads Americans to hate our political opponents even more than we like our own allies. The public’s attachment to democracy and faith in government are near their all-time lows, and a small but increasing number of partisans across the spectrum are willing to accept the use of violence for political gain. These are giant warning signs for American democracy, for civil society, and for most of the issues about which philanthropy is concerned.

Despite these challenges, American citizens have already begun to exercise their most sacred democratic obligation — voting — in numbers we have not seen in decades. Experts believe turnout for this election could top 150 million people, up from 139 million in 2016. Motivated by an intense interest in the presidential race, this wave of civic participation provides our best opportunity to begin the long journey of democratic renewal.

Repairing the fabric of our democracy will require extraordinary stewardship by leaders across society. This is especially true of elected officials at all levels of government, as their vigilance is key to ensuring the sacred right to vote is upheld, and the norms of representative democracy transcend partisanship. There are also important roles for media, businesses, civil society groups, citizens themselves, and our peers in philanthropy. To achieve this objective, we call upon leaders at all levels of government and sectors of society to uphold their obligations to democracy during this intensely partisan time. Specifically, we ask that they:

  • Ensure that all eligible voters are able to vote and to have their votes counted. Any efforts to suppress votes — including along racial lines — or to thwart or overturn the will of the people are anti-democratic and unacceptable.
  • Support efforts and advance messages that uphold the safety and integrity of the electoral process. Unfounded claims about voter fraud or the illegitimacy of the election do irreparable harm to the centerpiece of our democracy.
  • Forcefully and consistently condemn all forms of political violence. Our leaders should be doing everything in their power to de-escalate rather than encourage violence.
  • Commit to respect the peaceful transfer of power or the continuation of power, pending the final results of the election, which will take time to tabulate. This norm is a hallmark of American democracy, and the American people should not be left to wonder whether a candidate for public office will refuse to accept the results of a free and fair election.

We sign this letter as philanthropic leaders and representatives of nonpartisan institutions whose interest in the presidential election is not a particular outcome for any candidate, but for these core values that should transcend politics and be upheld in any election. Our goal is the strengthening of American democracy and careful and thoughtful leadership through this tense moment to achieve that objective.

Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation
Edie Allen, Colombe Peace Foundation
Paul Beaudet, Wilburforce Foundation
Judy Belk, The California Wellness Foundation
Mike Berkowitz, Democracy Funders Network
Angelica Berrie, The Russell Berrie Foundation
Benjamin Binswanger, Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation
Larry Birenbaum
Robert Boisture, Fetzer Institute
Lisa Braun Glazer, Ph. D.
Eric Braverman, Schmidt Futures
Jack Byrd, Jr., Interactivity Foundation
Kristen Cambell, PACE (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement)
Katie Campbell Simons, Drawing Democracy Fund
Kara Inae Carlisle, McKnight Foundation
Cathy Cha, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund
Julie Chaiken
Susan R. Clark, Gaia Fund
Steve Cohen, Cow Hollow Fund
Laurie Cohen
Stuart Comstock-Gay, Delaware Community Foundation
Rick Cummings
Alan Davis, The WhyNot Initiative
Kevin Dean, Momentum Nonprofit Partners/Mid-South Philanthropy Network
Natasha Dolby, The Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund
Aaron Dorfman, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah
Aaron Dorfman, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
Ellen Dorsey, Wallace Global Fund
Everett Dowling
Doug Edwards
John Esler, Esler Family Foundation
John Esterle, The Whitman Institute
Katie Everett
Sophie Fanelli, Stuart Foundation
Nancy Farese
R. Alden Fedon, Jonathan Logan Family Foundation
Sara Fertman, The Jeffrey H. and Shari L. Aronson Family Foundation
Julie Flynn
Jason Franklin, Ktisis Capital
Ellen Friedman, Compton Foundation
David Friedman, Faultline Foundation
Patricia Gibbs, Hellman Foundation
Donald Gips, Skoll Foundation
Bruce Goldberg
Douglas Goldman, Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund
Joe Goldman, Democracy Fund Voice
Sally Gottesman
Angela Graham, Fetzer Institute
Geoffrey Gund
Phil Harvey
Crystal Hayling, The Libra Foundation
Lukas Haynes, David Rockefeller Fund
Stephen Heintz, Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Susan Hirsch, Hirsch Philanthropy Partners
Rachel Hoff, The Ronald Reagan Institute
Jascha Hoffman
Reid Hoffman
Brian Hooks, Stand Together
Don Jones, New Economy Initiative
Derek Kaufman
Sara Kay, Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust
Julie Kidd, Silver Giving Foundation
Larry Kramer, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Ruth LaToison Ifill, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers
Hanh Le, Weissberg Foundation
David Lee
Jonathan Lever, Fetzer Institute
Ralph Lewin, Peter E. Haas Jr., Family Fund
Pamela Lewis, New Economy Initiative
Bob Litterman
Jonathan Logan, Logan Family Foundation
Patrick Madden, National Archives Foundation
Sarah Malachowsky, Penney Family Fund
Timothy Maloney, Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr. Foundation
Dwayne S. Marsh, Northern California Grantmakers
Suzette Masters, Flower Hill Fund
Kim McCabe, The Klarman Family Foundation
Rodney McKenzie, Fetzer Institute
Dmitri Mehlhorn, Investing in US
Wilhelm Merck
Jamie Merisotis, Lumina Foundation
Paulette Meyer, Faultline Foundation
Myron Miller, Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation
Kathryn Murdoch, Quadrivium
Rachel Pritzker, Pritzker Innovation Fund
Roland Pritzker, Pritzker Innovation Fund
Regan Pritzker, The Libra Foundation and the Kataly Foundation
Kristin Purdy, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation
Amy Rabbino, John Pritzker Family Fund
Susan Roll
Jennifer Roller, The Raymond John Wean Foundation
Robert Romero, Civic Health Project
Christine Russell, Gaia Fund
Jenny Russell, Merck Family Fund
Roger Sant, Summit Foundation
Susie Sarlo, Susie Sarlo Family Fund
Joan Sarnat, Sarnat-Hoffman Philanthropic Fund
Mark Schlesinger, Gaia Fund
Tzivia Schwartz Getzug
Sudnya Shroff
Tim Silard, Rosenberg Foundation
Adam Simon, Aviv Foundation
Patricia Smith, The Funders Network
William Soskin
Trent Stamp, The Eisner Foundation
Paul Stebbins
Ann Stern, Houston Endowment
Christine Switzer
Nicole Taylor, Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Peter Teague, PT Philanthropic
Jeffrey Tiell
Carol Traeger
Janet Tran, The Ronald Reagan Institute
Shayna Rose Triebwasser, Righteous Persons Foundation
Nick Troiano, Unite America
Barrett Walker, Alex C. Walker Foundation
David Weil, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
Jenna Weinberg
Sarah Williams, Propel
Dwight Wilson
Roger Zakheim, The Ronald Reagan Institute

The Democracy Letter was originally posted to Medium on October 19, 2020