Snapshot: Six Democracy Takeaways from the 2024 Ideas Summit

The NewDEAL
4 min readMay 8, 2024

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Strengthening and protecting American democracy played a major role at the NewDEAL Forum’s 2024 annual Ideas Summit, which brought state and local policymakers together with thought leaders from the public and private sectors to engage in conversations about key issues facing states and communities.

Throughout the summit, experts and elected leaders acknowledged that threats to democracy are real, and they are serious. However, they also struck a confident, determined tone, putting their faith in both adequate preparation and the American people.

Here are six key takeaways related to democracy:

1. Democracy is Key to Preserving Our Freedom.

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes delivered opening remarks before a plenary discussion about democracy. He drew a stark contrast between an oppressive authoritarian regime and the freedom found in a liberal democracy.

“Where in an authoritarian regime can you find opportunity?” Fontes asked rhetorically. “Where in authoritarian systems do you find the sorts of debate that bring about innovation?” He added that these “only happen in liberal democracies.” He further emphasized the need for a strong independent judiciary. “Every time you sign a lease. Every time you invent a new product. Every time a purchase order goes out. Every time you write a check, you expect the legal system that backs that up to be there. You take for granted that when you make a promise, there is a contract that will be upheld,” he said, speaking particularly to the business community. “You can’t guarantee any of that in an authoritarian regime,” he added. “And that’s why we must protect democracy.”

2. Election Officials Are Better Prepared in 2024 Compared to 2020.

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates noted that in 2020, election officials had no idea what was coming with regard to protestors clamoring outside of vote-counting stations. Since then, he, and officials around the country, have taken precautions to protect election workers from threats and harassment.

“It’s gonna look very similar to the voter,” Gates said, noting that despite threats he did not want voters walking into a militarized zone. He added that his office has invested $15 million to ensure there are no printer issues (like those experienced by some in 2022). “The short answer is: It doesn’t look a lot different [to voters], but there are significant changes at the back end,” he added, including an increased commitment to transparency.

3. Media Can — and Should — Report More on Successful Elections.

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes drew a stark contrast of mainstream media outlets fanning the flames of concern about the safety of elections and ignoring when elections are run smoothly. Fontes cited the Arizona primary elections, held in mid-March, where voting in every county in the state went smoothly. “And nobody covered it,” Fontes said. “None of our friends in the Fourth Estate [the media] bothered to help us do the thing they would criticize us for not doing enough to do. We are in this thing called democracy together.” Later, he called on the media “to celebrate the successes” as much as they would cover any issues that come up. Fontes was speaking largely about national outlets. Fellow panelist Bill Gates noted that local outlets in Arizona covered the successful election process.

4. Voters are Concerned about Democracy.

NewDEAL Forum CEO Debbie Cox Bultan shared recent polling data about key issues heading into November. According to the results, democracy is a top concern in 2024. Unfortunately, only 23 percent of respondents thought the state of American democracy was “excellent” or “good”; compared to 42 percent who think it is “poor” or “terrible.” And most respondents (53 percent) think our democracy has gotten weaker, not stronger, since 2020.

5. Election Officials are Actively Combating Misinformation.

Misinformation is not new in elections, but social media, and now generative artificial intelligence, can help spread lies and conspiracies further and faster than ever before. Yet election officials are working diligently to combat misinformation with accurate facts and how, when, and where to vote.

Amanda Gonzalez, Jefferson County, Colorado, Clerk & Recorder, has hired a full-time staff member to go out into the community and work with individuals and groups to increase awareness and education about voting. In Arizona, Adrian Fontes and Bill Gates are working together, and with cybersecurity experts, to be sure the state is prepared for any foreseeable eventuality.

6. Businesses Know the Importance of a Strong Democracy.

An overwhelming majority of business leaders know that democracy and capitalism are linked, according to Katie Vlietstra Wonnenberg of Public Private Strategies. In fact, some 80 percent of business leaders agree that businesses should act to protect democracy. She encouraged state and local leaders to proactively work with the business community, and encourage them to take a leading role in strengthening and protecting democracy.

Learn more about the NewDEAL Forum’s 2024 Ideas Summit here.

Learn more about the NewDEAL Forum’s work on democracy here.

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The NewDEAL

Leading on solutions for the new economy & making government work. Learn more at newdealleaders.org and newdealforum.org