Let’s give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy

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American democracy, it appears, has withstood perhaps its greatest challenge since the Civil War. While the vast majority of influential Republicans responded to baseless allegations of election fraud by employing a Miranda-like right to remain silent, among those we should thank for protecting the norms and laws of our political system are those few Republicans who withstood pressure and personal attacks. Let us now praise these (not so) famous men:

“In a free democracy,” Clint Hickman, Republican Chair of the Maricopa County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors, declared, “elections result in some people’s candidates losing. I was disappointed in the outcome of a couple of races and I was extremely happy with the outcome of others. But I’m not going to violate the law or deviate from my own moral compass as some have pushed me to do.” The four Republicans and one Democrat on the Board certified the election.

“We’ve just had the most transparent and secure election in the history of Philadelphia,” Republican Commissioner Al Schmidt claimed. “People should be mindful that there are bad actors who are lying to them, and they need to turn to people they trust… and not nonsense included in lawsuits… The clock is ticking on certifying the election and we can’t let anyone — even the president — distract from that.”

Despite reports that the Michigan Board of Canvassers would deadlock on certifying an election in which former Vice President Biden carried the state by over 150,000 votes, Republican Aaron Van Langevelde announced: “I’ve reviewed the law here. It’s not complicated, it is very simple. We’re required to canvass the returns and determine the results.” The Board, he added, does not have the authority to delay certification or demand an audit.

Describing himself as a “passionate conservative” who supported the election of Donald Trump, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused to accede to calls by the two United States senators in his state to resign, rejected a “suggestion” from Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) that he throw out some votes and ignored presidential tweetstorms — all but guaranteeing he will face a primary when and if he runs again — and certified the results of Georgia’s presidential election. “Working as an engineer throughout my life, I live by the motto that ‘numbers don’t lie’ and by the precept that ‘integrity still matters,’” Raffensperger said. “I believe the numbers we have presented today are correct. The numbers reflect the verdict of the people.”

Federal Judge Steven Grimberg, who was appointed by President Trump in 2019, dismissed a lawsuit seeking to halt Georgia’s election certification. “It is well established,” Judge Grimberg wrote, “that garden variety election disputes do not rise to the level of a constitutional deprivation. The fact that [the Trump lawyer’s] candidate didn’t win doesn’t rise to the level of harm.”

In a scathing 37 page decision, Federal Judge Matthew Brann, a Republican and a member of the Federalist Society, concluded, “Our people, laws, and institutions demand more” than what was presented to him in court.

Republican Rusty Bowers, Arizona’s Speaker of the House told reporters: “I do not see, short of finding some type of fraud — which I haven’t heard of anything — I don’t see us in any serious way addressing a change of electors. They are mandated by statute to choose according to the vote of the people.”

In an op-ed, Republican Jake Corman III, Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania State Senate and Republican Kerry Benninghoff, Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives indicated that “The Pennsylvania General Assembly does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or deciding the outcome of the presidential election.”

“Democracy’s a very fragile thing,” playwright Sam Shepard once said. “As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn to scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it? It’s something else. It may be an inch from totalitarianism.” 

Had these Republican public servants (and men and women like them) not put principle over partisanship, insisting on evidence rather than party loyalty or conspiracy theories, the United States could have been plunged into a constitutional crisis.

The 2020 contest may have established a precedent for future elections. Pessimists will say the precedent imperils the reputation of the United States as a beacon of democracy, obedient to the will of the people, but optimists might maintain it re-established the fact that democracy relies on the participation — and courage — of American citizens to express that will in free and fair elections.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags 2020 election Arizona Brad Raffensperger contested election democratic norms Donald Trump election certification election workers Georgia Lindsey Graham Michigan Pennsylvania poll workers Republican reactions to Donald Trump's claims of 2020 election fraud Vote counting

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