Opinion | Democracy demands our due diligence before voting

By Grant Van Robays, Staff Columnist

In case you’ve missed the onslaught of political campaign ads lately, the Nov. 8 midterm elections are upon us. While policies regarding abortion rights, gun reform, immigration and inflation are immensely consequential for the trajectory of both President Joe Biden’s agenda and that of the country, no issue is more important this election than the fate of democracy. 

While this may sound alarmist at first, the 2020 election reminds us that democracy is fragile. By spreading election misinformation and refusing to accept the results of a free and fair election, former President Donald Trump set the dangerous precedent that political nominees can simply cry fraud and refuse to concede when they lose an election. 

While American democracy withstood Trump’s test, its fight is not complete. This midterm election, a majority of Republican nominees on the ballot denied or questioned the results of the 2020 election. These election deniers are not only running for high offices like Congress or governor but also state legislatures, secretary of state and attorney general. For the U.S. to live up to its democratic ideals and for voters to vote responsibly, it is imperative that voters know if they have an election denier on their ballot this year. 

Before we bemoan democracy’s potential downfall, let’s establish a set of facts. Biden won the 2020 election with 306 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 232. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Nearly 150 Republican members of Congress latched on to bogus claims of fraud and attempted to decertify Biden’s victory. Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to prevent the certification process. The Capitol still stands, but claims of fraud still run deep. Misinformation about the election has significantly diminished faith in democracy. Roughly 70% of Republicans don’t believe Biden won the election — and now many of them are running for office. 

Media outlets like the Washington Post and watchdog groups like Democracy Docket, Advance Democracy Inc. and the Insurrection Index provide invaluable information on election deniers. The Insurrection Index enables users to isolate candidates in certain states and includes evidence of their election denial or misinformation, typically via social media posts or campaign videos. Voters should utilize the information from these interactive datasets to inform their votes. If we fail to do our due diligence and vote responsibly, we misuse our right to vote. When we misuse this right, we must accept some culpability when those we elect abuse the power we entrust to them. 

According to the Insurrection Index, there are nine candidates who deny the results of the election running in Pennsylvania. Republican Mike Kelly, the current U.S. Representative for district 16 who is running for re-election, has spread disinformation through social media and voted against certifying election results on Jan. 6. Gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano was at the “Stop the Steal” Rally on Jan. 6 and spread disinformation about the election. The Jan. 6 Committee subpoenaed Mastriano to hand over documents and information about his attempt to name a slate of alternate electors for Trump. 

Mastriano is a right-wing culture warrior who hates pronouns and likes to cosplay as a Confederate soldier, but that’s not the core issue. Rather, it is Mastriano’s willingness to accept blatant lies about an election that was not fraudulent that speaks volumes. It says that he cares more about his party than his people. Why did Mastriano believe the 2020 election was stolen? Because Trump and his GOP allies said so. Election deniers simply do not care about the will of the people, but the will of the party. This abject partisanship is antidemocratic in every sense of the word. 

The threat to the integrity of our elections does not only come from the seats of Congress or the presidency, but from state offices. Elections for seats in state legislatures, secretary of state and attorney general are also significant. Governors hold veto power over bills that make access to voting less restrictive and secretaries of state certify elections. Attorneys general can challenge election results in a court of law at their discretion. During the 2020 election, 17 Republican attorneys general joined a lawsuit challenging the certification of election results in battleground states. If people in these offices are willing to deny the results of a fair election because it didn’t turn out in their favor, it doesn’t bode well when they’re the ones with the keys to the election system. 

Election deniers litter the ballot box this year. Of 36 GOP gubernatorial candidates, 15 have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. At least 10 of the 27 secretary of state candidates have done the same. In Arizona, for example, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake demanded the decertification of Arizona’s votes in 2020. Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem similarly denied the 2020 results. Lake indicated that she will accept the results of the 2022 election if she wins but won’t accept the results if she loses. Herein lies the key to the Republican playbook — accept elections if you win, deny elections if you lose. This is not how a democracy operates, yet it’s becoming the GOP’s modus operandi. 

Further concerning is the Republican party’s tacit acceptance of political violence in the name of stolen election conspiracies. Election conspiracies will spur violence by extremists, according to U.S. intelligence. The recent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband exhibits this reality, as the alleged perpetrator was an ardent supporter of election fraud conspiracies espoused by the hundreds of Republican politicians up for office this year. 

As frightening as these attempts at disenfranchisement and conspiracy-driven political violence are, hope for democracy is not lost. Voters can deliver the consequences to election deniers by voting them out of office. If a certain candidate lacks the integrity to stand behind the election results and face facts, odds are they’re not subservient to their constituents. Rather, their allegiances may lie with the party. Voters should take this into account when casting their ballots come Nov. 8.  

We should face the unfortunate reality that many election deniers will win their elections. A majority of election-denying candidates are expected to win their races. If election deniers win, the public must not despair. Rather, their victory should invigorate people to hold their leaders accountable. Holding the powerful accountable is, of course, much easier said than done. Such is the price of admission for a democratic society. 

While America isn’t on the doorsteps of a full-blown autocracy yet, it’s imperative that voters heed the alarm bells. Voters have the power to vote for candidates who won’t act like tyrants or conspiracy theorists this year. Use it well. 


Grant Van Robays writes primarily about international affairs, social issues and basic human rights. Write to him at [email protected].