In the birthplace of American democracy, in 2020, it’s chilling to consider that those who have signed up to count votes in an election have received death threats and require police protection.
That’s why the Republican Party’s continued questioning of the integrity of the election — including by Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers — is especially fraught. The threat of violence recasts a loser’s denial, and a party’s political maneuvering, into something far more dangerous. It must stop.
Starting before Election Day and continuing last week, city election officials received death threats, including a 311 call that threatened poll workers “learn firsthand, the hard way, why the Second Amendment exists.” The city commissioners, a bipartisan board that oversees elections in Philadelphia, had police stationed outside their homes and those of some staffers throughout this period.
The threats already came close to materializing.
On Thursday night, police arrested two Virginia men who drove a Hummer displaying stickers of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy movement and packed with an AR-15 and 160 rounds of ammunition up to the Philadelphia Convention Center, where votes have been counted. According to the tip that led to the arrest, the men were heading to the polling station to “to straighten things out.”
The threats aren’t coming out of thin air. Just hours before that arrest, President Donald Trump made remarks from the White House falsely claiming that Philadelphia, which he called one of the “most corrupt political places anywhere,” is helping to steal the election by counting ballots in secret.
Despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud or irregularities, Trump launched a storm of legal challenges in Pennsylvania, including one to bar the commonwealth from certifying the election result. These should be quickly dismissed as earlier cases have been. Attorney General William Barr sent a memo unleashing federal prosecutors on a voter fraud fishing expedition.
Pennsylvania Republicans have been willing accomplices in Trump’s effort to undermine American democracy.
That effort started before the election by a refusal to pass measures that would expedite vote counting. State Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati and House Majority Leader Jake Corman spent the night of Nov. 3 calling on Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to resign.
On Saturday, after the Biden victory was called, Trump supporters — some openly carrying assault rifles — rallied to reject the results outside the Capitol in Harrisburg, where Republican lawmakers spoke.
A week after polls closed, and after Biden won the state by more than 46,000 votes, as well as the Electoral College even without Pennsylvania, state Republicans are not relenting. On Tuesday morning, more than a dozen Republican legislators held a news conference calling for the legislature to conduct an audit of the election. They also couldn’t muster any evidence.
Any actual single instance of voter irregularity or fraud should be investigated. But these are extremely rare and have nothing to do with the overall election result, determined by hundreds of thousands of votes across multiple states. The presidential election is over, and Republicans need to take some responsibility for this menacing environment before threats become violence — against people who operate this democracy or the institutions it is built on.