A recent Boston Globe article detailing the vitriol experienced by local public officials is as relevant to our threatened democracy as this month’s selection of Democracy Heroes and Threats whose actions expose the continued danger from the Big Lie of election fraud. Local officials described obscenity-laced calls and emails, the release of personal information, frequent antisemitism, and meetings disrupted by unruly residents who have no interest in reasoned debate, only bullying tactics.
At every level of government, we are witnessing the devastation wrought by the sound of silence. Our neighbors and colleagues who sought public service to help their municipalities are being forced out of their roles through threats and intimidation. But where is the reaction from the many more community members who know this is wrong?
Terror tactics against public officials are increasing. A president who succeeded through lies and bullying, and who demands fealty to the biggest lie of all as a prerequisite to his endorsement, is leaving behind a dangerous legacy. Sadly, these tactics will work unless the silence is replaced by a unified wall of support for those who seek to do their job with integrity.
Since its inception, Lawyers Defending American Democracy has stood for the belief that our profession must defend our democratic institutions and the rule of law. Too often, we see our brethren in the organized bar stay silent, fearful of using the collective power of the profession to teach, to demand, to defend, and to heal. Yet each day of silence brings more damage to our democracy.
One Board of Health member described receiving daily hate mail and threatening antisemitic messages. His statement to the Boston Globe in response to these threats should be chilling to us all, “What makes me feel most unsafe is not these people. What worries me and makes me feel unsafe are the people who are silent or don’t think this is a big deal….”
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Heroes of American Democracy
This month’s focus is on Arizona, where we recognize the important role played by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, its chair, Clint Hickman, and the Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers (above) in protecting democracy in the continued aftermath of the 2020 election.
Arizona is a closely divided state. It has a Republican Governor, two Democratic US Senators, a 5/4 Democrats to Republicans split in the US House of Representatives and, in the state legislature, Republicans have a two-vote majority in the Senate and a two-vote majority in the House. Joe Biden won the state by more than 10,000 votes, and won Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county, by 45,000 votes.
Yet for the past year, the fight to maintain the Big Lie of the 2020 election has continued to rage in Arizona. Immediately following the election, President Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward pressed the 4-1 GOP majority of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to overturn the results of the presidential election. Although all four members of the County’s Board of Supervisors were Trump supporters, they were steadfast in defending the integrity of the election, notwithstanding intense public pressure.
The pressure continued as President Trump then called the Chair of the Board of Supervisors, Clint Hickman, in an effort to reverse the election results; Hickman declined to take the President’s call. And a year after the election, Hickman and election workers were still being subjected to threats for continuing to stand by the integrity of the vote and vote counting in Maricopa County.
Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers is a conservative Republican and a Trump supporter who has continued to remain steadfast in protecting the integrity of the vote count. Immediately after the election, Trump supporters demanded that Speaker Bowers call the House into special session to decertifythe Arizona vote to elect Joe Biden. Furious at his refusal to do so, Trump supporters posted his home address publicly and waged a campaign against him. Last summer, the self-styled Patriot Party submitted over 24,000 signatures to recall Speaker Bowers - an effort that failed on a technicality based on a failure to include required forms.
More recently, Speaker Bowers repelled an effort by right-wing conservatives to give the Arizona state legislature the right to reject federal and state election results with which they disagree. The legislation, introduced by Arizona State Representative John Fillmore, would also have eliminated early voting and required the hand-counting of all ballots. Speaker Bowers chose a public way of effectively killing the legislation by assigning the bill to be heard in each of the 12 House Committees. Deeming an effort to permit lawmakers to accept or reject election returns as “unacceptable,” Bowers stated, “We gave the authority to the people … I’m not going to go back and kick them in the teeth.”
Democracy threats abound in this key swing state amid the ongoing fight in Arizona to overturn the 2020 election results. According to reporting, one of the founders of Stop the Steal worked with two members of the Arizona GOP Congressional delegation, Andy Biggs (above, left) and Paul Gosar (above, right), regarding the events of January 6, and a recent article in the Guardiandescribes significant links between Congressman Gosar and a number of far-right extremist groups.
Among the Arizonans who participated in the January 6 attack is Jacob Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman, who has been sentenced for his involvement. Arizona state GOP Chair Kelli Ward and ten other prominent GOP activists signed and submitted to Congress a false slate of presidential electors.
When all these efforts failed, the Arizona state Senate President Karen Fannhired an inexperienced firm, Cyber Ninjas, to audit and hand recount the votes in Maricopa County. The CEO of Cyber Ninjas was already on record in support of other election fraud conspiracies. Yet even this prolonged audit concluded that President Biden received even more votes, and Trump even fewer, than the prior official tally in Maricopa County. As of early January 2022, Cyber Ninjas announced that its CEO and employees were let go and that the firm was shutting down.
Arizonans have been voting by mail for over 20 years, and 80% of Arizona voters do so. But as described above, State Representative John Fillmore turned his anger at the defeat of Donald Trump in Arizona into proposed legislation to give the state legislature the right to overturn state and federal election results and eliminate mail-in and early voting along with the machine counting of ballots. Fillmore described his efforts as a need to return to “1958 style voting,” that is, voting only on election day with paper ballots counted by hand (he did not reference the poll taxes and literacy tests that were also in existence at the time). Arizona State Representative Mark Finchem, the Trump-endorsed candidate for Arizona Secretary of State, is a co-sponsor of the legislation. Finchem also is alleged to have ties to the extremist group, the Oath Keepers.
The threat to democracy continues as a result of these ongoing actions in states like Arizona to perpetuate the Big Lie. The Electoral Integrity Project at Harvard University (EIP), which has reviewed the integrity of state election systems in the United States for the past decade, found that Arizona ranked last in the 2016 election and had improved to the lower third in the 2018 mid-term elections.
In the 2020 election cycle, however, EIP found that when experts rated the integrity of the presidential election in comparison to the 2016 election, the ratings of many states deteriorated significantly – a decline that was particularly pronounced in Arizona.
Alarmingly, the EIP Report stated: “The results suggest deteriorating confidence in the quality of presidential contests, notably the challenges to the integrity of the election by all parties, falling public trust and confidence in elections, threats or incidents of violence during the election, legal disputes about the process and results, as well as public protests and attempts at voter suppression.”
Ongoing efforts to promote the Big Lie of election fraud poses an ever-increasing threat to our democracy by eroding public confidence in our electoral process.