OP-ED: Those spreading dangerous extremist lies must be held accountable

Joanna McClinton, Matt Bradford and Jordan Harris
Pennsylvania House minority leaders
A protester seen carrying zip-ties similar to those police use to restrain suspects has been charged in federal court for his alleged role in Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol by a crowd of Trump supporters.

For months, elected officials at every level have failed to speak in a unified, nonpartisan voice to remind the world  we respect the rule of law, the peaceful transition of power, and above all, the will of the voters. From our state Capitol to our nation’s Capitol, Republican leaders have been cavalier with the truth about the just concluded election, and our democracy has suffered. These irresponsible lies resulted in a national trauma: a violent attempt to overturn our elections. 

Americans must stand united and commit to calling out this vile behavior at the state and local levels, and the bad actors — purported public servants — who perpetuated it. As the inauguration of President-elect Biden draws near, we must never let this type of dangerous misinformation campaign — which had real world, life-and-death consequences — occur again.

For far too long, too many Republican leaders have tacitly endorsed and/or supported these far-right extremist conspiracies, putting party and the pursuit of political power over country and constitution. Sadly, many of their members knowingly spread dangerous lies for months in Harrisburg, in their communities and all over the country. They allowed this series of lies to grow so large and eventually out of control that it culminated in an attack on the bedrock of our democracy. 

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In the fall of 2019, Act 77 moved swiftly through the legislative process with all but two Republicans voting in the affirmative to enact no-excuse mail-in voting, and, among other things, provide funding to counties for new secure voting machines. In fact, Rep. Russ Diamond, who subsequently became one of the lead disseminators of these damnable lies, said upon final passage, that this was “a perfect example of how we all worked together to make this bill great, to modernize our election systems and bring ourselves a little bit closer to being in the 21st century.”   

Nonetheless, after a relatively drama-free June 2020 primary, some legitimate concerns about the new voting law were raised. Unlike most states that had already instituted mail-in ballots, Act 77 failed to provide counties with the ability to open and prepare — or pre-canvas — the mail-in ballots that came in before the polls closed on Election Day. 

All parties knew that given the pandemic, there would be a large number of mail-in ballots and that each ballot would take time to process, but Republicans in the Legislature refused to address this issue, thereby ensuring the count would take several days and enable the sowing of seeds of doubt that would come from a protracted count.

Act 77 was also silent on what to do with mail-in ballots that were not submitted properly — either without a secrecy envelope or a signature on the outer envelope. The Department of State provided guidance to allow voters to cure their ballots to ensure that everyone who wanted to vote could do so.

Republicans took issue with this approach and unsuccessfully sued the state to invalidate the guidance and disenfranchise all voters. 

Republicans also asked the courts to preclude counties from using mail-in ballot drop boxes while also trying to force the counties to allow out-of-state poll watchers inside polling places ostensibly to serve as poll watchers. State and federal courts repeatedly decided these cases in the interest of the voters. Since the November election, this dangerous pattern has only intensified and manifested as a result of a calculated campaign of misinformation.  

While all of this was happening inside the state Capitol building, outside of the building and all across the internet Republicans began creating confusion and chaos, painting a false picture of what was happening at the polls and in county election offices. Elections officials throughout the commonwealth repeatedly and consistently reported their elections ran smoothly with no major issues. There was no fraud. Republicans knew that, but lacked the character and courage to go against their president and the lies he asked them to tell. 

While we now look to the future, we must also look in the mirror. Our nation’s Capitol has now been desecrated and an insurrection ensued. Five Americans are dead, including a Capitol police officer. The time for honesty and accountability is more than past due. The party of “law and order” has pivoted to chaos. Thankfully, our American system held strong and peace was restored. But this has shown us that our democracy is fragile, and so we cannot take it for granted. This tragic incident also reminded us that words do matter.

It’s time for all of us to do our part to lead. It’s time to stand together and urge respect for the rule of law, the will of the voter, and the peaceful transition of power. We demand all people of goodwill, especially our Republican colleagues and their leaders, do the right thing — the patriotic thing — by putting country over party and joining us in days to come to restore people’s faith in our sacred democracy. 

— Joanna McClinton is the House Minority Leader, Matt Bradford is the House Minority Appropriations Chair and Jordan Harris is the House Minority Whip.