Opinion: Doing the right, risky thing for democracy

From left, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, left, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling, listen as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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From left, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, left, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling, listen as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S OPINION

Character is what you do – at great risk -- when the world is watching.

The nation and world were reminded of that this week as Georgians testified before a U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection that violently attempted to reverse President Donald Trump’s election loss.

It was a grave moment for this nation and how we govern ourselves.

Yet, when it counted most – with the American way of democracy in high peril – some Georgians showed the best of what real leadership sometimes demands – doing the right thing in rugged circumstances that, at times, included death threats.

Those who stood on the right side of history would not allow an election to be stolen based on the demands of a soon-to-be-former president who could offer only falsehoods and conjecture to back up his wild and selfish claims.

Other Georgians in positions of power and influence did not choose the proper course during that trying period. Far from it.

They instead gave credence to the lies and unfounded accusations. They voted against certifying the November 2020 election results. They brought lawsuits. They organized an unauthorized, alternate slate of Georgia presidential electors. They demanded investigations, vote recounts and even sought a special session of the Georgia Legislature to pursue specious claims of election irregularities.

Elected officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp and others were on the side of truth and fair process during this fight. They did not buckle to unfounded allegations that a GOP election victory in Georgia was somehow stolen under the watch of Republican officials, using voting equipment approved and purchased by a Republican legislative majority.

Former U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak also resigned from his job under pressure from White House officials who thought he was not aggressively pursuing voter-fraud allegations. Pak has said he found no evidence to support those assertions.

After the election mess was decided, Kemp and Raffensperger did later support a controversial new Georgia voter law passed, GOP leaders said, to allay widespread – and unfounded – suspicions about rampant voter fraud.

In his testimony Tuesday in Washington, Raffensperger offered a statement as powerful as it was simple – and right: “We followed the law and followed the Constitution.” “At the end of the day, President Trump came up short.”

We should all accept that – and move on.

Officials in high places were not the only ones in Georgia who processed and later backstopped the election results at personal and professional risk. Election workers in Fulton County – and likely elsewhere around the state – did their jobs well as votes were counted – and recounted – at times under the eye of skeptical observers, to put it charitably.

Fulton County election worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss testified Tuesday about racist and violent threats “wishing death upon me, telling me that I’ll be in jail with my mother and saying things like ‘Be glad it’s 2020, and not 1920.’”

In a different time, these type of threats would be condemned much more loudly than is the case now – a silence which offers its own testimony into the sickness that’s endemic in our civic affairs.

American representative democracy depends on secure, fair and accessible elections. When unwarranted seeds of doubt are sown through widespread use of misinformation and outright lies, our experiment in self-governance is put at terrible risk.

When fact-free beliefs spread broadly enough, the damage won’t be contained within one political camp. That point seems lost on those who backed the Jan. 6 falsehoods and hype.

Among them are the six Georgia U.S. representatives who challenged election results on Jan. 6 – Jody Hice, Rick Allen, Buddy Carter, Andrew Clyde, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Barry Loudermilk.

Also in these ranks were Georgia’s U.S. senators at the time, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Each called on Raffensperger to resign shortly after the November election. They also sided with Texas in a brazen lawsuit that sought to invalidate Georgia’s presidential election results and disenfranchise millions of voters.

To her credit, Loeffler changed her mind after the January 6 Capitol attack about supporting a challenge to Georgia’s presidential electors in Congress.

Such behavior – and the ongoing, unwarranted skepticism and undermining of the 2020 election tally -- continues to tease apart the damaged threads binding together this great republic.

The risk therefore remains, barely concealed if at all. The doubts and outright disbelief of vote tallies counted multiple times confirm the precarious state in which American democracy resides now.

It is up to all of us now to begin fixing that. Accepting proven truth is a good first step.

The Editorial Board.