Op-Ed: The Republicans who did the right thing during the “Stop the Steal” campaign

Protesters in front of a building.
Hundreds of Donald Trump supporters at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Atlanta in November.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

When Donald Trump and his allies set out to alter the results of the 2020 election, they targeted local election officials and legislators all over the country. Very often the people in these critical positions, and most vulnerable to Trump’s influence, were Republicans. Many were his supporters.

Time and again, those officials refused to be cajoled or bullied into altering their election results, or to decline to certify them.

Clint Hickman, president of the Maricopa County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors — over the opposition of his own party, and with protesters calling for his arrest on the front lawn of his home — shunned last-minute phone calls from the president himself and voted along with his majority-Republican board to certify the vote count he knew was accurate.

Aaron Van Langevelde, a little-known Republican member of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, ignored intense pressure to cast the deciding vote to certify the count in that state. Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, famously stood up to Trump’s demand that he “find 11,780 votes.


One of the more remarkable instances happened in tiny Antrim County, Mich., where County Clerk Sheryl Guy refused to lie in order to advance Trump’s cause.

The House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection has subpoenaed more than a dozen individuals who it says falsely tried to declare Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 election.

Her case is of particular interest. On election night, Guy made a mistake tabulating the presidential vote. She accidentally transferred thousands of Trump votes to Biden. Antrim County, fingertip of the mitten shape made by Michigan’s lower peninsula, is almost all white and almost all Republican. It is solid Trump country. Guy voted for him.

She promptly recognized her tabulation error, and, horrified, fessed up to it, and corrected it. Trump’s victory was duly recorded. But she did not move fast enough to beat the Klaxon warnings that sounded across the country. Antrim’s brief flicker of blue was exactly the kind of red flag Trump and his allies were looking for. Private jets brought his campaign lawyers and activists to the peninsula, determined to prove that the error had not been Guy’s, but the county’s voting machines’. Here, at last, was proof that the machines had been rigged. Except Guy refused to budge. The mistake, she insisted, was her own.

Her case illustrates three things often overlooked by those who believe the American election system can be rigged.

First, in little Antrim County the switch of only a few thousand votes — not the millions alleged by Trump — tripped immediate alarm countrywide. Voting patterns in the U.S. are well known and closely watched. Voter data are public. Legislators, reporters and scholars are intimately familiar with it. When any voting district veers dramatically off course, everyone notices.

Second, there is little chance that widespread fraud could happen. The voting system in America is completely decentralized, and therein lies its strength. Elections are orchestrated not by a single agency in Washington, but by hundreds of thousands of local officials in every district, county and state in the union. Elections are run not by some faceless deep state bureaucrats, but by your friends and neighbors. The notion that a significant number of these people, most of whom have never met, could be enlisted in a plot to alter enough votes to change a national election is absurd.

If you’re worrying that a jury could let Trump slide because he lacked ‘criminal intent’ to commit election fraud, read the law.

But the third and most important point is this: The American people are not as dishonest or cowardly as Trump would like them to be. Clint Hickman, Aaron Van Langevelde, Brad Raffensperger, Sheryl Guy and hundreds of others like them did not let their personal preference for Trump interfere with their duty or their integrity. Many have paid a price.

Van Langevelde has been dumped from the Michigan canvass board. Raffensperger faces a difficult primary challenge in Georgia from a Trump loyalist who enjoys the ex-president’s endorsement. Hickman notes with dismay that his own party in Arizona has made denial of the 2020 election results a requirement for its support. Guy suffered so much abuse that she had decided not to run again for the office that she loved.

Election workers all over the country endured similar persecution and worse. In Atlanta, for instance, police reports show that part-time election helper Ruby Freeman received hundreds of messages — too many for police to read — including death threats. Strangers turned up at her home. Trump himself urged Raffensperger to have her investigated, and Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, testifying before the state legislature, accused her — without evidence — of orchestrating an enormous election scam. She went into hiding.

In key states, legislators still espousing Trump’s groundless and destructive theories are supporting efforts to ensure that they can set aside the popular vote entirely and appoint a slate of electors for their preferred candidate.

Democracy is not automatic. It rests on the integrity of ordinary Americans who supervise and certify votes in every county of every state. In 2020, despite intense pressure, these people in case after case, under duress, did their duty. We should take heart from that, but Congress should also act to protect them from harassment, and to ensure that the outcome of every election is determined not by partisan officials, but by the vote. This is so basic that it is hard to imagine an American who would not support it.

Mark Bowden, the author of 15 books including “Black Hawk Down,” and Matthew Teague, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, are the authors of “The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and The People Who Stopped it.”