Savannah Thorpe

Local op-ed columnist Savannah Thorpe is a former staffer on the Jess King for Congress campaign and now works in the communications department of Justice Democrats, a PAC that backs progressive Democratic congressional candidates.

We are watching what happens when people with power hate America.

I wish it were more complicated than that. But Pennsylvania — and America — are closer to a small-d democracy than we have ever been in our whole history. And that such an enormous step toward justice has caused such anger as to incite an insurrection should tell us everything we need to know about who America was founded for.

Last week started with a democratic crisis right here in Pennsylvania. The Democratic winner of the election for Pennsylvania’s 45th Senatorial District, whose victory was certified and affirmed by the state Supreme Court, was denied the oath of office by his colleagues in the Republican Party. Yes, the margin of his victory was razor-thin, a mere 69 votes. But the GOP wasn’t waiting for a recount.

Rather, they are trying to throw out more than 300 legitimate votes to overturn the election, denying everyone who lives in the 45th Senatorial District representation in the Pennsylvania Senate now.

Republicans will tell you that there are “ballot issues” they are waiting to resolve before they swear in state Sen. Jim Brewster, but the only issue here is their blatant disregard for the precious right to vote. The 300-plus ballots in question were lawfully issued, returned in their secrecy envelope, signed by the voter and delivered before Nov. 3. However, the voters neglected to handwrite the date on the envelope, and for that reason alone, the GOP, including Lancaster’s state Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin, are trying to throw out those votes.

What a shame. People who believe that Pennsylvania is better when more people can vote don’t attempt to throw out legitimate votes over a minor technicality.

No-excuse mail-in ballots have helped to deliver on the promise of universal suffrage by making sure that everyone can vote, not just the people who can make it to the ballot box on Election Day. The passage and implementation of Pennsylvania’s 2019 election reform law, Act 77, should have been a moment of joy and celebration. It cleared the way for even more people to participate in one of our nation’s most sacred institutions. But what is the Pennsylvania GOP doing instead? Trying to undermine faith in our democracy and overturn the results of a fair and free election.

Attacks on our democracy like this are nothing new, and in fact, are very natural growing pains of a nation that was not founded on true democracy.

The sad truth of the matter — and the very reason for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer — is that America has never been the small-d democracy that it’s claimed to be. It has taken decades to deliver on the country’s most basic founding promise: that everyone has a hand in who represents them and passes the laws that govern their daily lives.

On the one hand, we herald the Founding Fathers as revolutionary geniuses who decried taxation without representation and fought against the imperialist tyrant England to guarantee a representative republic. On the other hand, we praise the civil rights-era marchers who linked arms with people of all faiths, races, ZIP codes and incomes to secure the right to vote for Black people in the 1960s — two centuries after the Constitution was written.

The Founding Fathers did not design a government meant to actually deliver on universal representation in government. They simply wanted to be the ones choosing whom to exclude. White women have been able to vote for only 100 years of our nation’s existence. Many LNP | LancasterOnline readers were alive to see times when millions of Black people were denied the right to vote.

If we believed that America’s promise to her citizens was to ensure that every single one of us is represented in our governing bodies, we would not have seen prominent, powerful leaders trying to disenfranchise voters, making it harder to vote, and undermining faith in the certified results of a fair and free election.

So of course white supremacists and neo-Nazis stormed the U.S. Capitol and some statehouses around the country. They were fighting for the framers’ vision of America, one where only white men get to decide the results of elections and the fates of everyone who calls this nation home.

When people say, “This is not who we are,” they are describing the work of generations of activists who have fought to change who we are from a white dictatorship to a true small-d democracy, not the vision of the founders who enslaved and trafficked people who looked like me and designed a country that should not have let me thrive the way I have.

Savannah Thorpe is a progressive political operative in Lancaster and a freelance writer.

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