Stephen Trimble: Don’t miss your opportunity to defend our democracy with your vote

Evan McMullin, Lannie Chapman and Davina Smith are the pro-democracy candidates in Utah.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Independent candidate for Utah's U.S. Senate race Evan McMullin in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

This November, I’ll be a single-issue voter for the first time. I’m voting for the pro-democracy ticket. This single issue matters more than party affiliation or any other individual priority.

When President Joe Biden outlined the threats to democracy in Philadelphia on September 1, he emphasized that “we are not bystanders…Democracy endures only if we, the people, respect the guardrails of the republic. Only if we, the people, accept the results of free and fair elections.”

In so many races, this one measure guides my vote. Which candidate unequivocally supports these guardrails? Which candidate will honorably accept a loss in a free and fair election? Which candidate will actively work to guarantee that elections remain free and fair? I urge you to use the same test.

In Utah’s United States Senate race, Evan McMullin is a clear choice over Mike Lee. Lee, the incumbent senator, nearly went along with the former president’s attempt to overturn the free and fair election of Joe Biden as president. Lee encouraged Trump to listen to the advice of the now-disgraced lawyers Sidney Powell and John Eastman.

Lee has only weakly conceded that Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president. He voted to acquit Donald Trump when he was impeached after inciting the January 6 insurrection, explaining his vote with a narrow reading of the word “incitement.” Lee spends his time in the Senate obstructing even bipartisan bills with such arcane and stubborn positions that his colleagues rarely join him. He has tweeted, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are.”

For me, a healthy democracy has to be the first objective. No other positive values are possible without it.

In contrast, number one on McMullin’s list of priorities is: “Strengthen our democracy and stand up to extremists.”

McMullin explains: “we must reform and strengthen our democracy by: ensuring voting rights for all eligible Americans; ending partisan gerrymandering and other electoral corruption; toughening transparency and ethics laws; reducing the influence of money in politics; uniting Americans on common ground.”

McMullin has my vote. While I may disagree with him on many other issues, none will matter if we weaken democracy and allow autocratic rule to take root in America.

In Salt Lake County, the key vote for democracy is the county clerk’s race, where Lannie Chapman is running to succeed longtime champion of safe and universal voting rights, Sherrie Swensen — who is retiring and has endorsed Chapman. Election deniers across the nation are targeting grassroots races like this one.

In a pithy Tribune commentary, Charlotte Kuhn describes Lannie Chapman as “confident, capable and tough…precise and careful.” Kuhn worked with Chapman in the clerk’s office while Chapman served as Swensen’s chief deputy and lays out the candidate’s qualifications: she “doesn’t shoot from the hip, take a guess, or overstep her authority. But most importantly, she listens.”

Chapman’s challenger, Goud Maragani, has spoken at “Stop the Steal” rallies and speaks in coded language that just barely disguises his support for those inventing election fraud where none exists. Lannie Chapman, an experienced and committed public servant, is the clear pro-democracy choice for Salt Lake County Clerk.

Many Utah races pair such crucial opposing views on democracy. One of the most important is the race for Utah House District 69, the largest legislative district in the state, covering a full third of Utah. Phil Lyman is the incumbent here, challenged by Davina Smith.

Lyman famously led a 2014 ATV protest that gunned right through cultural and archaeological resources in Recapture Canyon in San Juan County. He knew he was acting illegally, and the courts agreed, convicting him of a felony, with jail time and a $96,000 fine (though pardoned by former president Trump just before he left office).

In the 2021 legislative session, Lyman introduced a bill to do away with vote-by-mail statewide and institute onerous record-keeping. The bill would have made voting incredibly difficult for many of his rural constituents, especially those living in remote corners of the Navajo Nation. To the Legislature’s credit, the bill went nowhere.

Davina Smith, Lyman’s challenger, is Dine, a member of the Navajo Nation, and grew up in Blanding. She understands the need for isolated rural people to vote by mail — and for all of us to have easy and safe access to the ballot box.

Smith’s website makes her position on democracy clear—the opposite of Lyman’s pointless grandstanding: “Making it harder for people to vote is fundamentally undemocratic. Voter suppression and gerrymandering efforts silence the voices of underrepresented communities in Utah. I believe in including everyday people in the political process, which is why we must protect voting access and universal vote-by-mail.”

Democracy is crisis-driven, and we are clearly in a crisis. We must elect candidates who unequivocally support our right to vote—and who work to ensure that we can cast that vote easily, securely, safely, and universally.

Each pro-democracy candidate in these races deserves our vote. Every Utahn can vote for Evan McMullin. Salt Lake County voters can elect Lannie Chapman as the next county clerk. And rural Utahns from Monument Valley to Ferron, Moab to Panguitch, have the chance to elect Davina Smith to the Utah Legislature. Don’t miss your opportunity to defend our democracy.

Stephen Trimble at his home in Torrey, Utah

Writer and pro-democracy advocate Stephen Trimble lives in Torrey.