Finally, the Pennsylvania primary is over, which means voters now have a clear sense of what’s at stake on Election Day.

Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, is one of the leading deniers of the undeniable truth that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The state senator launched his campaign by pushing bogus conspiracy theories that voting machines were hacked by the Chinese government. Mastriano later helped stage a pseudo hearing attended by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that alleged voter fraud but produced no legitimate evidence.

Mastriano kept in contact with Trump before the former president left office about efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Mastriano was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, after saying in advance that he would be a speaker at the rally that produced a riot. Mastriano’s campaign spent thousands of dollars to charter busloads of protesters from Pennsylvania to what became a violent, deadly debacle.

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Video from Jan. 6 appears to show Mastriano and his wife, Rebecca, in the crowd marching past breached barricades set up by Capitol Police to keep rioters away. While there is no footage showing Mastriano entering the Capitol, scores of his fellow protesters called for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged, threatened to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and ransacked the halls of Congress, causing millions of dollars in damage.

The attempted coup, pushed by Trump and his cronies in a vain effort to deny the will of the majority of voters in the 2020 election, showed us that democracy is fragile and not guaranteed. Fortunately, the American system of checks and balances withstood this attack — but barely.

There is no guarantee that democracy will similarly prevail after the 2024 presidential election. But this year’s midterm results could determine whether the plotters would even need another coup attempt.

Mastriano’s election could be the domino that launches a chain reaction that affects the 2024 presidential election. He is on record endorsing an anti-democratic scheme that allows state legislators to override election results by handpicking their own electors. He also boasted in a radio interview that if elected governor he could appoint a secretary of state who could overturn an election if Mastriano didn’t like the outcome. “I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen,” he said.

Scores of deniers of the 2020 presidential election results are running for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state in a number of key battleground states. If they win, they could overturn elections when their chosen candidates lose.

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Control of Congress also hangs in the balance. If election-deniers take control of both the House and Senate, they could object to the slate of electors chosen by a state’s voters and subsequently invalidate a presidential election. This is not far-fetched: 147 House Republicans voted to invalidate Biden’s election in 2020.

With the Senate currently split 50-50, how Pennsylvania votes in November will play a pivotal role in determining the future of the democracy.

Celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee, has refused to acknowledge that Biden won the 2020 election. Trump endorsed Oz, who in turn voiced support for the 2020 election fraud conspiracies.

The longtime New Jersey resident has no political experience. He has been widely criticized for touting medical quackery, including endorsing hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug recklessly pushed by Trump, to treat COVID-19. But he could win.

Given all the other Republican candidates trafficking in lies and phony election fraud conspiracies, it’s up to voters to preserve our democracy.

“It’s up to voters to preserve our democracy.”

The Inquirer Editorial Board

Biden won Pennsylvania by 1.2%, or 80,555 votes. That may sound tight, but Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by only 0.2, 0.7, and 0.8 percentage points, respectively, in 2016. Essentially, 80,000 voters in those three states elected Trump president.

The difference between democracy and authoritarianism can depend on only a few thousand voters, which is what makes Pennsylvania so important.

Pennsylvania voters in 2020 saved the country from the clear and present dangers that likely would have prevailed had Trump remained in power. His past praise for Vladimir Putin suggests he would have turned a blind eye or even supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His disdain for NATO made him incapable of coaxing that league of nations to depend less on Russian oil and gas.

A recent poll found that 64% of Americans believe U.S. democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing.” The power to alter that perception, however, is in their hands.