Opinion editor's note: Editorial endorsements represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom. The board bases its endorsement decisions on candidate interviews and other reporting.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon was depicted among other guardians of democracy in a recent Time magazine cover story as one of "The Defenders: Inside the Fight to Save America's Elections."

His unassuming style might keep him from touting the moniker. But Simon did tell the Star Tribune Editorial Board that "I like to say I'm in the democracy business. And it's a heck of a time to be in the democracy business. But it's a labor of love."

It was in fact a heck of a time in 2020. A heated, historic election at the height of the COVID pandemic in what Simon called "pre-vaccine America" could have gone wrong any number of ways. But it worked, and worked well, as state and local officials (in a collective labor of love) held an election in which Minnesota led the nation in voter turnout.

Simon, 52, is quick to spread the credit to "strong laws put there over the years and decades by both political parties" (including by Simon himself when he was a DFL state legislator) and a "pro-voting culture" that's "not just government" but the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, as well as "an ethic of inclusion and access."

Describing coordinating an election as a "team sport," Simon wanted to avoid a binary choice between people's votes or their health. Appropriately, his office encouraged more early voting, as well as voting by mail, which grew from 24% of the vote total in 2018 to 58% in 2020.

That figure will likely decline from its peak this year as more voters return to in-person, Election Day voting. But it is likely to remain relatively high, a change that should be embraced because it increases turnout as well as Minnesotans' stake in state, local and national governance.

Enhancing civic participation is critical, and Simon not only passed but aced what he called the "ultimate stress test" on "our democracy as a whole" and on "election administration in particular."

Unfortunately, despite the worst of the pandemic behind us, our democracy is still under stress. But this time the virus isn't biological, but sociological: disinformation and cynicism.

It emanates from the man who lost the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump, and from a "vast majority" of Republicans seeking office across the country who continue to sow doubt on the outcome in 2020 and even the results of the upcoming election, according to a New York Times analysis.

The list of election critics includes Simon's opponent, Republican Kim Crockett, who has disputed the 2020 outcome multiple times. (That may have led to Trump's endorsement of Crockett on Tuesday in a social-media post that lied about "rampant" election fraud in Minnesota.)

Without evidence, Crockett, an attorney, has previously referred to the vote as "rigged," told radio listeners that "this is our 9/11," and that "This is where we are, and I've always loved the American Revolution, and now we get to live through the second one."

Actually, those who fought the American Revolution would likely be proud of Minnesotans' extraordinary participation in their democracy amid a global health scare, and would disapprove of baseless claims questioning the outcome.

Crockett, 62, has stated previously, and reaffirmed to the Editorial Board, that "The singular goal I have is to calm down the conversation in Minnesota over who won."

But her inflammatory comments are the antithesis of calming, and instead are fanning the flames when the evidence clearly shows that President Joe Biden won a close but clean election in Minnesota and in the country. That victory was certified by Congress despite it being under attack from a MAGA mob turned violent by the talk of a stolen election.

Among Crockett's proposals are to shorten the early voting window, which would dampen turnout. She also favors voter ID, despite Minnesotans rejecting the idea in a 2012 referendum.

Simon, who acknowledges the political appeal of the issue, warned of the cure being worse than the disease. Instead of stopping illegal or improper voting, it might disenfranchise people. As an example, Simon points to people in assisted-living facilities or nursing homes whose identification reflects where they lived before they transferred to such a facility.

One area of election reform needed in Minnesota reflects a goal shared by Crockett and Simon: full government funding of elections, so there is never a necessity to accept outside money to help implement them, as happened in 2020. While there was nothing illegal, untoward or partisan about such donations, a vital democracy can and should pay for the administration of an election and avoid the perception of conflicts of interest.

Simon pledges to focus on election integrity and even greater voter participation if he earns another term. He's clearly earned that opportunity.

Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and D.J. Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith serves as an adviser to the board.