In the run-up to the US midterm elections, a trend emerged that raised alarm bells for those concerned about the stability of American democracy. An estimated 345 Republican candidates bought into the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump through massive fraud, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think tank.
Those fears eased somewhat when the Republican Party underperformed in polls on November 8, disappointing predictions of a “red wave” at the polls.
Election deniers lost closely watched races in swing states and failed to gain ground in about 95 percent of races statewide, according to an analysis by the States United Democracy Center, an organization that tracked races with voters. Election deniers on the ballot.
On Monday, President Joe Biden hailed the midterm results as a “strong pushback against election deniers at every level.”
Speaking to reporters ahead of this week’s Group of 20 (G20) summit in Indonesia, Biden described the outcome as a testament to the strength of democratic institutions.
“What this election showed is that there is a deep and unwavering commitment in the United States to preserve, protect and defend democracy,” he said.
In the November 8 midterm elections, election deniers competed in races at virtually every level of government. The fight for control of the US Senate, for example, has come down to battleground states like Nevada and Arizona, where election deniers like Adam Laxalt and Blake Masters lost by narrow margins to their Democratic opponents.
But just as important were state and local races that influence voter access and have the potential to shape the outcome of presidential elections in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona.
Such candidates often took a bleak and conspiratorial view of the electoral process they were tasked with helping to oversee. Jim Marchant, the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Nevada, claimed in a podcast that the state had not had a real election since 2006 and that representatives had been “installed by a cabal from the deep state.”
The gubernatorial race in Arizona was one of the highest-profile contests, with outspoken Republican Kari Lake narrowly losing to Democrat Katie Hobbs. It took her almost a week to count the ballots. Lake had made false claims that the 2020 election was stolen as a cornerstone of her campaign.
Lake didn’t relent when the results were announced, instead tweeting, “Arizonans know BS when they see it.”
These candidates posed an unusual dilemma for the American political system: What would happen if election officials used their positions to undermine public faith in the legitimacy of the election?
“One thing is clear: American voters have stepped up to defend democracy in this election. In most places, we saw voters decisively push back against election deniers who want power over their votes,” Joanna Lydgate, executive director of United States Action, told Al Jazeera in a statement shared via email. .
“That being said, election denial will continue to be a threat, and we must remain vigilant going into 2024.”
The current trend toward election denial gained momentum when former President Trump spread false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen through “mass fraud” and “election rigging,” pressuring officials to override the will of the voters.
Those claims have been overturned in court for lack of evidence. Republican election officials like Brad Raffensperger of Georgia also reassured voters that the election results were valid and that claims of rampant fraud were unsubstantiated.
But election denial has been widespread among both Republican voters and officials. A Monmouth University poll in late September found that 61 percent of Republican voters doubted the integrity of the 2020 election.
The Brookings Institution analysis also noted that key battleground states like Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania had relatively high concentrations of election deniers running in the midterms, compared to similarly populous but left-leaning states like New York and California.
Because elections are supervised at the state level in the US, political figures such as governors, secretaries of state, and attorneys general have different levels of responsibility for what happens at the polls.
In Arizona, for example, the secretary of state is responsible for certifying election results. But in Nevada, the secretary of state does not have this responsibility. He or she can, however, pressure counties to institute policies that affect voter access.
Across the country, far-right candidates have run for such positions, often with Trump’s endorsement after accepting his claims of fraud.
Doug Mastriano, a Trump-backed Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate, said the state’s votes in the 2020 presidential election should not have been certified and vowed to appoint a secretary of state who shared that belief.
Mark Finchem, a Republican running for secretary of state in Arizona, introduced legislation to nullify the state’s votes long after the 2020 election took place. He also called for ballots to be counted by hand, a method that , according to experts, is more prone to errors and less efficient.
In Michigan, Kristina Karamo, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, filed a lawsuit to prevent tens of thousands of Detroit ballots from being counted in the midterm elections, alleging fraud.
Those candidates also vowed to roll back measures meant to make voting easier, such as mail-in ballots, which Trump has described as illegitimate and prone to fraud.
Mastriano, Finchem and Karamo all lost their careers, with a judge dismissing Karamo’s lawsuit as “intolerable” and rebuking her for failing to provide “any shred of evidence” for her claims.
Marchant, seen as an architect of the push for deniers to run for secretary of state in swing states, also lost his race in Nevada.
Such defeats resulted in a collective sigh of relief from election experts and academics, who say unsubstantiated claims about the corruption of the electoral process can undermine faith in democracy.
“The popularity of those claims among Republican voters is concerning, but we didn’t see success in many battleground states,” Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, told Al Jazeera. “In 2024, this means that elections in swing states will be overseen by relatively impartial figures.”
Kousser sees another cause for celebration: Many of the most ardent election deniers fell short by substantial margins. Both Karamo and Mastriano lost by more than 14 points.
a continuing threat
But in Western states like Arizona and Nevada, some of the champions of election denial posted strong results, with margins small enough to open the door to unsubstantiated claims that the election there had been “stolen.”
In Arizona, Finchem and Lake took advantage of technical problems with voting machines in Maricopa County to push false claims of fraud on Election Day. civil servants He apologized for the inconvenience and promised that every vote would be counted.
“Brand new tabulating machines.” If this is what gives us the new, what do the old machines do? Go vote and don’t let the Marxists deprive you of your vote. Double check and make sure the machine counts your vote correctly. #VoteFinchem
— Mark Finchem #JustFollowTheLaw VoteFinchem.com (@RealMarkFinchem) November 8, 2022
The situation in Maricopa County was already highly flammable. Voter fraud conspiracy theories have led to an influx of death threats and harassment against poll workers, causing some to quit their jobs altogether, according to a Reuters report.
A message received over the summer said poll workers would be tied to cars and dragged through the streets. In October, the US Department of Justice raised concerns about voter intimidation following reports of gunmen in Arizona guarding outdoor polls.
On Election Day, Trump joined Lake and Finchem in spreading allegations of fraud.
“Here we go again?” Trump said on the Truth Social website. “The people won’t stand for it!!”
These comments from powerful figures in the Republican Party have led democracy advocates to warn against premature celebration. Election deniers won powerful midterm races largely in Republican-leaning states, including at least five gubernatorial seats and races for secretary of state in places like Indiana and Wyoming.
“Our democracy withstood a major test, and that’s because of the voters,” Lydgate of United Action USA said in a statement. “But we must remember that the election denial movement is going nowhere as we look to 2024. This is an ongoing threat.”
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