The events that followed the primaries held in July in Colorado were indicative of the “new normal” of elections in the United States. Some losing Republican candidates cried voter fraud and filed lawsuits. During the auditing of the ballots, groups of protesters mobbed the polling stations, insulted poll workers, and threatened to take over their work; some, gathered in prayer, even called for divine punishments against their opponents.
Similar scenes occurred in numerous states. In the primaries, the clash was between moderate and extremist Republicans, but this was presumably only a foretaste of what might happen in November when the congressional majority and the political fate of the country will be at stake.
Fifty-one percent of the 569 Republican candidates running to win back Congress subscribe to the “stolen election” conspiracy theory, the Big Lie spread by Donald Trump in 2020 that resulted in the assault on Capitol Hill.
The same playbook is now being taken up by numerous candidates who are followers of MAGA (Make America Great Again). At least a dozen of them have refused to say whether they will accept the outcome at the polls, just as the former president refused to do two years ago, insinuating that an unfavorable result for them would constitute evidence of fraud.
Ever since Trump, complaints of alleged voting irregularities have become central axioms of the right-wing narrative, even as study after study revealed that in the United States such incidents are minimal and statistically insignificant. For example, a Columbia University investigation found just 31 cases of double voting among more than one billion ballots from 2000 to 2014. A Brennan Center report determined the overall incidence of irregular ballots to be between 0.0003% and 0.0025%.
Naturally, under the current regime of fake news – what the New York Times called “the metastasis of misinformation, a defining feature of today’s American politics” – such real data does not have the same traction as the vituperating rhetoric about “suspicions” of fraud accompanied by recurring “rumors” about “illegal aliens” sent by Democrats to swell the electoral rolls of strategic states, or supposed boxes of “fake” ballots delivered overnight to polling place service entrances.
In the resulting uncertainty, every accusation and diversion becomes viable and every rumor plausible. It undermines confidence in the system, which is a necessary precondition of the democratic process.
But even if the historical pattern favors them in the midterms, Republicans are unwilling to leave anything to chance. After all, manipulation of turnout and electoral districts is itself part of the American tradition. Numerous Republican-administered states have enacted stricter voter ID requirements and decreased the number of polling places to inhibit the turnout of minorities which lean Democratic, always under the guise of the necessary fight against election fraud.
Florida’s Trumpist governor, Ron DeSantis, has even established a police force with the task of prosecuting such “voter fraud.” In August, in a series of dawn raids, officers arrested a dozen unsuspecting citizens (all Democrats, and almost all African-Americans) for voting despite having criminal records which legally barred them from doing so, after they had received their voter registration cards at home. They each face $5,000 fines and five years in prison.
In Phoenix, Arizona, groups of denialist “observers,” armed and in camo gear, “guarded” some early voting boxes for days, filming the people who put their ballots in.
But in addition to intimidation, the party now controlled by the MAGA current also has a plan B ready – preemptively blocking the electoral system in unfavorable constituencies.
As early as June, a leaked recording from a Republican strategy meeting in Michigan revealed plans to put in place “trusted” and obedient poll workers to challenge any unfavorable results. U.S. elections are administered at the local level by each district, which have to find poll workers, whether paid or volunteer. They are usually selected and trained by the local offices (normally at the district level), which issue notices and place advertisements for the purpose.
The plan outlined by Matthew Seifried of the Michigan RNC was to place “reliable” poll workers in as many Democratic-majority constituencies as possible, with the task of filing immediate challenges, if possible even before the votes are counted. For the purpose of formalizing the appeals in court, the GOP also claimed it had recruited hundreds of lawyers.
In the recording obtained by Politico, Seifried says, “It’s going to be an army … We’re going to have more lawyers than we’ve ever recruited, because let’s be honest, that’s where it’s going to be fought, right?”
This suggests that the Republicans will use the same strategy deployed by Trump’s lawyers in 2020, wherever it’s convenient for them. In that case, almost all appeals were rejected and some key election officials refused pressure to decertify the results.
This time, it would be enough to delay the results in a few strategic states, instill doubt and jam the mechanism to get the time needed for a possible intervention by a magistrate or legislature in the handful of most-contested states.
And over the past two years, many of those “ethical” officials (in particular, the Attorney Generals of each state) have been replaced by the GOP with more “reliable” people.
Such blatant election interference is difficult to contemplate in other mature democracies – but in the U.S. there is a long history dating back to manipulation to inhibit the Black vote in former slave states. With Trump, these operations have become blatant and overt.
In short, in the clash of civilizations, the end is supposed to justify the means. This is the meaning of the genetic mutation of the Republican Party into a fanatical and subversive force. That’s why in this election, once again, what will be decisive is not only the result of the vote, but what happens after the vote.