Hoping to Be Wrong about 2022

Nathan Gonzales
26 Oct, 2022


Election Impact

Nathan Gonzales
October 2022

Hoping to Be Wrong about 2022

By Nathan Gonzales,
Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst

I hope I’m wrong.

You don’t often hear that from a political prognosticator. But we’re headed for a tumultuous post-election period that could escalate debates over the legitimacy of election results.

Fundamentally, we’ve taken for granted the casting and counting of ballots and the certification of our elections. Mundane processes have become hyper partisan to the point that it could affect the convening and makeup of the next Congress.

Otero County, New Mexico, provided a window into the potential problems. County Commissioner Couy Griffin refused to certify the June primary results, saying during a county commission meeting, “[M]y vote to remain a ‘no’ isn’t based on any evidence, it’s not based on any facts,” Griffin said, “It’s only based on my gut and my gut feeling — and my own intuition.”

Otero County is relatively small (fewer than 8,000 votes were cast in the primary), and eventually the state Supreme Court stepped in to effectively force the certification. But it’s not hard to imagine a similar scene taking place in a dozen or more counties all around the country, in more consequential races, this November. Depending on the court and election players involved, there could be a different outcome.

The decentralization of our election system is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it is extremely hard to bring about the widespread fraud that former President Donald Trump and his allies claim to have happened in 2020. There would have to be too many people involved for it to be effective and remain a secret.

But there are downsides to decentralization. Differing voting rules from state to state can be confusing and allow political characters to sow seeds of doubt, and the large number of people involved means there are more opportunities to slow or derail the electoral process.

Future efforts to impede the elections will be done under the guise of election integrity. Griffin told CNN that he wasn’t trying to overturn the election but just wanted transparency. It’s hard to take that seriously considering Griffin co-founded Cowboys for Trump and was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing for his activity at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Even though the situation in New Mexico corrected itself through the courts, there’s no guarantee that would happen everywhere. Considering the close fights for control of the House and the Senate this cycle, delays in certification could affect when we know which party controls Congress, and any effort to certify candidates who didn’t receive the most votes could affect which party is in the majority.

This scenario is not a fantasy I’ve conjured up on Mountain Dew and too little sleep.

“This is the canary in the coal mine for 2022 and 2024,” said Jonathan Diaz, senior legal counsel for voting rights with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, about the Otero County certification delay in June.

Certification issues aren’t the only potential post-election problems. Democracy Docket, which is led by Democratic super-attorney Marc Elias, is tracking 76 voting- and election-related lawsuits. It will take time for those lawsuits to play out, and the decisions could impact the eventual winners depending on the closeness of their races.

There could be other efforts to meddle in the electoral process.

“President Trump and I lost an election in 2020 because of a rigged election,” said 2022 Nevada GOP Secretary of State nominee Jim Marchant, referring to his five-point loss to incumbent Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in Nevada’s 4th District. “When my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re gonna fix the whole country and President Trump is gonna be president again.”

It’s really not clear what Marchant meant by his comments or how that would happen, but clearly he has given it some thought.

If Republicans do as well in the midterm elections as expected, they should want people to have confidence that the new GOP majorities are legitimate. But more than two years of casting doubt about our elections could come back to haunt them, and nefarious post-election games could hurt the legitimacy of the new Congress.

There will be more candidates than usual who refuse to accept the results of their election. But that’s not the real problem. Concession is not necessary for certification, and that stubbornness won’t be the crux of the situation.

I would be happy to be wrong about all of this. Ideally, we’ll have a competitive set of elections with clear results. The winners take office and the losers live to fight the next cycle. But there’s considerable danger that the efforts to undermine the elections move well beyond typical partisanship and disrupt the entire process.

Additional Resources

Related Article: Embrace the Uncertainty of Midterms

Research: 2022 Public Affairs Pulse Survey

Contact us at impact@pac.org.

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