Election deniers lost in 2022. What to do next to protect democracy

Bradley Knott is a veteran political consultant.

Like many Americans, I feared for our democracy as the 2022 midterms approached.     

I’ve worked in campaigns for years, at levels where I witnessed the rough side of the business.  But 2022 felt different, more threatening, and more consequential than other elections. The insurrection showed how extreme Make America Great Again was and remains.

Plus, the combination of Donald Trump, foreign intervention, and social media have proven impossible to regulate and very effective in the dark art of misinformation and grievance politics.

The fact a substantial bloc of the electorate believed the 2020 elections was stolen remains both frightening and a clarion call to all democracy advocates to remain vigilant. MAGA was beaten in 2022, but not defeated. 

In 2022, I was the voter protection director for the Democratic Party in Maryland, where two MAGA supporters topped the GOP ticket. I have done similar voter protection work in Iowa for several elections.

Fortunately, most of what MAGA threatened or planned for last year’s elections didn’t pan out. All hat and no cattle, as they say.

But with Trump potentially on the ballot again in 2024, should we expect anything but more misinformation and denialism? Of course not. That means voter protection efforts need to continue and get stronger. But how?

Right now, voter protection is mostly reactive. When a legislature passes voting restrictions, Democrats file lawsuits. When misinformation is spread, we express our indignation. When election judges error, we call for clarification or to keep the polls open longer.

What the voter protection community has done to date is good and necessary. I’m proud to stand with them in protecting democracy.

But how do we get ahead of misinformation campaigns and conspiracies? How can we create a pro-democracy electorate where the conspiracy seeds may fall but not spread? Here are some ideas.

1. Change the mindset of voters and the media. Democracy needs accurate (not fast) results.

Technology creates the illusion we can have things quickly and accurately. Cable news demands “breaking news,” and we all tune in. We need to change that mindset.

When so many voters are using casting ballots by mail, compiling election returns can take a few days, even weeks. And that’s OK. It takes time to count mail in ballots and verify results. Unless the electorate understands the process, the lag time is oxygen to the conspiracy theorists.

2. Clarify voters’ rights.

Implicit to democracy are voter rights and expectations about participation. Such as the right to:

  • vote free of threats, harassment, and chaos at the polls;
    • have election judges focused on their jobs, free from harassment and threats;
      • have candidates and parties accept the outcome of a transparent electoral process;
        • and finally, voters have the right to have the election be over.

      Before MAGA, there was no need to clarify basic voter rights. It is imperative now. The electorate must have a clear understanding of their rights so they can judge those who attempt to deny them—as they did in the 2022 midterms.

      3. Shine light on the voting process.

      Transparency is a strong disinfectant for misinformation and conspiracies. Our electoral system is resilient and reliable. There are pre-election logic and accuracy testing, checks and balances in the counting and curing of ballots and post-election audits to verify the accuracy of the results.

      But there’s always a lag time after the polls close and reliable results (as opposed to projections of winners) can be reporters. That lag is an opportunity for deniers to sow doubt. Democracy needs support at that critical time.

        We need credible, nonpartisan observers—community leaders—to learn and understand the checks and balances built into the voting process that ensure its accuracy and reliability.

        We need those observers to vouch for the process. Will they change the minds of hard-core deniers? No. But they may chip away at the MAGA base of followers.

        4. Finally, we need something akin to Democracy Clubs.

        I’m thinking of a corps of citizens committed to promoting democracy by educating citizens on the voting process, recognizing workers who make the process work, and getting trained to work elections on a regular basis.

          Election administration in the U.S. is a bipartisan, not a nonpartisan activity. When political parties participate in running elections (as election judges or clerks) or in observing how elections (as partisan poll watchers), they lend credibility to the process and the results.

          Unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult to find election day workers. The House Select Committee on January 6 revealed one reason why: Trump and MAGA threatened election workers in Georgia and sicced a mob to harass the election workers in other swing states. 

          Democracy clubs would recruit and train workers to be precinct workers (judges, clerks at the poll) or poll watchers and observers for their respective political party. They could promote democracy and explain the voting process in schools, clubs, and throughout the community year round. 

          Citizens who protect the voting process should be recognized for their work as we recognize other important contributors.

          President Joe Biden recently did this by awarding presidential citizen medals to precinct-level election workers. That model could be repeated at the state and county level.

          The clubs would form a valuable resource for parties seeking poll watchers and monitors. They could help local election officials struggling to recruit and train election judges.

          To be successful these proactive steps must be part of a national, bipartisan effort supporting democracy. As we saw in 2020 and 2022, many Republicans do support democracy. In some cases, GOP election officials were on the front lines defending the accuracy of the results.

          As pro-democracy advocates, we can feel relief that many election deniers lost in 2022. But it’s not mission accomplished. We need to remain vigilant and be more proactive in protecting democracy.

          Top photo taken by Johnny Silvercloud at the Washington, D.C. rally “March On for Voting Rights,” August 28, 2021. Available via Shutterstock.

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          • and a few more

            You are correct in stating “many election deniers lost in 2022.” It is also true that many election deniers lost in 2000, 2004, 2016 and 2020.

            • election deniers

              Not a fan of “election deniers.” Trump comes to mind first but there are others such as Stacey Abrams.

          • Democracy Clubs — YES, BUT MORE THAN ELECTIONS

            Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between people, and their beliefs – in religion, literature, colleges and schools- democracy in all public and private life. Walt Whitman

            I say that democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil, until it founds and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, poems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists, or that has been produced anywhere in the past, under opposite influences. Walt Whitman