Election officials breathe a 'huge sigh of relief'

Wellor an election that was preceded by dire warnings of intimidation of election officials and disinformation about voter fraud, the 2022 midterm elections passed without significant incident or disruption, election officials and experts say. Most problems at the polls — a Pennsylvania county that ran out of paper, several places that extended voting hours after opening late, minor issues with voting equipment — were quickly resolved and publicly explained by election officials who spent months in preparation for transparent messaging. Calls for protests and threats of armed vigilantes at polling stations remained confined to right-wing message boards and extremist chat apps.

“I think I speak for every election administrator in the country when I say this is a huge relief,” said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who easily won re-election against a Republican challenger who had embraced campaign conspiracies .

Election officials and pundits were cautiously optimistic that the relatively uneventful midterm elections and a series of tidy concessions by candidates who previously pushed election conspiracies were an indication of the resilience of the country’s democratic processes. “I just hope that what we’re seeing is the beginning of a return to normality, to a healthy democracy,” says Toulouse Oliver. Most rabid election deniers, who previously raised questions about US voting systems, have so far accepted the results, indicating their willingness to promote disinformation to rile their base only goes so far, says Toulouse Oliver. “To me, it seems to have peaked,” she says, noting that “the enthusiasm for holding on to conspiracy theories and using them as an effective rallying cry seems to have waned.”

Suffrage experts were also cautiously optimistic. Rick Hassen of the University of California, Los Angeles called it “a step back from the precipice of electoral denial.” Experts say much of the success is due to local and state election officials regularly reminding voters that with millions of Americans heading to the polls, there are bound to be some human errors or logistical problems that will be quickly resolved and not hindered. to everyone to vote. Experts say this “pre-hoarding” of voting misinformation by election officials has prevented many false claims and conspiracies from finding fertile ground.

One exception was in Maricopa County, Arizona, which has become ground zero for election conspiracies since the 2020 presidential race. In that election, a stamp failure affected 60 polling places, forcing some voters to wait to use other machines or choose to leave your ballots in a secure lockable box. The problem affected 25 percent of polling places in Maricopa, Arizona’s most populous county, before it was resolved Tuesday afternoon.

Election officials moved quickly to explain the issue as soon as it surfaced. Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer released a video demonstrating the problem, assuring voters that no one would be prevented from voting and that none of their ballots would be mishandled if they chose one of the fallback options.

Read more: Problems with some voting machines in Arizona fuel right-wing conspiracy theories

But many who support former President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the 2020 election were quick to seize on Maricopa County’s troubles as evidence of a deliberate effort to steal the election from Republicans. Trump himself is again fueling the denial. “Same thing happening with voter fraud as it happened in 2020???” Trump wrote on Truth Social, later posting a video claiming without evidence that “they want to get you off the ballot” and that “there are a lot of bad things going on.”

On Tuesday night, Carrie Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee who has supported some of Trump’s campaign conspiracies, blasted county officials as incompetent and the “crooks and crooks” she said were casting doubt on what she said would be her eventual victory. “We’ll take victory when it comes,” she told the crowd gathered for a viewing party at a Phoenix ballroom. (By Wednesday afternoon, Lake’s race remained too close to call.)

“There is no such thing as a perfect election, which is why we have a robust mechanism in place to catch any issues that may arise on the day,” Arizona’s assistant secretary said. of Head of State Ali Bones told TIME in a statement. “Every eligible voter can be confident that their vote will be counted.”

Despite previous concerns on political violence and voter intimidation, there were few incidents on election day. However there were complaints filed before the election with allegations of intimidation at the ballot boxes and vigilante observers, there were no reports of significant cases affecting the election. “I’m happy to report that today was relatively quiet on the political violence front,” Suzanne Almeida, director of state operations for Common Cause, a voting rights watchdog group, told reporters Tuesday. “We were absolutely prepared for more significant incidents, but they just didn’t happen.”

Read more: How ‘Stop the Steal’ became ‘Watch the Polls’

In fact, federal authorities said they found no signs that a major incident might be brewing. There were no “specific or credible threats … to disrupt election infrastructure,” federal cybersecurity officials told reporters Tuesday. The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office said in a statement that several state websites — including theirs, which provides information on where and how to vote — experienced “problems” on Election Day. They were taken offline for about 30 minutes after a Russian-language hacking group named Mississippi as one of its targets, according to NBC News. “We want to be extremely clear and assure Mississippians that our election system is secure and has not been compromised,” the secretary of state’s office said.

Before election day, many local election offices went out of their way to organize tours for voters and journalists, explaining the process and answering questions. On Tuesday, most of the state’s top election officials held substantive news conferences, updating voters on the latest developments. “Election day in Wisconsin went smoothly,” said Megan Wolfe, nonpartisan administrator of the Wisconsin Board of Elections, noting only some “routine calls and questions” and a few reports of lines outside polling stations. Officials also appear to have “warned off” some common concerns and conspiracies before they take root, constantly reminding voters of the mechanics of the process. “There are observers in the same room until the last ballot is counted,” Wolff said. “There really is no part of the election administration process that takes place behind closed doors.”

“Statewide, the process went smoothly,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said after the polls closed Tuesday night. “Voters entered and exited their polling stations quickly and comfortably. This is one of the hallmarks of a successful election.” She noted that Michigan had a record number of mail-in ballots and warned residents to be aware of “bad actors” who will seek to “use traditionally mundane and innocuous issues” to spread false information about the election or conspiracies.

Roughly seven in 10 midterm voters said they thought U.S. democracy was “at risk,” including 72 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans, while 28 percent said they thought it was “secure.” According to exit polling by Edison Research. But two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats also said they were at least somewhat confident that elections were being held fairly and accurately in their state.

More election coverage from TIME

Write to Vera Bergengruen c [email protected].

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