The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Election denial might be on its last legs

Bill Gates, chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, calls for calm among attendees during the board's general election canvass meeting in Phoenix on Monday. (Matt York/AP)

Are we witnessing the last gasps of the MAGA efforts to undermine elections? Two recent developments suggest so — not because the GOP has suddenly rediscovered democracy, but because the midterms have shown that these tricks are simply not working to advance the party’s quest for power.

The first positive development is the near-absence of “voter fraud” claims from Republican losers. This is partly because election deniers dug their own grave. As the Associated Press reported, Florida, Georgia and Virginia all set up law enforcement units after the 2020 election to investigate complaints of fraud but came up empty-handed. Same goes for all those election-denying volunteers that MAGA activists organized to work at the polls. So much effort — and not a scrap of evidence of a stolen election.

Of course, many losing Republican candidates did not concede their election after the midterms, but even some of the worst deniers threw in the towel. The one major exception, Republican Arizona governor nominee Kari Lake, was short-circuited by her own party. While a parade of loopy conspiratorialists testified before the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors about fraud, they got nowhere. The GOP-controlled board unanimously voted on Monday to certify the county’s results. Bill Gates, the board’s Republican chair, explained, “Let me be abundantly clear: There has never been a perfect election, and this was not a perfect election.” Regarding printer malfunctions on Election Day, he added, “There were issues, but we were transparent about that.”

Indeed, all of Arizona’s counties have certified their midterm results except rural Cochise County, which Arizona’s secretary of state promptly sued for failing to meet its certification deadline. Lake and her puppeteer, former president Donald Trump (who demanded she be installed as governor), have been left to howl into the wind.

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This doesn’t mean Trump, or his imitators, won’t scream fraud in the future, but it does suggest most of the party has had enough of such shenanigans. With election deniers defeated in key secretary of state and governor races in swing states, the days of phony electors attempting to flip elections might be in the rearview mirror.

Second, Republicans might be inching away from their rhetorical assault on early in-person and mail-in voting. Democrats banked millions of votes in advance of Election Day this year. They are doing the same in Georgia for its runoff Senate election, for which hundreds of thousands of early votes have already been cast, primarily in Democratic-rich metro Atlanta. After all the lies about mail-in ballots and ridiculous arguments against drop boxes, the Hill reports, “A growing number of influential GOP leaders and operatives say the party needs to more aggressively compete with Democrats when it comes to early and mail voting, fearing that a failure to do so could cost the GOP in future elections.”

Even potential Republican presidential contenders Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis got into the act. Haley admitted that Republicans were “outplayed” by Democrats with early voting, and DeSantis urged his party to take advantage of the practice. This helps to deprive election deniers of the false talking point that mail-in balloting is susceptible to fraud, giving them one fewer excuse to reject final election results.

Again, none of this guarantees MAGA candidates won’t try to undermine election results, spread disinformation or even incite violence at a later point. And don’t hold your breath waiting for GOP politicians to confess their claims about 2020 election fraud were a canard. But it seems we have reached an inflection point where mainstream media, voters and a broad swath of Republicans won’t indulge election lies.

Of course, this shouldn’t foreclose efforts to deter future insurrections. Prosecutors should continue to pursue all key players in the 2020 coup attempt to the furthest extent of the law, from those who stormed the U.S. Capitol to the former president and his cronies who attempted to overturn the election results. As more than 1,000 former Justice Department lawyers recently argued in an open letter, “Donald Trump’s announcement of his candidacy for the presidency should have no bearing on the Department’s investigations and weighing of charges against him. Any other result would undermine our democratic system of government by politicizing law enforcement.” If the special counsel investigating Trump charges those criminally responsible for the insurrection, the election denial movement might just receive its fatal blow.

In any case, it seems election denial might be on its last legs. If so, the 2022 midterms may prove to be the decisive fortification of democracy needed to preserve our constitutional system.