Almost 200 Republicans on the ballot this November do not believe that President Biden legitimately won his office. That claim has been disproven over and over again, and there’s no way to change the 2020 election results. So why should we care? Here, senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich explains the profound effect that election deniers in office could have in 2024 and beyond.
Nathaniel Rakich: Almost 200 Republicans who are on the ballot in November 2022 believe that President Biden’s win in the 2020 election was illegitimate. But the 2020 election is over, it can’t be undone — so why is this such a big deal? If a Republican thinks the 2020 election was stolen despite multiple investigations finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud, they might not accept the results of the 2024 election, either. And if they’re elected this November, they will be in a position to influence, and potentially overturn, the next presidential election.
In most states, elections are overseen by an office called the secretary of state. And in at least seven states, the Republican candidate for this office believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. That includes swing states like Arizona, Michigan and Nevada that could be key in deciding the next president in the event of a close 2024 election.
These secretary of state candidates have proposed some radical changes to election administration that could severely disrupt future elections. Some of them want to get rid of vote-counting machines and count every vote by hand, which would not only take longer but also be less accurate. Some want to completely purge voter rolls and force everyone to re-register to vote. That’s a clear violation of federal law and would almost certainly get tied up in the courts. Still, though, could you imagine the chaos?
Secretaries of state still need to follow the law, of course, but the law often gives them a lot of discretion over administering elections. For example, they can rewrite voter-registration and absentee-ballot-request forms to make them harder to use. They can often decide whether to provide ballot drop boxes to make it easier for absentee voters to return their ballots. And they may even be able to issue guidance on when to count disputed ballots.
But at least seven election deniers are also running for governor this November, and unlike secretaries of state, governors do have the power to change election laws, either through legislation or executive orders. In Pennsylvania, the governor even has the power to appoint the secretary of state.
In addition, both the secretary of state and the governor could simply refuse to certify the final results of an election they believe was rigged. It’s unclear what would happen next, but it’s possible they could attempt to certify a Republican win regardless of the actual results — or they could take advantage of the confusion and work with a Republican-controlled legislature to appoint an alternative slate of Electoral College votes. Either way, it would set off a constitutional crisis.
At that point, the courts would need to step in to ensure that the will of the people is respected. But if the election denier doesn’t back down, you could end up with two competing slates of electoral votes for the same state. In that case, it would be up to Congress to decide which votes to accept.
Congress’s certification of electoral votes, which happens the Jan. 6 after every presidential election year, is usually just a formality. But in 2021, 147 Republican senators and representatives objected to the Democratic electors in Arizona or Pennsylvania. And in the case of another, more disputed race in the future, this could be the final step in overturning the results of a free and fair election.
Up to this point, election deniers have spread lies and sown mistrust — sometimes with deadly consequences. But after 2022, election deniers could also have the power to turn that rhetoric into political action.