By Robert Reich
Make no mistake: Donald Trump is effectively on the ballot in the midterm elections, five weeks from tomorrow (voting has already begun in several states). Even if he decides not to run, he’s laying the groundwork for authoritarianism.
In the upcoming midterms, 60 percent of us will have an election denier on our ballot, most of them endorsed by Trump. In the key battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, Republican candidates who embrace Trump’s Big Lie have won almost two-thirds of Republican nominations for offices with authority over elections.
Many are running for secretaries of state — the chief elections officers in 37 states, who will be overseeing voter registration and how elections are conducted. In the 2020 presidential election, people who held these positions were the last line of defense for our fragile democracy, upholding Joe Biden’s win despite heavy pressure from proponents of Trump’s Big Lie.
Which is why Trump and Trump’s lieutenants, including Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn, are trying to fill these positions with Big Liars.
Michigan’s GOP candidate for Secretary of State is Kristina Karamo — who rose to prominence in conservative circles after falsely claiming to have witnessed election fraud as a pollster. Karamo has claimed that Trump won the 2020 election and that Antifa was behind the January 6 insurrection.
Arizona’s Republican candidate for Secretary of State is Mark Finchem, a QAnon-supporting member of the Oath Keepers militia, who participated in the January 6 insurrection. He cruised to victory in the GOP primary by claiming that Trump won the 2020 election.
Nevada’s GOP’s candidate for Secretary of State is Jim Marchant, who won his Republican primary by making Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud a cornerstone of his campaign. He also falsely claims that mail-in voting is rife with fraud, and wants to eliminate it altogether (despite the fact that he has voted by mail many times over the years).
In Wyoming, state representative Chuck Gray, who won last month’s GOP primary for secretary of state, faces no opponent. Gray has repeated Trump’s lies about 2020 being “rigged,” traveled to Arizona to watch a partisan review of ballots that was derided as deeply flawed and proposed additional regular election audits in Wyoming. In Alabama, state Rep. Wes Allen, the nominee for secretary of state, says he would have signed onto a 2020 Texas lawsuit to overturn Biden’s win (that case was swiftly thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court).
Trump-backed candidates for governor are also on the ballot in key states where governors play a critical role in certifying votes and upholding the will of the people.
Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial nominee is Doug Mastriano. If he wins, Mastriano would appoint Pennsylvania’s top election official. Mastriano was also at the Capitol on January 6, and has even been subpoenaed by the January 6 committee to testify about his involvement. Mastriano also helped lead the push to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.
Arizona’s GOP gubernatorial nominee is Kari Lake — who has said she does not recognize Joe Biden as the nation’s legitimate president, and would not have certified Arizona’s 2020 election results had she been governor.
Wisconsin’s Republican gubernatorial nominee is Tim Michels. Michels still questions the results of the 2020 election and refuses to say whether he will certify the state’s 2024 president election results. Right now, elections in Wisconsin are overseen by the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission, but if Michels wins he supports scrapping the Commission in favor of a planthat could shift oversight of the state’s elections to the state’s Republican-dominated legislature.
I don’t know about you, but all these Big Liars terrify me. If any one of them wins in a state that’s likely to be a battleground in 2024, they could tip the balance in a tight presidential election to Trump. What terrifies me even more is they could tip America away from democracy to authoritarianism.
Meanwhile, a third of all state attorney general races currently have an election denying Republican candidate on the ballot — including Alabama’s Steve Marshall, Idaho’s Paul Labrador, Texas’s Ken Paxton, South Carolina’s Alan Wilson, and Maryland’s Michael Peroutka.
Attorneys general also have key roles in election administration — defending state voting laws and election results in court, taking legal action to prevent or address voter intimidation or election misconduct, and investigating and prosecuting illegal attempts to suppress the vote.
I haven’t even talked about all the local and county election officials who are also Big Liars, and also on ballots in many states — and who could play roles in the 2024 election.
How can we fight back?
First: Spread the word about the Trump-GOP’s plans to capture the election process and undermine American democracy.
Inform your friends and family — including young voters who often don’t turn out in large numbers — about what’s at stake in the midterms.
Second: Make sure you and they vote down the entire ballot.
Too many Democrats vote for federal offices but disregard state races. A recent analysis of the last three presidential elections in ten swing states showed that Democrats voted down the ballot far less than Republicans. (Democratic presidential nominees at the top of the ticket received more votes 87 percent of the time than Democratic state legislative candidates, while Republican presidential nominees received more votes just 45 percentof the time than Republican state legislative candidates.)
Control of many state legislatures is often determined by a handful of races that can swing in either direction based on a relatively small number of votes. In the 2020 election, very small margins in a number of battleground races prevented Democrats from gaining control of state legislatures.
Had Democratic candidates received just 4,451 more votes in the two closest races in the Arizona state House, they would have flipped the chamber. In North Carolina, had Democrats received 20,671 more votes (just 0.39 percentof the votes cast) in the ten most competitive legislative districts, they would have flipped the state House — thereby preventing Republicans from gerrymandering the state and federal maps, which Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has no ability to veto. In Michigan, just 8,611 more votes for state Democratic candidates in the four districts with the closest margins would have flipped this crucial swing state, too.
Third: Familiarize yourself with state and local candidates, and share this information.
You may want to get your ballot early so you have ample time. Some great organizations to help you are Sister District, The States Project, Bolts Magazine, and People’s Action. (I’m linking to them here, but feel free to leave a comment with other local resources you’ve found helpful.)
As I said, Trump is effectively on the ballot in the midterms. Which means — regardless of whether he decides to run again for president — our democracy is on the ballot. The midterm elections in five weeks will lay the foundation for all future races.
My friends, I cannot say this with more concern: Trump’s anti-democracy movement has been making astounding progress. We must stop it.