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Is this election the year predictions of trouble at the polls come true?

New efforts to disrupt elections have everyone on high alert.

An arm sleeved in a red sweater and hands wearing blue disposable gloves holding a pencil and writing on a pink sheet of paper on a table between a pile of ballots and a clipboard with a blue piece of paper on it.

A poll worker handles ballots for the midterm election, in the presence of observers from both Democrat and Republican parties, in Phoenix, Arizona, on Oct. 25, 2022.

Olivier Touron / AFP via Getty Images

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 Hi, y’all,

Election Day is in less than two weeks. Everyone doing ok? I’m doing ok. Totally fine. I swear.

The folks in Cochise County, Arizona, might not be, though. What happened there last week  is a bit of an eerie foil for what’s going on everywhere. Republican county officials — one of whom attended the Jan. 6 rally that subsequently became a violent riot — voted to hand-count ballots in the upcoming election (yes the one coming up in a couple of weeks). 

What they approved was confusing. They were warned that such a move was illegal, and Secretary of State (and candidate for governor) Katie Hobbs’ office pointed out in a letter, there’s a whole buncha state laws that would either stop the hand count in its tracks or, at minimum, keep the county tied up in lawsuits until after the election.

Wednesday, county supervisors backed down, instead increasing the number of ballots to be hand-counted under the usual, state-prescribed audit. Even that would need the cooperation of Democrats, who may not give it. 

But the fuzzy state of play in Cochise County is just one of multiple events that has me thinking differently about this year than other election cycles. I’ve been told since I started covering this beat that “this year” was “the year” where something absolutely bonkers would happen on Election Day. That Roger Stone was going to turn out hundreds of disruptive poll watchers in 2016, or that Michael Flynn would do so in 2018 (ah, the repetition of time), or that Trump supporters would storm counting facilities en masse in 2020. To be sure, there were isolated flashpoints across the country in each cycle, but none of the nightmare scenarios came to pass on Election Day. Despite our worst predictions, that day has, so far, been basically straightforward and calm.

I’m concerned, and I’ve never said this before — ever — that this year might actually be different. We’re watching for a lot of things at once: actually-funded and actually-organized efforts to recruit poll watchers, some of whom have received suspect-at-best training; a truly astounding number of candidates on the ballot who deny the results of 2020; brand-new election officials across the country as a result of record turnover; vigilantes monitoring drop boxes; and boards of canvassers and state legislatures newly empowered (legislatively or simply in their own minds) to overturn the will of the voters. On top of that, there are situations around the country like the one in Cochise County, with local officials attempting last-minute changes to the way the election is conducted or votes are tabulated. 

Most of this won’t have any visible impact on voters as they make their selections. The vast majority of voters will go to the polls, cast a ballot without issue, and proceed to forget about most of the day. That’s how it should be. But there appears to be a target on what happens after: the count, the canvass, certification, and the reporting of results.

Voters primed to believe the worst about elections are being told that the fraud is already underway. If the election tips away from a candidate who espouses such theories, it will be open season on election officials who are already being pelted with threats and harassment.

I hope that I’m flat wrong. I genuinely hope that election night goes by without drama and I get to go on a vacation that I (in an absolute fit of optimism) booked for a few days later. But I have a nagging worry that this year might be the year people have been warning me about since 2016.

The vaccine is here, making it far less likely that people stay home out of fear for their health. The haphazard effort in 2020 to invalidate results over claims of fraud has been organized and well-funded. We’re already seeing watchers in tactical gear camped out at drop boxes in Arizona, people shouting down election workers in Texas, unlawfully accessing tabulators in Michigan, and calling foul over the absolutely predictable delay of results in Pennsylvania.

We’re going to be watching and covering all of it, and we hope that you’ll help us. Please keep our tip line handy (tips@votebeat.org). You can also text us on Signal at 720-773-1674, or find any of our reporters’ contact information on our staff page. We hope you’ll let us help you make sense of this chaotic time for voters.

Back Then

If you’re a regular Votebeat reader, you probably already know the U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain an explicit right to vote. The New York Times explores that in detail here

New From Votebeat

A group accused of voter intimidation for its monitoring of Arizona ballot drop boxes is part of a coordinated fast-growing national effort with thousands of volunteers and close ties to Texas-based nonprofit True the Vote, which has repeatedly promoted debunked conspiracy theories about elections, Jen Fifield reports for Votebeat Arizona. 

Cochise County supervisors will not order a hand-count of all ballots cast in the midterm election after seriously considering such a plan last week. Instead, after the county attorney and secretary of state said that plan would be illegal, supervisors increased the number of ballots to be hand-counted under the usual, state-prescribed audit, Fifield reports for Votebeat Arizona.

In Other Voting News

  • Two men pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud charges in Ohio in connection with thousands of robocalls placed in 2020 across the Midwest that were designed to deter voters of color from casting ballots. The conservative operatives, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, also face pending charges in Michigan in connection with the calls, the New York Times reports
  • A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found two in five voters are worried about threats of violence or voter intimidation at the polls, Reuters reports, and two-thirds of registered voters are worried extremists will engage in acts of violence after the election if they are unhappy with the outcome.  
  • In what officials say may be another case of activists attempting to test election security, Georgia election officials are investigating a fraudulent ballot cast in Spalding County. The ballot was flagged by election officials and turned over to authorities, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
  • A group spearheaded by Patrick Byrne and retired Gen. Michael Flynn, prominent promoters of election conspiracy theories, is recruiting military veterans to staff the polls, suggesting they are needed to defeat election fraud, ABC News reports. The group, the America Project, has engaged in other programs, including an effort to interview hundreds of election officials in an apparent attempt to probe for weaknesses in the election system. 
  • A Wisconsin judge declined to stop municipal involvement in a get-out-the-vote effort in Milwaukee, rejecting a Republican request for a temporary injunction that would “impermissibly chill constitutionally protected speech,” reports the Journal Times. Republicans said it’s inappropriate for local governments to support get-out-the-vote efforts. 
  • Judges in both Florida and Texas recently dismissed voter fraud charges against former felons who were charged with voting illegally when they were not eligible to do so, high-profile defeats for GOP officials who said the charges were an attempt to crack down on voter fraud, even though there is little evidence of widespread problems.  
  • Arizona voters will decide whether to require more stringent photo identification for voting, including mail ballots, a change opposed by county election officials who say it would be burdensome for voters and isn’t needed, the Guardian reports

Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at jhuseman@votebeat.org.

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