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We’ve waited a long time for something, anything, to happen to the people who organized things behind the scene while rioters barreled up the steps of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
It is easier to charge someone with a straightforward crime — like, say, breaking into the U.S. Capitol and assaulting police — than to bring charges such as the ones brought against former President Donald Trump this week. .
It’s his third indictment, but the most resonant.
If you’ve run into me at a conference or a meeting or a panel it won’t come as a surprise to you that I have a lot of feelings. And so perhaps it won’t surprise many of you that when this indictment came down, despite more or less expecting it, I felt overmatched by this moment.
For the last two years at Votebeat, and several years before that as a reporter elsewhere, I’ve watched the actions election administrators – underpaid, overworked and beat down – took to make sure this country could continue to function in the wake of the actions laid out in this indictment. And now, as the indictment makes clear, that truth-telling has been elevated to its highest importance: It is being used to establish that the former president of the United States used lies about the election to commit actual crimes.
Special Counsel Jack Smith’s indictment lists eight categories of officials, agencies, and institutions — among them the president’s most trusted sources and closest allies — who repeatedly told him his rigged-election claims were false and misinformed. It includes Republican state legislators and state officials like governors and secretaries of state who used facts to defend the successful elections their states pulled off in 2020. Without these multiple layers of truth-telling, it may have been much harder to build the case against Trump.
Of course, Trump isn’t the only person being held accountable. In Michigan over the last two weeks, nearly 20 people have been charged with election-related crimes. And other legal dramas that have played out in the two years since Jan. 6 — like Dominion’s extremely successful defamation suit against Fox News — had already made clear how crucial these contributions from election officials were to ensuring accountability. But these charges are different.
This 45-page indictment is among the most consequential indictments ever filed in the history of this country: It makes the case that a former president of the United States was the leader of a massive conspiracy to overturn the will of the American people. It will have profound, reverberating effects on our future, and it solidifies the importance of the contributions local and state officials made to getting us here.
Unfortunately, many of the people most responsible for our ability to overcome the attempt to overturn the government on Jan. 6 are no longer in office, having been replaced by people who may not make the same choices. Rusty Bowers lost a bid for the state Senate in Arizona, for example, to state Sen. David Farnsworth, who criticized Bowers for refusing to help Trump. Countless election administrators across the country have been removed or forced out, and replaced with individuals who may not be as brave in the face of similar demands.
And there will be similar demands! Trump, who pleaded not guilty on Thursday, is, if anything, ratcheting up the anger and ferocity as these indictments play out. He has demanded loyalty, accused the indictments of being political hit jobs aimed at destroying his 2024 candidacy, and is actively seeking revenge in the form of baseless investigations and impeachments. Other candidates are following the path he laid down.
“The Republicans are very high class,” Trump recently told the crowd during a rally in Erie, Pa. “You’ve got to get a little bit lower class.”
I don’t have to tell you that an indictment won’t solve these problems. I also don’t have to tell you that things are likely to get worse before they get better: the push for hand-counting paper ballots, the angry battles over control of elections, the rampant abuse of public records requests by bad-faith actors, and the baseless lawsuits that demand so much taxpayer money are ongoing proof that his message is still resonating.
We’d like to hear from you about your reaction to this indictment. Email me and let me know if you feel vindicated, or you still feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. Let me know how your voters are reacting to this indictment, and what questions it’s raised for them about election administration in 2024.
We’re hopping across the pond for this week’s history section to introduce you to Irish suffragette Mary Molony (which is frequently misspelled as “Malony”). In 1908, she became famous throughout the United Kingdom while she followed Winston Churchill — who was running to regain a seat in Parliament — around on the campaign trail and rang a large bell every time he spoke. She would demand he apologize for insulting the suffrage movement, and when he refused to do so, she would drown him out as he continued with his planned speeches. On May 9, 1908, the London Evening News ran an article about a run-in between the two titled, “A Speech Spoiled: Miss Molony’s Successful Interruption of the Liberal Candidate.” It reads in part, “For some time Mr. Churchill struggled good-humouredly against the bell, but at last he gave up the effort in despair, saying, ‘If she thinks that is a reasonable argument she may use it. I don’t care. I bid you good afternoon.’”
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In Other Voting News
- A high-profile challenge to Harris County’s 2022 election is underway in a Texas courtroom, with lawyers for a Republican judicial candidate arguing the election she lost should be thrown out because some polling locations ran short of ballot paper and, her lawyers allege, some votes were improperly counted and others were not tallied. The decision in this case could signal the fate of 20 other lawsuits from failed GOP candidates, the Houston Chronicle reported.
- An all-Republican Board of Supervisors in Mohave County, Arizona voted against hand-counting ballots after a test run showed results would be inaccurate and it would cost more than $1 million, the Arizona Republic reported. Read Votebeat’s coverage of the push for hand-counting ballots in Arizona.
- The 2020 election was a watershed that shifted the ways in which Americans vote, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.
- Election officials in two Washington state counties received envelopes containing “suspicious materials,” prompting at least one courthouse evacuation, and tests show at least one contained trace amounts of fentanyl, King 5 reported.
Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.