US dispatch: the midterms are over, but dangers to democracy remain Dispatches
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US dispatch: the midterms are over, but dangers to democracy remain

Justin Lindsay is a US National Correspondent for JURIST, and a 2L at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He served 10 years as an Officer in the United States Army.

Election day in America has passed and the majority of votes have been counted. Only a few close races remain undecided, but control of the upper and lower houses of Congress has been determined. Democrats were given reason to be hopeful, and Republicans have reasons to be concerned. But Americans collectively can be relieved that the day passed peacefully.

Tension pervaded this election, with law enforcement officials unnerved by the volume and tenor of threats to poll workers and general concerns over voter intimidation. States grappled with new challenges and developed new solutions; elections workers in Chicago even received special “de-escalation” training to deal with combative voters, being issued panic buttons that would summon police if a situation got out of hand.

The day came and went mostly quietly, though. There were small, local bits of excitement; in Wisconsin, a man arrived at a polling place around noon and began menacing people with a knife, but was quickly apprehended by police. Here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, three men in body armor went between polling locations announcing they were “the commission security” to ensure voter safety. A local judge quickly issued a “cease-and-desist” order for the group, who immediately dispersed. The impact on voters was less unease than it was bemusement. The incident was notable in being the only organized show of force despite all the concern in the days leading up to the election.

It seems we will not have a repeat of 2020, when numerous candidates refused to concede the results of the election. Dan Mastriano, Donald Trump’s hand-picked candidate for governor of Pennsylvania was blown out of the water (42% – 56%) and eventually conceded. Where candidates have not conceded, there is some foundation for it; Republican candidate for governor of Arizona Keri Lake has not conceded, but the race is headed for an automatic recount because it was so close. The real drama on and after election day has occurred in the courts. 

In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania (the northeastern part of this state, 30 minutes south of Scranton), elections officials did not have enough paper ballots, resulting in delays at polling stations. In response, a judge ordered polling locations to remain open an extra two hours, allowing voters enough time to reach the polls. Of the more than 100,000 votes cast in that county on election day, only 758 came during those extra two hours, however they will all be counted. Luzerne split the party vote, going for Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate by 10,000 votes, but for winning Democrat Joshua Shapiro for Governor by nearly 2,000. The state government worked to ensure every vote was counted, regardless of voting tendencies. But not all citizens enjoy such enlightened governance.

As previously reported, Texas’ Attorney General appears to be using law enforcement powers to influence and intimidate election workers by charging them with unsubstantiated, unspecified crimes. Voter suppression was a “whole of government” effort however, as demonstrated in Texas on election day. In Harris County (southeast Texas, centered on Houston, the 4th largest city in the nation) there was a delay in opening due to problems with the state’s electronic poll book. As in Luzerne, the problem was rectified but it created long lines at some polling locations. Here too the district court issued an order extending voting times by one hour to allow everyone to vote.

The Texas Attorney General could not let such unbridled democracy go unchallenged. He appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas, and at 8:30pm (30 minutes after the extended hours ended and 90 minutes after the normal closing), the Court announced (via Tweet) that any ballots cast by persons not in line before the normal 7pm closing would not count.  Party voting tendency can determine your rights in Texas; the Republican enclave of Bell County, Texas faced the same issue, however the Attorney General did not challenge those voter’s rights.  The shift away from violence as policy is welcome, even though the goal remains the same. While it would be nice for any visible member of the national party to denounce violence, the fact they have stopped encouraging it is a promising sign. Unfortunately they appear to have turned to the more refined forms of voter suppression.

Texas remains in a league of its own, but Republicans in other states have been paying attention. Maricopa County, Arizona was central to several conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election, so much so that the county maintains a web page trying to debunk them all. They were subject to protests and threats in the run-up to this election, and protests have continued afterwards as well. In response to “hundreds” of complaints, none of which were substantiated by investigators, the Attorney General for Arizona opened an investigation into election day delays in the county. The County had multiple redundancies in place that allowed voters to cast their ballot on site, but that has not stopped the Republican Attorney General from intervening in a Democratic County’s elections.

While the threat of immediate violence has passed, the danger to democracy still remains. The conservative American politician Larry McDonald once said,”There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and cartridge. Please use in that order.” Conservatives have long used their “soap box”, rallying supporters on Facebook, 8chan, and Twitter. They keep trying to use the ballot box, but have been handed popular vote defeats in the last three national elections. They have now turned to the jury box to defend their idea of liberty, but results may vary. If they fail in court, the threats, the attacks and January 6th taught us that they are still willing to open the last box.