Mapping the Coolest Spots Inside the World's Sweltering Cities
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Politicians who dispute the outcome of the 2020 presidential election are on the ballot this year for offices that could determine how the 2024 election is decided in swing states—regardless of what voters intend.
Donald Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden failed, but his loyalists have never stopped trying to turn the US election system into one that would return him to the White House in 2024—fairly or otherwise.
In the last two years, Republicans have sought to remove state officials who wouldn’t manufacture votes and falsely declare him the winner. They changed the way elections are run in response to his conspiracy theories. Most importantly, they’ve nominated people who insist Trump won as candidates for US Congress and governor, and for offices that certify the outcome.
Has it worked?
To answer that question, a team of Bloomberg journalists set out to find which states are most vulnerable to political election interference—and what it means for elections this fall and in 2024, when the White House will once again be at stake. We dug into laws in all 50 states and scrutinized the thousands of election-related bills proposed nationwide since 2020. We consulted election-security experts, voting rights advocates, election lawyers, academics and current and former elections administrators as well as decades of political research to zero in on how elections work.
The bumper-sticker version of what we found: The 2022 vote should be fine. The most far-reaching attempts by Republicans to overhaul election laws have so far stalled as Americans head into November’s midterm elections to decide governors in 36 states and control of the US Congress. So even though it’s a safe bet that at least a handful of candidates will follow Trump’s lead and claim their opponent cheated if they lose, it won’t be any easier than it was two years ago for them to overturn the results.
But the picture two years from now is shaping up to be much darker.
Trump and his loyalists are supporting people who deny the results of the 2020 election for governor in five key states this fall, more than enough to tilt a close 2024 presidential race away from the duly elected winner. Tight races this November in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, and a possible Republican win in Pennsylvania, will determine who is in charge of making election decisions in states where the White House is won or lost. In all five of these states, Trump and his backers tried to overturn the results.
Democratic governors in three of these battleground states—Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—vetoed 19 Republican bills that would have substantially changed the way elections are run. Republican governors taking their place would have time to sign them into law before the next presidential election.
The Trump loyalists on the ballot have been plain about their intentions. In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, who was outside the US Capitol on January 6, has promised to appoint a like-minded “rock star” as secretary of state, the top elections official. In Michigan, Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, who tweeted that the election was stolen by “obvious” and “sloppy” voter fraud, has called for tightening election laws by expanding voter ID and banning ballot drop boxes, among other things. And in Arizona, Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake has said she would not have certified the election if she had been governor in November of 2020.
Republicans are widely expected to regain control of the House, putting them in charge the next time Congress meets to approve—or reject—presidential electors and certify the winner.
Charles Stewart III, director of the MIT Election Lab, sees far-right Republicans emerging from the midterms “empowered” to reach further in trying to change election laws and possibly even make it easier to contest results when they lose. “The most likely effect of the November election,” he said, “is creating more chaos.”
It’s not just the presidential battlegrounds where free and fair elections are at risk. Nationwide, election deniers are on the general election ballot for governor in five states, secretary of state in five states and attorney general in three states.
Overall, most states were a mix of good and not-so-good election practices. Notably, we found reasons for concern in all of the major battleground states. Deeply Republican states in general did less well on voting access than Democratic or swing states. But not always: GOP-led Utah was among the states where voting was easiest, while Democratic New York was among those where it was hardest.
One state, Mississippi, stood out for falling short on all measures, making it hard to vote, failing to secure elections and taking steps to overturn the 2020 election. The state is so solidly Republican that those changes might not affect a presidential election. But around the country, Republicans are claiming election fraud even when running against each other. That further undermines confidence in elections and makes it easier to cause trouble during the congressional count of electors.
First, the good news: For most Americans, casting a ballot is easier than ever.
That may be hard to believe, with so much attention given to recent election restrictions in several states, like Georgia’s much talked-about ban on giving water to people in voting lines, or the new strictures on mail-in voting that have passed in at least 16 states.
Since 2020, state lawmakers proposed an astonishing 5,661 election-related bills, far more than in a typical two-year stretch. Some 396 were enacted. Many were a direct response to the last election, with Republicans seeking to restrict methods of voting Trump blamed for his loss, and Democrats looking to expand voting access after successful experiments during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of the bills would have made it easier to overturn elections. In Arizona, Republican Secretary of State nominee Mark Finchem co-sponsored a bill to give the state legislature power to ignore the voters and allow a new election to take place. A Texas measure would have set the lowest possible standard of evidence for judges to throw out an election result based on fraud claims by the losing candidate. Neither of these bills passed. Lawmakers in other states proposed eliminating no-excuse vote-by-mail or other popular voting methods.
Even in Republican states, the most extreme proposals failed or were watered down. Not all of the bills were serious to begin with. Lawmakers from both parties had an incentive to propose showy election bills in the 2020 aftermath to show supporters they were taking action, said Matthew Weil, director of elections at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a D.C. think tank.Politicians who’d won under the current voting system weren’t eager to tear it down.
“We learned the limit of what is a bridge too far, even in a somewhat crazy legislative environment,” he said. “But the fact that some of these bills even got the time of day is concerning.”
At the same time, several Republican and Democratic states put forward bills to make it easier to vote, especially after large numbers of Americans tried early voting and vote-by-mail in 2020 for the first time. Trump’s attacks on voting also seemed to galvanize Democrats into taking a new look at election laws.
Three more states now allow voters to request a mail-in ballot without having to give a reason, and five more offer early in-person voting to all voters. Voters in Connecticut will decide whether to allow early voting in a referendum in November. By the 2024 election, it’s possible that every state except Alabama, Mississippi and New Hampshire will offer at least one option.
Early voting and no-excuse vote-by-mail are one of the seven benchmarks we identified that gauge how easy or difficult a state makes it for citizens to exercise their right to vote:
Kathleen Hale, author of a 2020 book on American elections administration, said that while individual laws tend to get the most attention, it’s really the big picture of how they work together that makes a difference.
The Georgia water ban generated a lot of debate, but Hale noted that there’s no evidence that a lack of refreshments would keep anyone from voting, especially if early voting and no-excuse vote-by-mail, both of which are offered in the state, help reduce lines on Election Day. Both parties exaggerated the impact of this law—Democrats called it “Jim Crow 2.0,” and Republicans pushed for it in the belief that it would somehow prevent vote-buying with a bottle of water.
“It’s one of those provisions that doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do, but there are other practices that are much more important,” she said.
Partisan attempts to change election law to gain an advantage can also backfire, especially when they are based on faulty assumptions. Republicans have sought to restrict vote-by-mail due to its popularity among Democrats, several studies of the 2020 election show it did not boost Biden, as those voters would have cast a ballot anyway. One study found the expansion of vote-by-mail may have even benefited Trump.
Although the general national trend has been toward greater ballot access, it’s not all good news. States have enacted at least 24 bills since 2020 that make it harder to vote: eight states tightened deadlines to request and return a mail ballot; seven states tightened voter ID requirements on mail ballots; six states barred local elections administrators from sending out mail ballot applications en masse; and Montana got rid of its long-running same-day voter registration option.
In our review, only three states—Washington, Nevada and Colorado—met all seven criteria for ease of voting. At the bottom were Mississippi, Missouri, Montana and New Hampshire, which met only two.
Trump and his supporters have promoted wild, false claims about boxes stuffed with fake ballots and Italian satellites switching Trump votes to Biden. That led Republican state lawmakers to propose an array of bills to thwart their unproven assertions of ballot tampering.
Lawmakers in 10 states including Arizona and New Hampshire passed laws banning internet-connected voting machines—though very few voting machines were online anyway. Five states added new restrictions to ballot drop boxes. Other states have added new elections crime hotlines and toughened statutes against voting twice.
Yet few of these measures would do much to secure ballots, in part because there’s little evidence of the problems they’re supposed to fix. In some cases, such as failed proposals to require hand counting of all ballots, they might make things worse by introducing confusion and errors and slowing down results.
We identified eight benchmarks that gauge whether a state is serious about preventing fraudulent ballots and making sure elections are secure:
We also looked for laws that would make it easier for politically motivated officials to overturn election results. So far, no state has gone that far, but the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Weil and other experts identified two new laws that have potential to be misused.
In Georgia, lawmakers gave a state board run by a political appointee with the authority to suspend local elections administrators and name its own caretaker, which could give state Republicans more control over how elections are run in Democratic strongholds like Atlanta.
And in Florida, a new election crimes police force with a $1.6 million budget reports directly to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, who suggested after Trump’s loss that swing state legislatures could overturn the election if they wanted.
Only three states—Connecticut, Delaware and Florida—met all eight of our benchmarks for safeguarding the vote. Mississippi and New Hampshire met three.
Elections aren’t just about laws. They’re also about the people who carry them out. That’s where we found the most troubling signs.
This year has seen a wave of candidates for state and federal office who claim the 2020 election was stolen or “rigged.” Some of them, such as Nevada Republican Senate nominee Adam Laxalt, have already said that they are planning litigation to contest the results by claiming election fraud if they lose this November.
We examined the statements and actions of 231 Republican elected officials and nominees for key offices to gauge their reaction to Trump’s defeat and glean what they might do if a future election doesn’t go their way. States are measured on these benchmarks:
In Arizona, secretary of state nominee Finchem was involved in a plan to put forward fake Trump electors and marched outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. In Nevada, nominee Jim Marchant claims a global “cabal” is manipulating voting machines. In New Mexico, nominee Audrey Trujillo has said that the 2020 election was a “coup.” Nominees Kim Crockett in Minnesota and Wes Allen in Alabama have both said billionaire George Soros has interfered in elections—a frequent claim among ultra-right conspiracy theorists. And in Michigan, Kristina Karamo has said the 2020 election was “stolen” and made debunked statements about witnessing election fraud as a poll watcher.
Republican voters in some states have rejected election deniers. Colorado GOP primary voters defeated Tina Peters, county clerk and Trump loyalist who ran for secretary of state, after she was indicted on charges of tampering with election equipment. Republican secretaries of state who pushed back against Trump’s claims in Kansas, Georgia, Nebraska and Ohio have also fended off primary challenges from election deniers.
Republican nominees for governor in Pennsylvania and Arizona, two closely divided battleground states, illustrate the repercussions this November’s vote could have two years from now if election deniers are elected to high offices.
In Arizona, Lake called it “sickening” and “disqualifying” when a rival would not falsely say that the 2020 election was stolen during a primary debate.
Mastriano led Trump’s failed effort to overturn Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, spending his own campaign money to bus supporters to the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse that preceded the insurrection at the US Capitol. Endorsed by Trump, he opposes mail-in ballots and has promised to invalidate all 8.7 million voter registrations and require everyone in the state to re-register, which would be legally problematic. If he wins, Mastriano would nominate the secretary of state, the person who oversees the state’s elections.
Mastriano has hinted he’s already preparing for a future election clash. “I get to appoint the secretary of state, who is delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs and everything,” he said in a radio interview. “I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen.”
With assistance by: Rachael Dottle, Marie Patino, Jenny Zhang, Gregory Korte, Romy Varghese, Vincent Del Giudice, Nathan Crooks, Margaret Newkirk, Shruti Date Singh, David Welch, Elise Young, Dina Bass, Brendan Walsh, Carey Goldberg and Maria Wood
Editors: Wendy Benjaminson, Wes Kosova and Alex Tribou
Photo editor: Eugene Reznik
Photo credits: Getty Images, Bloomberg and AP Photo
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