Senate Democrats say they share President Biden’s concern that the results of the 2022 midterm elections may not be legitimate because of restrictive voting laws passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures and the empowerment of state-level officials allied with former President Trump.
But the senators are torn over how hard to push a stolen-election narrative ahead of the November election in which Republic-ans are expected to make big gains in Congress.
While Democratic lawmakers are worried that Republican state officials are seeking to suppress Democratic votes, some are leery of sounding like Trump, who made predictions of widespread election fraud before the 2020 presidential election and continues to do so on a regular basis.
The key distinction is that Trump hasn’t been able to back up any of his fraud claims in court and they have been dismissed by members of his own party.
Democrats believe there’s plenty of evidence that Republicans are trying to steal future elections and feel bolstered by extensive reporting by CNN, NBC and other media outlets on the state-level machinations of Trump allies.
“I think many of these laws, especially those that end the bipartisan counting of votes, are intended to seat people who lost the election. If Herschel Walker wins in Georgia because all the Fulton County votes got thrown out, that’s not a legitimate election,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
“It’s all circumstantial but I think at some point you got to listen to what Donald Trump and his allies are saying. They don’t believe that Democrats can ever win legitimately and they’re prepared to go to extraordinary measures to throw out a Democratic win,” he added. “I’m very worried the changes in these laws will ultimately result in a loser being declared a winner.”
Democrats cite what they say is a disturbing trend in several states where Republican-controlled legislators have empowered partisan officials who don’t usually have a role in administering elections to access and review ballots from the 2020 election.
“If you start having local or state certification agents start overruling actual votes. That’s when things quickly move into the illegitimacy area,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
“I don’t want to start calling into question elections ahead of time, that’s not productive whatsoever. We saw that with the whole, ‘It’s all rigged,’ th-ing with President Trump,” he added. “We need to see what actually plays out. “What I worry about is when you have scenario like what happened in Michigan but the certification agent chooses to overrule the voters, that’s when you would move into a problematic area,” he said.
Democrats will be seeking to defend their 50-50 majority in the November election and political handicappers say that Republicans are improving their chances of picking up seats because of Biden’s low approval rating.
Several Democratic incumbents face tough races, including Sens. Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.). Republicans will have to defend retiring Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R) seat in Pennsylvania, vulnerable incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), as well as open seats in Ohio and North Carolina.
“Our democracy is in a 911 state of emergency and I’m going to keep fighting for us to put the fire out,” said Warnock.
Kelly noted “there’s been legislation passed in Arizona where the permanent early voting list can be purged without giving any rationale why you take one person off and leave somebody else on.”
“It makes it really hard for some folks to vote if you’re one of the people that were taken off,” he said. He said more than 80 percent of voters vote by mail in Arizona and “people want to continue in that direction.”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed into law a bill that stops sending absentee ballots automatically to people if they don’t cast an early ballot for two election cycles. Senate Democrats are especially concerned about the election certification process for close races.
The certification of Biden’s victory over Trump in Michigan in the 2020 election was delayed when the two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially voted against certifying the county’s election results.
The two GOP officials later backed down and agreed to sign off on the vote tally after sparking an angry public backlash and being accused of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of predominantly African-American voters.
The officials, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, claimed the poll books at Detroit’s absentee-ballot county boards were out of balance but later agreed to certify the results after the secretary of state promised to conduct an audit of Wayne County.
The Brennan Center, which describes itself as a nonpartisan law and policy institute, has tracked the changes at the state level and is warning that partisan reviews of election results “have typically been designed to set the stage for future efforts to suppress votes and subvert election outcomes.” Those states include Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Four of those states are Senate battlegrounds that could determine what party is in the majority in 2023.
“If officials were to disregard the vote count, a legitimate vote count, I can see the argument that the result would be illegitimate,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “Some of the most frightening aspects of some of the voter suppression laws are not only blocking access to the ballot box but then actually discounting the recording [of] the count of the vote.”
Missouri, New Hampshire — another Senate battleground — and South Carolina have pre-filed voting bills that would allow for partisan reviews of the 2022 midterm election results, according to the Brennan Center.
Biden emphasized this as a major concern when he spoke to an audience at the Atlanta University Center Consortium.
“Now Republican legislatures in several states have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year. Their endgame: to turn the will of voters into a mere suggestion, something states can respect or ignore,” he said. “It’s no longer about who gets to vote. It’s about making it harder to vote, it’s about who gets to count the vote.”
Biden at a press conference Wednesday said it’s possible the results of the 2022 midterm elections won’t be legitimate, depending on whether restrictive voting laws can be reversed and how the vote is counted.
“I’m not going to say it’s going to be legit,” he told reporters. “The increase and the prospect of being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed,” referring to the voting rights bill that failed in the Senate the following day.
Some Democrats, however, felt a little uncomfortable with Biden directly questioning the legitimacy of the 2022 election results, especially after Trump and his allies spent more than a year trying to undermine the legitimacy of the 2022 election.
“I would not have used those terms,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “But I do think voting rights is very important in regards to the integrity of our election process and it’s an urgent issue. “I very much believe it does impact people’s ability to effectively get their votes cast,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki later sought to clarify the president’s comments on the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
“He was explaining that the results would be illegitimate if states do what the former president asked them to do after the 2020 election: toss out ballots and overturn results after the fact. The Big Lie is putting our democracy at risk. We’re fighting to protect it,” she tweeted.