Voters rejected election deniers across the country last week. But they did so with particular verve along the Great Lakes.
In Minnesota, the Democratic secretary of state defeated by a 10-point margin a Republican challenger who baselessly called the 2020 election rigged and pushed for restricting early voting. In Wisconsin, voters handed Gov. Tony Evers (D) a second term, declining to reward a candidate backed by former president Donald Trump who left open the possibility of trying to reverse the last presidential election. In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) crushed Republican Doug Mastriano, who had highlighted his willingness to decertify voting machines if he won the governorship.
But perhaps the biggest statement on democracy came in Michigan, where voters by large margins rebuffed a slate of Republican election deniers running for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. They also embraced an amendment to the state constitution that expands voting rights and makes it much more difficult for officials to subvert the will of voters. In the process, they flipped the legislature with the help of new legislative maps drawn by a nonpartisan commission, giving Democrats complete control of state government for the first time in 40 years.
All of that led Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) to make a bold prediction, one that might have seemed far-fetched before the vote: “Democracy ultimately will emerge from this time period stronger than ever before — more robust, healthier, with more people engaged and believing in it than perhaps they did back in 2018 or 2019.”
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In other battlegrounds across the country, voters rebuffed election deniers, but in many cases not as resoundingly as they did in the states bordering the Great Lakes. Katie Hobbs (D) beat election denier Kari Lake (R) by a slim margin in the Arizona race for governor and, in Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) barely withstood a challenge from election denier Adam Laxalt (R).
Denialism is one of several issues expected to play prominently next month in Georgia’s runoff race between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) and Republican Herschel Walker, who has embraced Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who now works for the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said Democrats performed exceptionally well in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin because they have honed their appeal to voters in a set of states that went for Trump in 2016, only to return in 2020 to their pattern of voting Democratic in presidential elections.
Evers, Shapiro and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) showed they come from “the governing, pragmatic wing of the party,” he said.
“They weren’t seen as kind of fire-breathing ideologues by any means,” Timmer said. “I think that those three campaigns are by and large the template for national Dems to look at how to win purple states.”
A more mixed picture emerged in the Great Lakes state of Ohio. J.D. Vance (R), who falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen, won his bid for Senate. But three other election deniers running in competitive House districts in Ohio lost.
The relatively smooth election process and the repudiation of election deniers was heartening to many election officials who had watched the systems they run undermined by Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 presidential vote.
“It doesn’t mean that denial’s gone away,” said Chris Thomas, Michigan’s former elections director. “But we can maybe grab some of those people that are tightly tethered to the Trump operation and independents to get a breather and say, ‘Yeah, okay, this system worked.’”
Michigan’s adoption of the state constitutional amendment on voting rights comes four years after voters by a wide margin adopted a measure establishing no-excuse absentee voting and allowing people to register to vote at the polls.
The amendment on voting rights was overshadowed by one guaranteeing abortion rights that voters overwhelmingly approved. Another amendment approved by voters last week modified how term limits work in the state.
The new voting rights amendment, approved with 60 percent of the vote, is far-reaching. It establishes nine days of early voting, expands the use of ballot drop boxes and ensures voters who don’t have photo IDs with them can cast ballots by signing affidavits affirming they are who they say they are.
“The voters want a secure and accessible election,” said Christina Schlitt, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. “And we heard loud and clear from Michigan voters … that all parties were rejecting attacks on democracy and elections.”
The same message was delivered in Pennsylvania, said Sharif Street, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and a state senator. There, Democrats won the races for governor and U.S. senator and are on the cusp of taking control of the lower chamber of the legislature for the first time since 2010.
“There was no red wave. There was not even a red sprinkle,” Street said. “We’re clearly still a very purple state in terms of the attitudes of the electorate. But I think Democrats offer pragmatic solutions and Doug Mastriano offered divisive rhetoric.”
In Michigan, state lawmakers and election clerks will now turn to implementing the new amendment expanding voting access. One of the biggest changes will involve shifting to a new form of early voting.
Michigan has allowed voters to mail in absentee ballots or fill them out in clerk’s offices. In either case, the clerks did not count the absentee ballots until Election Day. Under the new provision, voters will have opportunities to go to early voting centers, fill out ballots and feed them into voting tabulators. The machines can quickly calculate the results on Election Day, easing the workload for clerks and reducing the chances that election deniers would seize on vote-tallying delays to promote false claims.
Clerks will have to work out a number of logistical issues, including finding places where they can conduct voting for nine days and store their equipment securely overnight. Small towns in many cases will need to work out arrangements with other jurisdictions to assist them with early voting.
Mary Clark, the clerk for Delta Township, near Lansing, said she hopes the amendment will boost voter turnout.
“We’re a nation that has the freedom to vote,” she said. “In some areas there’s low participation. I think it’s on us to provide opportunities for it to be easier and to meet the voters’ needs.”
The amendment also establishes a fundamental right to vote, giving citizens a chance to sue to block any laws or policies that they view as inhibiting their ability to vote.
The amendment strengthens requirements that election officials certify results that reflect the will of voters and bars partisan election reviews like one in Arizona in 2021 that was conducted by a firm with no experience examining elections.
Every community will have to have at least one ballot drop box under the new amendment. Those with larger populations will have to have one drop box for every 15,000 registered voters.
In addition, voters under the amendment will be allowed to have absentee ballots automatically mailed to them for all elections. That will make voting easier but will require election officials to closely track when people move to ensure ballots are sent to the correct address.
Chris Swope, Lansing’s city clerk, said he is not worried about the additional duties he and his staff will have to take on.
“To me, this is a voter-positive measure,” he said.