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The Midterms

On Tuesday, November 8, Americans cast their votes in the 2022 midterm elections. Now focus shifts to the results of this consequential election, and the inferences we can draw from emerging trends in its outcome.

Over the past few weeks, voters on both sides of the political spectrum openly expressed concerns about the accuracy of election results. This lack of faith was largely fueled by conspiracy theories and rumors about widespread election fraud, disseminated by the right-wing media.

Though election officials and security experts frequently assert that Election 2020 was the most secure in history,  false claims and propaganda against the accuracy of that election’s results still linger. Despite recounts, court challenges, and post-election audits, election-deniers continue to sow suspicion in American minds by reiterating baseless theories.

A voting sign with “Vote” translated in multiple languages, sits in the Milpitas Library in Milpitas, Calif. on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

A Lack of Faith

Derek Tisler, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, explained this lack of faith in the system, at a Nov 4 Ethnic Media Services briefing.

“It is possible that the increasing uncertainty or lack of faith in the system is due to the lack of understanding on how the vote-counting system operates,” he said. “Along with the disinformation campaign, confusion may have been compounded by the fact that the American election system is complex and highly decentralized, where each of the fifty states sets up its own.”

Tisler emphasized the secure nature of the 2022 election. “Despite the many challenges that officials faced in 2020 with the pandemic and record turnout, Federal official and election security experts declared that election to be the most secure in history. We are confident that the 2022 elections would have the same outcome.”

Voters stand in line, waiting to cast their ballots for the midterm election, at the Milpitas Library in Milpitas, Calif. on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Voting Methods

Each state offers four separate voting methods to all eligible registered voters – voting by mail, mailing filled-out ballots at designated drop-boxes, voting in person at early voting centers, or casting votes at a polling station on election day.

Each vote must be in by or post-marked by the end of election day in states that allow vote by mail.

Though each state sets up its own operating procedures, the net result is the same, said Tisler.

A Brennan Center roadmap tracks the official vote count in the 2022 elections.

The Ballot Counting Process

Once mail-in ballots are received, they are processed by election workers who review the information on each ballot, confirm voter identity, verify voter registration status, remove the ballot from its envelop, and set it aside for counting.

 In-person processing is much easier since election workers at the polling stations identify and authenticate each voter as they check in.

The thousands of local election officials who assist with conducting the election and counting votes are fellow citizens from all walks of life. They are appointed or elected depending on the state they live in, to work as election officials on a nonpartisan basis, completely independent of their personal political beliefs or affiliations.

Partisan observers from campaigns, party representatives, the media, and members of the general public are also allowed to observe the ballot counting. They serve as witnesses to the accuracy of the counts and ensure that no fraud occurs. Some irregularities and mistakes are likely, given that hundreds of millions of votes come through the system. However, with built-in mechanisms for corrective action, frequent recounts and audits, irregularities don’t go undetected.

A voting sign with “Vote” translated in multiple languages, sits in the Milpitas Library in Milpitas, Calif. on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Misinformation Alerts

Former President Donald Trump makes frequent claims of widespread voter fraud in 2020. He even claimed that “dead people” voted in the election and attributed his White House departure to a “stolen election.”

To counter claims like these, the International Center for Journalists has alerted American voters ahead of the 2022 midterms, with a guideline about misinformation.

The guidelines emphasize that anecdotal evidence of irregularities does not mean intentional fraud has occurred. Instead, the insinuations that ballots were cast in the name of deceased people,  disinformation about citizens voting abroad, or that ineligible people were allowed to vote, are all designed to discourage people from voting.

Claims of Voter Fraud

On Tuesday, as Americans were casting their votes, Trump posted on his social network – Truth Social – that voting irregularities and partisan voter suppression took place in key battleground states. However, claims like these have consistently been disproven, even by the Hoover Institution, a conservative think-tank, which reported in 2021  that there was no evidence of voter fraud in that election.

Under federal law, voter fraud is a felony punishable by a prison term, a fine or both, and election officials are trained to investigate and charge anyone who may have committed fraud. It’s difficult to carry out these crimes, and virtually impossible to pull them off on a scale that would alter the outcome of any race.

And yet, suspicion regarding voter fraud is deeply rooted in our culture. The Heritage Foundation, another Washington D.C -based conservative think tank, devoted an entire website page to voter fraud, maintains a database  of fraud cases with information about ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and election fraud stories from the 1700s, 1800s and the early 1900s.

Delayed Results Cause Doubt

When election results are delayed it tends to make people doubt the outcome of a race. Americans expect to hear the results declared right after the polls close. But final election results are usually announced, long after media channels offer projections of likely winners,  based on their own exit-polls.

It takes a long while to count and tabulate votes. Officials first count, check, and recheck each ballot to ensure every eligible vote is included in the total. According to Tisler, “states also keep detailed chain-of-custody records which track who is handling the ballots and at what time. Since election security and accuracy is prioritized over speed, often the official results get delayed.”

When a race is close, it creates longer delays because sometimes candidates challenge initial counts and request recounts. So, a delay may simply indicate that election officials are doing their job – taking the time to ensure that each vote is counted accurately.

Too Close to Call

Post the election, tensions are running high across our polarized country; for now, control over both chambers of the U.S. Congress remains too close to call.

Most races will be called later this week.

Senate control could rest in Georgia, since neither the incumbent Raphael Warnock (Democrat) nor the challenger Herschel Walker (Republican) managed to win over 50% in the final tally. This means that both candidates will advance to a runoff on December 6, before we know for certain, which political party will hold the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Shabnam Arora Afsah

Shabnam Arora Afsah is a writer, lawyer, and short story writer who is working on her first novel based on the Partition of India. She is a committed political activist and also runs a food blog for fun!