Dangerous Candidates: US Midterms as Vote on Democracy

It's a sentence that makes you think: "I will win the election and I will accept this result.

Dangerous Candidates: US Midterms as Vote on Democracy

It's a sentence that makes you think: "I will win the election and I will accept this result." These words are from Kari Lake. It is her answer to the question of whether she will accept the election result.

The 53-year-old Republican is an ardent supporter of ex-President Donald Trump and would like to become governor in the US state of Arizona. The elections will take place on November 8th - that's when the important midterm elections in the USA will take place. On the day, not only senators and members of Congress are voted on. In about three dozen states, governors or parliamentarians are also elected. But these elections are about more than that - in the end maybe even about the continued existence of democracy.

Because not all candidates recognize the integrity of elections. Some of them could be elected to positions where they themselves will be responsible for running elections. That could undermine democratic voting in the US and is extremely dangerous with a view to the 2024 presidential election. “The 2022 midterm elections could be the first elections ever where the elections themselves are on the ballot,” warns the US think tank Brookings. She has identified well over 300 candidates in total who are spreading Trump's refuted claim that the Republican won the 2020 presidential election and sowing doubts about the conduct of elections. All are Republicans.

What are election deniers?

One of them is Kari Lake - a rising star in the party. The former TV journalist never tires of talking about so-called cancel culture, fake news and election fraud. And so, in a recent CNN interview, she was unwilling to say that if she loses, she will accept the election result in her state. It's a sound that can now be heard among many Republicans. Lake's party colleague Mark Finchem wants to become Secretary of State in Arizona - the highest election supervisor in the state. He is also red-hot election denier. That's what election deniers are called in the US. Secretaries of States have extensive powers over the conduct of elections.

For example, they can make voting more difficult and keep unwanted groups away from the ballot box. They can order recounts and ultimately refuse to confirm an election result. In many states, the Secretary of State must sign which candidate won the presidential election there. "An unscrupulous official could refuse to sign the results for no reason," warns the Washington Post. There are protective mechanisms such as courts and governors. But it becomes problematic when election deniers pull the strings on all these levels.

Not only in Arizona are election deniers running for the important office. In a good dozen countries, candidates who sow doubts about democratic elections want to become Secretary of State - including in so-called swing states. These are possibly election-crucial states that cannot be clearly assigned to either Republicans or Democrats. Arizona is such a swing state. The Brookings think tank, for example, has determined that around 30 candidates have a high or medium chance of success for the important positions of governor, secretary of state and attorney general in the states.

Observers fear free US elections in 2024

"You know, we are currently closer to Hungary than to Germany," says legal scholar Richard L. Hasen of the German Press Agency in Washington about the state of democracy in the United States. He researches elections at the renowned University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). "I think there is a real risk that we won't have free and fair elections in 2024," he warns. He never expected that he would ever have to worry so much about the United States. But why is that - where do these election deniers suddenly come from? "I think they follow the leader of the party," Hasen says of the Republicans. And that's Donald Trump, who himself repeatedly hints that he will run again in the 2024 presidential election. And many fear that in the end he doesn't really have to win the election to win because there are election deniers at important control points.

The 76-year-old still has a loyal following and has Republicans firmly in his grip. He has been spreading the lie about the stolen election like a mantra for almost two years. When it comes to not recognizing a legitimate election result, he should serve as a role model for many in his party. And Republicans who have opposed Trump have recently been outcasts in cold blood. From a Republican party that has shifted extremely far to the right. And which has become a party that not only tolerates conspiracy theorists and enemies of democracy in its ranks - but courts them.

How are election deniers viewed in the US?

"I hope there will still be principled Republicans in positions of power who support the rule of law," Hasen said. But given the way they are dealt with, there will be fewer and fewer of them. The most prominent example is certainly Liz Cheney. The arch-conservative Republican opposed Trump after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and was ousted by her party. Hasen warns that attempts to overturn the 2020 election result could be repeated in the 2024 presidential election. "There wouldn't be the kind of heroism then that we saw in some Republicans who opposed it at the time."

But don't all these election deniers scare people off in the US? Not necessarily. According to a recent New York Times poll, 39 percent of respondents would be "comfortable" or "somewhat comfortable" with voting for a candidate who claims the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from Trump. And the survey also made it clear once again that the economy and inflation are what most concern people when they vote - and not the state of democracy.

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