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Election Denial Is Down, but Not Out

Voters across the country rejected election deniers in 2022, but the threat such candidates pose ahead of 2024 persists.

Election deniers set out for a hostile takeover of our elections in 2022. Dozens of candidates who embraced Donald Trump’s claim of a stolen 2020 election tried to gain control of elections in states across the country and to set the rules for 2024 and beyond. By November, in a major setback for the election denial movement, voters in the most crucial battleground states had roundly rejected these extreme candidates.

Our democracy weathered the storm, and a broad range of Brennan Center experts contributed. Our advocates, litigators, and communications specialists combated false claims, protected individuals’ right to vote, and ensured that the votes were counted accurately. But this antidemocratic movement is far from fading out.

For years, the Brennan Center has made the point that American elections are secure and accurate. Our widely quoted research shows that you are more likely to be hit by lightning than commit voter fraud. Our books, studies, testimony, lawsuits, and more over two decades made clear that these false claims — often driven by not-very-subtle xenophobia and racism — are not an argument, but a lie. A Big Lie, in fact.

After the January 6 insurrection, Trump’s effort seemed shambolic and discredited. But his allies sought to systematically remove the obstacles to stealing the next election. Thousands of election deniers were recruited to work the polls, forcing election officials to brace for disruptions from the inside. Vigilantes, some in tactical gear, patrolled and filmed voters outside ballot drop boxes to hunt for fraud. State lawmakers continued to concoct voting legislation that makes it harder to vote and easier to interfere in elections based on conspiracy theories about voter fraud. And many conspiracy theorists appeared poised to win state-level positions with sweeping authority over the same electoral process that they claimed, without evidence, was stolen in 2020. “Election denial showed up as orthodoxy through the entire election cycle,” according to Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel for the Democracy Program, who tracked the influence of money in secretary of state races throughout the midterms.

Election Day was smooth and calm — normal, in fact. That was the product of massive work and preparation. As the Washington Post reported, citing our work, this was like the preparations that prevented the “Y2K” computer glitch from having catastrophic impact.

And voters showed they care. Across Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin election denier candidates for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state — offices that play a significant role in administering our elections — suffered punishing losses. (In Georgia, Republican primary voters already had rejected an election denier seeking the secretary of state job.) The night wasn’t a complete rout. Many members of Congress still spout false claims of fraud, for example. But the levers of power over elections remained in sounder hands.

Notably, election deniers running in secretary of state contests in battleground states fared worse than other statewide candidates from the same party. In Michigan, for example, the Trump-aligned candidate for governor garnered more than 100,000 votes than the prominent election-denier candidate for secretary of state, an office with outsize authority over the state’s elections. “It seems like there’s evidence that election denial itself turned off a number of voters, including swing voters and Republicans,” explained Vandewalker.

Unlike 2020, when President Trump refused to accept his legitimate defeat, most of the vanquished election deniers quickly accepted their losses in 2022, particularly in states that tilted the outcome of the last presidential election. Adam Laxalt, a prominent Nevada Republican who ran for Senate in 2022 after previously calling the 2020 election “rigged,” said in a concession statement, “I am confident that any challenge of this election would not alter the ultimate outcome.” Even among those who did not immediately concede, most registered only muted complaints about the process. It felt, for the first time since the 2020 election, like we could all breathe a sigh of relief.

False fraud claims were discredited in 2022. Yet they still drive attempts to restrict voting rights across the country. We tracked legislation in nearly a dozen states that sought to restrict voting access, open the door to partisan interference in elections, or threaten the people and processes that make elections work. We partnered with the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to expose the injustice of the flimsy prosecution of Floridians — most of them people of color — accused of illegally registering to vote and voting while ineligible. Last year also saw the first elections held under Texas’s egregious voter suppression law, S.B. 1. Brennan Center researchers Kevin Morris and Coryn Grange found that Black, Latino, and Asian voters were at least 30 percent more likely than white voters to have their mail ballot application or their mail ballot rejected during the state’s March primary. And despite high turnout in the 2022 midterms, we found that the racial turnout gap not only persisted but is, in fact, growing in a crucial state, Georgia, underscoring our concerns that these laws are chipping away at any progress toward an inclusive democracy.

The 2022 midterms were a success. Still, election denial isn’t receding with the candidates that propped it up. Donald Trump is running again for the nation’s highest office, and the movement that he fomented still has a home in some of our country’s most extreme corners. The dangerous lies that feed it still pervade our elections. The antidote to election denial isn’t averting an election crisis with one smooth midterm election. The 2022 election was only a test run for 2024.

Blunting this multipronged assault on our democracy will continue to shape our work. Ensuring the future of fair and free elections requires national baseline standards, a robust restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and harnessing the energy of our multiracial movement once again to say: don’t mess with our democracy.