Election Deniers Lost Key Races for Federal and State Offices in the 2022 Midterm Elections
Claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” gave rise to nearly 300 election deniers appearing on the ballot of nearly 60 percent of voters in the 2022 midterm general elections. The Center for American Progress’ analysis of the outcomes of those races suggests that Americans in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona ultimately shunned election denialism when voting for offices with a responsibility to administer or oversee elections. Ticket splitting by voters in some states especially underscores this, as do polls showing that concern over the “future of democracy” was among the top reasons voters turned out to cast their ballots, with 44 percent of voters saying it was their primary concern. Yet even so, many races were decided by small margins, and several election deniers were reelected or newly elected in less-competitive states and for offices mostly removed from election administration, such as Congress. Taken together, these results suggest that Americans largely embraced traditional pro-democracy norms and elected candidates who have committed to defending elections against partisan interference. However, voters also remain divided heading into the 2024 presidential election, with millions of Americans still questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Defining election deniers
This article categorizes election deniers as candidates who have publicly denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. It uses The Washington Post’s reporting to determine which candidates are election deniers based on this definition.
The majority of gubernatorial and secretary of state candidates who said they would not have certified the 2020 presidential election and who have spread false election claims lost in 2022. As a result, key offices needed to oversee and safeguard the integrity of the 2024 presidential election will be filled by individuals who say they will seek to impartially administer elections. Additionally, most candidates—including some election deniers who lost their races, such as Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon (R) and Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl (R)—conceded in a timely and decisive manner. The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021 showed the country how crucial a peaceful transfer of power is for democracy, and these concessions indicate a return to normalcy and civility.
Key offices needed to oversee and safeguard the integrity of the 2024 presidential election will be filled by individuals who say they will seek to impartially administer elections.
This article analyzes the results of the general election by office, identifying relevant trends and the likely effects that election deniers who lost and or won will have on state and national politics.
The COVID-19 pandemic recently demonstrated the importance of governors’ offices and how much of an impact their policy successes and failures can have on their constituents’ lives. Thirty-six gubernatorial races were on the ballot in 2022, and 20 election deniers ran as party candidates in 19 states.* Ultimately, seven of these 20 candidates were elected to office; six are incumbents, and just one—in Alaska—was newly elected.
Michigan gubernatorial election
Tudor Dixon (R-MI), who lost her election for governor, said during a debate that she believed Trump had “legitimately won” the 2020 election and that the 2020 election was not fair.
In many states, governors have a role to play in the certification of elections. In four states, they also appoint the secretary of state as the state’s chief election official with primary authority over the administration of elections. During the state certification process of electoral college votes, local elections officials send the final results for certification to the designated state official—often the governor—to transmit to Congress. Additionally, there were gubernatorial races in three out of the four states in which the governor appoints secretaries of state as chief election officials: Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania. For the purposes of election integrity, the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election—won by Josh Shapiro (D), who made a pro-democracy and pro-voter agenda a principal feature of his campaign—was the most consequential of these three races given the Pennsylvania secretary of state’s critical role during the 2020 election cycle and the fact that the favored winners of the Florida and Texas elections were incumbents. For these two reasons, having governors in place who support the integrity of election administration and the peaceful transfer of power will likely be an important measure for ensuring a smooth 2024 presidential election.
Pennsylvania gubernatorial election
Doug Mastriano (R-PA), who lost his election for governor, supported former President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud and staged a meeting in November 2020 that gave President Trump a platform to sew disinformation. He also spent more than $3,000 to bus over 100 Trump supporters to Washington, D.C., on January 6 and was seen crossing police barricades at the U.S. Capitol.
Governors in many swing states have also been instrumental in protecting voting rights. Following the 2020 presidential election, more than 20 states enacted laws that included provisions to restrict the freedom to vote. Many of the most restrictive voting efforts were halted by governors who vetoed restrictive legislation and pushed back against the tide of attacks on voting rights in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. If not for the veto power of governors in these battleground states, the restrictions on voting—and the subsequent weakening of the democratic process—would have been more severe and widespread. In these states, voters have elected and reelected governors who have spoken strongly in support of expansive voting rights and upholding the rule of law. As a result, voting rights in these states will likely continue to be upheld and protected by the governor’s office.
The powers governors can exert over elections were on full display during the 2020 presidential election, which was administered during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many governors issued executive orders to expand access to the ballot box and make critical exceptions to voting laws. Recently, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) also issued an executive order in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian to increase access to voting in some of the counties most affected by the hurricane. These kinds of natural disasters and events also show the crucial role governors have to play in access to voting, especially in times of emergency and uncertainty.
Arizona gubernatorial election
Kari Lake (R-AZ), who lost her election for governor, was endorsed and heavily supported by former President Trump and has repeatedly claimed that the 2020 election was “stolen” and would not commit to accepting election results if she lost, stating that “I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that result.”
Experts have expressed concern that the 2024 election certification process could be undermined if more governors held unfounded doubts about the validity of the 2020 election. However, nearly all election deniers who won their races were incumbents, and voters in many key states elected governors who are strong supporters of pro-democracy practices, thereby reducing the risks of governors subverting the 2024 certification process.
Secretaries of state
Another critical state office for elections—the secretary of state—was on the ballot in 24 states where the officeholder serves as the chief election official.** Election deniers running for these secretary of state offices were on the ballot in 10 states, with two winning election—one in Indiana and the other in Wyoming. As many Americans realized during and following the 2020 election, secretaries of state are instrumental to administering safe and secure elections and protecting the freedom to vote.
Wyoming secretary of state election
Chuck Gray (R-WY), who won his election for secretary of state uncontested in Wyoming, was endorsed by former President Trump and promised in his campaign to eliminate “insecure ballot drop boxes used to commit fraud.” In 2020, about half of Wyoming voters cast early ballots, and a little more than half of those voted by mail.
Many secretaries of state effectively led local election officials in making elections resilient to the COVID-19 pandemic; helped secretaries in other states quickly expand mail-in voting and early voting; and ultimately rejected then-President Trump’s lies of a so-called stolen election. Those who took strong pro-democracy stands in their states included both Democratic and Republican secretaries of state such as Brad Raffensperger (R) in Georgia, Jocelyn Benson (D) in Michigan, and Barbara Cegavske (R) in Nevada. Because of their important roles in election administration and the part they played in helping to protect the integrity of the last presidential election, many secretaries were targeted with a barrage of harassment, threats, and violence following the 2020 election. Many also faced tough challenges from extremists and election deniers both in primaries and the general election in 2022. Some of these challengers formed part of the America First Secretary of State Coalition to oust pro-democracy officials from both parties, and five of the 10 election-denying secretary of state candidates who appeared on the ballot for the general election were part of this coalition.
Indiana secretary of state election
Diego Morales (R-IN)—a member of the America First Coalition—won his election for secretary of state in the 2022 midterms. He defeated current Secretary of State Holli Sullivan (R) in the Republican candidate selection for the office in June. He has called the 2020 election a “scam” and supported rolling back accessible election practices such as early voting in the state.
While election deniers were successful in a couple of states, secretary of state candidates who supported the 2020 election process largely prevailed. This is especially true in swing and battleground states such as Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, and Minnesota, as well as in Pennsylvania, where pro-democracy Governor-elect Josh Shapiro will appoint the secretary. As in 2020, these roles will be crucial for the integrity of the 2024 presidential election.
U.S. senators and representatives
Overall, elections for Congress are where the majority of election deniers saw victories during the 2022 midterm election. In particular, the U.S. Senate saw the largest percentage of newly elected election deniers win seats compared with other offices.
More than 150 election deniers have been reelected or newly elected to serve in the Senate and House of Representatives, with at least 150 election deniers winning election to the House and six to the Senate. Five of these senators-elect are new members: J.D. Vance (R-OH), Ted Budd (R-NC), Eric Schmitt (R-MO), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), and Katie Britt (R-AL). Many of these individuals campaigned on election and voting issues, including promising to roll back or eliminate voting options and “prevent ballot harvesting,” often while promoting unfounded election conspiracy theories.
Ohio senatorial election
J.D. Vance (R-OH), who won his election for the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterms, campaigned on ending “mass mail-in voting” in Ohio, despite the fair administration of elections under Sec. Frank LaRose (R) and the fact that mail-in ballot request forms have been mailed to all registered Ohio voters for general elections in midterm and presidential election years since 2012. In 2020, about 1.3 million voters cast a ballot by mail, and more than 1 million voters requested a ballot for the same election won by Senator-elect Vance.
The more than 150 election deniers who will take a seat in the House in the 118th Congress exceed the 139 House Republicans who objected to the counting of electoral votes following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and they make up a little more than one-third of all House members. Additionally, the five new election-denying senators will join seven sitting senators who also objected during the tallying of electoral votes following the insurrection, bringing the total number of election deniers in the Senate to 12.
This new caucus is likely to propose federal legislation to roll back voting measures and can likely be expected to resist congressional efforts to protect voting rights and fund elections. Their election as federal leaders will also give a more prominent position to those who have questioned the results of the 2020 election, giving them roles on congressional committees with oversight of federal departments and agencies that have a hand in election oversight and administration, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Election Assistance Commission, and the Federal Election Commission.
Missouri senatorial election
Eric Schmitt (R-MO), who won his election for the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterms, was one of a number of state attorneys general who filed lawsuits attempting to overturn the 2020 election and also served as the vice chair of a dark money group that helped organize robocalls urging people to join the “stop the steal” protest on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Additionally, these members of Congress will have a role to play during the 2024 presidential election when both chambers once again gather to tally electoral college votes. A bipartisan effort has long been underway to reform the Electoral Count Act (ECA) of 1887, and the Senate working group’s proposal would raise the threshold to lodge an objection to at least one-fifth of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Experts have advocated for Congress to pass ECA reform during the lame duck session. But even if the Senate’s proposal becomes law, election deniers in the House would still have the numbers to sustain an unfounded objection—such as those made on January 6, 2021—although a similar objection would likely fail in the Senate.
Voters turned out in record numbers in many states for the 2022 midterm elections and decidedly chose candidates from both parties who have pledged to uphold the will of the people. The most consequential elections were seen in swing states, where races have been closely monitored for months. The results suggest that voters are looking for their elected officials to uphold the rule of law and shun election denialism. Both state and federal elected officials will have critical roles to play ahead of and during the 2024 presidential election cycle, but the results of the midterm elections have positioned many officials to strengthen and defend U.S. democracy.
* Authors’ note: There were two election denier gubernatorial candidates on the ballot in Alaska.
** Authors’ note: Illinois, South Carolina, and Wisconsin also held elections for secretaries of state, but in these three states, the secretary of state does not serve as the chief election official. Additionally, there were uncontested races for the office in Wyoming and Nebraska, where the secretary of state also serves as the chief election official.
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