Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Rural election voting processes have improved since 2020; the election denial movement could pose a threat

As the country gears up for November voting as well as a future presidential election, experts are voicing concern over the election denial movement, which threatens to disrupt improvements in how votes are cast, counted and reported in rural America, reports Claire Carlson of The Daily Yonder. "Civics experts say rural communities have the most to lose from the pressures of the election denial movement. . . . Rural America already has lower voter turnout rates, which some researchers argue is due to inadequate election infrastructure. One 2022 study found that voting-by-mail restrictions hurt rural voters the most because there are fewer rural polling locations than urban ones, increasing the distance a person must travel to cast a vote."

U.S. voter engagement has trended steadily upward, "The 2020 presidential election saw the highest turnout in the 21st century with 66.8% of citizens age 18 or older casting a vote, according to the Census Bureau," Carlson writes. "Former President Donald Trump's unfounded attacks on the U.S. election system and the resulting election-denial movement put these gains in jeopardy."
La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee in the county elections
office (Photo by Ilana Newman via The Yonder)

The election-denier movement focuses its suspicion on rigged voting machines, for which the only antidote is  manual counts. Carlson reports, "[There are a] growing number of counties–rural, suburban, and urban–where election deniers have successfully urged local governments to recount election results or throw out electronic voting machines altogether." Justin Grimmer, a political science professor at Stanford University who studies election denialism, told Carlson, "We're at this period that I think should be being celebrated as a sort of high point of participation in American democracy." Carlson reports, "reversing improved election infrastructure – the use of equipment that more accurately counts votes and ensuring better access to voting through absentee and mail-in ballots, for example – could set back civic participation."

Carlson reports, "After Trump left office, the election denial movement morphed into a "core group of 'influencers. . . .These influencers have made it a full-time job traveling the country to spread the election denial movement's primary message: elections are being stolen, and it's the government's fault."

Charles H. Stewart, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published research earlier this year exploring election-denial roots. He told Carlson, "The thing that we're seeing in 2020 that we didn't see in 2016, or in 2012, or other times when these sorts of [election integrity] questions arose, is that we now have about a half-dozen of these traveling road shows." Carlson reports, "In La Plata County, Colorado, an influx of open records requests have poured in since 2020, challenging the county's election tools, including Dominion Voting Systems, an electronic voting hardware and software company, and mail-in ballots. The county has relied on mail-in ballots since 1992." La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee told Carlson: "What's happened to us is people from the outside and different organizations that don't have anything to do with our local communities are attacking us because ‘Oh my gosh, you have Dominion or you use mail ballots, and we don’t trust you.'"

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