The midterm elections are here

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe muses that as tired as “the most important election of our lifetime” cliché seems, it really is true for the 2022 midterms.

That every election with national implications since 2008 has carried the mantle of being “the most important” ever says a lot about this perilous time in this country. Midterm elections are usually low-participation affairs, but that wasn’t the case in 2018, halfway through Donald Trump’s calamitous term. Turnout was the highest in a century, flipping control of the House to Democrats.

Expect that record to fall. This year, more than 20 million people have already cast their ballots in early voting. Because of Trump’s lies about the fair and overwhelmingly fraud-free 2020 presidential election, the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection those lies inflamed, and the spreading stain of election denialism among Republican nominees, what happens on Tuesday feels deeply consequential. In a televised speech last week, President Biden made that point again. He offered not an endorsement but a plea for voters to save a democracy being battered from within its borders by political extremists.

After referencing last week’s vicious assault on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by a far-right ideology-driven intruder who broke into their San Francisco home, Biden said Americans are “facing a defining moment, an inflection point.”

Solomon Jones of The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that as we approach Election Day, political violence is also escalating.

Here in Philadelphia, the cradle of American liberty, the 2020 presidential election was marred by city officials receiving death threats, armed men driving to the Pennsylvania Convention Center as votes were being counted, and tense protests by competing sets of demonstrators. Such local incidents paled in comparison with the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but in the current political climate, the Capitol insurrection may very well have been a prelude to something bigger.

Now, with the midterm elections looming, our political atmosphere is once again rife with violence. A conspiracy theorist broke into the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and beat her 82-year-old husband with a hammer. Armed poll watchers dressed in tactical gear have been reported near ballot drop boxes in Arizona. Right-wing social media figures are advising users to arm themselves for civil war, while Republican politicians sow doubts about the results of an election that hasn’t even happened yet.

All of this is occurring as threats of violence against members of Congress and other political leaders continue to escalate, and issues of race swirl over all of it like a poisonous ether. That’s because when Republicans talk about crime, they often use images of African Americans, reference incarcerated Black people like Mumia Abu-Jamal, and try to convince white voters that all Black Americans are criminals who are coming to take something from them.

Perry Bacon Jr of The Washington Post looks into the reasons that American national elections are so close and so polarized.

Education is not the reason. After Donald Trump surprisingly won the 2016 presidential election and exit polls showed his margin of victory among White voters without college degrees was significantly larger than Mitt Romney’s four years earlier, political observers have increasingly focused on education levels as an explanation for the partisan divide. The general idea is that Democrats have become the party of the college-educated, the Republicans the party of those without degrees.

It is true that over the past decade White voters without degrees have shifted to the GOP, while White voters with degrees have become more Democratic. In 2020, Joe Biden won about 33 percent of White voters without college degrees, compared with 57 percent of White people with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Elaine Kamarck of The Brookings Institute proposes that we do away with the very idea of an “election night.”

While there is no simple cure to the threats we face to our democracy, one small change could go a long way towards restoring trust: states should stop reporting incomplete vote totals on election night. This will provoke howls of protest from the news media which is, even now, preparing elaborate stages, fancy electronic maps and complex forecasting models in a race to be first to call the election­—some even going so far as to put a “democracy desk” on their stage­—in order to explain the chaos that is likely to happen.

But “election night” no longer exists and states can get rid of it. Today it’s more like election month. Early voting begins in some states in early October and continues into November and absentee voting has skyrocketed. Some of these trends are the direct result of COVID which shut the country down in 2020, leading election officials in many states to come up with ways to hold an election that didn’t involve standing in line inside a polling place and possibly contracting the virus. For the first time in history, only 30% of voters cast their ballots on Election Day in 2020.

The second reason election night no longer exists is that most states have laws which forbid counting the early votes before Election Day. That is understandable­—imagine the unfair impact reporting an early vote winner might have on subsequent voters. So, most states forbid counting these early votes until Election Day itself. This was never much of a problem when the early vote counted for a small portion of the overall vote. But in 2020, in addition to the large increase in early voting, early voting itself became politicized. These two factors combined to make the Election Day vote a very poor predictor of the election outcome.

Jack NIcas of The New York Times looks into what the United States might have to learn from Brazilian democracy.

In Brazil, when the tallies showed that the incumbent had been voted out after just one term, the government responded jointly, swiftly and decisively. The Senate President, the Attorney General, Supreme Court justices and the heads of the electoral agency went on television together and announced the winner. The House Speaker, perhaps the president’s most important ally, then read a statement reiterating that the voters had spoken. Other right-wing politicians quickly followed suit.

President Jair Bolsonaro, politically isolated, stayed silent for two days. Then, under pressure from his top advisers, he agreed to transfer power.

Thousands of his supporters took to the streets, blocking highways and demanding a military intervention, but the armed forces have shown no interest in disrupting the electoral process. The demonstrations quickly fizzled and the government began its transition. […]

The differing pictures raise a fundamental question: Is there something the United States, the world’s oldest democracy, can learn from Brazil, a nation that was emerging from military dictatorship when President Biden first ran for the White House in 1988?

Kevin T. Dugan of New York magazine says that new Twitter owner Elon Musk may know precisely what he is doing with the social media platform.

It’s now been a week since Elon Musk has taken over Twitter, and one thing that’s clear about his reign is that he will never, ever touch grass. On Friday, the platform became a flood of blue heart emojis as about half of the company’s employees found out that they were now out of a job. But there is no reason to think the Musk rampage is going to stop here. There was no clear reason why the firing had to have happened on November 4, just days before the midterm elections, except as a way to maximize impact. It wasn’t even a week ago that Musk met with seven different civic groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP, some of whom are actively encouraging advertisers to walk away from Twitter — and now he’s using that as a reason to throw up his hands and go UGH at advertisers bolting. (As of its most recent quarter as a public company, Twitter was doing fine.)

This is a pretext. He’s been telling the world what he’s going to do to Twitter for months. He tried to calm advertisers by telling them Twitter won’t turn into a hellscape — a term that doesn’t actually mean anything. Now that he’s neutralized his own company’s workforce, which he ostensibly viewed as his opposition, the timeline has only become more chaotic, and Musk has already laid out the blame for everyone but himself — the guy who owns it.

This is familiar territory for Musk. He loves to position himself as the underdog, and he’s exceptionally good at it. In his current incarnation as Twitter’s new owner, this means that his bedfellows are now more explicitly political than ever. He has boosted people like Tom Fitton, who heads a conservative think tank called Judicial Watch despite the fact that he’s not a lawyer, in claiming that Musk is some lone freedom fighter working against an organized left flank. This only makes sense in the not-real world of Twitter. Put it all in the context of his obsession with blue check marks as a status symbol and it’s clear that, for Musk, the goal is not just to make Twitter more relevant, but to rearrange things so that the world of the social network eclipses the outside world. In the future Elon Musk is building, touching grass won’t calm the turmoil caused by what’s happening on the platform. The Old Twitter is gone. No wonder why the people still in Musk’s employ sound like they’ve lost something even bigger than a job.

Finally today, Steven Lee Myers reports for The New York Times that Russian bot and troll accounts have reactivated just in time for our midterm elections.

The campaign — using accounts that pose as enraged Americans like Nora Berka — have added fuel to the most divisive political and cultural issues in the country today.

It has specifically targeted Democratic candidates in the most contested races, including the Senate seats up for grabs in Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania, calculating that a Republican majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives could help the Russian war effort.

The campaigns show not only how vulnerable the American political system remains to foreign manipulation but also how purveyors of disinformation have evolved and adapted to efforts by the major social media platforms to remove or play down false or deceptive content.

Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an alert warning of the threat of disinformation spread by “dark web media channels, online journals, messaging applications, spoofed websites, emails, text messages and fake online personas.” The disinformation could include claims that voting data or results had been hacked or compromised.

Take care, everyone! 



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