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Op-Ed: Conservatives' Midterm Post-Mortem Ignores a Broken Election System

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Within hours of last week’s election, while counting in at least five states was ludicrously still underway, many conservative news outlets and commentators were eager to make sense of what was predicted to be a red tsunami but, so the story goes, ended up being a mere ripple.

A discernible theme quickly emerged: There was a coordinated rush to demonize former President Donald Trump and idolize Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tellingly with the establishment media’s tacit approval.

However, the post-mortem ignores the fundamental role played by a chaotic election system that’s falling conspicuously short of basic standards adhered to in other liberal democracies, despite the establishment’s best efforts to normalize the nonsense. From the perspective of a non-U.S. citizen who’s voted in the elections of two other developed nations, there’s nothing remotely normal about any of it.

Instead, Conservative Inc.’s preferred narrative is to laud Florida’s Republican sweep as the benchmark for Republican success and hence DeSantis as the inexorable poster child of the 2024 presidential election.

The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner and the New York Post derided Trump and the failure of his hand-picked candidates. Pollster Frank Luntz told Joe Scarborough during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that people have “essentially said, ‘Enough Donald Trump. … Mr. President, it’s time to go away.’” According to The Atlantic’s David Frum, voters are “sick of Trump and his antics” and “if DeSantis is in the game now, he has to play now.”

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Yet assessing how shelving Trump and installing De Santis would help the GOP spruce up its curb appeal, while blithely stepping over the dog’s breakfast of an election system festering away on the front porch, is a misguided and destructive exercise.

In a Nov. 2 speech, President Joe Biden urged Americans to be “patient” and reminded them that “in some cases we won’t know the winner of the election for a few days.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and the propagandists at NBC News were quick to join in the gaslighting, while The Washington Post helpfully explained how delays in counting are actually a good thing.

Yet as The Federalist’s Ben Weingarten pointed out, in-person voting on a single Election Day with results reported on election night was the norm in this country for decades, with rare exceptions. It continues, in the developed world at least, to be standard practice.

It’s not acceptable to be sitting around biting nails and twiddling thumbs for days — or, in Alaska’s case, literally weeks — after the nominal Election Day, waiting for ballots to mosey in from all over the state and for ballot data dumps to be released ad hoc by state bureaucrats at unspecified times, with no definite end in sight, and pausing for public holidays or plumbing issues.

None of this is happening in other developed nations. Outside of the U.S., early voting periods of up to 46 days aren’t normal.

Do America's election systems need to be reformed?

In France’s recent presidential election, over 35 million votes cast using paper ballots were counted in a matter of hours and President Emmanuel Macron had declared victory and was being congratulated on his win before the night was over.

In Australia, there is no election “period” but an election day, the date of which is determined by the government within a specified timeframe. If that day happens to fall at an inconvenient time — say, your wedding day, as was my experience in one election — you get yourself to the ballot box, take care of business, and get on with your day. The results are determined on election night, not days or weeks ex post facto. Absentee ballots are available upon request for special circumstances, but there’s no mass mail-in voting.

Similarly, in Italy, the only mass vote by mail permitted by law is for the significant number of Italian citizens registered as living abroad.

The putative swing state of Florida exemplifies the results the GOP is capable of when these commonsense systems are implemented. DeSantis’ 20-point victory would have almost certainly been narrower had the system been shoddier. Indeed, the trouncing of Democratic candidate Charlie Crist was as much the result of DeSantis’ undeniable appeal as it was the product of a cleaned-up election system.

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Op-Ed: Conservatives' Midterm Post-Mortem Ignores a Broken Election System

Republican candidates in places like Arizona and Nevada might have claimed similarly stunning election night victories had the respective election systems not been a total shemozzle.

In Arizona, the public official responsible for canvassing and certifying the results breezily carried on overseeing the very gubernatorial election in which she was a candidate. On Election Day, the Maricopa County Elections Department cheerfully announced that scores of tabulators across 20 percent of county vote centers were malfunctioning. By Friday evening, some 270,000 ballots were still uncounted.

In Nevada, Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo was only able to announce victory after three days of counting that saw his 34,000-vote lead over opponent Gov. Steve Sisolak watered down as ballots seeped in. Republican Senate nominee Adam Laxalt’s 16,000-vote lead was similarly diluted after days of protracted mail-in counting, culminating in the race being called for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on Saturday evening.

But Conservative Inc. isn’t calling foul on any of this. Instead, people like Marc Thiessen are arguing with straight faces that 73 percent of voters were so dissatisfied and angry about the direction of the country that they voted for the status quo because “the Republican Party did not give them a viable alternative.”

So apparently, Floridians registered their dissent, even in historically blue Miami-Dade County, by painting the state red, whereas in Michigan, voters were so peeved with the state of affairs that they elected the first Democrat-controlled legislature in almost four decades because the Republican candidates ostensibly weren’t up to snuff.

This isn’t about picking the right candidates or focusing on the pertinent issues. It’s the vote — or, more precisely, the ballot — that matters. While Trump has spent the past umpteen months warning as much, and Democrats have been equally committed to threatening as much, the GOP has for the most part, with notable exceptions in Georgia, been dancing to its own merry tune.

The Never Trumpers scorned Trump’s repeated calls for election integrity and did precious little to demand the voting measures Americans overwhelmingly support, including voter ID and the counting of ballots by Election Day. Now they’re blaming Trump-nominated “weirdos and crackpots” for losses that a united Republican front on electoral reform might have prevented.

The “post-Trump future” narrative makes for a compelling headline, but it relies on inherently shaky data. Regardless of candidates and issues, the GOP can hardly hope to replicate results that look like Florida’s in states whose voting and counting processes continue to look like Arizona’s.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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