A protester holds a sign reading "our votes matter" at a Count Every Vote protest near Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania on November 4, 2020.
(Photo: Paul Weaver/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This Year, Election Denial May Be Coming Directly to Your Ballot

This November, bad actors will try to roll back the progress we’ve made in states across the country. While not all of these measures are likely to qualify for the ballot, many will, and the risks of not paying attention can have long-term consequences.

Over the past four years, election denialism has transformed American democracy. What was once a small, fringe, extremist belief is now a growing and increasingly dangerous enclave of the population that includes election officials among them. As the 2024 election nears, a significant portion of the American electorate still questions the legitimacy of our elections. Although claims of “election interference” have been thrown out in court time and time again, election denial this November may be coming directly to your ballot box. The only way to stem this tide is for educated voters to engage in democracy at all levels.

Election denialism and attacks on voting rights prevent key portions of the electorate—namely low-income communities, voters of color, queer people, and young voters—from having a voice in our democracy. However, these dynamics are not new. In states across the country—including Wisconsin, Missouri, North Dakota and Arkansas—lawmakers have introduced anti-voting legislation. These are resolutions that insert election denial into the constitution. The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) is tracking 65 voting- and election-related measures in 22 states and Washington D.C. that could end up before voters in 2024. Of those, roughly one-third could make voting or election administration more difficult.

In North Dakota, one such proposal may appear on the ballot as a citizen-initiative constitutional amendment in 2024. If passed by voters, it would prohibit early voting, voting by mail, ranked-choice voting, the use of voting machines and electronic processing devices, among other restrictions. Similar efforts are underway in Arkansas. One proposal would require hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots, and the other would create more restrictive vote-by-mail procedures, asserting that absentee voting is “not a right but a privilege”. Questioning the security of vote tabulators has prompted at least six state legislatures and citizen-initiated initiatives in at least three South Dakota counties to propose banning their use—despite the fact that 90% of U.S. election jurisdictions currently use electronic tabulators, and studies have found that ballot scanners are more accurate than hand counts. North Dakota’s Secretary of State Michael Howe has denounced his state’s prospective initiative to require hand-counting, saying that it “does nothing to secure our election; it does the exact opposite.” This spring, Wisconsin voters passed two measures rooted in allegations of fraud during the 2020 election. Referred to the ballot by state lawmakers, one measure prohibits acceptance of non-governmental funds to help cover election administration costs while the other requires that any election tasks be performed only by those legally designated, potentially barring volunteers and municipal staff from providing much-needed Election Day support.

On the surface, many of these proposals like “citizen-only” voting or prohibiting private funding for elections administration seem benign. Instead, election denial and conspiracy uses strategically convoluted language to make these initiatives as confusing as possible for voters. What they’re not expecting is an electorate that has grown savvier over the past eight years.

At the local level and across the country, voters—especially young voters—are more engaged and informed than ever before. Voters have already begun to catch onto these efforts and are responding by rejecting attempts to undermine the will of the people like they did last year during Ohio’s August special election. The defeat of Ohio’s Issue 1 kept in place a simple majority threshold for passing future constitutional amendments, instead of the 60% supermajority that had been proposed. If Issue 1 had passed, it would have made it harder for abortion-rights supporters to amend the Ohio state constitution three months later during the November 2023 election. Ohio voters went on to approve that constitutional amendment, ensuring Ohioans have access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care.

Additionally, BISC’s research from earlier this year shows that despite escalating attempts to undermine direct democracy, citizen-led ballot initiatives enjoy broad support across party lines: 92% of voters agree that the process is an important way for citizens to pass policies they care about and 93% agree that legislators have an obligation to carry out the will of the people. This has meant that in state after state, voters know what keeps them safe, what benefits them individually, and what benefits us collectively.

The future of democracy IS coming to a ballot near you. This November, bad actors will try to roll back the progress we’ve made in states across the country. While not all of these measures are likely to qualify for the ballot, many will, and the risks of not paying attention can have long-term consequences. It’s what makes the work of grassroots organizers, who work day in and day out to educate and engage their communities, so vitally important. They understand that if we are going to preserve our democracy, we must use every tool at our disposal in the fight against denialism and authoritarianism.

Defending direct democracy takes a collectively-engaged electorate. Your voice, your vote, and your investment count in building the infrastructure to transform power, now, in November, and for generations to come.

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