US voters will head to the polls on 8 November 2022 to cast their ballots for the midterm elections, which will see 35 of 100 Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives up for re-election.
Midterm elections serve as a benchmark on voter’s approval of the sitting president’s party, but following a turbulent 2020 presidential election, with claims of a stolen election and voter fraud, the midterms have taken on a heightened importance with the processes and results having long-term implications for the future of democracy in the US.
When will we see results?
While many US voters expect to see results the night of an election, the complex voting process in the US often makes it difficult to ascertain the success of candidates in certain states after the polls close.
In Arizona, state laws allow 20 days for election officials to certify results while Nevada allows for additional time to count mail-in ballots following election day. Pennsylvania state laws prevent mail-in ballots from being counted before 7am on election day and the combined effect of counting in-person and mail-in ballots simultaneously, as well as the need to present votes to a state canvassing board could delay official results for weeks, and votes will not be officially certified by the state until 28 November.
In Georgia, the presence of a third-party candidate may lead to a run-off election if neither the Democrat or Republican contender receives over 50 per cent of the vote, which would take place on 6 December with results expected soon after.
Delays in determining election results may bolster claims made by Republican candidates that election results were fraudulent, especially if races are tight, as delays counting mail-in ballots might cause results to differ over time. Early results favouring Republican candidates may also differ from the final tally as more mail-in ballots get counted, creating a ‘red mirage’, as the majority of Republican voters are expected to vote in-person, as seen in 2020.
In the vast majority of elections since World War II, the president’s party has often lost seats in the first midterm elections after taking office. While there have been exceptions and instances of the sitting party avoiding major losses during wartime, such as after the Gulf War and the 9/11 attacks, it’s unlikely Russia’s war in Ukraine will create the same rally around the flag effect.
Issues influencing voters
There are signs that US support for Ukraine on both sides of the aisle is starting to waver, as evidenced by the now recalled letter by the House Democratic Progressive Caucus pushing for a ceasefire and Republican House Leader, Kevin McCarthy’s recent comments about limiting US financial support for Ukraine.
US voters in general are more concerned with domestic issues rather than foreign policy, and both Democrats and Republicans have shaped their messaging around issues that will resonate with voters in key battleground states, with Democrats focusing heavily on abortion and reproductive rights and Republicans pushing the issues of crime and safety.
Democrats are hoping their focus on reproductive rights will motivate a higher turnout at the polls and have likely been encouraged by a recent referendum in Kansas where voters chose to protect abortion rights in the traditionally conservative state. In 2020, 52 per cent of the electorate in the swing state of Pennsylvania were female, and while not a huge majority, the difference could be enough to push the Democrats ahead.
Though the issue of abortion has gained more focus among Democratic voters, with 75 per cent of registered Democrats saying the issue was very important, 92 per cent of Republican voters rank the economy as their top issue.
The Senate race in Wisconsin, for example, was initially considered one of the Democrat’s most likely prospects for unseating an incumbent Republican senator, following US President Joe Biden’s win in the state in 2020.
Despite heavy fundraising from the Democratic party and a campaign visit by former US president Barack Obama, incumbent Senator Ron Johnson is now four points ahead of Democrat contender, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. A potential victory by Johnson, who has accused Barnes of being soft on crime and has shaped his messaging around growing the economy, may indicate whether Democrats need to reshape their messaging ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Threats of political violence
The risk of political violence in the US has increased in recent years, with many key officials under threat, as evidenced by the recent attack on US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s, husband. A bulletin sent out by US agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, warned of attacks against not only political figures in the US, but also of attacks at locations like polling places, ballot box locations and voter registration sites.
The myth of a stolen election
Electoral integrity in 2022 has become especially significant, with over 300 candidates who believe the 2020 election was stolen up for election in various races across the United States.
The role of governors, secretaries of states and attorneys general (state officials charged with approving election results) has become a key issue in 2022. Proposals to give state legislatures the ability to certify election results, a role typically occupied by state officials, have already been made in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona, all of which have Republican legislature majorities.
While these measures have not been successful thus far, a number of election deniers who would have the ability to influence how election results are certified are on the ballot for 2022. In Arizona, for example, Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lakes, and for attorney general, Abe Hamadeh have both been endorsed by Trump and have also supported his claims that the 2020 elections were fraudulent.
The Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state, Mark Finchem publicly made calls to decertify Arizona’s electors, and was placed at receiving 49 per cent of votes in a poll conducted by CNN in early October. If Republicans are successful in both the state governor and secretary of state races, the role of the attorney general in certifying the election results in a state Biden closely won in 2020 becomes ever more crucial given their ability to govern how elections are run in the state, as well as their ability to challenge certification in court.