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Election Officials Feel “Huge Relief” After Smooth Vote And Concessions

7 minute read

For an election that was prefaced by dire warnings about intimidation of election officials and voter fraud misinformation, the 2022 midterms have come off with no significant incidents or disruptions, election officials and experts say. Most issues at the polls—a county in Pennsylvania that ran out of paper, a few locations that extended voting hours after opening late, minor glitches with voting equipment—were quickly resolved and publicly explained by election officials who had spent months preparing for transparent messaging. Calls for protests and threats of armed vigilantes at polling stations remained confined to right-wing message boards and extremist chat apps.

“I think I speak for every election administrator in the country when I say that it is a huge relief,” says New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who easily won re-election against a Republican challenger who had embraced election conspiracies.

Election officials and experts were cautiously optimistic that the relatively uneventful midterms, and the string of orderly concessions from candidates who had previously pushed election conspiracies, were an indication of the resilience of the country’s democratic processes. “I am just hoping that what we’re seeing is the beginning of a return to norm, to a healthy democracy,” Toulouse Oliver says. Most vehement election deniers who previously raised doubts about U.S. voting systems have so far accepted the results, indicating that their eagerness to promote disinformation to rile up their base only extends so far, Toulouse Oliver says. “To me, it looks like it peaked,” she says, noting that “the enthusiasm for clinging to conspiracy theories and using them as an effective battle cry has seemed to wane.”

Election law experts were also cautiously optimistic. Rick Hasen of the University of California, Los Angeles called it “a step back from the precipice of election denialism.” Much of the success, experts say, was the work of local and state election officials, who routinely reminded voters that with millions of Americans going to the polls, there were bound to be some human errors or logistical hiccups that would quickly be resolved and not prevent anyone from casting their ballot. This “pre-bunking” of voting misinformation by election officials prevented many false claims and conspiracies from finding fertile ground, experts say.

One exception was in Maricopa County, Arizona, which became ground zero for election conspiracies after the 2020 presidential race. This election, a printing malfunction affected 60 polling stations, forcing some voters to wait to use other machines or chose to leave their ballots in a secure lock box. The issue impacted 25% of the polling centers in Maricopa, Arizona’s most populous county, before it was resolved on Tuesday afternoon.

Election officials moved quickly to explain the problem as soon as it surfaced. Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer posted a video demonstrating the problem, reassuring voters that no one would be prevented from voting and that none of their ballots would be mishandled if they chose one of the backup options.

Read More: Problems With Some Arizona Voting Machines Are Stoking Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories

But many who back former President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the 2020 election quickly seized on the Maricopa County issues as evidence of a deliberate effort to steal the election from Republicans. Trump himself once again stoked the denialism. “Same thing is happening with Voter Fraud as happened in 2020???” Trump wrote on Truth Social, later posting a video claiming without evidence that “they want to delay you out of voting” and that “there are a lot of bad things going on.”

On Tuesday evening, Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor who has backed some of Trump’s election conspiracies, slammed county officials as incompetent and the “cheaters and crooks” she said were casting doubt on what she said would be her eventual win. “We will take the victory when it comes,” she told the crowd gathered for a watch party in a Phoenix ballroom. (By Wednesday afternoon, Lake’s race remained too close to call.)

“There is no such thing as a perfect election, which is why we have a robust mechanism to catch any issues that may arise during the day,” Arizona’s Assistant Sec. of State Allie Bones told TIME in a statement. “Every eligible voter can be confident that their vote will be counted.”

Despite previous concerns about political violence and voter intimidation, there were few incidents on Election Day. Though there were complaints filed before the election alleging intimidation at ballot dropboxes and vigilante poll watchers, there were no reports of significant cases that impacted the election. “I am happy to report that today has been relatively quiet on the political violence front,” Suzanne Almeida, the director of state operations for Common Cause, a voting rights watchdog group, told reporters on Tuesday. “We were absolutely prepared for more significant incidents, but they simply have not come to fruition.”

Read More: How ‘Stop the Steal’ Became ‘Watch the Polls’

In fact, federal authorities said they didn’t pick up signs that any major incidents might have been in the works. There were no “specific or credible threats…disrupting election infrastructure” on Tuesday, federal cybersecurity officials told reporters on Tuesday. The office of the Mississippi Secretary of State said in a statement that several state websites—including theirs, which provides information on where and how to vote—had “experienced issues” on Election Day. They were taken offline for about 30 minutes after a Russian-speaking hacker group named Mississippi as one of its targets, according to NBC News. “We want to be extremely clear and reassure Mississippians our election system is secure and has not been compromised,” the office of the secretary of state said.

Ahead of Election Day, many local election offices made an effort to give tours to voters and journalists, explaining the process and answering questions. On Tuesday, most state’s top election officials held matter-of-fact press conferences, updating voters on the latest developments. “Election Day in Wisconsin is going smoothly,” said Meagan Wolfe, the nonpartisan administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, only noting some “routine calls and questions” and a few reports of lines at polling places. Officials also seemed to “pre-bunk” some common concerns and conspiracies before they could take root, consistently reminding voters of the mechanics of the process. “There are observers in that same room until the very last ballot is counted,” Wolfe said. “There really is no part of the election administration process that’s done behind a locked door.”

“All across the state, the process went smoothly,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said after the polls closed on Tuesday evening. “Voters were in and out of their polling places quickly and comfortably. This is one of the marks of a successful election.” She noted that Michigan had a record number of mail-in ballots, and cautioned residents to be aware of “bad actors” who would seek to “exploit traditionally mundane and harmless issues” to spread false election information or conspiracies.

Roughly seven in 10 midterm voters said that they think U.S. democracy is “threatened”, including 72% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans, while 28% said they thought it was “secure,” according to exit polling by Edison Research. But two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats also said that they were at least somewhat confident that elections were being conducted fairly and accurately in their state.

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Write to Vera Bergengruen at vera.bergengruen@time.com