What Now? Reflections on Post-Election Democracy in America

November 9, 2022 | 2:55 pm
"What Now?" neon signphotofunia
Michael Latner
Senior Voting Rights Fellow

Yesterday was largely good for democracy. But the fight for political equality is about to get more difficult.

The good news is that a majority of voters still appears to support democracy as we know it. While several Trumpist candidates did prevail (Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, Sen.s J.D. Vance and Ron Johnson in Ohio and Wisconsin, respectively), many of the most virulent candidates went down “harder than Donald Trump at the Mar a Lago waffle station,” in the words of strategist Rick Wilson.

More importantly, the national investment in protecting everyone’s right to vote is paying off. Yesterday, despite a few isolated events, elections went forward without major outbreaks of violence or disruption. I credit that to the work of thousands of volunteers and election experts from hundreds of organizations who provided oversight, guidance, and protections to voters and election officials across the country.  The Department of Justice’s oversight also likely contributed to the safety and security of the millions who turned out yesterday to vote.

Election protection will continue until all elections are decided, and we need to continue to support these organizations. We have to be vigilant about guaranteeing that every vote is counted, especially in states such as Arizona and Nevada where ballots are still being counted and tight races may determine partisan control of the Senate.

Strong turnout

Turnout was high—in some places higher than in 2018 (See Table 1). While Arizona and Nevada are still counting a lot of ballots, it is clear that people in several big cities turned out in significant numbers. Turnout in Allegheny County, home of successful Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman, for instance, surpassed 2018. We can do a deeper dive when official results are available.

County (city)2022/20182022/2020
Maricopa (Phoenix), AZ74%51%
Pima (Tucson), AZ61%46%
Fulton (Atlanta), GA99%80%
Wayne (Detroit), MI76%60%
Clark (Las Vegas), NV91%61%
Cuyahoga (Cleveland), OH82%64%
Allegheny (Pittsburgh), PA103%77%
Philadelphia, PA80%61%
Harris (Houston), TX70%51%
Table 1. 2022 turnout as a percentage of turnout in 2018 and 2020 in select cities.

What’s to come

In the House, several contests remain undecided, although it appears that the Republican Party will win a slim majority of seats. If that pattern holds, it means that partisan gerrymandering will have played a major role in securing that majority. We may even see an election inversion, where a majority of voters support Democratic candidates nationally, but Republicans win a majority of seats.

On the one hand, gerrymandering was limited in this cycle through more use of independent redistricting commissions and court-litigated mapping. On the other hand, federal courts allowed four states (Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Mississippi) to hold Congressional elections using illegal, gerrymandered maps that will be relitigated next year. And the prospects for relitigating are not great: the Ohio Supreme Court gained new Republican members as did the North Carolina Supreme Court, so we should expect those GOP-controlled legislatures to try to push through even worse gerrymanders.

The upshot is that the lame duck Congress must prioritize electoral integrity, pass a revised Electoral Count Act, and move to secure adequate election infrastructure prior to the end of the term. Unfortunately, even with a closely divided House and Senate, electoral reform is not an area where we are likely to see bipartisan cooperation.