Election Deniers Running To Oversee Voting Mostly Lost : The NPR Politics Podcast Michigan's Jocelyn Benson and Minnesota's Steve Simon beat election deniers to oversee voting systems in their states. A key race in Arizona remains undecided. Nationwide, no major violence broke out at polling sites and losing candidates have generally chosen to concede rather than raise allegations of fraud.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, voting correspondent Miles Parks, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Election Deniers Running To Oversee Voting Mostly Lost

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ROSEMARY: Hi. This is Rosemary from Washington State. I have traveled to Banner Elk, N.C., to attend the 45th Annual Woolly Worm Festival. The crowd is cheering right now for the racing woolly worms. This podcast is recorded at...

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

1:11 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, the 10 of November.

ROSEMARY: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, like my favorite woolly worm, Wormston Churchill (ph), will hopefully have won the right to predict the official winter forecast. Enjoy the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KEITH: So this is like a groundhog without, like, a spinal column.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: (Laughter) I don't know what it is, but that for - whoever - thank you to that listener. I feel like you can tell when somebody understands the art of audio. I feel like I was there. You know, I was watching those worms race.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Wormston Churchill. That's all I have to say.

KEITH: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KEITH: There are multiple close races in the House yet to be decided. And control of the Senate could be decided sometime in the next week or not until next month. There's a runoff in Georgia set for December 6. So, Domenico, let's start with the Senate. Democrats are up one with their flip of the Pennsylvania Senate race. That means Republicans need to pick up two of the three undecided competitive races still outstanding to take control of the Senate. So where do things stand?

MONTANARO: Yeah, that's right. That's essentially it. I mean, we're watching Arizona and Nevada in particular because we know Georgia is going to the runoff on December 6. There's a lot of votes still out in places like Maricopa County in Arizona. That won't be counted until tomorrow afternoon. They estimate about 95% of the vote will be in at that point. You know, Democrats are optimistic about both races, that they have paths to hold in Arizona and to overcome the slight margin that Adam Laxalt, the Republican in Nevada, is clinging to right now. If that were to happen, Democrats would retain control of the Senate, which is something that we probably won't find out about until the earliest, I'd say Saturday, late Saturday, because in Nevada, you can send mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day and no later than four days after Election Day at 5 p.m., which would be Saturday at 5 p.m..

KEITH: So that explains a little bit of why this is taking forever. But, Miles, can you just explain, why do some states take so much longer than other states? Why is it that, once again, we are waiting on Nevada and Arizona?

PARKS: The biggest thing is that mail ballots just take longer to process than in-person votes do. I mean, the security measures that go into processing a mail ballot involved - in, you know, in some cases signature checks, that bipartisan group of election workers making sure everything's on the up and up, and then they count those ballots. I think the thing that gets lost here is just how big some of these counties are. I mean, Maricopa County, Ariz., is one of the largest voting jurisdictions in the country. And we also saw them have a huge number of mail ballots come in at the very last minute, come in on Election Day.

Just for scale here, more voters dropped off their mail ballots on Election Day in Maricopa County than the entire amount of votes that came in in the Wyoming governor's race in this entire midterm cycle, just on the day, on Election Day, and just the mail ballots. So the sheer mass of pieces of paper that election officials have to go through and do their security checks on, it takes time. To be fair, it's only been a couple days. We said it's going to take a couple of days. It's going exactly as planned. I don't think people need to freak out. But people are going to do what they're going to do.

KEITH: Domenico, quickly, on the House, there are a few dozen races left to call in at this point. Control of the House is not fully determined yet.

MONTANARO: Yeah. At this point, Republicans have picked up about 209 seats, Democrats 185. You need 218 for a majority. There are 41 races that have not yet been called at this taping. So Republicans would need nine more seats for control, which is about 20% of the remaining uncalled races. My estimated range at this point is about half a dozen to a dozen pickups for Republicans overall, certainly at the lower end of what forecasters had been projecting earlier on. And it certainly makes for a very tight potential majority for the potential speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy.

KEITH: Miles, you have been following these races for secretary of state. That is the state officials who would be in charge of elections. And you are watching a lot of them. Some of them had candidates who were conspiracy theorists and election deniers, particularly on the Republican side. How did that end up shaking out?

PARKS: So we're still waiting like everybody on results in Arizona and Nevada. But on a whole, what we've seen - and we should be clear, election deniers were running to oversee voting in every competitive state where there was a secretary of state race. So we've been watching, you know, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan kind of are top of mind. But then we also had folks running in Minnesota, in New Mexico. By and large, election deniers have been losing these races. They've already lost in Minnesota and New Mexico. And then the race was called for incumbent Secretary Jocelyn Benson yesterday. And so we're still waiting to see in Arizona and Nevada how the Democrats there do. But Democrats feel really good that - good about their chances of potentially sweeping these secretary of state races. And I just got off the phone with Jocelyn Benson of Michigan. And what she said is that voters have spoken basically. They don't want an election denier in charge of voting.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And I think that that really is reflective. We're starting to get a picture of the issue set that was really important in these elections. And we talked about the cross-currents heading into this election of inflation being super important to a lot of people, but also the issue of preserving democracy that had popped in polls and, of course, abortion rights, which I think was a huge motivator, maybe the big motivator for Democrats in this election to where this is really likely to be an asterisk election with some of the smaller pickups that are likely for party out of power.

PARKS: Yeah. It's going to be really interesting looking at some of the specific races in the next couple of weeks. One of the things I've noticed is that in Nevada, you know, some of these Republican voters who had clearly voted for Republicans higher up on the ticket for - in the Senate race, for instance, when they came to the secretary of state race and they were faced with potentially voting for somebody like Republican Jim Marchant, who's running there and who's said he wants to roll back early voting and get rid of mail ballots and things like that. They decided instead, more than 10,000 of them, to choose this option that they have in Nevada that just says none of these candidates.

KEITH: Wow. And also, I think it's notable that also independent voters were motivated by many of the same things that Democratic voters were motivated by, which is not always the way it goes in a midterm. Frequently, the independents would go for the party out of power.

So let's talk about another element of democracy - a very important part of a functioning political system, which is concessions. We talked about this a little bit on the pod yesterday, but I wanted to dig into it deeper today. You had a lot of people who were Trump-backed candidates who went along with his election lies, who, ultimately, though, when they lost their races, have conceded. Has the trend been towards concessions, or has the trend been away from concessions?

PARKS: Election deniers have had a playbook, and it looks very similar to the playbook that former President Trump used leading up to the 2020 election. There were kind of lawsuits arguing that mail ballots should be invalidated in a lot of places, and there was lots of misinformation being thrown around about the election system not being trustworthy. And so it was reasonable to assume that, in the time after Election Day, some of these candidates would behave the same way, but we largely haven't seen it. It was interesting. I said I was talking to Secretary Benson of Michigan earlier, and she said she got - actually got emotional watching the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan concede.

JOCELYN BENSON: When Tudor Dixon conceded and Matt DePerno conceded, I got choked up a little bit because, to me, that was, like, the affirmation that we did it. We actually ran a smooth election. There were folks who were ready, as we're seeing in other states, to pounce on anything. And indeed, some - including as you know, the former president - did try to pounce, but it wasn't - it didn't work.

PARKS: So what she credits is just the work of local and state election workers, like - as kind of preparing for the worst case scenario may have actually dissuaded some of these folks from kind of pushing some of these lies.

KEITH: All right. We're going to take a quick break. And when we get back - President Biden's take on the election.

And we're back. And President Biden's party may still lose control of one or both houses of Congress, but he did, yesterday, take a victory lap in a press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look, the predictions were - and again, I'm not being critical of anybody who made the prediction I got it, OK? There was supposed be a red wave. You guys - you were talking about us losing 30 to 50 seats, and this was going to - we're nowhere - that's not going to happen.

PARKS: Tam, you were watching that press conference. What did you make of it?

KEITH: He was confident. He was relaxed. He had sort of an I-told-you-so vibe, and he was relatively unapologetic. He was asked in a few different ways, you know, how is his approach going to change, especially if there's divided government? And he said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BIDEN: I'm not going to change anything in any fundamental way.

KEITH: You know, he said that he would defend his party's legislative accomplishments with a veto pen. And he wished Republicans luck if they want to spend the next two years investigating him and his son Hunter and anything else - sort of the implication being, beware, you could overreach.

MONTANARO: You know, clearly, Democratic incumbents had a very good night overall. You know, Republicans underperformed in the House. But I think President Biden and some other Democratic officials and activists are kind of, you know, maybe going a bit far when it comes to how great a night it was or which groups, for example, really propelled them to victory. You know, I've heard a lot about the youth vote, for example, being record high. So far, the evidence is just not there for that. It looks like young voters, for example, voted at about the same clip as they have in the last few elections and in some places by a wider margin for the Democratic candidate and in other places not. So, you know, I think we just have to be cautious about all of that until we can really get all of the numbers in.

KEITH: You know, I think that what the president is reflecting is that they did beat history.

MONTANARO: Yes.

KEITH: They beat precedent. It doesn't mean that the next two years are going to be a walk in the park. And it may well be that the only thing that they can accomplish is, maybe, possibly funding the government.

MONTANARO: But Democrats have a lot to feel good about, and it is going to be a difficult majority for McCarthy to manage if it's only, you know, 2 to 7 seats or something like that. You know, we remember what happened last time there was a Republican speaker who had a restive GOP conference that had a significant portion of pretty hard-line conservatives, and he wound up being ousted - John Boehner.

KEITH: And Paul Ryan, basically, also...

MONTANARO: Yes, I know. Exactly.

KEITH: ...Just not an easy job. All right, Miles, before we go, I just want to come back to the question of, you know, heading into this election, there was a lot of concern that there could be violence - that there could be conspiracy theories about voting that propelled people to take dangerous actions. It doesn't seem like anything big has happened in that regard.

PARKS: Right. No news is good news in that space, right? And I think I have been feeling the same way, where I went into this week expecting - you know, there have been so much concern about all of these things. And where it's just - I just got off the phone with the secretary of state of New Mexico, and she said the way she's been feeling is she's waiting for the other shoe to drop. Basically, this week has gone so well, and there haven't been conspiracy theories. They popped up, especially in places like Arizona, but they don't seem to be having that same hold over people. We're seeing videos of the outside of, you know, ballot tabulator centers, for instance, where, in the time after voting in 2020, these places - people were going wild. They were banging on windows. They were - there was, like, this tension in the air.

And you see now - you know, I heard one election official say that, you know, the vote counting center was serene. And so people just are not - do not seem to be riled up in the same way as they were in 2020. And election officials obviously still have to get through the certification process over the next couple of weeks. And then, looking ahead at a 2024 race that potentially has Trump on the ticket again, they're not declaring victory at this point. But I think they are saying, oh, wow. We were able to get through this thing pretty well.

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, I guess the thing about shoes dropping is you don't know when it's going to happen.

PARKS: Yeah. And you got to stay on guard.

KEITH: All right. Well, let's leave it there for today. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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