Manufactured Chaos is on a Collision Course with the 2022 Midterms

In recent weeks (and as recently as yesterday), I’ve written about various midterm election tactics that I’ve called “Manufactured Chaos.” Lately, I’ve been thinking more specifically about what the *post-election counting period* is likely to look like, and I’m very troubled

Until recent years – with some exceptions – the post-election period was uncontroversial and routine. It involved counting the votes, accepting facts, declaring outcomes and transferring power efficiently and peacefully.

(Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

But no more

My greatest concern? The post-election period is likely to be the start of a new disinformation cycle. Why? A democratic consensus on the legitimacy of election administration processes no longer exists, and an increasing number of election deniers are trying to normalize the idea that any outcome other than their victory is prima facie evidence of malfeasance and “cheating.”

This troubling development means that post-Election Day will be the start of a new campaign to undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of election outcomes. This year, a whole new battlefield has been cultivated, and it will be a long slog.

In 2020, a common refrain was “results should be reported promptly on election night; if they’re not, it probably indicates some kind of “shenanigans.” But In 2022, election deniers are poised to drag out the transfer of power, with weeks or months of procedural and legal wrangling.

What will “Manufactured Chaos” look like, post-election?

  • Claims of irregularities without evidence
  • Claims of voting technology problems based on lack of context
  • Spurious and overwhelming demands for public records
  • Legal attacks on local procedures and laws

More examples of chaos likely to come:

Example #1: The very idea that it takes time to count mail-in ballots is now regarded as suspicious. Disinformation has spread the idea that in 2020 “they stopped the election in the middle of the night.”

Example #2: Nevada is an entire state awash in disinformation.

Example #3: Distrust of voting technology is leading to hasty, ill-planned decisions to hand count ballots in the final weeks of the election. This is a bad idea, one that is likely to result in errors and delays. The process of hand counting takes extensive planning, documented procedures and rigorous training.

You might be thinking: “Don’t citizens have a right to transparency? Isn’t it okay to ‘ask questions?’” Of course, we should expect transparency and accountability in democratic elections. But that doesn’t make it okay to deny reality. There are facts, and facts matter.

It’s often said that in a democracy, elections determine “who won.” But it’s even more important in a democracy is that the losers accept that they lost, fair and square. We have evidence that this is no longer the case.

In the face of those who claim they are “just asking questions,” we must also hold them accountable to facts. And when facts debunk conspiratorial narratives, it’s logical to ask, 

What’s the end-game of an ever-shifting litany of ‘just asking questions?’”

Why do it?

Manufactured Chaos is Orwellian

Despite the stated goal of “election integrity,” to election deniers, only some outcomes are acceptable. And if results don’t go their way, they will employ tactics to sow doubt in election administration processes.

The danger: Post-election manufactured chaos provides daily fuel for an escalating disinformation campaign—and the doubt is used to justify extraordinary actions that *further* undermine democracy – like state legislatures overturning the popular vote.

Based on what we’re seeing so far, I am especially concerned about post-election manufactured chaos we are likely to see in six key states: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In short, I fear manufactured chaos is on a collision course with the midterms.

So what can we do about it? What should we be on the lookout for? And how can we avoid such a democracy train-wreck?

As we assess post-election “reviews,” we should demand six things:

  1. Bipartisanship/impartiality
  2. Precision
  3. Documented procedures
  4. Rigorous training
  5. Clear standards for interpretation of voter marks
  6. Clear standards to resolve discrepancies among human reviewers

As we assess post-election “reviews,” all of the following should be regarded as red flags:

  • Claims of irregularities without any evidence of wrongdoing 
  • Untrained personnel with no elections experience 
  • Operations run by intensely partisan election deniers
  • Ongoing “audits” after election professionals have already run them 
  • Keeping procedures sealed from the public
  • Constantly changing procedures 
  • No definable end in sight

And finally, the clearest red flags that “just asking questions” during the post-election cycle is actually a dangerous disinformation machine:

  • Using post-election reviews for fundraising (read: “grift“)
  • Intimidating or harassing election officials

Post-election manufactured chaos is like throwing sand in the gears of democracy in effort to grind the whole process to a halt — and candidly, my concern is that it’s being done precisely so that more radical anti-democratic “solutions” can be justified.

Stay vigilant.

Facts still matter.

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