But perhaps the biggest statement on democracy came in Michigan, where voters rejected by wide margins a string of Republican election deniers running for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. They also embraced an amendment to the state constitution that expands voting rights and makes it much harder for officials to subvert voters’ will. In the process, they flipped the legislature using new legislative maps prepared by an impartial committee, giving Democrats full control of the state government for the first time in 40 years.
All of that led Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) to make a bold prediction, one that may have seemed far-fetched before the vote: “Democracy will ultimately emerge from this period stronger than ever before — more robust, healthier, with more people who are involved and believe in it then maybe in 2018 or 2019.”
On other battlefields across the country, voters rejected election deniers, but in many cases not as decisively as in the Great Lakes states. Katie Hobbs (D) defeated election denier Kari Lake (R) by a narrow margin in the race for governor in Arizona and in Nevada, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) narrowly withstood a challenge from election denier Adam Laxalt (R).
Denial is one of many issues expected to figure prominently in Georgia’s runoff election next month between Senator Raphael G. Warnock (D) and Republican Herschel Walker, who has embraced Trump’s lies about the 2020 election .
Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan Republican Party executive who now works for the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said Democrats performed exceptionally well in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin as they sharpened their appeal to voters in a range of states that for Trump in 2016, only to return to their pattern of Democratic voting in presidential elections in 2020.
Evers, Shapiro and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) showed they come from “the ruling, pragmatic wing of the party,” he said.
“They were in no way seen as some kind of fire-breathing ideologues,” Timmer said. “I think those three campaigns generally set the template for national Dems to look at winning purple states.”
A more mixed picture emerged in the state of Ohio on the Great Lakes. JD Vance (R), who falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen, won his bid for the Senate. But three other election deniers running in competitive Ohio House districts lost.
Keep track of which election deniers win, lose in the meantime
The relatively smooth election process and rejection of election deniers was encouraging to many election officials who had seen the systems they run undermined by Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“It doesn’t mean the denial is gone,” said Chris Thomas, Michigan’s former election director. “But we might be able to grab some of those people who are closely associated with the Trump operation and independents to take a breather and say, ‘Yeah, okay, this system worked.'”
Michigan’s approval of the state’s voting rights amendment comes four years after voters passed by a wide margin a measure that establishes absentee voting without excuse and allows people to register to vote at the polls.
The voting rights amendment was overshadowed by an amendment guaranteeing the right to abortion, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters. Another amendment approved by voters last week changed the way term limits work in the state.
The new voting rights change, approved with 60 percent of the vote, goes far. It provides for nine days of early voting, expands the use of ballot boxes and allows voters who do not carry photo ID to cast their votes by signing affidavits confirming they are who they say they are.
“Voters want safe and accessible elections,” said Christina Schlitt, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. “And we heard loud and clear from Michigan voters…that all parties rejected attacks on democracy and elections.”
The same message was delivered in Pennsylvania, said Sharif Street, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and a state senator. There, Democrats won the races for governor and U.S. senator and are poised to take control of the lower chamber of the legislature for the first time since 2010.
“There was no red wave. There wasn’t even a red sprinkle,” Street said. “Obviously we are still a very purple state in terms of voter attitudes. But I think Democrats are offering pragmatic solutions and Doug Mastriano is divisive rhetoric.”
In Michigan, state legislators and election secretaries will now turn to implementing the new amendment that expands voting access. One of the biggest changes is the transition to a new form of early voting.
Michigan has allowed voters to mail absentee ballots or fill them out at the clerk’s office. In both cases, the clerks did not count absentee ballots until Election Day. Under the new provision, voters will have the option of going to early voting centers, filling out ballots and entering them into voting tables. The machines can quickly calculate election day results, easing the workload for clerks and reducing the likelihood that election deniers would use vote count delays to promote false claims.
Clerks will have to deal with a number of logistical issues, including finding places to vote for nine days and safely store their equipment overnight. Small towns will in many cases have to make arrangements with other jurisdictions to help them with early voting.
Mary Clark, the clerk of Delta Township, near Lansing, said she hopes the amendment will increase turnout.
“We are a nation that has the freedom to vote,” she said. “In some areas there is low participation. I think it’s up to us to provide opportunities to make it easier and meet voters’ needs.”
The amendment also establishes a basic right to vote, giving citizens the opportunity to block laws or policies that they believe interfere with their ability to vote.
The amendment strengthens requirements that election officials certify results that reflect voters’ wills and prohibits partisan election reviews like the one in Arizona in 2021 that was conducted by a firm with no experience in investigating elections.
Each community will be required to have at least one ballot box under the new amendment. Those with larger populations will need to have one drop box for every 15,000 registered voters.
In addition, under the amendment, voters may automatically receive their absentee ballots for all elections. That will make voting easier, but will require election officials to closely monitor when people move to ensure ballots are sent to the correct address.
Lansing town clerk Chris Swope said he is not concerned about the additional duties he and his staff will have to take on.
“For me, this is a voter-positive measure,” he said.