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In 1980, because I was an idealistic conservative eager to do my bit for democracy, I volunteered for my local Republican Party as a poll watcher. When polls closed, election officials asked us to gather around as they opened the backs of the machines one by one and tallied the votes. We could all see what was happening, and we all gave our assent that the totals were correct.

It was a glimpse into the ordinary yet extraordinary system we've devised over decades and centuries to ensure that elections are performed honestly and securely. Each state has developed its own procedures, but they're all broadly similar. The results of each polling location are delivered to the precinct and then on to the canvassing board. Election administrators are observed by partisans of both parties, and the results are often counted more than once.

Our voting systems in America have not always been perfect — the most glaring flaw being the disenfranchisement of many African Americans until the mid-20th century — but we corrected that, and over time and in most places, we've conducted free and fair elections every two years.

Today, that stability is at risk.

Across the country, candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election are seeking office in order to prepare the ground for the next election contest. Pardoned Trump ally Steve Bannon is encouraging MAGAites to run for local posts with authority to count votes. Bannon uses his popular podcast to tout "taking over the Republican party through the precinct committee strategy ... It's about winning elections with the right people — MAGA people. We will have our people in at every level."


At least 23 candidates who deny the outcome of the 2020 election are running for secretary of state in 19 states. Among those are battleground states that Joe Biden won narrowly: Michigan, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. Trump has endorsed candidates in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan, the only time in history that a former president has bestirred himself over races so far down the ballot. "We're seeing a dangerous trend of election deniers lining up to fill election administration positions across the country," Joanna Lydgate, chief executive of the States United Democracy Center, told The Guardian. States United also tallies 53 election deniers seeking governorships in 25 states, and 13 election deniers running for attorney general in 13 states.

Additionally, death threats and intimidation from MAGA extremists have caused one in five election administrators to say they will leave their posts before 2024. The most common explanation is that too many politicians were attacking "a system that they know is fair and honest" and that the job was too stressful. A February survey of 596 local election officials found that they spanned the political spectrum pretty evenly — 26% identified as Democrats, 30% as Republicans and 44% as independents. A majority said they were worried about attempts to interfere with their work in future elections.

While MAGA types are beavering away, attempting to stack election boards and other posts with election-denying zealots, what are other Americans doing? The clock is ticking.

Democrats are likely to have a tough election in November — not that widespread Republican victories will cause election deniers to reconsider their belief that the 2020 race was stolen. But while Democrats are likely to lose seats in the House and Senate, local elections may not be so lopsided, particularly if the craziness of some of these candidates is highlighted. Kristina Karamo, for example, the Trump-endorsed secretary of state candidate in Michigan, claims that she personally witnessed fraudulent vote-counting in 2020, that Trump won her state (Biden won it by 154,000 votes) and that left-wing anarchists attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Some Republicans, it should not be forgotten, continue to uphold the integrity of elections; a handful of honest Republicans saved the country from a potentially disastrous constitutional crisis in 2020.

If past is prologue, Democrats will probably pour money into unwinnable races over the next few months. Remember Amy McGrath? She was supposed to dethrone Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Democratic donors gave her $88 million. Remember Jaime Harrison? He was going to defeat Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Donors shoveled $130 million his way. Harrison lost by a 10-point margin. McGrath lost by nearly 20 points. The list goes on. Beto O'Rourke, anyone? (Republicans do this, too. Just look at the money wasted in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's district.)

This year, donors are spending millions in an attempt to unseat the execrable Marjorie Taylor Greene. Sigh. Trump won Greene's district with 75% of the vote. This. Won't. Work.

Democrats, independents and sane Republicans should focus instead on the critical local contests that will determine who counts the votes in 2024. Those unsexy races for local positions and administrative posts like secretaries of state could make the difference in 2024 between an election and a coup.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is "Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense." To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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