There was a combination of superlative hysteria and political opportunism behind the warnings about the end of democracy leading up to last week’s elections, but it wasn’t inconceivable that we’d have flare-ups of violence and intimidation, that people who embrace the fantasy that the 2020 elections were rigged would be elected in large numbers or in particularly sensitive positions or that we’d end up with a new round of baseless allegations about stolen elections.
So even beyond the normal celebrating that we should do after every U.S. election marks the continuation of this nation’s extraordinary success at constitutional government and representative democracy, it’s worth giving a special cheer that none of the predicted horrible outcomes happened this year.
Oh, we’re sure there were attempts to intimidate voters into giving up and going home — there always have been. But nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that we’re even aware of here in South Carolina. (Not that South Carolina was expected to be a hotbed of that sort of thing.)
And there were a few election deniers elected — and more than a few reelected, although it’s not clear how many of them actually believe such nonsense and how many are just still convinced they have to pander to less-than-rational voters. But the big news out of Nov. 8 was how many of them were rejected.
Likewise, there are losing candidates who claim without any evidence that the election was stolen. But nobody who has the sort of megaphone that 2020’s sorest sore loser had, and so nobody whose baseless claims will be able to dominate the nation’s conversation in the coming weeks, months and years.
Instead, we survived Election 2022 with something for everybody to be happy about, although that’s perhaps more of a challenge for South Carolina Democrats than Republicans, or than Democrats in other states: Republicans deepened the ruby-red hue of South Carolina and apparently took control of the U.S. House. Democrats managed to hold onto the U.S. Senate and prevent the expected House bloodbath.
Those of us in the sensible center celebrate being in a position to hope that this year's losses by so many candidates backed by the former president could lead rational Republicans to reject another Donald Trump candidacy — and to hope that the apparent success of Republicans in taking back the majority in the U.S. House will lead rational Democrats to back away from some of their less-than-centrist positions. It’s a dum spiro spero kind of hope, to be sure, but it’s far better than facing depression over the certainty that both parties would accelerate their retreat from the center.
To be clear, there was never reason to worry that South Carolina would be overtaken by candidates who claim our election process is corrupt and the results can’t be trusted; although some officials have gone further than we’d like to appeal to voters who signed on to the paranoia, the challengers who based their campaigns on such claims were rejected in the GOP primary in June. Indeed, Republicans and Democrats in our Legislature worked together this spring to pass a law that addressed actual problems with our state election law and reject the overreaches on both the right and left that we’ve seen in other states.
As a result of this new law, more than a third of our state's voters — 619,441 — were able to cast their ballots early, mostly through the state’s new early voting option but also through the mother-may-I absentee process. In both raw numbers and percentages, that’s far more pre-Election Day voting than we’ve ever seen except in 2020, when the Legislature temporarily authorized a quasi-early-voting process at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve heard no reports of problems with that law in the general election. We did, however, identify several problems in the primary process, most notably a too-short turnaround time for returning absentee votes during runoff elections and too-short windows for filing appeals after the primaries and runoffs when there’s a holiday during that period. So we would once again call on lawmakers to tweak the law to fix those problems.
On the downside, only 51% of registered S.C. voters participated in the general election, which is in line with typical off-year elections but down dramatically from presidential election year turnout of two-thirds to three-quarters of registered voters. And all of those numbers are less impressive considering more than 600,000 S.C. adults aren’t registered to vote, which means only about 43% of adults in our state voted.
If our legislators want to improve those numbers (and they certainly should want to improve them), they’d do well to consider a different kind of election reform — ranked-choice voting, for instance — that can reduce the role political parties play in our government and make the general election more meaningful. They also could try ditching the made-for-Twitter distortions and distractions and focusing instead on working together to solve actual problems, like they did with the election reform law that helped give us another reason to celebrate the vitality of our election system.