Americans head to the polls Tuesday for an election that has state and local officials across the country on edge as they brace for potential problems at the polls, contentious legal fights over ballots and fighting disinformation about the vote itself.
More than 41 million pre-election ballots were cast in 47 states, and officials are expecting high turnout on Election Day, too, for the congressional, state and gubernatorial contests that will determine control of Congress and state legislative chambers.
Most of the tens of millions who will cast ballots on Tuesday will do so without issue, in an election where early voting has been ahead of 2018 levels.
At the same time, election officials are grappling newfound pressures in the midst of a hyper-polarized political climate that’s seen the vote itself come under a sustained barrage of attacks and disinformation for the better part of two years amid repeated false claims from former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen.
State and local officials and voting rights advocates have raised the alarm that the political attacks have sparked an exodus of local elections officials in charge of the vote amid a marked rise in threats of violence against election workers.
Early voting has provided a preview of the potential issues both big and small that could arise on Election Day, from armed ballot box watchers in Arizona accused of conspiring to intimidate voters to a legal fight over technical errors invalidating mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.
In all, there have been approximately 120 legal cases surrounding voting filed as of November 3, compared to 68 before election day in 2020. More than half of the cases have sought to restrict access to the ballot, according to the Democracy Docket, a liberal-leaning voting rights and media platform that tracks election litigation.
In Pennsylvania, some counties are urging voters to correct absentee ballots with missing or improper dates that the state Supreme Court ordered to be set aside, while a federal legal challenge over is still looming. In Michigan, meanwhile, a judge rejected a lawsuit Monday from the GOP secretary of state candidate seeking to throw out absentee ballots in Democratic-heavy Detroit.
Georgia’s Cobb County on Monday extended the deadline for roughly 1,000 absentee ballots to be turned in until November 14, after the ballots were not mailed out until just days before Election Day due to procedural errors in the election office.
Beyond the legal fights, elections officials are anticipating possible conflict with election deniers who have harassed and threatened officials over the 2020 election and prepared for aggressive monitoring of the upcoming midterm contest.
In Arizona, the secretary of state’s office has sent 18 referrals to law enforcement related to drop-box intimidation, including a threatening message toward a government worker and several voters reporting being filmed at drop box locations in Maricopa County last week. A federal judge earlier this month imposed new restrictions against a right-wing group in the state following complaints about aggressive patrols of ballot boxes in the state, including blocking the members from openly carrying guns or wearing body armor.
Federal officials have warned that domestic violent extremists pose a heightened threat to the 2022 midterms.
The weather is also an unpredictable variable: In Florida, Subtropical Storm Nicole is bearing down on the state and expected to bring rain and gusty winds to the state on Election Day before it could strengthen to a hurricane and making landfall Wednesday.
As the votes come in and begin to be process and counted on Tuesday, election officials are on guard for conspiracy theories that often spread like wildfire but are flatly untrue.
Because laws in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan prevent the early processing of mail-in ballots, those states could take several days before all the votes are counted. In Pennsylvania, where the Senate race could determine which party controls the chamber, a “red mirage” is expected because Election Day votes, which are expected include more Republicans, are likely to be tabulating before mail-in ballots, which more Democrats are expected to use.
The opposite could be true in Arizona, where mail-in ballots are processed as soon as they are received, meaning those ballots will be the first counted after the polls close.