Christina Baal-Owens: The Next Battle for Our Democracy Is In Our Own Communities

01.05.2024 Christina Baal-Owens, Executive Director

On January 6, 2021, America watched as a violent mob, incited, funded, and organized by former President Trump and his cronies, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. Three years later, election denialism has become a cornerstone of the Republican party, moving beyond just Trump and his ‘Big Lie’. Multiple candidates in 2022 challenged their election results, spread disinformation about voting, and refused to concede in their races. Members of Congress with ties to Trump and election denialism are the de-facto leaders of the party. Trump is the likely Republican presidential nominee, careening towards a 2024 election centered on our democracy.

January 6 was just one facet of a decades-long effort to undermine our democracy and chip away at our fundamental rights. The next battleground for our democracy isn’t in a pivotal Senate race or swing state Congressional seat; it’s our local elections.

After struggling to win high-profile races in 2022, election deniers are running- and winning- locally. Our democracy and elections are the most vulnerable at the grassroots level. Many of these positions, such as state representative, county recorder, or sheriff, are filled in off-cycle years. They are unknown to the average voter, have outdated and complex rules, and can be appointed positions. Candidates often run unopposed in these races and local politics and policies are difficult to track state by state. These candidates face less scrutiny, fewer resources, and less competition at the state and local level, but they have an outsized impact on our democratic system at every level of government. Election deniers are seeping into the fabric of our communities, compromising the very fundamentals of civic participation and democracy.

Our democracy is under siege, right in our own neighborhoods. The Election Threat Index found that in Arizona, 53.3% of all Arizonans are represented by election deniers serving in the state legislature. They are actively engaged in eroding democratic norms and values; 48% of these election deniers introduced anti-democratic legislation and 84% voted in favor of similar legislation. They are making it harder to vote, altering how votes are counted, changing the control of election results, and instilling chaos and distrust within our local election administration. Arizona is not an outlier. Election deniers are running for office in every single state, with election deniers positioned to play an outsized impact in battleground states like Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Election deniers aren’t just making decisions about voting and elections. The same people who attempted to overthrow our government are the same people who overturned Roe v Wade, refuse to pass meaningful gun legislation, attack our LGBTQIA+ community, and try to control what books our children read. They are also the people who decide which schools and hospitals get funded and which communities have safe infrastructure. This is an all-out assault on our basic freedoms, starting with our right to vote.

It is because of these assaults on our freedoms that my team at Public Wise and I are committed to identifying these local officials, examining how their actions in office impact democracy, working with grassroots organizations to hold these individuals accountable, and electing pro-democracy candidates. My team has launched the Insurrection Index in 2022 and now the Election Threat Index in 2024, and as we head into this pivotal election year, we are determined to put necessary information into the hands of those who are represented by and directly affected by the decisions of these election deniers.

Threats to our democracy don’t begin and end in Congress or the White House. It’s decades and generations of election deniers winning control of local election administration positions across the country, undermining trust in our political process, sowing chaos and fear, and threatening our right to vote. A victory for democracy in 2024 means defeating election deniers at every level of government, not just the presidential. We need to volunteer, fundraise, run, and organize. We need to understand who our local election deniers are, what they’re voting for, and how their votes influence our right to vote. We are on the frontlines of our democracy, the first line of defense. The future of our democracy depends on us.