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The Clock is Still Ticking on America’s Democracy

By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.

Despite a cascade of threats against election workers and officials across the country, the worst did not materialize on Election Day. I’d braced myself for altercations and outright violence at polling places, so it was with some relief that all we had to endure was:

  • A bomb scare at an early voting site in Manhattan on Sun. Nov. 6.

  • Reports of voter intimidation by as yet unknown individuals in North Carolina and by armed poll watchers in Arizona.

  • Glitches with voting machines in Arizona and New Jersey that were quickly cited by conspiracy theorists and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake as evidence that the elections were rigged. Never mind that voting in Arizona is overseen by the GOP. Having a remedy in place was still viewed with suspicion by Lake and her allies who condemned — as a corrupt attempt to “slow roll” (Lake’s term) outcome — the time-consuming efforts to carefully tabulate the vote.

I suspect that the ongoing prosecutions of militia members and other extremists for their involvement in the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol and the foiled plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has had a chilling effect on those who would use organized force to sway the outcome of elections. But there is still plenty of time for things to go terribly wrong.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has vowed that her party’s candidates will accept results of voting only “after the process” has played out — the “process,” one can only assume, being a full slate of recounts, audits, legal challenges (at least 120 lawsuits have been filed against voting procedures in various states), and appeals (one assumes all the way to the Supreme Court). That will take weeks.

Some losers, such as Blake Masters in Arizona, refused to concede. It’s most likely just a show for the GOP base, but the pot will continue to boil as Donald Trump, losing candidates, sympathetic Republicans and right-wing media outlets continue to feed the nation disinformation and baseless charges of voter fraud.

Allegations of chicanery rile the base, particularly in the fraught battleground state of Arizona. Never mind that years of investigations by the George W. Bush and Trump administrations failed to find any significant systemic problems with our election systems, or that 60+ court challenges were rejected in 2020 for lack of evidence or legal standing.

Fortunately, election deniers who ran for office have succeeded only in GOP-dominated states, so the election process in key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan will remain out of their hands for 2024. But in the days and weeks ahead, I won’t be surprised if we see some lone wolf political terror attacks of the kind I wrote about last week.

A reprise of Jan. 6 will almost surely happen at some point if the perpetrators of the first attempt to overturn a national election are not held to meaningful account. Trump and the GOP have proved that many Americans accept violence as “legitimate political discourse” and even expect it.

What lies ahead appears to be two years of bitter gridlock in Washington where little is done to address the problems that candidates raged about on the campaign trail (not that many specific plans were presented), let alone shore up our democratic process. This do-nothing period will be a great luxury for Republicans as it will allow them to simply blame Democrats and hope for a better outcome at the ballot box in 2024.

What disturbs me most about these times is the realization that millions of Americans really don’t care very much about what form of government our country has as long as gas and grocery prices remain cheap and people they dislike or fear bear the burdens of our most pressing problems.

Democracy will live on for now, but if anything, we’ve only bought ourselves a little more time before a very ugly reckoning. The right wing’s Frankenstein won’t die quickly or easily.


John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.

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