In the doomsday scenario of the world’s climate modelers, every leader acts a bit like Donald Trump. Resurgent nationalism breeds regional conflicts and competitiveness. Security concerns prompt countries to retreat inward. Global development slows and inequality festers, while cooperation on energy and food security goals withers. Major countries such as the US abdicate leadership on climate action as emissions rise, and temperatures soar to searing levels.
Technically, it’s known as the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 3 (SSP3), just one of many models published by scientists in 2016 to game out different futures, and included for the first time in reports developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But in casual conversation, many climate scientists simply call it “Trump World.”
“The biggest climate impact is not in the highest warming world,” says Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the environmental research group Breakthrough Institute (he was not involved in designing the models). “The highest-impact scenario is SSP3, Trump World, because so much of world remains poorer.” A breakdown in international cooperation means emissions slow, but so do economies. Human suffering rises as societies are deprived of resources to adapt to rising temperatures.
As the world’s leaders gather later this year in Glasgow, Scotland to announce their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, this will be just one of the many potential worlds facing them.
What’s different about the sixth IPCC assessment report
On Aug. 9, the IPCC released its sixth assessment report, a series of scientific reports to assess the scientific, technical, and socioeconomic dimensions of climate change.
Every five years or so, hundreds of scientists get together to present the best available science that conveys their understanding of what is happening to the climate, and what we can do about it. Their work is summarized in an IPCC assessment report, the sixth of which was released on Aug. 9.
SSP3—Trump World—is one of five socioeconomic scenarios in the latest report (AR6), assessing the scientific, technical, and socioeconomic dimensions of climate change. The scenarios play a critical role for world leaders who must decide what to do about the planet’s rising temperature.
For years, scientists had relied primarily on geophysical climate models to forecast what will happen as the Earth warms. Their models focused on physics: ocean currents, vegetation, atmospheric concentrations of methane and other greenhouse gases (GHG), along with hundreds of other factors. One of the original versions, built on a 1960s-era supercomputer, was built at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (the first animation is below).
All of this data are fed into massive supercomputers that simulate how the climate system—the interaction between land, oceans, and atmosphere—behaves after we dump billions of tons of GHG into it.
What was missing from these climate models, however, was the biggest variable of all: our decisions about what kind of world we’re building.
Politics can profoundly affect how these models play out, since they largely dictate how much carbon dioxide and methane we pump into the atmosphere. Socioeconomic factors from childhood education to trade policies become an ever more important part of the climate equation over time.
Scientists made previous attempts to account for these influences. In the 1990s, the “SRES” scenarios considered factors like population and economic growth in climate projections. But the “Representative Concentration Pathways” (RCPs) adopted as the basis for later the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2014 excluded those factors entirely.
In parallel, researchers began developing five “Shared Socioeconomic Pathways” to see how the world might evolve. By combining these with the RCP climate-only models, the broader scenarios could tell us just how the world might evolve under different political circumstances, and how hard it will be to achieve emission reductions under them. Scientists could then better understand the interplay between the climate system and humanity’s future development.
Those researchers began publishing their initial findings in 2016, after the publication of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, so their work was pushed into this latest report. While scientists have been running and refining these models for years, they’re now part of the official narrative around our climate future.
From The Green Road to The Highway
Years of supercomputer time have now been devoted to giving us the ability to test very different assumptions about population, technology, economics, and politics that lead to very different worlds. Five baseline worlds laid out by the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway reveal “alternative pathways for future society,” says Hausfather.”We were missing some of the arrows in our quiver the last time around.”
This time the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway models illustrate, in a future without climate policy, just how different those worlds can be. The scenarios, as summarized from the scientific literature, cover five baselines offering alternative pathways for humanity.
|SSP1: “Taking the Green Road:” Sustainability (low mitigation and adaption challenges)||The world shifts gradually, pervasively, toward a more sustainable path. Economic growth emphasizes human well-being, wise environmental stewardship, falling inequality, and lower resource and energy intensity.|
|SSP2: “Middle of the Road:” Historical patterns||Social, economic, and technological trends persist. Development, income growth and sustainable development proceeds unevenly. Slow progress, moderate global population growth. Societal and environmental changes remain.|
|SSP3: “A Rocky Road:” Regional Rivalry / highly challenging||Nationalism surges. Policies shift toward security at the expense of development and environmental protection amid rising regional conflicts and a decline in international cooperation. Economic and environmental degradation worsens over time.|
|SSP4: “A Road Divided:” Inequality||Countries (and societies) stratify between rich nations dominating knowledge sectors of the global economy, and poorer nations in labor-intensive, low-tech sectors. Social cohesion degrades. Social conflict intensifies. Technology is not shared equally. Environmental policies primarily serve middle and high-income areas.|
|SSP5 “Taking the Highway:” Fossil-fueled development||Full exploitation of fossil fuel resources produces wealth, rapid technological progress, and human capital development, but leads to much higher emissions. There is faith in the ability to effectively manage social and ecological systems, including by geo-engineering if necessary.|
The differences are stark. Under the green road (SSP1), emissions may peak as early as 2040—or not at all under SSP5, where temperatures soar well past the 2ºC increase that scientists say are likely to acidify oceans, intensify storms and coastal flooding, and fuel roasting heat waves and droughts. You can see how emissions and global mean temperature fare under different scenarios below with climate action.
A diverse range of “what if” scenarios
Of course, all of these outcomes are approximations at best. And some of the underlying assumptions are tenuous (SSP3 asserts that most world leaders simultaneously share nationalist governing philosophies) if not altogether implausible (for instance, the assumption that solar power will be more expensive in 2050 than today). But the scenarios aren’t meant to be precise mirrors of future reality. They’re designed to explore a diverse range of “what if” scenarios revealing just how hard it will be to tackle climate change under different conditions. Our future will be a fluid mix of these scenarios over time.
“These are very idealized pathways,” says climatologist Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway. “In reality, we have a world that is amidst all these different approaches. Our world is a unique world.”
So while none of these scenarios describes our world perfectly, we seem to be moving between them regularly. The “Trump World” of SSP3 might have seemed plausible just a few years ago. But Trump has since lost re-election, Europe’s right-wing swing is stalled, and Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, is battling for political survival.
Indeed, there are already signs that political momentum might shift behind more ambitious climate targets. “In climate change, there aren’t too many silver linings,” says Hausfather, “but we are finally starting to see commitments from countries that are mainly in line with what’s needed.”
Today, a concerted climate effort, or a breakthrough technology such as cheap energy storage, could change baseline scenarios in a matter of years.
A multiverse of potential realities
Policymakers now face a multiverse of possible worlds developed by climate modelers. And their decisions, in part, will decide which scenario plays out. The good news, says Peters, is that the chances for the worst-case scenario, a catastrophic world with a global mean temperature rise above 5ºC, now seem lower. But then so do the odds of a base-case 1.5ºC world where emissions peak and then drop to zero by around 2050.
In this week’s IPCC report, researchers say we’re now “very likely” to exceed 1.°C to 1.8°C of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100, even in a very low GHG emissions scenario (SSP1-1.9). This suggests a “middle of the road” scenario best describes our emissions trajectory. “We’re not following a 1.5ºC or a 5ºC emissions trajectory,” says Peters. “We’re going somewhere in between.” Hausfather agrees. The most likely emissions scenario, he estimates, puts us on track for about 3ºC of warming by the end of the century, to an average temperature the Earth hasn’t experienced for more than 3 million years. That would severely test many countries’ ability to adapt, and for the impacts for some, such as islands nations, would be catastrophic.
And after that? We don’t know. The IPCC’s models only extend to about the end of the century. In the next IPCC report, researchers can be expected to start looking out toward 2150 and beyond, well within the lifetime for the children of someone born today. ”The world doesn’t end in 2100,” says Hausfather, “even though our models do.”
Canadians head to the polls as political wildcards leave election outcome up in the air – CBC.ca
Canadians head to the polls today for the final day of voting in this 44th general election and surveys suggest the result is far from certain with as many as six parties in contention for seats in Parliament.
More than 5.8 million Canadians have already voted in the advance polls, and Elections Canada has received nearly one million special ballots — a record-setting early turnout that suggests there’s an energized electorate.
Poll workers will start the vote count tonight, but the outcome may not be known until tomorrow after the many mail-in ballots are verified at hundreds of returning offices nationwide.
This 36-day election featured policy talk on everything from housing and the COVID-19 response to Canada’s place in the world, but there were also heavy doses of partisan sniping as the leaders jockeyed for front-runner status in a very close race.
Here’s a look at the closing arguments from the main party leaders.
Trudeau says he’s best to lead Canada through COVID
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called this election on Aug. 15 saying he wanted Canadians to weigh in on who should finish the fight against COVID-19 and lead the country into a post-pandemic recovery.
“Canada is today at a crossroads — a moment where we have to make a really important choice,” Trudeau said at a rally in Maple, Ont., on Sunday, the last day of campaigning. “It’s not just about what we’re going to do in the coming months to end this pandemic for good, but also how we’re going to meet the challenges of the future.”
Trudeau has asked Canadians to reward his party for steering the country through the darkest days of this health crisis. He has also presented himself as a vaccine champion, the man who secured enough doses to get everyone eligible for a shot fully vaccinated by July, and the leader who will keep people safe in the fourth wave of this pandemic by pushing mandatory vaccines for federal public servants and the travelling public.
As Alberta grapples with another public health emergency under the leadership of Premier Jason Kenney, Trudeau said Sunday that conservative leaders can’t be trusted to lead the country at this critical juncture.
In addition to hammering the opposition on pandemic management, Trudeau said his party has the best plan to fight climate change and get more Canadians into a home at a time when eye-popping real estate prices have kept so many out of the market. “Let’s keep Canada moving forward as a progressive country,” he said.
O’Toole asks voters to punish Trudeau for calling an election
The August election call came at a time when the Liberals were enjoying a sizable lead in opinion polls, but that support cratered as some voters recoiled at the thought of an election when COVID cases are on the rise.
Since day one, opposition leaders have focused their criticisms of Trudeau on the election call itself. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, a relative unknown at the start of the race, sought to capitalize on the frustration, slamming Trudeau as “privileged,” “entitled,” divisive and untrustworthy.
To shake off lingering concerns about a “secret agenda” from a man who once branded himself a “true blue” Conservative, O’Toole released the party’s platform on the first full day of the campaign. Pitching a more moderate form of conservatism, O’Toole made a play for disaffected Liberal voters in central and eastern Canada.
The platform, with its slogan “secure the future,” lays out a plan for a post-pandemic Canada. He’s promising some $60 billion in new health-care funding over 10 years, a mental-health strategy to help the millions of Canadians battling mental anguish after lockdowns and one million new homes to help with a pandemic-fuelled housing supply crunch.
O’Toole has also promised to balance the budget in 10 years’ time, a commitment made to neutralize past Liberal criticism that a Conservative-led government would result in big cuts to public spending.
According to the CBC Poll Tracker, Conservative support surged five points in the two weeks after the platform release as some voters started buying what O’Toole was selling. But the campaign hit a snag when the Conservative leader was forced to defend his firearms policy.
The Tory platform initially promised to repeal a ban on assault-style weapons such as those used in mass shootings. The Liberals pounced on that pledge and on O’Toole’s past association with the gun lobby. With his support softening in Ontario, the Tory leader shifted his position, promising to maintain the Liberal ban until an independent review by firearms experts was completed.
O’Toole also faced questions about his support for vaccines at every one of his campaign press conferences.
While personally pro-vaccine, O’Toole has called a Liberal plan to implement a vaccine mandate for federal bureaucrats, transportation workers and most passengers travelling by air and rail a divisive program that will lead to the “politicization of the pandemic.”
O’Toole has also repeatedly dodged questions about just how many people carrying the Conservative banner in this race have had at least one shot. As a result, Trudeau has characterized O’Toole as a leader beholden to the “far-right, anti-vax” wing of the Conservative Party.
O’Toole hit back, saying Trudeau was trying to distract from his “scandal-shredded” reputation after six years in government.
“Justin Trudeau hasn’t talked about the future of our great country. He hasn’t provided a plan for Canada. Instead, he has veered into personal attacks, dividing Canadians and using American-style, misleading politics in an election that is only about himself,” O’Toole said Saturday at a rally in Kitchener, Ont., asking Canadians to punish Trudeau for triggering “an unnecessary $600 million pandemic election.”
People’s Party could complicate Conservative path to power
O’Toole’s path to power may also be complicated by another party leader. For the first time in nearly two decades, conservative-minded voters have two viable options to choose from in this election: the Conservatives and the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) led by former Tory MP Maxime Bernier.
Public health measures such as lockdowns slowed the spread of COVID-19 — and likely saved lives — but they also prompted anger and frustration among some Canadians who saw their livelihoods destroyed as economic and social life ground to a halt.
The PPC welcomed those voters with open arms. A party promising a radically smaller government with fewer regulations was suddenly embraced by people who saw government as an oppressive force.
Bernier, a libertarian who has long railed against government overreach, became a champion of the “no more lockdowns” crowd, routinely appearing at well-attended protests against these restrictions. He is also vehemently opposed to vaccine passports — a position that has given the PPC a boost in the polls. Thanks to new support from the unvaccinated, Bernier’s movement is expected to perform much better than the 1.6 per cent of the national vote it fetched in the 2019 election.
“O’Toole has flip-flopped and adopted the Liberal program on the few remaining issues where there were still differences between the two parties, such as the carbon tax, gun bans and COVID passports,” Bernier said in an emailed statement to CBC News. “Mr. O’Toole will have to live with the consequences of his failing strategy.”
It’s not just right-wing parties that will have to contend with vote splits. The CBC Poll Tracker suggests Liberal support is marginally lower than it was after the 2019 election, while NDP support is roughly three points higher than it was following that campaign. This NDP strength could result in Liberal losses, particularly in Ontario and the Lower Mainland of B.C.
In the past, groups looking to stop vote-splitting on the left have called on progressive voters to ignore their party preferences and rally behind the candidates with the best chance of defeating Conservatives.
It’s a message Trudeau reiterated in the last two days of this campaign as he told progressive voters that only Liberals can keep the Conservatives out of power.
“You can vote both with your desire to stop the Conservatives and your desire to bring forward the most progressive government in the history of the country if you vote Liberal,” Trudeau told a crowd of supporters in Markham, Ont., on Saturday.
Singh says Trudeau is ‘bad for Canada’
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who, polls suggest, is personally popular with voters, has tried to improve his party’s fortunes after a disappointing 2019 campaign. He has urged voters to reject Liberal warnings about a fractured left-wing vote and instead pick the party they really want to govern.
From the opening bell, Singh has branded Trudeau as a failed leader who doesn’t deserve another term. Those attacks have only become more pointed in the dying days of this campaign as Singh looks to keep progressive voters in the NDP fold and pick off Liberals frustrated with Trudeau’s performance.
“We think Mr. Trudeau is bad for Canada, because he’s failed on the crises and made things worse, not better,” Singh said Friday, condemning Trudeau for voting against non-binding NDP motions on pharmacare and long-term care homes.
Singh has also pointed to higher greenhouse gas emissions and a tax system he said is skewed toward the “ultra-rich.”
“He is bad for Canada. He was an abject failure,” Singh said of Trudeau.
Singh’s campaign has been laser-focused on promoting a plan to make the wealthy pay much more in taxes to help cover the cost of new social programs. He has brandished his party’s record in the last Parliament — NDP MPs pushed for more generous pandemic-related welfare programs — as proof that only New Democrats “will fight for you, will lift you up.”
“You can vote for Mr. Trudeau, who is all for show, who supports the ultra-wealthy, supports the super-rich and lets you down. Or you can vote for New Democrats. We are fighters and we are here for you,” he said at a Saturday campaign stop in Saskatoon.
But Singh has faced criticism for putting out a platform that calls for $200 billion in new spending with few details on how any of this transformative change would actually be implemented.
The party’s climate policy has been panned by experts, who say it’s both vague and unrealistic. A wealth tax like the one the NDP is proposing has been tried in other countries only to be repealed because it fell well short of revenue projections.
Greens won’t be on the ballot in nearly a third of ridings
For months, the Green Party has been beset with internal squabbling that has hampered their electoral efforts.
The party’s leader, Annamie Paul, has spent nearly all of the campaign in the riding of Toronto Centre, where she is running for a third time.
Some Green candidates said they didn’t want Paul in their riding during this race. But the leader was out stumping for the two Green incumbents, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly, over the weekend as the party looks to maintain its parliamentary delegation.
“I am hoping again to see some of these candidates elected on Monday because their Green voices are needed in Ottawa to talk about the climate, to be champions for the climate and for their communities,” Paul said at a Sunday campaign stop in Toronto.
Unlike in 2019, when the party ran candidates in all 338 ridings, there won’t be a Green on the ballot in nearly a third of all local races — which could give some Liberal and NDP candidates a boost in this nail-biter election.
Who has faith in politics? In 2019, some Toronto areas saw nearly half their electorate skip out – Toronto Star
The first and only time Charmaine Weir voted in an election, a single conversation spurred her to the polls. A candidate was canvassing in her neighbourhood, and took time to hear out the issues Weir faced on a day-to-day basis, including the challenges she experienced living in public housing. But the vote came and went — and Weir’s world felt just the same.
She found herself disenchanted, feeling her vote hadn’t made a difference. “You see (political parties), they come around and solicit at the door to try to get your vote, and then you never see them again. Nothing has ever changed in this neighbourhood,” she said. This fall, she’s tuned out of federal election talk. “I didn’t listen because honestly, you get really let down.”
Come Monday, she told the Star she doesn’t intend to cast a vote.
Weir’s situation illustrates a broad issue in Toronto. In an election cycle, candidates look to charge up the masses — promising policy changes and funding injections. But faith in the democratic process, or simply the ability to get to the polls, is unevenly distributed across the city.
A Star analysis of poll data from the 2019 election, in several central Toronto ridings, shows that while some areas turn out to vote in droves — like Runnymede-Bloor West Village, where 78.3 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots — other areas, like Weir’s North St. James Town, had far lower rates.
Voter turnout in 2019 federal election
North St. James Town
Cabbagetown-South St. James Town
The high-density, lower-income piece of Toronto Centre, where several other residents recently told the Star their faith in federal leaders ran low, saw a voter turnout of 52.1 per cent in the fall of 2019. In nearby Regent Park, another lower-income area, turnout for that federal vote was 58.5 per cent. By comparison, the neighbouring Cabbagetown-South St. James Town area saw turnout of 68.5 per cent. Across the country, voter turnout for the last federal election was 67 per cent.
And while North St. James Town had more eligible voters — 11,989 versus 9,831 — the polling stations set up in Cabbagetown-South St. James Town saw more ballots cast than its neighbour.
“It’s always the rich people and the rich neighbourhoods that are being taken care of,” Weir told the Star. “You really want (a politician) here who’s going to follow through, and support this neighbourhood, but they tend to just move a little bit south from here and you’re left there, like, ‘what about us?’”
The reasons why someone doesn’t vote can vary widely, but a Statistics Canada survey found the top reason that Canadians gave for skipping the 2019 federal vote was disinterest in national politics — which experts say can stem from a feeling of being left out of political discussions and policies.
“They don’t perceive that the stakes are very high — that it doesn’t matter who wins, so why bother?” said Richard Johnston, a University of British Columbia professor emeritus who, until his retirement last year, held the position of Canada Research Chair in public opinions, elections and representation.
“To some extent, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said Daniel Rubenson, a principal investigator for the Canadian Election Study, cautioning that the problem could become cyclical. If politicians saw a neighbourhood as plagued by voter apathy, they might pay less attention to its needs, leading to fewer policies aimed at addressing its local problems. That, in turn, could compound the apathy issue.
“If that’s how you feel, then it’s perfectly reasonable that you don’t participate in that process.”
When the Star spoke with numerous North St. James Town residents midway through this fall’s federal campaign, many lamented the focus placed on home ownership in numerous parties’ election platforms, as a neighbourhood where 90 per cent of residents rented their homes according to the 2016 federal census.
Beyond the disenchanted, some prospective voters simply didn’t have the time to invest in political issues, Rubenson added.
Voter turnout in 2019 federal election
He, Johnston and Elisabeth Gidengil, a professor with McGill University’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, all noted that residents of lower income communities were statistically less likely to participate in the democratic process.
Voters’ age and level of education were also determining factors, the experts said. Nationally, 18-to-24 year olds had the lowest voter turnout among age groups through the 2011, 2015 and 2019 election races, Statistics Canada found. Voter turnout increased continually with age, until it dipped down slightly after the age of 75.
“It’s partly to do with resources, like just having time and the luxury of being able to inform yourself better about politics,” Rubenson said, noting that “socialization and mobilization” also played a role. While it was “somewhat difficult” to say precisely how low turnout affected vote outcomes, he said, he believes the onus is on politicians to “pay more attention to these people who aren’t voting.”
“It’s certainly not a good outcome if there are groups in society, or areas in society, where people aren’t being listened to and policies aren’t being developed to take their concerns into account,” he said.
While political disinterest was found by Statistics Canada to be the most common reason for skipping the polls in 2019 for most age groups — having been cited by 35 per cent of non-voters — that shifts for people over 75, at which point the most common reason reported was an illness or disability.
Across all age groups, illness or disability were cited by 13 per cent of responding non-voters. Another 22 per cent said they were too busy to vote, and 11 per cent said they were out of town. Just five per cent reported having problems with the voting process itself, like being unable to prove their identity.
Asked about the turnout data, Elections Canada spokesperson Nathalie de Montigny said turnout wasn’t part of its mandate — which focused on making the vote accessible to eligible electors. That job included outreach to different communities to make sure they had information about voting, like delivering it in different languages.
To combat voter apathy, both Johnston and Gidengil said candidates going door-to-door can make a difference. But Johnston cautioned that effort could be complicated in lower-income neighbourhoods, where many residents may work long hours or do shift work and not be home to answer the door, and where that means traversing an apartment versus ground-level homes.
In Toronto’s waterfront and island neighbourhood, where the median household income is higher than the citywide rate but the resident population also skews younger than other neighbourhoods, around 20,000 eligible voters didn’t cast ballots in the 2019 race. The area — which is divided between two federal ridings — had a 64.1 per cent turnout rate. In nearby South Parkdale, the rate was nearly as low as North St. James Town, at 56.4 per cent.
Cole Webber, a housing advocate who works for a South Parkdale-based legal clinic, cautioned that residents of the area were still actively involved, with local groups forming to push back against things like rent increases, or to organize community food programs.
But casting a vote didn’t always garner the same vigour or faith.
“For many working-class people in Parkdale, sustained, independent organizing is a more substantial and meaningful form of activity than voting in elections,” Webber said.
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The far right’s new focus on local politics, briefly explained – Vox.com
On Saturday, a rally by supporters of former President Donald Trump came and went peacefully, with a heavy police and media presence and only a handful of arrests. Before the event, officials in DC were focused on preventing a repeat of January 6 — but more than eight months after the insurrection, far-right groups have shifted their focus to more local causes that could nonetheless have a major impact on national politics.
According to Jared Holt, who researches domestic extremism for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, right-wing extremists like those who stormed the Capitol building were “scared shitless” of creating another event like January 6 on Saturday — to the point that several conservative leaders, including Trump, warned their followers to stay away from the rally, claiming it was a trap.
Ultimately, only about 100 people showed up, according to an estimate by the Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon — far fewer than some pre-rally predictions — and the protesters were at times outnumbered by members of the media.
Good morning from *that* rally at the Capitol everyone’s been talking about. We’re about an hour away from official start time, and unsurprisingly we’re working with a ratio of approx 10 media per attendee. A classic rock mash-up is playing over the sound system @VICENews pic.twitter.com/EywP6XidJe
— Tess Owen (@misstessowen) September 18, 2021
But anemic participation at Saturday’s event doesn’t reflect fading right-wing enthusiasm for Trump’s election lies — his supporters are just changing tactics, pushing to elect like-minded politicians and change state legislation to fit a false narrative of election fraud.
“Many are instead … applying that political energy into local and regional scenes,” Holt told Vox’s Aaron Rupar last week.
Specifically, that energy has manifested itself in a far-right push to intimidate current state and local election officials, many of whom played a major role in pushing back on Trump’s election fraud conspiracies in 2020, and to install a new wave of pro-Trump election officials.
It’s a tactic that could have major implications for future US elections, and one that extremism experts have been raising the alarm about.
“Going local, [far-right movement figures] suggest to each other, might also help solidify power and influence their movements gained during the Trump years,” Holt wrote in his Substack newsletter last week. “After all, few people are truly engaged in local politics. That’s a lot of influence up for grabs to a dedicated movement.”
The local impact of Trump’s election lie has been most visible in some of the battleground states that swung to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, for example, election officials from both parties have been deluged with harassment from Trump supporters, including explicit death threats. And it’s not a small-scale problem: Reuters has identified hundreds of similar threats all across the US, though the victims have found little recourse with law enforcement.
The harassment has been so severe that about a third of all election workers now feel unsafe in their jobs, according to a poll conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year.
And as the New York Times reported on Saturday, there’s now a legal defense committee, the Election Official Legal Defense Network, specifically to support election officials facing harassment and intimidation.
In many of the same states where officials have faced relentless harassment, far-right figures are also looking to put them out of a job. In Georgia, for example, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who repeatedly defied Trump to confirm that Biden won both Georgia’s electoral votes and the 2020 election, will face a Trump-endorsed primary challenger, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA).
According to Politico, Hice voted against certifying the 2020 electoral college results in January, and he has continued to promote voter fraud lies since then. Just after Hice announced his bid in March, Trump issued a statement lauding Hice as “one of our most outstanding congressmen.”
“Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” Trump said in the statement. “Jody will stop the Fraud and get honesty into our Elections!”
Hice isn’t the only secretary of state candidate to have embraced Trump’s election fraud rhetoric, either. Candidates like Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karamo in Michigan, both of whom have been endorsed by Trump, could have substantial oversight of how elections in those states are run if they win office, though actual vote counting is done by counties and municipalities.
Finchem has parroted the claims of voter fraud and endorsed a spurious “audit” of the vote count in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the AP reports. Finchem, a current state representative, also admitted that he was at the Capitol on January 6, but claims to have stayed 500 yards away and that he didn’t know about the attack until later.
Like Finchem, Karamo has also endorsed false election fraud claims: According to the Detroit News, she pushed voter fraud claims during the 2020 election, telling Michigan state senators that she witnessed two cases of election workers misinterpreting ballots to the advantage of Democrats, and she appeared alongside MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell at a June rally, spreading further unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
As Politico pointed out earlier this year, the actual power of secretaries of state varies by state, and is often more “ministerial” than anything — but the danger of pro-Trump election officials having a high-profile platform to espouse election conspiracies is very real.
“There’s a symbolic risk, and then there’s … functional risk,” former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, told Politico in May. “Any secretary of state who is a chief elections official is going to have a megaphone and a media platform during the election. A lot of the power is the perception of power, or that megaphone.”
Candidates like Hice, Finchem, and Karamo all still have to win primaries and general elections — by no means a sure thing — if they want to become the top election officials in their states. But even without election conspiracists in secretary of states’ offices, some states, like Arizona and Pennsylvania, have already started chipping away at the framework of their states’ election laws.
On Wednesday, the GOP-held Pennsylvania legislature’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee took another step toward a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election results like the one currently ongoing in Arizona when it voted to issue a subpoena for voter information — including information that’s typically not public, like the last four digits of voters’ Social Security Numbers.
And in Arizona, where a bizarre “audit” of the 2020 election has already been shambling along for months, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has also taken steps to limit the power of the Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs. In June, Ducey signed a law stripping Hobbs of her power to defend the results of an election in court.
“This is a petty, partisan power grab that is absolutely retaliation towards my office,” Hobbs, who is running for governor, told NPR.
“It’s clear by the fact that it ends when my term ends,” she said. “It is at best legally questionable, but at worst, likely unconstitutional.”
Democrats, though, are making some attempts to push back against the right’s attempts to subvert future elections. In August, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would help restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) recently introduced her own voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, which is aimed at preventing the very election subversions the Republicans are trying to enact in multiple key states.
That bill, however — like the Democrats’ previous voting rights legislation, the For the People Act — has essentially no chance of becoming law under current Senate rules, since the filibuster means it would require at least 10 Republican votes to pass.
Senate Democrats could end the filibuster, or create a carve-out for voting rights legislation, using their simple 50-vote majority, but that path also appears unlikely thanks to continued opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
And with efforts like these tied up in a deeply polarized Congress, Trump supporters peddling election fraud conspiracies can continue to make inroads in local races and legislation.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been at a point that’s been quite this tenuous for the democracy,” Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and co-chair of the States United Democracy Center, told CNN last week. “I think it’s a huge danger because it’s the first time that I’ve seen it being undermined — our democracy being undermined from within.”
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