In a recent poll, “threats to democracy” was the top concern among voters, beating out “cost of living” for the number one spot. Early data from our Midterm Monitor indicated some agreement across party lines that democracy is under threat, though the why and how may differ. At the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund (ASD at GMF), we understand the tools and tactics used by autocratic actors, both foreign and domestic, to undermine our democratic institutions and develop strategies to counter them.
Each week leading up to the election, we’re writing a special ASD at GMF newsletter that provides analysis at the nexus of US politics and autocratic threats to democracy, and dives deep into a key state. Reach out with questions, reactions, or suggestions.

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New from ASD at GMF

ASD at GMF and the Brennan Center for Justice launched the Midterm Monitoran interactive tool designed to capture voting and election messaging from a select group of candidates, US media, and foreign state-backed sources across multiple social media platforms. Read our most recent analysis here.
David Levine, ASD at GMF’s elections integrity fellow, is out with a new report that tackles one of the most challenging issues of the midterms: insider threats. David looks at the specific threat rogue poll workers pose and offers a range of solutions. Read the report here.

State Spotlight: Wisconsin

We’re kicking off our newsletter with some key takeaways on the battleground state of Wisconsin.

  • Wisconsinites are pioneering solutions at the local level. In response to an increase in threats against election officials, longtime Wisconsin election administrator and Madison City Attorney Michael Haas helped spearhead the Madison City Council’s unanimous approval of an ordinance creating a new penalty for disorderly conduct targeting election officials. “It’s an [important] step for the city of Madison, both to signal that the harassment of election officials is not going to be tolerated and to provide support to the election officials to know that the city has their back,” said Haas in a Ballots and Bagels interview with David Levine.​
  • We all have a role in decreasing the demand for highly-divisive content. “The voices of moderation in politics are relegated to the wilderness of our media ecosystem while the more extreme voices are either algorithmically or selectively amplified. This has created not only a perverse incentive structure that rewards toxicity over civility, but it also colors America’s perception of our elected leaders — and one another. …The reality is that if Fox and Facebook found that we were more apt to stay glued to substantive policy discussions than partisan punditry, that’s what we’d get,” writes Bret Schafer, head of ASD at GMF’s information manipulation team, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Election officials try to cut through the confusing election information environment. A statewide canvas, partial recount, numerous court decisions, and a review of the election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau all found that the 2020 election in Wisconsin was free and fair. However, this did not end the debate over the 2020 election results or the legitimacy of Wisconsin elections, more broadly. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos subsequently initiated a partisan probe into the 2020 election results that was marred by controversy and lawsuits; it ended recently without any new significant findings. Then, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against the use of drop boxes just a month ahead of the state’s primary. This noisy information environment creates opportunity for bad actors to undermine trust in the voting process—and in the democratic system. In effort to demystify the election process for voters, the Wisconsin Elections Commission created “Elections 101,” an educational video series on Wisconsin elections.  

Resources You Should Have

ASD at GMF put together five tips to help every American defend themselves and their community from mis- and disinformation.
The Committee for Safe and Secure Elections is building connections between law enforcement and election officials to protect election workers against threats and potential violence.
The NYU Ad Observatory makes Facebook and Instagram political ad data easily searchable, bringing transparency to digital political advertising.

A Big Idea

On the coordinated requests for public records overwhelming election officials: “The only way to look at it is as a denial-of-service attack on local government. …They put out this call to action for people to do it, and they know it’s going to inundate these offices, especially medium and small offices who are understaffed and overwhelmed already.” – Matt Crane, who leads the Colorado County Clerks Association, told the Washington Post.
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Check out all of ASD at GMF’s work on the US midterms here.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.