John Oliver wasted no time in getting to his main story on Last Week Tonight, which makes sense considering how frightening that story is: Tuesday’s midterms, election subversion, and how absolutely off the rails America is likely about to go.
For starters, most Republican candidates for federal and statewide offices either believe the 2020 election is illegitimate, question its legitimacy, or say they do because they’re sociopaths who believe it will get them elected. This includes people who may very well be running elections two years from now.
“Over half the country has an election denier running to oversee their elections,” Oliver explained, “and many of them are expected to win.”
As Oliver made clear, he wasn’t talking about the shit like voter ID laws, felon disenfranchisement, and early voting restrictions that Republicans are pulling all over the country in order to prevent people who don’t vote for them from voting at all. That stuff happens before votes are cast; Oliver’s story was a warning about what will happen after people vote — election subversion, or the refusal to acknowledge legitimate results. Over the past couple of years, Donald Trump, with the help of a colorful array of party cowards and ghouls, has made the subversion of any election that doesn’t go Republicans’ way the party’s North Star.
In the wake of the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6, 2020, Trump filed dozens of lawsuits to try and swing the vote his way, which, much like the vote itself, he lost handily. He also attempted to strong-arm other Republicans into breaking the law and messing with vote totals, but none of them consented. Oliver played a clip of Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican member of Michigan’s State Canvassing Board, who had the integrity (and balls) to defy not only his colleagues but the President of the United States and certify the state’s results. He did so after a short speech in which he reminded people that we have a government of laws, not of men.
“A boring guy with glasses quoting John Adams upheld democracy,” Oliver said. “Get Bradley Whitford in there and add some stirring music and you’ve got the kind of scene that would make Aaron Sorkin cum until he passed out.”
We can’t necessarily count on people like Aaron Van Langevelde this year, however. The Boston Globe found that in five battleground states, 1 in 3 top election officials left their jobs after the 2020 election. And who can blame them, considering the hundreds of documented instances of abuse many were subjected to in the election’s aftermath — everything from emails calling them traitors to voicemails explaining in no uncertain terms that they were going to be murdered for having done their jobs.
There’s been a big push to replace those involved with elections on the state and local levels — elected officials, appointees, and bureaucrats alike — with MAGA Republicans, some of whom don’t even bother trying to hide the fact that they would either refuse to certify any election in which a Democrat won, or simply not count votes for Democrats. And keep in mind their ridiculous justification: a vast web of unhinged conspiracy theories about Democrats stealing elections.
“One of the big clues that these conspiracy theories are bullshit is that so many of them are predicated on the belief that the Democratic Party is well organized,” Oliver said. “Who on Earth is stupid enough to buy that bullshit?”
There are legal guardrails to prevent individuals from rigging elections, but they largely depend on judges, state legislatures, and even the Supreme Court doing their jobs based on law, not on politics and the ravings of lunatics. Thing is, those three entities have in large part been captured by Republicans.
“Everything that we’ve talked about tonight has the capacity to overwhelm our system, making it harder to certify elections quickly, leading to confusion, which sows doubt in the process, and in turn causes absolute chaos,” Oliver said. “Which is very worrying given that we’ve all seen what confused but motivated people are capable of doing when they think the process is broken.”