With days to go before crucial United States midterm elections, President Joe Biden has warned that democracy itself is at risk – from lies and violence.
After weeks of reassuring talk about the country’s economy and the cost of living, Biden turned to a darker, more urgent message on Wednesday, declaring that the US system of governance was under threat from former President Donald Trump’s election-denying lies and the violence Biden said they had inspired.
“Make no mistake, democracy is on the ballot for all of us,” Biden said in a speech ahead of November 8, when Americans will vote in a contest to decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the US Senate and House of Representatives.
All 435 seats in the House are up for re-election along with about a third of Senate seats.
Most surveys predict Republicans are almost certain to take control of the House, with the Senate too close to call. The Democrats currently control the House with a slim majority while the Senate is evenly split. More than 27 million people have cast their votes already in early polling.
Biden, speaking to the Democratic National Committee at Washington, DC’s Union Station, said threats by some Republican candidates to refuse to accept the results from the November 8 elections if they lose was a threat to democracy.
“This driving force is trying to succeed where they failed in 2020 to suppress the rights of voters and subvert the electoral system itself,” the president said. “That is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it is un-American.”
Trump did not accept the outcome of the 2020 election and his supporters launched an assault on the US Capitol on January 6 last year as Congress was due to certify the results.
Pointing in particular to last week’s hammer attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Biden said Trump’s false claims about a stolen election had “fuelled the dangerous rise of political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years”.
Bracing for confrontation
Election workers across the country have questioned whether to go back to work following increased intimidation and harassment ahead of November 8. At least five people have been charged with federal crimes for harassing workers during early voting.
Reports of people watching ballot boxes in Arizona, sometimes armed or wearing ballistic vests, have also raised concern about voter intimidation. Election officials nationwide are bracing for confrontations at polling sites led by a flood of conspiracy theorists who have signed up to work as partisan poll watchers.
“There’s an alarming rise in the number of people in this country condoning political violence or simply remaining silent,” Biden added. “In our bones we know democracy is at risk, but we also know this: It’s in our power to preserve our democracy.”
Biden struck a more optimistic note as he wound up his 20-minute speech.
“My fellow Americans, we’ll meet this moment. We just have to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. There is nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together,” he said.
Voter fraud is extremely rare in the US, but surveys suggest a substantial number of people are concerned about the issue. A Reuters/Ipsos poll that concluded on Monday found 49 percent of Americans think voter fraud is a widespread problem – with 34 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans holding that view.
Some 44 percent said they are concerned the US election was rigged, including 28 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans.
Despite that, 67 percent of respondents said they were confident their own ballots would be accurately counted, including broad majorities of Democrats and Republicans.