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Candidates who deny the 2020 presidential election results are winning races

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So it's worth repeating - there is no evidence of widespread election fraud during the 2020 presidential election. Yet, as you just heard, candidates who deny the outcome are winning office in battleground states across the country, including Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. We have called up professor Rick Hasen at UCLA School of Law. He is director of UCLA's Safeguarding Democracy Project. Rick, thanks for being here.

RICK HASEN: Great to be with you.

MARTIN: What's your biggest concern about the current momentum that election deniers seem to have right now?

HASEN: Well, I think it's kind of a double whammy that the country faces. And the first part, we're losing people who are skilled at running elections. Elections are really difficult to run. It requires great competence. It requires experience. And No. 2, we're replacing those people in some cases - or we have the risk of replacing people - who either believe or say they believe that the last election was stolen. If that's true, not only might they be willing to do something to try to even the score, but even if they try to run elections fairly, are the rest of the people in the area going to believe that the elections are run fairly after they've embraced this false claim that the last election was stolen? And so it really can both hurt voter confidence and also hurt the actual administration of elections.

MARTIN: I mean, that - you just underscored what could be so damaging, right? There is this follow-on effect that when election deniers are put in these positions, the voters who did support those election officials aren't going to trust them. And trust is eroded on both sides. How do you recover from that?

HASEN: So it's really difficult. When you think about what makes a democracy work, it's what political scientists call loser's consent. It's the idea that, well, I wasn't happy that my side lost, but the election was fair and square, and I'll regroup and organize the next time.

MARTIN: Right.

HASEN: When people start losing confidence in the election process - and already, we've seen it in the Republican base, thanks to Trump's relentless claims that the last election was stolen - that could start spreading now to the left and to the center. And then you really don't have a working democracy when people don't trust election results. So we're in a very precarious place. And we've got to bolster those institutions and people that can help assure that our elections continue to be run fairly and are done with confidence.

MARTIN: And what does that look like? I mean, it's one thing to just keep raising awareness about the issue. But what you've outlined is a very precarious situation, when such a cross section of Americans across the political divide stop having faith in these institutions. So what can be done? I mean, we're looking down the pike at the November midterms.

HASEN: Right. And I think the really big target is 2024 because a lot of the people who are going to be chosen in the 2022 elections are the ones that are going to be running the 2024 elections. And that's where, if Donald Trump is running again, he could try to be making these claims and undermining confidence. So I think there's a number of things that could be done. No. 1, Congress can pass a law. There are now a group of bipartisan senators who are talking about not only fixing the Electoral Count Act, but putting in provisions that would - for example, if a governor tries to mess with the election results for president or state, that there's a judicial review of that to try to overturn that.

I think running elections fairly is important. Running elections transparently so everyone can watch the process from the time people vote and recognizing that there are other actors that need to get involved, whether that's courts or nongovernmental organizations or just, you know - because our elections are so decentralized, everyone can be involved on the local level to at least observe what's going on. And so we have to be vigilant. Now's not the time to just throw up our hands and say, look; these people might win office. What are we going to do about it? There's stuff to do.

MARTIN: Well, should the federal government - I mean, you just outlined this issue. It's decentralized. Our electoral system is decentralized on purpose. Should the federal government have greater oversight of state and local elections?

HASEN: Well, you know, I think, in the long term, we could consider - and I've long believed - that we should be like most other advanced democracies and have national nonpartisan election administration. That's not happening anytime soon. So we need to think about the ways of having checks and balances. And the federal government does have a role to play. If Congress does pass legislation, that gives more court oversight. And also, I should point out that in every state, there is the ability to go to court to ensure that state courts are helping to enforce state law. So the judiciary is an important bulwark against attempts to deny election results and to try to manipulate them.

MARTIN: Professor Rick Hasen teaches at UCLA School of Law, where he is director of UCLA's Safeguarding Democracy Project. We so appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

HASEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SIX PARTS SEVEN'S "NIGHTLONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.