Election misinformation and conspiracy theories extend far beyond phony robocalls to confuse voters or Twitter rants about stolen elections.
In the 2022 midterm, the very basics of how American democracy functions was on the ballot, threatened by a small cadre of conspiracy theorists running for office with the express purpose of deputizing themselves, not the people, to choose who wins future elections.
Hundreds of Republican candidates for Congress, governor, and secretary of state offices in 2022 believed the 2020 election was stolen and that President Joe Biden isn’t legitimate. But some election deniers went even further and ran on a platform of openly declaring that they’d potentially throw out future election results or send bogus slates of “alternate electors” for president based on unevidenced voter fraud claims.
A few of these candidates were connected to the QAnon conspiracy theory, in particular, members of the America First Secretary of State Coalition–a group of “constitutional conservatives” who sought to radically overhaul their state electoral systems by making it substantially harder to vote under the auspices of “reversing electoral fraud.”
At least several said that if they were already in the positions they were running for, they would have refused to certify Biden’s win—throwing the already fraught and conspiracy-riddled 2020 election into chaos.
The danger these candidates presented had they won was real. Election deniers like Jim Marchant in Nevada, Mark Finchem in Arizona, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, and many others ran well-funded and Trump-endorsed campaigns in swing states during a midterm election that was widely seen to be a potential Democratic wipeout. They were poised to benefit enormously from Biden’s low approval rating, the historical gains that a party out of power usually makes during the midterms, and perceived Democratic malaise.
But even with all those advantages, they ran poor campaigns, veering off into conspiracy theories and threats, hammering on culture war tropes few people actually cared about and continuing to insist that Trump won even as much of the country was finally moving on. And ultimately, they lost, doing measurably worse than even other Republican candidates in those states.
The defeat of the election-denier slate of candidates, particularly those backed by the QAnon influencer who calls himself “Juan O. Savin,” is one of the biggest stories in the aftermath of the 2022 election.
Presented with overwhelming evidence that these candidates were more interested in muddying the waters of future elections than providing any tangible help to the citizenry, the people of Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, and Michigan pushed back. Even where Republicans made gains in those states, such as the Nevada governor’s house flipping from Democrat to Republican, not a single election denier won a critical race in a swing state.
The chaos these candidates could have inflicted on the 2024 election and beyond was incalculable. Like the doomed attempts to “find” more votes in Georgia, or create conspiracy theories out of thin air in Maricopa County, Arizona, or Antrim County, Michigan—except this time executed with well-developed and funded plans run by devoted Trump supporters in positions of power who would do anything to get him back into office.
Much of the danger came from the group of candidates assembled by Savin, a fringe conspiracy theorist whose real name is Wayne Willott, who has alluded to being John F. Kennedy Jr. and is connected to “The Deep Rig” producer and election denial funder Patrick Byrne, among other figures. For his part, Byrne has called Savin “smooth,” “sophisticated,” and a man who “knows a lot of stuff. He’s been behind the curtain.”
Savin unveiled the America First Secretary of State Coalition, attempting to put Q-friendly, Trump-devoted election deniers in positions of power over elections in swing states absolutely critical to both the Democrat or Republican running for president in the next election.
Nevada Secretary of State primary winner Marchant said he would not have certified Joe Biden’s 2020 win in that state, while Arizona’s Finchem attempted to send fake electors to Washington, D.C. as a member of the state assembly, marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and planned to eliminate virtually all voting except for ballots cast in person on Election Day.
Marchant was the first person Savin brought into his coalition, the Q guru claimed in a speech made a few weeks before the election.
“I was helping him on the legal side,” Savin told a crowd. “He’d run in Las Vegas for U.S. representative and he lost. We fought it on the legal stuff because we said, well, something wasn’t right. The clerks didn’t see it that way.”
Another Savin candidate, Michigan secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo was an anti-vaccine podcaster who shot to fame among conspiracy theorists after claiming without evidence that she witnessed large-scale electoral fraud in Detroit on Election Day in 2020. The coalition also boosted the candidacy of Mastriano, who won the GOP gubernatorial primary in Pennsylvania partially on the strength of his claims that he would refuse to certify any Democrat who won his state’s electoral votes in 2024.
“It was important [that] these people lose because Finchem, Marchant, and Mastriano had all made it clear they were going to rig the 2024 presidential election for Donald Trump,” conspiracy theory researcher and podcaster Mike Rains told the Daily Dot. “Having these people in power in battleground states could have provoked a constitutional crisis where the winner of the election was denied victory by people pushing baseless allegations of voter fraud.”
Several openly endorsed QAnon or its tenets, worked with members of the various election denier cadres circling around Trump, such as Mike Flynn and Patrick Byrne, and spoke at Q and conspiracy-themed events and conferences. Marchant even claimed that he was at one of these events—the Patriot Double Down in Las Vegas—where Savin originally floated the idea of launching a coalition of election-denier candidates.
Their victory would have marked a clear step forward for a movement that continues to become more mainstream and leave behind some of its more esoteric elements.
But the stolen election movement might also have run up against the limit of how much their fellow Americans want to trash more than two centuries of representative democracy. Every single election-denier candidate in a swing state not only lost but lagged behind other Republicans—even where the GOP flipped other state offices. In Nevada, Republican Joe Lombardo won the governor’s seat from incumbent Democrat Steve Sisolak with more than 488,000 votes—but fellow Republican Marchant got just 465,000 votes, as of Nov. 14. Arizona candidate Finchem lagged over 65,000 votes behind Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake—also an election denier connected to the various “Stop the Steal” ventures centered around her state. And Mastriano is currently a quarter of a million votes behind Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, with both losing.
Other QAnon candidates for Congress struggled as well, with Q believer JR Majewski losing a heavily-Republican favored seat in Ohio, and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) hanging on to a slim lead.
As with all of their other defeats, the QAnon faithful have taken to social media to declare that all of these elections were stolen or rigged, with the usual evidence-free accusations of late-night ballot dumps and fraud. But so far, there appears to be little enthusiasm for creating an organized movement based around these Republican failures in the midterms.
Q social media is almost completely free of mentions of Savin or his coalition, save for anger at Mastriano for actually conceding the race he lost badly. Nobody seems willing to reckon with the idea that perhaps the American people weren’t quite ready to have elections rendered meaningless.
There’s nothing preventing any of these candidates from running again. And Trump potentially being on the 2024 ballot might bring out a whole new round of election deniers and Q-pilled 2020 truthers who could ride his base’s loyalty to office. But for the moment, the danger of American democracy being tossed out seems to have passed.
It’s not yet clear why these candidates did so poorly or why they performed worse than other Republicans in the same states. But from available exit polling, Trump was a drag on the GOP this year, putting anyone he endorsed at risk. Many voters interviewed afterward said they believed that democracy was at least somewhat at risk—likely due to this exact slate of candidates. The media has also frequently profiled these candidates, shedding a light on their extremism and intention to meddle in future elections. And while turnout was down from 2018, it was actually up in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—all states where Savin-endorsed candidates were running. In tight races where most margins were fairly slim, those factors might have been all that was needed for election deniers to flame out.
Even other Republicans acknowledged that phony voter fraud claims from 2020 didn’t stir voters in 2022 and that it was time to move on. “We need all candidates who come up short to acknowledge [their losses] and to come back and fight within our system another day,” Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said after he was re-elected.
“Juan O. Savin tried to get election deniers in office who could control election administration, which had a possibility of threatening our democracy and instigating a constitutional crisis,” Media Matters Senior Researcher Alex Kaplan told the Daily Dot. “But members of Savin’s coalition in swing states lost, safeguarding those positions in the electoral process in those key states for the time being.”