An election in South Florida this week may serve as a marker for where the Republican Party stands in 2022, and how much American democracy has already changed since Donald Trump lost reelection.
The election on Tuesday was not national news, nor should it be. It was a special election to replace a House Democrat who died in office in April. The race itself was hardly contested by national political parties even though the US House is closely divided. Joe Biden won the area with 77 percent in the 2020 election. Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 5 to 1 margin in the district, it was almost certain that a Democrat would win.
The Democratic winner, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, is interesting. She is a progressive who spent her own money to win and backs the concept of universal basic income. She also becomes the first Haitian-American woman in Congress to represent Florida.
She won 79 percent of the vote over Republican Jason Mariner, who was born in Boston and founded a drug and alcohol detox center in Florida. Mariner got less than 20 percent of the vote and trails Cherfilus-McCormick by over 32,000 votes. For context, Biden beat Trump statewide in Georgia by 11,000 votes.
“Now they called the race, I did not win, so they say, but that does not mean that they lost either, it does not mean that we lost,” Mariner was quoted by the Miami CBS affiliate as saying.
He said he will file a lawsuit. Election officials say it takes 14 days to certify the results. Mariner, then, has 10 days to challenge them.
To be clear, Cherfilus-McCormick doesn’t need Mariner to concede to be seated in Congress. Members of the House approve who sits in the chamber and Democrats, for now, control the House.
That said, this week’s episode shows the Republican Party could be drifting toward a new norm of refusing to concede — even in landslides. In Washington state, the Republican candidate for governor refused to concede, even though results showed he lost by over 500,000 votes. Of course, Trump reiterated this week in an interview with NPR that he still wants to talk about how he believes the 2020 election was stolen from him.
While few would suggest that Mariner will be in Congress in this year his refusal to concede and decision to file a lawsuit raises an interesting question about the boundaries of American democracy. What if a partisan judge rules, without facts, in favor of a soundly defeated candidate for office? If that seems implausible, then what about for closer elections?
These questions are some of the reasons why elections for Secretary of State, the official that typically administers elections in states, are among the most high-profile of the mid-term election year.