The campaign for Maine's northernmost state Senate seat was the most expensive in state history. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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Democracy was on the ballot this year.

The issue, perhaps never before appearing in public opinion surveys, boiled down to efforts to suppress voting and deny election results.

In recent decades, the Republicans have pursued  voter suppression, trying to reduce the number of Democratic voters. Beyond that effort, even before an election,  fraud claims, lacking any evidence, were ready and  ballots questioned.

This political strategy has become part of partisan politics without evidence that dishonest elections are increasing. Donald Trump’s prolonged campaign against his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden set the pattern for pre-election strategy to challenge results in close contests.

Attention has been focused on the conflict on these issues, ranging from scores of court cases to the January 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But there’s more to it than that. Forces originating outside the district or state have also powerfully influenced the elections.

Money’s role in politics is now huge. The country has moved almost completely to accept that spending money on elections is the equivalent of speech and so cannot be limited.

Campaigns now believe that the outcome of an election can be influenced, if not determined, by how much money is spent to support candidates. This year, it has been estimated that more than  $16.7 billion was spent on federal and state campaigns.

While buying a person’s votes is illegal, their choices may be “bought” by massive media, mail and canvassing efforts to reach individual voters. If you can’t get into voters’ pockets, get into their heads.

In Maine, an estimated  $1 million was spent on the contest for state Senate President Troy Jackson’s seat in Aroostook County. That’s a new record. Using the number of votes cast in the same district in 2020, that spending amounts to about $54 for each vote cast.

This spending was less concerned with a single senator than about which party controls the seat and who leads the Senate. Could the Maine Senate be bought for $18 million, the price of gaining a majority in the 35-seat body, using the amount spent on the Jackson race?

In today’s politics that’s pocket money. So long as campaign spending is effectively unlimited because it’s free speech, elections will be increasingly influenced by the intense campaign attacks made possible by big bucks.

Then, there are the  Russians. They have resumed sending their electronic messengers to spread false information in American social media. Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has asserted that, “we interfered, we interfere and we will interfere. Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way.”

They have created phony characters that spread lies to favor Republicans. The Russians believe U.S. support for Ukraine can be halted by flipping congressional control to the GOP so that no additional funds will be approved to support the opposition to their stalled invasion.

Federal agencies have done little more than warn Americans against believing posts by people whose identities cannot be verified. But the Russians have improved their targeting and benefit from the momentum of their tactics gained in past campaigns.

Another background influence has come from treating elections like sports. Relying on  questionable poll results, the pundits roll out the score every day. Primaries are like playoffs. Voters are guided to the final score by the incessant reporting on who’s leading and what the big scoring maneuvers are.

Much less attention is paid to the issues and coverage of a candidate’s promises and whether they would realistically be able to keep them. Political ads focus far more on an opponent’s defects than on the candidate. When issues become complex, it’s easier to focus on politics more than on policy. And maybe more fun.

This style of campaign coverage may create its own political reality. Voters become increasingly drawn to the daily score rather than to a sustained focus on what candidates propose and their records. With campaigns as sporting events, we’ve been getting more color comment than play-by-play.

Much less significant, but largely ignored, is the unusual  electoral effect of non-citizens.  According to the Constitution, the  census, which prescribes how U.S. House seats are distributed among states, uses the total population within a state, not only the citizens or voters. Where there are many resident aliens, legal or not, the census count may be higher.

The effect of illegal residents on the census reveals that Texas, a red state, probably received one additional seat in the House. The state that fights illegal immigrants may be gaining power in Congress thanks to them. That could mean that another state, say blue state New York, has lost that seat, helping shift control of the House from the Democrats to the GOP.

Money, the Russians, pundits and aliens may have influenced this year’s election outcomes more than attempts to block voters.

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.