“Election deniers are trying to influence the midterm elections at the polls, in the courts, and on the ballot” was first published in businessinsider.com.
Across the country, some of the same people who vehemently deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election have also made persistent efforts to influence the 2022 midterm elections. If their efforts bear fruit, experts fear it could have a deleterious effect on future elections.
Many election deniers, including former President Donald Trump, have continued to push their debunked voter-fraud claims, despite the fact that courts have dismissed dozens of legal challenges to the election and that the Department of Homeland Security said the 2020 presidential election was the “most secure in American history.”
Organizing efforts to reach voters directly
State by state, election deniers are already having an impact on the ground. In Mesa, Arizona, police responded to a call to investigate armed and masked individuals watching a ballot drop box. The activist group involved, Clean Elections USA, organized efforts for similar watch parties across the country in an effort to spot potential voter fraud, according to The New York Times.
A lawsuit seeking an injunction and restraining order against Clean Elections USA said the group photographed voters in Arizona and accused them of being “ballot mules,” per The Times. The Justice Department earlier this month said the case represents grave concerns over voter intimidation, The Associated Press reported.
Last week, a Trump-appointed judge granted a restraining order against Clean Elections USA, which prohibits the group from approaching drop boxes, openly carrying firearms near drop boxes, or yelling at people depositing their ballots, according to Politico.
This past February, the North Carolina Board of Elections released a statement telling voters that “state and county election officials will never go door-to-door conducting any type of election business.” It came in response to reports after far-right activists went canvassing requesting voter-registration information and asking people to sign legal documents saying they are registered to vote at the address where they live.
Richard C. Bell, an attorney and author of “Voting: The Ultimate Act of Resistance,” told Insider that “The Big Lie,” referring to the debunked claim that the 2020 election was stolen, motivates many of these people and their efforts are “clearly election vigilantism.”
“Threats, intimidation, spread of voting process misinformation, interference and obstruction are crimes in addition to being serious threats to the right to vote, the foundation of a democratic society,” Bell said.
Meanwhile, officials in Clark County, Nevada will be required to release information about poll workers’ political affiliations following a lawsuit by the Republican National Committee, Reuters reported.
“Poll workers, as opposed to poll watchers, are employees or independent contractors who are the heroes that administer our elections in a free, fair, and non-partisan manner,” Bell told Insider. “The poison of The Big Lie, fact-free propaganda and disinformation about unproven election irregularities result in a chilling effect on people who want to do the job of running fair elections.
He added, “Poll watchers should make voting smoother, not obstruct it.”
A similar lawsuit was filed in Maricopa County, Arizona, and in North Carolina and Michigan, the RNC won lawsuits to loosen restrictions on partisan poll watchers, according to Reuters.
Tammy Patrick, an adviser at Democracy Fund, an organization that works with election officials to improve voting processes, told Pew that those bent on catching voter fraud will capitalize on any minor error.
“People believe the election system is fraudulent and rife with malfeasance and criminal activity,” Patrick told Pew. “Any human error is going to be twisted and pointed to as some manifestation of a rigged system, when in reality, it was because a person made a mistake when they weren’t left alone to do their job.”
Lawsuits cause chaos in vote counting
There have also been sustained legal efforts to challenge how counties count votes, Reuters reported.
In Arizona, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake sued to stop the use of electronic vote tabulators, claiming the machines created “unjustified new risks” of voter fraud, Reuters reported. A judge dismissed the case, which is on appeal, according to The New York Times.
Bell called Lake’s claim an “absurd suggestion” that was “straight out of the election denier’s handbook,” adding that it “perpetuates The Big Lie without a scintilla of evidence.”
“It is a smokescreen to create chaos in our voting process and to shake confidence in our elections without an ounce of facts to support it,” Bell told Insider.
He added, “Democracy demands truth, not disinformation. Disinformation is a tool of dictators.”
Republicans in at least six states have authored legislation to ban electronic vote counters in an effort to pivot to counting ballots by hand, which experts told the Times would make the process of tallying votes less accurate and more chaotic. In Nye County, Nevada, the American Civil Liberties Union sued to stop hand counting, arguing that it violates state and federal law, according to Reuters.
In Pennsylvania, a judge ruled that state officials may save but not count mail-in ballots that are dated incorrectly after Republicans sued to eliminate the ballots, Reuters reported. The outlet reported that Democrats argued the move was part of a GOP effort to toss votes, especially ones that could impact tight races.
A judge expressed concern about violating a federal law making it illegal to discard ballots for trivial reasons and ruled that the ballots must be preserved in the event a higher court allows them to be counted, per Reuters.
Election deniers on the ballot
Dozens upon dozens of election deniers are also running for office in the midterms — many of whom Trump has endorsed.
Nearly 300 election deniers are running for public office with 171 expected to be victorious on election night, according to The Washington Post. Some 60% of Americans have an election denier on their ballot, estimates by FiveThirtyEight show.
According to The Post, more than 50% of Republicans running for public office in 2022 are election deniers, and 48 out of 50 states will have an election denier on their ballots.
Many election deniers are running for seats in Congress while others are running in significant statewide races.
Lake has repeatedly denied the results of the 2020 election and has said that she will not commit to accepting the results of her governor’s race if she loses.
In Nevada, Republican Jim Marchant is vying to be the state’s Secretary of State, which would give him power over the state’s election system. Marchant is also linked to the QAnon-conspiracy movement and has openly claimed that he would not have certified President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020.
In Michigan, Kristina Karamo, a community-college professor, is also running on the GOP ticket for state Secretary of State. Karamo has claimed that the 2020 election was stolen and earlier this month voiced support for a lawsuit filed against election officials in the city of Detroit, which she baselessly claimed has been “plagued by election corruption for years,” WJBK reported.
Experts worry the fight over the narrative on election security and legitimacy will likely go beyond 2022.
In Wisconsin, Tim Michels, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, said the GOP “will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”
And if election deniers like Lake and Mark Finchem, who is running for Secretary of State in Arizona, win their races and later refuse to accept the results of the 2024 presidential election, it would create “unprecedented” challenges for the American electoral system, experts previously told Business Insider.
“It would be completely unprecedented,” Nathaniel Persily, an elections expert at Stanford University, told Insider. Persily also described these potential legal issues as scenarios that “our system is incapable of handling.”
The Department of Justice has reported a string of violent threats against election workers ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Threats against election workers and officials have increased since the 2020 presidential election.
Some states also have taken measures to ensure the safety of workers at the polls.
LA County voters go to the polls to vote in-person the day before Election Day at the LA County Registrar-Recorder on June 6, 2022 in Norwalk, California.
Gina Ferazzi | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images
A 64-year-old Iowa man was arrested earlier this month for threatening to kill election officials in Arizona’s Maricopa County — a pivotal county at the center of the 2020 election and subsequent state recount where former President Donald Trump lost by about 10,000 votes.
“When we come to lynch your stupid lying Commie [expletive], you’ll remember that you lied on the [expletive] Bible, you piece of [expletive]. You’re gonna die, you piece of [expletive]. We’re going to hang you. We’re going to hang you,” the man allegedly said in a voicemail left for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Sept. 27, 2021, according to the Justice Department.
Arizona election officials step up security after reports of voter intimidation
That is just one example of the rising number of violent threats election workers in the days leading up to the Nov. 8 midterms. The Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies are cracking down on the escalation of the threats ahead of the U.S. election that could flip the balance of power in Congress.
“Threats to election workers not only threaten the safety of the individuals concerned, but also jeopardize the stability of the U.S. electoral process,” the FBI said in a public service announcement earlier this month. Homeland Security warned in June that “calls for violence by domestic violent extremists” against election workers, candidates and democratic institutions will likely rise the closer we get to the midterms.
An observer watches as contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 8, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Courtney Pedroza | The Washington Post | Getty Images
DOJ has fielded an increasing number of reports of threatening voicemails, online messages and even in-person encounters since Trump lost the 2020 election.
“These threats against election officials continue,” Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida and author of “From Pandemic to Insurrection: Voting in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election,” told CNBC. “It’s straining and stressing election officials. And in some cases, they are opting to retire from running elections.”
Earlier this month, DOJ Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., who runs the agency’s criminal division, briefed hundreds of election officials and workers on federal government grants available under the 2002 Help American Vote Act to bolster physical security at election locations. The act authorized an additional $75 million for security for this year — up from $425 million in 2020. Additional funding from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan can also be used to protect election workers, Polite said.
The precautions stem from the unprecedented intimidation of election officials and workers during the 2020 presidential vote — an election that Trump continues to falsely claim was rigged — even though numerous courts, law enforcement and high-ranking Republican officials have found no evidence of widespread fraud.
Workers in battleground states in 2020, notably Georgia and Arizona, have been repeatedly targeted by extremists since those states’ races were contested and lost by Trump.
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia Secretary of State’s chief operating officer, told U.S. lawmakers in June that one of the state’s election workers was threatened to be “hung for treason” after transferring an election report to a county computer.
Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, former Elections Department employee in Fulton County, Georgia testifies during the fourth of eight planned public hearings of the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 21, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Former Georgia election worker Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss testified at the same hearing about racist threats and death wishes she received after becoming the focus of a Trump conspiracy theory.
‘Turned my life upside down’
Moss, who was falsely accused of election tampering, said the harassment stemming from those accusations “turned my life upside down.”
“It’s affected my life in a major way. In every way. All because of lies. From me doing my job, the same thing I’ve been doing forever,” Moss told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
DOJ launched an election threats task force in July 2021 to ensure voters are safe at the polls and to look into the rise in threatening behavior against election workers like Moss. Over the past year, it has held approximately 40 meetings, presentations, and trainings with the election community, state and local prosecutors, state and local law enforcement, vendors providing services to support election administration, and major social media companies, a DOJ official told CNBC.
Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots as part of the recount for the 2020 presidential election at the Beauty P. Baldwin Voter Registrations and Elections Building on November 16, 2020 in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Megan Varner | Getty Images
The task force reviewed over 1,000 contacts reported by elections officials as hostile or harassing, the agency said in August. In cases where they could identify the offender, half of them contacted officials on more than one occasion and about 11% of the incidents merited federal criminal investigation, according to the task force.
“Election officials in states with close elections and post-election contests were more likely to receive threats,” DOJ said. More than half 58%, of the potentially criminal threats were in states that underwent 2020 post-election lawsuits, recounts, and audits, including Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Wisconsin.
A March report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy institute, showed nearly one in three local election officials know at least one worker who has left their job due in part to safety concerns, elevated threats or intimidation. One in six local officials has personally experienced threats and more than half of this number have been threatened in person, according to the report.
“Who’s going to run the election, if sensible people aren’t willing to do it because they’re under threat?” McDonald said.
Richard C. Bell, a legal analyst and author of “Voting: The Ultimate Act of Resistance,” says federal and state government officials are stepping up their response to ensure election integrity and to make election workers feel safer.
“It is going to be safe for voters to vote, and it’s going to be safe for election officials to carry out their work,” Bell said. “This is not 2020 when some people got taken by surprise. We’re very well aware of the possibilities.”
Georgia launched a statewide text alert system this month to report incidents of violence against poll workers. The office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, a Republican who defied former Trump by certifying that state’s 2020 election results favoring Joe Biden, created the tool after the last presidential election. Raffensperger said he and his family have been targeted with numerous threats since Trump lost.
A transcript of a phone call between former U.S. President Donald Trump and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, appears on a video screen during the fourth hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on June 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
The FBI sent out a memo this month warning the public against threatening election staff in Arizona, where workers have received death threats.
In June, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an act protecting election workers from threats, coercion or intimidation into law.
Fair and free elections
The Office of U.S. Attorneys, which prosecutes federal crimes in local regions across the country for DOJ, is also assigning local prosecutors to help oversee election safety in every state as part of the Justice Department’s routine Election Day Program.
“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted in a fair and free election,” U.S. Attorney Dena J. King said in a statement. “Similarly, election officials and staff must be able to serve without being subject to unlawful threats of violence. The Department of Justice will always work tirelessly to protect the integrity of the election process.”
The same day the Iowa man was arrested for threatening Arizona officials earlier this month, DOJ said a man in Nebraska was sentenced to 18 months in prison for threatening an election official and posting threatening messages on Instagram to Biden and another public figure.
“Do you feel safe? You shouldn’t. Do you think Soros will/can protect you?” prosecutors said the man told the election official, referencing billionaire Democratic donor George Soros. “Your security detail is far too thin and incompetent to protect you. This world is unpredictable these days … anything can happen to anyone.”
Voter Education is the Way Out of America’s Voting Rights Mess, and with the recent defeat of the excellent voting rights legislative proposals in the Senate, I can understand how some citizens can become discouraged at this juncture. However, we must look to the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King for guidance, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”.
Our hope lies in our own actions given the status of voter suppression (denying one’s right to vote with discriminatory impact) and election subversion (using the levers of power in the administration of elections in a partisan manner to overturn legitimate election results) in many states.
While lawyers and legislators fight the good fight in courts, state legislatures and Congress, every citizen can do her/his part to keep elections free and fair through the voter education offered in votingforbeginners.com. Know the rules. Know the changes in voting laws. Know how to register and have your vote counted. Share it with your family and friends. When voters are educated I am confident they will vote to be represented by politicians that will ensure voter suppression and election subversion have no place in our democracy.
TOP 3 TIPS FOR VOTERS THAT GO WITH VOTING EDUCATION:
Voter Suppression Laws In Certain States Are Unfortunately Alive And Well: With all the critical events in the news these days, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the war on voting rights is under attack in various states almost daily.
You may have read that the Freedom to Vote Act, national legislation to combat voter suppression (placing barriers to voting which often discriminate against certain groups such as African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, young voters and disabled voters) and electoral subversion (laws that intend to overturn election results by empowering partisan politicians over professional and competent election administrators in counting votes and certifying results) was prevented from being passed by Republicans in the senate. Unfortunately, due to the senate filibuster rules there is no chance it will pass the senate without a reform or carve out of the filibuster rules.
After you read it, you may want to contact your senator to voice your support for the bill. Our democracy depends on it.
Before you contact your senator be sure to review the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act if you agree that potential voter suppression laws should be pre-cleared by the Attorney General of the United States or the U.S. District Court in D.C. Then you need to call or email your senator to support this additional important piece of legislation that honors American voting rights and civil rights hero John Lewis. Your senator works for you. Tell her/him your opinions. NOW.