TrumpWorld figures have spent months recruiting Big Lie conspiracy theorists to seek local election offices ahead of the next presidential race after failing to overturn Donald Trump's defeat in 2020. A failed effort in New Mexico this month offered a preview of what is likely to come in local election offices run by Trump loyalists.
Trump has spent months campaigning to install loyal supporters in state-level offices to oversee upcoming elections, and now his allies are increasingly focused on taking over local offices as well. Former Trump campaign manager and White House strategist Steve Bannon, one of the loudest voices backing the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol riot, has dubbed this the "precinct strategy," urging his podcast audience to "take this back village by village … precinct by precinct."
"We're taking over all the elections," Bannon said last November. "We're going to get to the bottom of [the 2020 election] and we're going to decertify the electors. And you're going to have a constitutional crisis."
That specific scenario is unlikely, but other Trump allies, like onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn, who effectively called for a military coup to undo Trump's loss, have also pushed supporters to get involved in local races. MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, one of the biggest proponents of the voter fraud myth, even recruited sitting county election officials to help prove his claims of election rigging — though he has come up with exactly no evidence 19 months later. The Republican National Committee also appears to have embraced the strategy, recruiting and training an "army" of supporters to become poll workers in contested states like Michigan.
The RNC has already signed up thousands of people to be poll workers, according to Politico. And Republican leaders in dozens of key counties told ProPublica they have seen a surge of thousands of new Republican precinct officers since Bannon's campaign began. "I've never seen anything like this, people are coming out of the woodwork," J.C. Martin, the GOP chair in Polk County, Florida, told the outlet.
Amid ongoing investigations into TrumpWorld's failed effort to overturn the 2020 election, culminated in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, his supporters are already working hard to install themselves into the process in upcoming races.
"The lie hasn't gone away. It's corrupting our Democratic institutions," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the Jan. 6 select committee, said at Tuesday's hearing. "People who believe that lie are now seeking positions of public trust. And as seen in New Mexico, their oath to the people they serve will take a backseat to their commitment to the big lie."
Thompson was referring to Republicans on the Otero County commission, including Couy Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump, who was convicted of entering the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6.
The Republican-led commission voted earlier this month not to certify any of the deep-red county's 7,123 votes in the state's June 7 gubernatorial primaries, citing unspecified concerns about Dominion voting machines. Dominion has been at the heart of repeatedly-debunked and increasingly fanciful conspiracy theories pushed by TrumpWorld, which have variously alleged a plot involving Chinese and/or German officials, along with former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (who died in 2013), to flip Trump votes to Joe Biden. Dominion has filed multiple billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against numerous individuals over these claims.
"I have huge concerns with these voting machines," Otero County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt said at a recent meeting, according to the Associated Press, without specifying any actual issues with the machines.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, asked the state Supreme Court to intervene and force the commission to certify the results, accusing its members of "appeasing unfounded conspiracy theories and potentially nullifying the votes of every Otero County voter who participated in the primary." New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas also threatened legal action. County Clerk Robyn Holmes, a Republican, similarly rejected the commission's demand for a hand recount of ballots because it is prohibited by state law.
"The primary went off without a hitch," she told the AP. "It was a great election."
Marquardt initially mocked the idea that a court could intervene. "And so then what? They're going to send us to the pokey?" she questioned.
But after the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered the county to certify its election results last week, Marquardt and fellow Republican commissioner Gerald Matherly relented and voted to certify the votes.
"I will be no use to the people of Otero County while in jail," Marquardt said, according to the Alamogordo Daily News, adding that the commission would instead launch a committee to investigate "tough questions" about voter fraud.
Griffin, however, refused to vote to certify the election, hours after he was fined $3,000 and sentenced to time served and community service for his role in the Capitol riot. He acknowledged that he had no proof of election fraud but said his "gut feeling" was that the process was untrustworthy.
"My vote to remain a 'no' isn't based on any evidence. It's not based on any facts," Griffin said, according to the AP. "It's only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition."
His vote not to certify election results, said the founder of Cowboys for Trump, "isn't based on any evidence. It's not based on any facts. It's only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition."
Oliver said in a statement after the vote that she was "relieved" that the commission "finally did the right thing and followed their duty" under state law. But she criticizing commissioners who "admitted that they did not have any facts to support not certifying the election results."
Oliver also referred the commission members to the state attorney general's office. "All county officials take an oath to uphold the constitution and laws of New Mexico," she said. "The Commissioners in Otero County have violated the public's trust and our state laws through their recent actions and must be held accountable."
In fact, Otero was not the only New Mexico county that encountered unexpected drama over seemingly uncontroversial party primary results. In Torrance County, commissioners certified the vote despite fury from conservatives who called the members "cowards and traitors" for certifying the election, according to the AP. In Sandoval County, protesters had to be cleared from the room after Commissioner Jay Block, a failed Republican gubernatorial primary candidate, cast a sole vote to block the certification to no avail.
But Otero County, which Trump carried with 62% of the vote, has emerged as ground zero for the ongoing Republican efforts to stoke the Big Lie about nonexistent election fraud. The county previously launched a so-called audit of the 2020 election after lobbying from David and Erin Clements, who have become key figures in election conspiracy theory.
David Clements, a former New Mexico prosecutor who now describes himself as a "traveling audit salesman," has been pushing a theory that all voting machines "have been skewing results for years" in "every county" on his popular Telegram channel, according to Vice News.
"Traveling audit salesman" David Clements is pushing the theory that all voting machines everywhere in the country "have been skewing results for years."
The Otero County Commission paid $50,000 in taxpayer funds for an audit encouraged by Clements and awarded the contract to a company called EchoMail, which is run by conspiracy theorist Shiva Ayyadurai and also took part in the failed election "audit" in Arizona's Maricopa County. EchoMail contracted a group called the "New Mexico Audit Force," which went door-to-door to question residents about how they voted. EchoMail ultimately admitted it had "found No Election Fraud" but the effort came under fire over concerns about voter intimidation.
Oliver described this effort as a "vigilante audit" and Brian Colón, the state auditor, said the county commissioners "may have abused their power" in approving the contract, calling it a "careless and extravagant waste of public funds, which does not appear to serve any useful purpose to the taxpayers of Otero County."
The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the audit over concerns that it illegally interfered with Americans' right to vote by "spreading disinformation about elections and intimidating voters" and potentially resulting in "intimidation directed at minority voters."
But Clements has continued to lobby the county to embrace his conspiracy theories, urging them to ban all voting machines. Along with their refusal to certify the results, county commissioners also voted to remove all voting machines.
Clements, who has appeared at events alongside Bannon, Flynn and Lindell, is pushing conspiracy theorists in other counties to seek positions in county election offices to approve so-called forensic audits and bans on voting machines, which could lead to long delays in vote counting.
"The opportunity to get three votes from MAGA-friendly county commissioners to get rid of machines is staggering," he wrote on Telegram in January. "No more bottlenecks."
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