Steven Rosenfeld

Nevada County becomes a harbinger of the chaos that election deniers will wreak

A hand count has been halted. Most voters won’t use computers to vote.

One day after Nevada’s Supreme Court and Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske shut down a hand count of 2022 general election ballots in a rural county whose GOP leaders fell under the spell of 2020 election deniers, the man at the center of that political storm—Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf—was determined to resurrect the controversial process.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Standing outside the Bob Ruud Community Center in Pahrump, an early voting site in a town of 45,000 located at the base of a desert county that stretches for 170 miles along Nevada’s western flank, Kampf said he spent a sleepless night writing a proposal to revive the hand count. It was stopped because observers were hearing how people voted, which is illegal in Nevada before voting ends.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was working on my revised procedure,” he said on Friday, October 28. “The procedure was what I had conceived of before I even got into this office [in August], which was a silent process… They [Cegavske’s staff] might get it tomorrow.”

Inside the voting center on Friday afternoon, it was quiet. As a Democratic Party observer noted, there were more poll workers than voters. A Republican Party observer said there had been no trouble apart from one man trying to bring his gun inside (Nye is a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”) He was told to leave it in his car. Another man who voted in the morning tried to vote again. Poll workers recognized him and told him to leave. The Democratic observer asked about a voter who put their absentee ballot on top of a drop box—not in it.

These mostly calm scenes belie the political issues and stakes raised by Nye County’s rebellion in election administration. Led by Trump Republicans who control the Board of County Commissioners, Nye County has broken with how the rest of Nevada is conducting the 2022 general election in two major ways.

First, until it was halted on October 27, Nye County was conducting a hand count of 2022 general election votes that also were being counted on state-approved voting system computers. The hand count was an effort to assess the accuracy of the computers. Second, county officials want most voters to cast a hand-marked paper ballot, not a computer-marked ballot on a state-approved system.

Across Nevada, most 2022 general election voters will cast a mailed-out ballot—which is a hand-marked paper ballot. In 2021, Nevada’s Democrat-led legislature adopted this way of voting after it was used during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state also offers in-person voting before and on Election Day. Almost all Nevada counties use touch screen computers for their in-person voting. These systems use software to record votes, which Nye County’s commissioners no longer trust.

If Nye County executes its plans, it could foreshadow what elections may be like in states should 2020 election-deniers win on November 8.

Political Theater

The hand count has received the most attention and is a reaction to the distrust of computer voting systems by ex-President Donald Trump and his loyal followers. Last March, Jim Marchant, who became Nevada’s 2022 Republican secretary of state nominee, and several 2020 conspiracy theorists made a presentation to the Nye County Board of County Commissioners as the first stop on a statewide tour urging the banning of voting machines and adoption of hand counts.

The GOP-majority commission was swayed. It started pressuring the longtime county clerk, Sandra Merlino, to move to an all-paper, hand-counted election. She opposed that plan and resigned a few months later after 28 years of service in county government. Kampf, a retired corporate executive who specialized in supply chain controls and audits for Fortune 500 companies, was appointed interim clerk. He is expected to be elected on November 8.

Outside the Bob Ruud Community Center on Friday, neither Kampf nor Frank Carbone, a Republican county commissioner standing with him, would say what they distrusted about computer voting systems. Instead, they said that their constituency—the 69 percent of county voters who voted for Trump in 2020—had concerns that must be addressed.

“The Board of County Commissioners made a decision. It said they wanted to go to paper ballots. And that’s what we did,” said Carbone. “It has nothing to do with disliking machines. It had nothing to do with any of that process. The people said this is what they wanted.’”

So, on Wednesday, October 26, six teams of five people—plus political party observers, reporters, and voting rights lawyers watching—started reading aloud every vote that had been cast on a batch of 50 general election ballots and began to manually tally the votes. In 2020’s presidential election, roughly 25,000 votes were cast in Nye County. By day’s end, the teams only got through 50 ballots, because, among other things, counting mistakes were made.

Lawyers from the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter noted that they could hear the results, and on Thursday filed an emergency motion saying the hand count violated state law banning the release of results before the close of voting on Election Day.

Hours later, Nevada’s Supreme Court and secretary of state ordered the hand count to immediately stop. The high court told Nye County—meaning Kampf—to work out a hand count procedure that the secretary of state could approve. Kampf stayed up most of Thursday night revising his plans.

Kampf said his revised plan would have three members of each hand-counting team eye every ballot without saying aloud how people voted. They would write down the votes cast. If discrepancies appeared, a recount process would ensue and be documented. Thus, instead of speedy computer tabulators, there would be volunteers parsing bundles of 25 ballots, one contest at a time.

What gets lost in the political drama surrounding these details is that the hand count—which Kampf and Carbone said is to inspire public trust—has become a public relations sideshow. Even though Nye County’s GOP leadership wanted the hand count to replace the state’s official vote-counting process, that preexisting lawful system—as Nevada’s Supreme Court noted—remains in place. The hand count will have no impact on the official tabulation of votes in 2022’s general election. At this point, the hand count is merely an unofficial recount that may take months.

All Hand-Marked Paper Ballots

The more significant ongoing development, at least from an election administration perspective, is what has escaped notice by local and national media. That development is what Nye County is doing to ensure that almost every ballot cast will be a hand-marked paper ballot, not a computer-marked ballot.

In 2021, Nevada joined the handful of states that are mailing every registered voter a paper ballot. But not every voter will vote by mail. Nevada allows voters to opt out from receiving a mailed-out ballot, an acknowledgment that some Republicans, like their ex-president, do not trust any ballot that was not cast in person and counted on Election Day. It was not hard to find such voters in Pahrump.

“I didn’t ask for one,” said Bill Becht, who was manning a booth for the GOP candidate for sheriff. “I received one and promptly threw it in the trash.”

Every Nevada county also will have in-person voting sites. There people can register and vote on the same day. Those who do not want to use a mailed-out ballot can vote. And people with disabilities can use a computer voting station. In most counties, including Nye County before the 2022 general election, the in-person voting was done on a touch screen computer made by Dominion Voting Systems—the vendor demonized by Trump and his ardent followers, which is currently suing Fox News and other defendants in a billion-dollar defamation case.

Dominion’s computer system has voters selecting their candidates by touching a large rectangular screen. The computer, in turn, records the choices on a thumb drive locked inside. After voting ends, the drive is removed by poll workers and taken to county headquarters where its subtotals are compiled into the overall results on a central tabulating computer. Each touch screen voting station also prints the votes on a paper roll that can be seen, but not accessed, by voters.

Nye County is the only Nevada County this fall that will not use the touch screens except when requested by an infirm voter or person with disabilities.

At Nye County’s three early voting sites, there is only one touch screen voting station set up. In contrast, at the community center in Pahrump, there were 36 privacy booths on four rows of tables, where voters would fill out their paper ballot by hand using a pen. An overflow room had additional privacy booths.

Poll workers checking in voters gave out pre-printed paper ballots. (There are 13 different ballots across the county, which vary by local races.) When combined with paper ballots mailed out by the state, Nye County has found a way to replace almost entirely all of its computer ballots with hand-marked paper ballots.

As of noon on October 29, 6,097 mailed-out ballots had been received by the county, the clerk’s office said. An additional 1,125 pre-printed ballots had been given out and cast in person at the early voting sites. Only 53 voters used the computer voting station for people with disabilities. Together, those ballots represented a 17.7 percent voter turnout.

In general, hand-marked ballots are praised by experts because they are a direct record of a voter’s intent. Jennifer Morrell, a former election official now with the Elections Group, a consulting firm that assists officials, said that using all hand-marked paper ballots in polling places with one ballot-marking device for people with disabilities was not uncommon. “I’ve seen it in many jurisdictions across the country that operate a precinct polling location model.”

Both Kampf and officials in the county clerk’s office stressed that they were making sure that the number of legal voters and ballots issued each day was the same—to ensure that no illegal votes were cast. Election officials routinely check this aspect of elections to prevent fraudulent voting or to trace illegal voting.

More Paper Means Later Results

The shutdown of Nye County’s hand count has halted that aspect of its election administration rebellion. It remains to be seen whether Secretary of State Cegavske will accept Kampf’s proposal to restart that process.

But Nye County’s use of hand-marked paper ballots may have other Election Day impacts. If there is a heavy turnout on Election Day, particularly near the close of voting, it is likely that the tasks associated with counting all of the paper ballots will delay the release of its preliminary results until Wednesday, November 9, or later. Such late reporting in 2020 was criticized by Trump as an indication of a corrupt election, although that claim was factually inaccurate.

But if Nevada’s statewide and federal elections come down to the wire, Nye County—whose southern tier is in a U.S. House district now held by a Democrat—could be among the last of Nevada’s counties to report.

That delay would be due to several factors. The clerk’s office, where its central tabulating computers are located, is in Tonopah. That office is where all of the paper ballots are scanned and counted. (The scanner makes a digital image of every side of every ballot. Software then correlates a voter’s ink marks with the ballot’s layout of candidates and ballot measures.)

Tonopah is 168 miles and two-and-one-half hours to the north of Pahrump—on a two-lane highway locals call the “highway of death” because the speed limit is 70, it is unlit at night, and wild horses and burros wander onto the road.

That distance will delay the counting of the last tier of ballots from Pahrump, the county’s population center. Additionally, if the state allows the hand count to resume, Kampf’s staff in Tonopah has to fill out additional chain-of-custody paperwork so the paper ballots can be returned to Pahrump in batches of 25 ballots for the hand count. This will add more time to counting ballots.

Nevada, like many states, has taken steps to speed up its reporting of results. It allows county offices to preprocess mailed-out ballots before Election Day. The paper ballots given out at in-person voting sites can be counted starting on Election Day, which, in Nye County, will help the Tonopah office to get ahead of the ballots that will arrive after voting ends.

But Trump Republicans who oppose any form of voting other than in-person voting on Election Day and who expect results on Election Night are likely to be frustrated. Trump has said anything outside this window cannot be trusted. So even if Nye County is a harbinger of what elections may look like if election-denying candidates win this fall, some aspects of elections won’t change. Producing accurate results, even or perhaps especially in Republican-run counties, takes time.

“It would be nice to have the results by midnight on election night, but it won’t happen that way this time,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, Nye County Democratic Party chair. “That’s another consequence of the Big Lie.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Hand count halted in Nevada county as court rips pro-Trump official

One of the country’s most high-profile efforts by Trump Republicans to avoid using ballot-marking computers in 2022’s midterm elections and instead count votes by hand is coming apart at the seams.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Less than two days after Nye County, Nevada, began a controversial hand count led by an interim county clerk who is a 2020 election denier, Nevada’s Supreme Court and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, issued consecutive orders late on Thursday, October 27, shutting down the operation until after Election Day, November 8.

The twin orders were narrowly focused on a hand count process that interim Clerk Mark Kampf created this fall and debuted on Wednesday, October 26. On its first day, only 50 ballots were hand counted. In the county’s 2020 presidential election, 30,000 ballots were cast by voters, suggesting a full hand count would not finish before the deadlines in state law.

Most of Nye County’s voters are located in its southern tier, which is near Las Vegas. That location makes Nye County a potentially pivotal swing district in one of 2022’s battleground states.

Many of Nevada’s statewide and congressional contests are very close, according to numerous polls, including seats now held by Democrats. Among those are one U.S. House seat and a U.S. Senate seat.

The Nevada Supreme Court order agreed with an emergency motion filed by the ACLU of Nevada earlier on October 27 that contended that the counting process violated other state election laws that require vote counts to remain secret until after Election Day.

The process created by Kampf, which led the ACLU to sue earlier in October, had two people reading aloud the choices made by voters on their ballots, and three other individuals tallying those results. When the hand count commenced on October 26, six teams counted 50 ballots and nearby observers—including ACLU lawyers—heard the voters’ choices. The observers also witnessed many counting errors, causing the teams to recount votes multiple times.

Nevada’s Supreme Court said that reading aloud the results violated state law and ordered the county to cease immediately. It also ordered the county and secretary of state to work out another hand count process that would begin after the November 8 Election Day.

“Observers may not be positioned so as to become privy to the ballot selections and room tallies,” the court’s October 27 order said. “The specifics of the hand-count process and observer positioning so as not to violate this mandate is for respondents and the Nevada Secretary of State to determine.”

However, the secretary of state’s rebuke implied that the state and county might not agree on an acceptable hand count process.

“The current Nye County hand counting process must cease immediately and may not resume until after the close of polls on November 8, 2022,” said Cegavske’s October 27 letter. “Further, no alternative hand counting process may proceed until the Secretary of State and Nye County can determine whether there are any feasible ‘specifics of the hand-count process and observer positioning’ that do not ‘violate [the Supreme Court’s] mandate.’”

The issues at the center of the two orders are not the only problems shadowing Nye County’s handling of the 2022 general election.

In the 2020 presidential election, roughly three-quarters of the county’s voters supported Donald Trump. In late 2019, Nye County’s supervisors declared the county was a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” meaning that its citizens could carry weapons into public buildings.

On October 26, a female election worker with a gun tried to confiscate the notes being taken by an ACLU observer. That incident was not the subject of orders by the state Supreme Court and secretary of state.

There are other issues. Voting Booth visited several early voting sites in other rural Nevada counties. Those counties, which are less populous than Nye County, appeared to have far more electronic voting stations per site than Nye County, where Kampf has opposed using the ballot-marking computers.

How insufficiently deploying election equipment will affect the county’s voter turnout is an open question whose impact remains to be seen.

A third of 2022 midterm voters may use mailed-out ballots

Growing numbers of voters will mark their ballots at home, latest data finds.

Despite both a torrent of lawsuits attacking every aspect of voting with mailed-out ballots in the 2020 presidential election as well as post-election efforts in GOP-led states to pass laws limiting their use, a record-setting 42 million or more Americans are likely to vote using mailed-out ballots in the 2022 general election—a 40 percent increase from the last midterm election in 2018.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

One of the largest contributing factors to the expected increase in mailed-out ballot voting in the 2022 elections is that a few states, led by California, will mail every voter a ballot after temporarily expanding that voting option during the 2020 presidential election in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But another notable cause of the increase is that several battleground states that expanded access to mailed-out ballots in 2020 will also see growing slices of their electorate vote this way in 2022, according to election analysts and campaign data brokers tracking voters this fall.

Those battleground states include Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where the volume of requests by voters for mailed-out ballots is significantly greater than during the last midterm election in 2018.

As of October 13, Florida had 1.3 million more requests for mailed-out ballots for the 2022 election than in all of 2018, according to the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), a nonprofit that promotes this manner of voting and has been tracking its likely use. Michigan had 775,000 more requests in 2022 compared to 2018, Pennsylvania had 1.1 million more, and Wisconsin had 300,000 more.

Nevada, whose U.S. Senate contest is among a handful of races that could decide that body’s majority, also will be mailing every voter a ballot this fall.

“I think it is just people getting comfortable with mailed-out ballots because of the pandemic,” said Gerry Langeler, NVAHI research director.

On the other hand, a few GOP-led states that Donald Trump won in 2020—and where he and his allies attacked this means of voting in court and in the media—are seeing the number of requests for mailed-out ballots in 2022 remain similar or decrease as compared to 2018, according to data collected by NVAHI and Catalist, a campaign data broker serving Democratic candidates.

As of October 13, “26 days from Election Day,” Catalist reported that Arizona and Ohio had comparable numbers of requests for mailed-out ballots to four years ago. The number of requests for mailed-out ballots in Iowa and North Carolina, with competitive U.S. Senate races, had dropped significantly compared to 2018. (Some of this shortfall may be delays in reporting to state officials and brokers, Langeler said.)

Thirty-Five Percent of Midterm Voters?

Broadly speaking, voters have three options to cast ballots: in person before Election Day, in person on Election Day, and using a mailed-out ballot before or on Election Day. Each option has different requirements for the voter before they have a ballot in their hands. (With mailed-out ballots, some states will send every voter a ballot, other states send voters an application before they are sent a mailed-out ballot, and other states require voters to apply on their own and meet specific qualifications.) In general, GOP-led states have more rigorous protocols, although there are some exceptions. Utah mails all registered voters a ballot, for example, which is the same as California and Vermont.

In the 2020 presidential election, a record-setting 65.6 million people voted with mailed-out ballots. Another 35.8 million people voted in person before Election Day, according to the U.S. Elections Project, led by University of Florida professor of political science Michael P. McDonald, one of the nation’s foremost voter turnout experts.

Historically, turnout in midterm elections has been a third or more lower than in presidential elections. But even with an overall lower turnout, the most recent data shows a shift toward mailed-out ballots. Compared to the 2018 midterm elections, when 42.2 million ballots were mailed out and 30.4 million voters used them—resulting in a 71 percent turnout—nearly 54 million ballots have been sent out by mid-October 2022, more than three weeks before 2022’s Election Day.

“As of October 14, 2022, NVAHI estimates that about 18 million more ballots will be mailed out in 2022, compared to 2018—60 million versus 42 million—and that if historic return rates apply, at least 12 million more ballots will be returned (42 million versus 30 million),” a memo from NVAHI said, basing its prediction on 2018’s 71 percent return rate. “If the 2022 turnout rate matches 2018, that will equate to about 118 million votes cast, so mailed-out ballots will account for 35 percent.”

As of October 21, Langeler said that 57.4 million ballots had been requested or mailed out.

“Many states where the voter must request a mailed-out ballot are not yet reporting their volume of requests,” an October 21 update from NVAHI noted. “So, the 2022 numbers will continue to grow over the next few weeks as more voters apply for mailed-out ballots.”

The growing embrace of voting from home is more remarkable because no other means of voting was attacked as vigorously by Trump-supporting Republicans in 2020, according to a detailed report by the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project published in July 2021. It noted that every step of the process in this manner of voting was “the subject of over 260 pre-election lawsuits challenging how the procedures and rules of mail voting apply in the pandemic—an unprecedented volume of litigation on the topic.”

That litigation amplified attacks on mailed-out ballots by top Trump administration officials, such as his Attorney General Bill Barr. In 2022, the former attorney general told the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol that Trump’s stolen election claims had been investigated by the FBI and were “bullshit.” But in late July 2020, then-Attorney General Barr told the House Judiciary Committee that it was “common sense” that foreign countries could corrupt U.S. election results by forging large quantities of mailed-out ballots.

That assertion, like virtually all of Trump’s voter fraud claims, was false, noted Michael P. McDonald in his new book, From Pandemic to Insurrection: Voting in the 2020 US Presidential Election. “It would be incredibly difficult for a foreign government to counterfeit mail ballots such that unwitting election officials counted them,” he wrote.

“A greater threat to mail ballot integrity is that some voters will attempt to cast a mail ballot, only to discover election officials rejected it,” McDonald continued, noting that upwards of 600,000 mailed-out ballots were rejected for a variety of technicalities (from improperly labeling and signing the ballot return envelope to signatures that didn’t match a voter’s registration form). “The minutiae of casting a mail ballot are many… please carefully follow all instructions!

Still, the projected increase in mailed-out ballot use in the 2022 midterm elections will not be uniform nationally, but varies state-by-state and is dependent on each state’s laws.

In 2021, 14 states, mostly led by GOP majorities, rolled back or complicated some aspect of accessing a mailed-out ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. (Those states were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.) In 2022, the Brennan Center reported that restrictive laws were passed in five states that will be in effect for the midterms. (Those states were Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.)

However, in this same period, a greater number of states passed laws expanding access to mailed-out ballots—including California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Vermont, which adopted laws to institute all-mail voting, previously offered only in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

According to the Brennan Center, 16 states expanded or eased some aspect of accessing a mailed-out ballot in 2021. (Those states were California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia.) In 2022, the Brennan Center reported, six states passed laws expanding access that will be in effect for the 2022 midterms. (Those states were Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.)

While a handful of states passed laws that the Brennan Center characterized as “restrictive” and “expansive”—a sign that using mailed-out ballots in those states is highly regulated—the likely impact on the 2022 midterm elections is that a third or more of the nation’s voters will cast their votes via mailed-out ballots.

The development in the method of voter participation in which 42 million or more Americans are likely to vote from home is a paradigm shift among the electorate.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Election deniers and defenders poised for next voting war battle

There is little doubt that pro-Trump Republicans are going to challenge voters and contest results that they do not like in 2022’s general election. And should they lose those challenges and contests, they are not likely to accept the results.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The warning signs are everywhere.

There are recruitment drives to challenge voters and voter registrations. There are instructions to disrupt the process and counting of votes. There are assertions not to trust any vote-counting computer. Some general election candidates are already claiming that the results will be rigged unless they win.

Election officials and their defenders are anticipating these actions. They have written and shared guides on how to deal with subversive poll workers and unruly party observers. Election officials have been urged to build relationships with the press before crises hit, and tell stories about “friends and neighbors” who run the process to build trust. They are being reminded to bolster cybersecurity, be calm and professional, and use posters and handouts that explain the process.

But as the November 8, 2022, Election Day nears, it appears that the people most likely to be attacking and defending the process are, in many respects, talking past each other. What the critics are seeking—a level of simplicity and transparency in the vote-counting protocols and rules—is not what is being teed up and offered to the public in defense of the voting to come.

“In a lot of these close races, the margins are not going to be close enough for a recount, but close enough that the election deniers will be able to attack the results,” said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer who has specialized in post-election challenges and recounts since the 1980s. “The margin that triggers recounts is much smaller than the margin that will trigger attacks.”

Stepping back, a key question that has hovered over the investigations by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol remains: How much can the electoral system be stressed before it breaks, whether from disruptions, disinformation, partisan interference, or something else that is unexpected but swirls out of control later this fall?

“We will soon find out if American democracy is robust enough,” concluded the New Yorker’s Sue Halpern, in an October 4 report that detailed how “Republican-led legislatures and right-wing activists alike are making things more difficult for election officials.”

The Coming Attacks

There have been no signs in recent months that pro-Trump Republicans have tempered their belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Instead, there are ample signs that their mindset is becoming more belligerent.

In early August, after the FBI raided the ex-president’s home in Mar-a-Lago to retrieve secret documents that should not have left the White House, there was an uptick in social media posts threatening a coming “civil war.” On August 29, Trump again cited baseless 2020 conspiracies and demanded a new election.

Trump loyalists and copycat candidates have built on these sentiments.

Matt Braynard, an ex-Trump campaign staffer whose claims that voter fraud tilted the 2020 election have been debunked by media fact-checkers, nonetheless announced plans on October 5 to “challenge votes” in nine battleground states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—and is recruiting volunteers.

Days before, at an October 1 forum in Arizona, Shawn Smith, a retired Air Force Colonel, member of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and president of Cause of America, another election-denying group, told the audience that no voting system computer is reliable. “The people telling you they are secure are either ignorant or lying,” he said, before naming 10 of the nation’s top election regulators, election administration experts, and voting industry spokespeople. These experts are some of the same people now advising local election officials on how to respond to threats this fall.

Jim Hoft, the founder and editor of the Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump website that has championed Trump’s false stolen election claims and sees the January 6 insurrectionists as heroes, has gone further. On October 3, his site published an “action list… to save our elections from fraud,” whose instructions include urging party observers inside election offices to “escalate,” “disrupt,” or “require a temporary shut-down of the faulty area” if they see anything suspicious. The action list also recommended that postal workers should be followed, “incident reports” should be prepared, and lawyers should “[f]ile lawsuits demanding oversight.”

“Patriots must register as poll workers, observers, and get involved,” Hoft wrote. “But we must do more.”

Meanwhile, candidates who have embraced Trump and his “big lie,” such as Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake in her August primary or New Hampshire GOP U.S. Senate nominee Don Bolduc on October 10, said the vote count was rigged in 2020 and was likely to be rigged again this fall.

“And as long as we have this type of fraud and irregularities that are susceptible to our system across this country, we are going to be in big trouble,” Bolduc told a radio interviewer. “So, it’s less about whether we focus on 2020[’s] stolen election and [more about] how we focus on how we’re going to win in 2022 and [that we] don’t let it happen.”

Arming Election Defenders

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen organizations—from federal agencies tasked with cybersecurity, to nonprofits specializing in voting rights and running elections, to professional organizations of election administrators, to consulting firms staffed by former election officials—have been preparing and sharing guides, tools, and taking other steps to defend the process and the 2022 general election’s results.

“Thanks to the folks at… [the Alliance for Securing Democracy,] Brennan Center, Bipartisan Policy Center, Bridging Divides Initiative, Center for Election Innovation & Research, Center for Tech and Civic Life, CISA [U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency], The Elections Group, National Association for Media Literacy Education, and National Association of State Election Directors for all the work they’ve done for elections officials and for providing the resources here,” wrote Mindy Moretti, editor of Electionline.org, a news and information hub for election officials, in an October 6 weekly column that listed and linked to more than 40 publications, guides, and other resources.

The topics covered include audits, communications, cybersecurity, election management, election security at polls and operations centers, legal advice, mis/disinformation, insider threats by election workers, poll worker security gaps, de-escalation techniques, nonconfrontational training strategies, standards of conduct for election workers, testing voting systems, voting by mail, and more.

The “De-Escalation Guidance for Poll Workers,” from Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative, for example, emphasizes planning, training, and monitoring one’s responses.

“Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws and guidance on polling place disruptions and unauthorized militia,” it said✎ EditSign in its section on planning. “Remember the goal is not to win an argument but to calm verbal disruptions and prevent physical disruptions,” it advised as part of its training guidance. “While de-escalating don’t: order, threaten, attempt to argue disinformation, or be defensive.”

“As trite as it sounds, you need to take control of the ‘narrative’ before it takes control of you,” wrote Pam Fessler, a former National Public Radio reporter who covered elections for two decades there, in “Telling Our Story: An Elections Communications Guide,” written for the Elections Group, a consulting firm run by former election officials.

“Of all the stories you have to tell, the most important one is this: ‘Our elections are safe and secure, and run by Americans you can trust,’” Fessler’s communications guide said. “It’s about feelings and belief, more than numbers and facts. Those who question the legitimacy of elections refer to what they believe are ‘facts’ about voting discrepancies, but their appeal is largely emotional: ‘People are trying to steal our elections; we need to take our country back.’”

“You can counter by appealing to these same emotions—patriotism, desire for freedom and civic pride,” it continued. “You might even find common ground. Many of those who question the voting process believe they too are defending democracy and that if they don’t, they risk losing control of their lives.”

Ships in the Night?

Arguably, the country has not seen as wide an array of proactive measures among election officials to anticipate and counter potential disruptions and propaganda. In 2020’s general election, the focus concerned implementing new protocols that surrounded mailed-out ballots and safer in-person voting—as COVID-19 vaccines were not yet available—and cybersecurity to protect voter and ballot data.

However, what is not emphasized in these tools is what some pro-Trump Republicans say that they have been specifically seeking, which is easily understood evidence that results are accurate. That desire is behind their movement’s push for states to stop using vote-counting computers and to count all ballots by hand.

Pro-Trump legislators in six states (Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia) introduced bills in 2022 to ban these computers. A handful of rural towns and counties have put forth measures to require hand counts and a few have passed, including in Nye County, Nevada, a swing state. Candidates such as Arizona’s gubernatorial nominee Lake and GOP secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem have sued to require hand counts. (They lost in court in September rulings but have appealed.)

Beyond studies that have also shown that electronic vote-count systems are more accurate than hand counts (which are error-prone due to their repetitive nature and can take days to complete), the current timelines in many states between Election Day and when the official results must be certified do not accommodate hand counts—especially in states where millions of ballots are cast.

Moreover, the margins in state law that trigger recounts (which come after the results are certified) are generally 1 percent or less. That volume is much smaller than the volume of votes that pro-Trump Republicans have claimed were suspect in 2020—even though they never offered any proof that was accepted by a court.

Thus, while election officials and their defenders might be preparing to convince reasonable Americans that the voting and counting is accurate and legitimate, it appears that pro-Trump Republicans who did not accept 2020’s results will not find much to be reassured by—since their movement’s self-appointed IT experts continue to say that election system computers cannot be trusted.

These factors and seemingly irreconcilable views are poised to collide after November 8. This is why growing numbers of pundits are starting to ask aloud if the system will hold under the coming stress test from election deniers.

“Until we are able to return to the point where the losing side accepts the vote count as valid, we’re going to be trapped in a world of election wars,” said Sautter. “Of course, transparency, public oversight, and public access are paramount to restoring faith in our elections so that we can get to that point.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Voting systems: How they work, vulnerabilities, and mitigation

Authors’ Note: Today’s voting systems have strengths and weaknesses. The new report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation” was created to explain how these systems work and to discuss vulnerabilities at key junctures that have been exploited by partisans seeking to sow chaos and doubt about the results. It is the authors’ hope that readers—from voters, to trusted community leaders, to journalists, policy experts, and lawmakers—will better understand how elections are run and how votes are detected and counted and will bring an evidence-based mix of skepticism and realism to this foundational feature of American democracy.

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation” by Duncan A. Buell and Steven Rosenfeld.

The world of running elections is little understood and widely politicized. Partisans who do not understand the stages of the voting and counting process have been quick to criticize elections as illegitimate when their candidates lose. These critics have made unfounded claims about the operations of voting systems and actions of election workers. Their accusations ignore many of the checks and balances that catch administrative mistakes and are intended to ensure accurate results.

This article was produced in partnership with Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. This excerpt and the full report are both licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Still, election systems, like any large electronic infrastructure composed of subsystems, are not without vulnerabilities that can impede their operation or be exploited by individuals seeking to tarnish the process. One of the biggest problems shadowing the national update of voting systems (following Russian meddling in the 2016 election) has been procedural lapses that caused incorrect vote count results to be released soon after Election Day. These errors were not quickly acknowledged but propelled much of 2020’s election disinformation.

More specifically, the lapses were failures by election officials and their contractors to verify that the information and data in their systems have been accurately programmed and synced. This involves configuring the ballot layouts, the scanners that analyze the ink marks on ballots and assign votes, and the tabulators compiling subtotals into vote counts. When this information has been incorrect or uncoordinated, the unofficial results released immediately after Election Day have wrongly assigned vote totals. In most of the cases we know of, the errors were caught and corrected before the winners were certified. But these errors have fueled great partisan rancor.

When programming errors occurred in 2020’s presidential election in Antrim County, Michigan, a rural expanse with fewer than 24,000 residents, Donald Trump’s supporters claimed the initial incorrect tally reflected an untrustworthy election across the state. These partisans launched an investigation that reveled in stolen election clichés and which revealed a lack of factual knowledge of how election systems work. But because most voters do not know how elections are run, these and other false claims have lingered. As of fall 2022, tens of millions of voters still believe that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

Our new report explains how the vote-counting pathways in the latest generation of election systems works, their technical vulnerabilities, and some remedies. Its authors have spent years studying elections in complementary spheres. Duncan A. Buell is a lifelong computer scientist and more recently a county election official in South Carolina. Steven Rosenfeld is a national political reporter who has specialized in election administration and voting rights.

The authors believe the public is best served by understanding the interrelated mechanics behind voter registration, casting votes, detecting votes on ballots, and compiling results. Today’s voting systems are layered and complex, and like the people who run them, they are not error-free. Thus, it is important that mistakes, where they occur, are understood, contextualized, and not exploited.

Today’s voting systems can produce an extensive evidence trail of every operation that follows the voter and their ballot. Not all of the data sets accompanying these steps are public records in every state. But many crucial records often are. Additionally, many election officials are not always comfortable with sharing the powerful data they possess—data that could attest to results and pinpoint and rectify problems. However, this report describes and deconstructs election infrastructure as transparently as possible to steer disputes to reality-based factors and evidence.

Click here to read or download the full report

Author Bio: Duncan A. Buell retired in 2021 from the University of South Carolina, where he was a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and was department chair and interim dean. He served as a consultant to the League of Women Voters of South Carolina on election technology and analyzed Election Systems and Software (ES&S) election data from South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, and Colorado. He also was a member of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections for Richland County, South Carolina. He is a co-author of the 2022 report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the nonprofit Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others. He has written or co-authored six books on election topics, including 2021’s oral history, “The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections,” and most recently, the 2022 report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation.”

Debunking the latest 2020 conspiracy theory from a leading MAGA election denier

One of the most conspiracy-minded “con artists” who sought to elevate and enrich himself by posing as a technical expert during the Arizona Senate GOP’s flawed review of the 2020 presidential election is returning to Maricopa County on October 1, where he is pushing a new – and easily-debunked – conspiracy theory about how 2020 votes were forged.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

“I’m just going to explain a few things here that I think you need to look at. But there’s many – there’s much more work we have to do,” said Jovan Pulitzer, in a video posted online this week (and then taken down) that was recorded by AUDIT Elections USA, an Arizona-based advocacy group seeking more transparent vote counts. “I’m doing this because we can’t move on.”

Pulitzer, who rented a theater in Tempe where he will speak and host other election deniers, is alleging that a handful of accessible voting stations that assist voters with disabilities were used to hijack votes for Joe Biden. These computers have a touchscreen to register votes and a printer that produces a filled-out ballot card. A separate scanner then counts the votes.

“It is well-known that these voting machines have features built into them under the auspices of protection or equal access for people with disabilities that can be used nefariously,” he said. “I call this hiding in plain sight. They’ve always had the ability to modify the vote.”

Pulitzer is claiming that Maricopa County’s accessible voting stations hijacked Trump votes by using an on-board library of images to fill in the ovals next to Biden’s name.

“We have to look at, on all these ballots, 188,056,260 ovals – yes, 188,056,260 ovals – and you have to look at them all individually,” he said.

“This is made-up nonsense,” said John Brakey, AUDIT Elections USA executive director. “He’s talking about machines there that don’t even exist. He doesn’t even realize that 91 percent of the county’s [presidential] ballots were mailed out and came back in a signed envelope.”

Election officials in Maricopa County, where 1.2 million people voted for president, quickly pointed to evidence that showed why Pulitzer’s claims are yet another false narrative.

Maricopa County’s voting stations for voters with disabilities, called ballot-marking devices, do not print out ballots with any filled-in ovals. They print out human-readable text of the voter’s selections and a QR code (a dot matrix) of those choices that is read by a scanner. Thus, the claim about deliberately misprinted ballot ovals has no basis in reality. Pulitzer’s narrative, ignorantly or deceptively, relies on a voting system that Maricopa County does not use.

Further, the volume of presidential votes cast on Maricopa County’s ballot-marking stations is nowhere near Biden’s 10,457-vote statewide margin over Trump. As the county noted in a post-election report, only 454 people used the accessible voting stations in the presidential election. There’s no way that Pulitzer’s alleged forgeries would have affected the outcome.

Moreover, the ballots printed by the marking device computers are smaller (8.5 inches by 11 inches) than the traditional ballot cards (8.5 inches by 19 inches) issued to all other voters at voting sites. Here, again, the factual evidence is easy to account for, and does not support any claim that accessible voting devices could have altered the election’s results.

Maricopa County is the second most populous election jurisdiction in America. Only Los Angeles County has more voters. Its election department is highly professional, as seen by the data that it compiles and issues. In early 2022, it issued one of the country’s most comprehensive and technical refutations of every stolen election allegation posed after Trump’s loss.

That report was overseen by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who voted for Trump but felt compelled to defend the county’s election administration after the Arizona Senate Republicans sanctioned an “audit” led by Cyber Ninjas, a pro-Trump IT firm.

Pulitzer had a unique and influential role in that error-plagued audit – which failed in multiple attempts to account for every ballot cast (a starting-line inventory control step) but concluded that Biden had won (without evidence that could be replicated).

Most of the sophisticated equipment that filled the floor of Phoenix’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum – the tables of overhead cameras and microscopes – was prompted by Pulitzer, who told others that he was looking for signs of forgeries, including bamboo fibers in paper ballots that he said would prove that 40,000 ballots had been forged in Asia and smuggled, somehow unseen and undetected, into Maricopa County’s voting operations.

When the Cyber Ninjas and other IT contractors sanctioned by the Senate Republicans issued their findings in September 2021, the state legislators did not include Pulitzer’s forgery theory or analysis on its webpage. Nor did they invite him to present his findings in any forum.

“Jovan Hutton Pulitzer is a con artist who is a master of hoaxes and frauds,” Brakey wrote in an email during the audit where he was an observer. “[The] following are links to various sources that discredit him entirely. Please note that his so-called Wikipedia page is a FAKE page made up by him with the URL of his website, NOT the [real] Wikipedia URL. Pulitzer changed his name from Jeffrey Jovan Philyaw. He also goes by J. Hutton Pulitzer. He did invent CueCat, which PC World called ‘one of the 25 worst inventions of all time.’”

Pulitzer’s latest claims may be easily debunked before his upcoming event in Tempe, but it shows how determined 2020 election deniers remain as 2022’s general election approaches.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Key Senate committee passes bill to prevent future Electoral College coups

An 1887 law would be reformed to prevent radicals in state government and Congress from subverting the popular vote for president.

Efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law whose quirks and ambiguities became a roadmap for Donald Trump and his allies to try to subvert congressional certification of 2020’s Electoral College vote, moved a step closer in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Senate Rules Committee, in a bipartisan 14-to-1 vote, approved a bill that clarified state and congressional procedures for the final stages of certifying presidential election results. The bill explicitly seeks to prevent the abuses that led to the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

“I’m pleased that we are where we are today,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who voted to send to the full Senate. “Assuming that we make no changes here today, or, at most, technical changes, I’ll be proud to vote for it and to help advance it.”

The Electoral Count Act (ECA) was passed after one of the 19th century’s most disputed elections. Like 2020’s presidential election, that contest also saw states sending competing Electoral College slates to Congress and violence at the Capitol. The ECA, which took years to write, is notorious for garbled and dense passages that Trump’s most aggressive supporters sought to exploit to subvert Joe Biden’s victory in November 2020.

The remedy, The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act or S.4573, seeks to blunt the cornerstones of Trump’s attempted coup.

“The Electoral Count Act was largely overlooked for over 130 years, but it was at the center of a plan to overturn the 2020 election and the will of the American people, that, as we all know who work here, culminated in a violent mob desecrating the Capitol,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and the Rules Committee chair. “They did this by making false claims that this law allowed the vice president to refuse to accept Electoral College votes that were lawfully cast, by recruiting state legislators to declare a failed election and appoint their own [presidential] electors, and by exploiting the fact that the law allows one single senator and one single representative to object to a state’s Electoral College votes and use baseless claims to delay the count in Congress.”

The bill is the result of a bipartisan group of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans working for months to create a narrowly focused bill that prevents abuse by either party if their candidate loses. Klobuchar and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, the Rule Committee’s ranking minority member, highlighted four primary areas in the legislation.

“The bill explicitly rejects, once and for all, the false claims that the vice president has authority to accept or reject Electoral [College] votes. It makes it clear that the vice president's role during the joint session is ceremonial,” Klobuchar said. “Second, it raises the threshold to challenge the electoral votes [of any state] during the joint session of Congress to guard against baseless claims. Right now, just two people out of the 535 members can object and slow down and gum up the counting. This bill would raise the threshold to one-fifth of Congress.”

“It replaces the undefined and controversial ‘failed election’ clause [in the 1887 law] and ensures that states can’t overturn the results of an election,” Blunt said, referring to state legislatures overriding their state’s popular vote for president. “It provides for an expedited federal court process to ensure states issue [presidential Electoral College] certifications after the [popular vote results of the election] has been certified in their state.”

The only Rules Committee member to object to the bill and vote against it was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, who claimed that it was a federal power grab.

McConnell, however, called the bill “common sense” and said that it – not a recently House-passed ECA reform bill – was the “only bipartisan compromise… [that can] become law.”

“It’s common sense… that the vice president obviously has no personal discretion or power over the presidential vote,” McConnell said. “It is common sense to protect state’s primacy in appointing their electors, but also strengthen requirements that states publicize their rules before the elections and stick to them. It’s common sense to make technical fixes to other related laws like the Presidential Transition Act. And its common sense that our colleagues leave chaos-generating bad ideas on the cutting-room floor.”

Several voting rights organizations praised the Committee’s action. But they also noted that it was the only pro-democracy legislation that stood a chance of emerging from Congress after the 2020 presidential election, which they said was insufficient.

“Fixing the Electoral Count Act is critical, but it is not enough. It eliminates some avenues for election sabotage, but many others remain,” said Wendy R. Weiser, vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

On the other hand, Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization opposing more authoritarian government, noted the reform was supported by many Republican senators.

“The bipartisan vote to advance the Electoral Count Reform Act (ECRA) underscores the momentum and cross-ideological consensus… [to] strengthen presidential elections in the future,” said Genevieve Nadeau, Protect Democracy counsel. “We now call on Congress to finish the job and pass the strongest ECA reform possible by the end of the year.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Donald Trump's allies mounting bogus challenges to Georgia voters to suppress midterm turnout

On August 29, eight cartons of notarized paperwork challenging 25,000 voter registrations were delivered by pro-Donald Trump “election integrity” activists to Gwinnett County’s election offices in suburban Atlanta. They were accompanied by additional paperwork claiming that 15,000 absentee ballots had been illegally mailed to voters before the county’s 2020 presidential election.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Two days later, the activists held a briefing on the filings. It was led by Garland Favorito, a soft-spoken retired IT professional who has been agitating in Georgia election circles for 20 years and heads the non-profit, VoterGA. Favorito began by citing six lawsuits the group has filed against state and county officials – claiming counterfeit ballots, untrustworthy or illegal voting systems, and corrupt 2022 primary results. Then he turned to Gwinnett County.

“We are delivering today 37,500 affidavits challenging voter rolls and handling of the 2020 election,” said Favorito. “As a reminder, the presidential spread for the entire state of Georgia was 11,000 and change, not quite 12,000 [votes]. And we have 20,000 [allegedly improper voter registrations] just in Gwinnett alone. This number will increase as our analysis is ongoing.”

The Gwinnett challenges are not unique. In Georgia’s Democratic epicenters, Trump backers have been filing voter roll challenges since last winter targeting upwards of 65,000 voters. The state’s post-2020 election “reform” bill, S.B. 202, authored by its GOP-led legislature, allows an unlimited number of challenges.

While most of the claims put forth by Voter GA are easily refuted, the challenges individually targeting voters could have an impact in suppressing some number of votes this fall, where polls find some statewide contests are very close.

“This is brazen voter intimidation with the express intent of suppressing minority votes,” said Ray McClendon, NAACP Atlanta political action chair. “The NAACP is working to inform voters of their legal remedies in order to protect their voting rights. We will not be bullied by these underhanded tactics.”

Bogus Attack on Absentee Voting

The voter challenges concern three areas, said Zach Manifold, Gwinnett County election supervisor, who patiently explained why most of VoterGA’s claims were mistaken and overblown. For example, the assertion that 15,000 voters were improperly sent an absentee ballot in 2020 was flat-out wrong, he said, and formally should not even be called a voter challenge.

“They’re not really voter challenges because they’re related to the 2020 election,” Manifold said. “Voter challenges are challenging [individual registered] voters going forward for an upcoming election, or to remove them from the rolls.”

The linchpin in this allegation hinges on whether that a voter’s application for an absentee ballot was filed more than 180 days before the election.

“[They contend] our office should not have processed these applications because they were received more than 180 days before the election, which was the law at the time,” Manifold said.

The county elections staff investigated, he said, and found that the allegations were wrong, and, crucially, that VoterGA had overlooked a simple and obvious explanation.

“It appears that all of those, at least everything we have looked at – the few hundred that we sampled – were all valid [absentee ballot applications],” said Manifold. “They’re what we call rollover voters. You can apply for a ballot earlier in the year, before a different election, and roll it over [the absentee ballot request] throughout the whole cycle.”

The absentee ballot application on the county’s website offers this option. On page two, at item 12, a voter can check a box that says, “I opt-in to receive an absentee ballot for the rest of the election cycle.” In other words, these voters apparently had opted in. The voters and the county did nothing improper.

Neither Favorito nor Sheryl Sellaway, the media contact listed on VoterGA’s press release about the Gwinnett challenges returned phone calls seeking comment.

Voter Suppression Scenario

A similar dynamic is at play with the 25,000 individual challenges to registered voters on the county’s rolls. But, unlike the false claim of illegal absentee voting in Gwinnett County in 2020, which perpetuates Trump’s false stolen election myth, these forward-facing registration challenges could suppress an unknown number of votes from being counted in 2022’s November 8 election.

Such voter suppression is possible because under Georgia law the challenges could force some number of infrequent, but registered, voters to go through extra hoops before their ballots would be counted. Should any of the challenged voters try to vote this fall in Gwinnett County, they would be given a conditional ballot. That ballot would not be counted unless that voter presented additional ID at a hearing after Election Day. Historically, most voters skip these hearings.

(This process is similar to what happens to voters who are not listed in precinct poll books. They are given a provisional ballot, which is set aside and not counted until the voter shows up at a county office or an election board hearing with ID, which, historically most of these voters do not do.)

Manifold said that this cadre of VoterGa’s voter roll challenges were threading a needle that narrowly followed state law and avoided a 1993 federal law that bars larger-scale voter purges within 90 days of a federal election.

“Somebody could challenge somebody under [Georgia law section] 230 and put them into a challenge status all the way up to Election Day,” he explained. “What happens is that voter would vote a challenge ballot. It’s similar to a provisional ballot. And those ballots are adjudicated at the same meeting [after Election Day] where we do provisional ballots.”

“That puts the onus on the voter,” Manifold said. “The voter actually has to come to a hearing and say, ‘This is me.’ ‘I live here.’ ‘And you should count my ballot.’”

How many voters could find themselves in this situation is hard to predict, he said. About 22,000 of the voter registration challenges concern people who are infrequent voters or have not voted recently. VoterGA’s press release said it had used “a variety of public records to determine accuracy of the [voter registration] entries.” The release did not specify what public databases were used, but most of the affidavits cited the Postal Service’s change of address database. That database was not designed for vetting voter registration information.

Ironically, it appears that VoterGA’s efforts to winnow Gwinnett County’s voters rolls pales next to the county’s (and state’s) efforts to update these records.

Gwinnett County, which has 650,000 registered voters, has procedures dictated by state and federal law to contact infrequent voters before removing them from the rolls. Infrequent voters, people who may have moved or died are tracked via several government databases, Manifold said. In the past 12 months, the county has sent five notices by mail to alert these voters of their pending removal – and telling them what steps they must take to become active voters, meaning they would get a regular ballot in the next election. Normally, any infrequent voter who shows up would reactivate their registration status.

However, under VoterGA’s challenges – which name individual voters – those registrants would be shunted aside and given a conditional ballot. The county has assigned a team of workers to review these 22,000 voter registration challenges, Manifold said. So far, it has found that most of these individuals already are on the county’s radar, he said. But several thousand potential voters may not be.

“Almost 90 percent of the challenges that we have seen here are people that were already picked up in our conformation process,” Manifold said.

Manifold also said the current election cycle was the first one where Georgia was participating in an interstate registration data-sharing consortium, which helps to update its voter rolls and identify eligible but unregistered voters. Georgia also is among the states that automatically register voters as they get a drivers’ license.

Georgia’s automatic registration system, which is run by another state agency whose primary business has nothing to do with elections, has led to some number of data-entry typos (misspellings, incorrect addresses) in the voter rolls, Manifold said. These errors appeared to be the reason for the third category of registration challenges from VoterGA, where 2,700 registration files were found with missing address information or could not be tied to a physical street address.

“We do want to get that information updated,” Manifold said. “There is some sort of data mismatch somewhere in the system, and that means that voters are not getting whatever we’re sending out.”

But VoterGA is not coming in and working with county officials to alert them to deficiencies in voter registration data that, if corrected, could lead to more voters casting ballots. They are making sloppy and easily refuted allegations about 2020 absentee voters that seek to perpetuate false narratives about that election. And they are filing voter challenges that could suppress and nullify the ballots cast by an unknown number of infrequent but legal voters later this fall.

“What this really is all about is to frustrate minority voters into staying home on Election Day,” said the NAACP’s McClendon. “Such efforts will only motivate those who believe in democracy to fight even harder to ensure all voters’ voices are heard.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

How a rural Colorado county became an epicenter of Donald Trump's Big Lie

First an election official erred. Then Trump’s IT squad arrived. Then the false claims, conspiracies, stolen data and denials ensued.

Colorado’s southwestern Mesa County is filled with desert lore. It’s also home to one of 2020’s stranger false stolen election narratives that keeps resounding like echoes in its canyons but offers lessons for 2022’s general election.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Tina Peters, Mesa County’s Clerk, was not a cultish election denier immediately before or after 2020’s presidential election. She did not make any accusations that her voting system’s computers had been secretly sabotaged when Sandra Brown, Mesa County’s back-office election manager, mistakenly double-counted 20,000 ballots in late October 2020—a procedural error during preprocessing ballots that Brown repeated in Mesa County’s municipal elections in April 2021.

But soon after April 2021’s elections, where a slate of conservatives who skipped a candidate forum all lost, the first of what became a parade of pro-Donald Trump, self-proclaimed election IT experts began telling Peters about anomalies with her county’s voting system computers. The anomalies were the same clichés about illegal voters and forged totals that had been put forth by Trump diehards in other states. Except the allegations were dressed up as statistics and technicalities. Peters, a businesswoman turned public official, was more than impressed.

As March 2022 indictments by Mesa County District Attorney Daniel Rubenstein, a Republican, and a recent New Yorker profile recount, Peters used a standard update of election software in late April 2021 to make unauthorized copies of her election system’s hard drives, software, and data. The apparent goal was gathering intelligence to show that the technology—made by Dominion Voting Systems—could not be trusted to produce accurate vote counts.

Trump’s lawyers and partisan IT specialists had made copies of computer drives, software and data in December 2020 in Antrim County, Michigan, after a former state GOP leader turned state judge allowed it. The copies, of another Dominion system, were not to be shared. But they were soon leaked in Trump circles.

That effort, nonetheless, produced no evidence for any of Trump’s failed post-election lawsuits. Still, one day after January 6, 2021’s pro-Trump insurrection, some of the same data miners went to Coffee County, Georgia. There, an election official let them copy their Dominion system’s drives, software and 2020 data. Members of this loose cadre of IT experts showed up in Mesa County in late April—several weeks after back-office manager Brown again erred in using a computer as it was compiling vote subtotals in its municipal elections.

What happened next in Mesa County gets complex. It also reveals how a rare but recurring trend among a handful of local election officials—mistakes with setting up or using their system’s computers—can be exploited by partisans who claim that invisible forces are secretly stealing votes if their candidates lose.

In every cycle, there are some election officials who do not properly set up or use these computers—errors that usually are caught and corrected, but initially produce incorrect election results. This trend has been overlooked in the press coverage of the interstate plot by Trump’s IT gurus to steal election software and 2020 data.

The operational problems, however, are among the findings by the Independent Media Institute’s Voting Booth project, which has co-written a forthcoming guide about how election systems work. The co-author is Duncan Buell, a computer scientist who has studied voting systems, software, and data for more than a decade, and was an election official in Richland County, South Carolina, home to the state’s capital, Columbia. These errors recurred in each cycle that he studied.

In 2020’s general election, the programming, and operational mistakes were few and far between. Nonetheless, the errors that Trump’s IT squads seized upon—errors that were corroborated by post-election inquiries by other government bodies—helped fuel the lie that the presidential election was stolen.

Moreover, some of the election workers who made these mistakes—such as Mesa County’s Brown—and their elected superior—such as Peters—then fell under the spell of Trump’s conspiratorial IT squad—producing fodder for more false claims.

These trends—mistakes with programming or using election computers and rogue officials who abuse the public trust by making unfounded claims—offer warnings before 2022’s general election. Many 2020 election-deniers are candidates seeking state and federal office this fall. A few already have shown in their primaries that they will attack the process and technology if they fear they may lose.

Before 2020’s election, virtually all of the members of Trump’s IT squads did not know much about voting system computers or election administration safeguards. But they eagerly presented their credentials and claimed, that election computers had been hijacked, and, moreover, that no Dominion system should be trusted. Their unproven accusations became, and remain, fixtures in Trump circles.

“It wasn’t just Colorado,” said Walter Daugherity, a recently retired University of Texas lecturer in computer science and engineering, on an August 22 televised panel sponsored and hosted by Mike Lindell, a Trump ally who has spent millions to promote the stolen election fiction and whose actions are under investigation by federal authorities. “Everywhere across the country that had a Dominion trusted build [software] upgrade had the same thing happen.”

Daugherity was one analyst who received Mesa County’s pilfered data. He and Jeff O’Donnell, an IT analyst whose moniker in Trump circles is “the Lone Raccoon,” co-wrote a series of reports concluding that Mesa County’s computers mysteriously allowed 20,346 presidential ballots to be counted twice. The double counting was not the fault of election officials, specifically back-office election manager Brown, they wrote, positing that an “external trigger,” “signal,” “software algorithm” or “pre-programming” had caused “unexpected voting patterns.”

Their speculation was one of many similar pronouncements in Trump circles. They accused Dominion of complicity in a scheme that would be illegal, if it were true.

“The report made claims which, if true, would indicate a crime was committed related to election fraud,” Mesa County District Attorney Rubenstein said via email on August 25. “I stand by the investigation that we conducted and am confident that there is no evidence of a crime being committed.”

Inside One Disinformation Bubble

Mesa County was among a handful of counties across America’s 8,000-plus election jurisdictions where Trump allies discovered glitches in administering the 2020 election. The glitches, which produced incorrect initial vote counts, were signs that Trump lost due to a vast conspiracy, they asserted.

That narrative, which continues today, ignores the banalest explanation of what happened in Mesa County and in jurisdictions such as Antrim County, Michigan. In both locales, county election officials erred with setting up or using their voting system’s computers, mistakes that initially were not noticed but were later caught and corrected.

The operational errors were recorded by the system’s computers, which keeps logs of every action—from ballot paper jams to vote counts. The errors were confirmed by other evidence, such as, in Mesa County, police investigators reconstructing the mistakes on the same equipment, parsing video footage from security cameras in the room where they occurred and interviewing witnesses. But conspiracy-minded Trumpers, including O’Donnell and Daugherity, went looking for incongruities in computer logs and vote count databases, which, they said, masked programming that reassigned votes from Trump to other presidential candidates.

“The findings in this report were prepared by the authors as consultants to the legal team representing Tina Peters, the Mesa County Clerk,” the executive summary of their March 19, 2022 report said. “The findings provide evidence of unauthorized and illegal manipulation of tabulated vote data during the 2020 General Election and 2021 Grand Junction Municipal Election. Because of this evidence, which led to the vote totals for those elections being impossible to verify, the results and integrity of Mesa County’s 2020 General Election and the 2021 Grand Junction Municipal Election are in question.”

Among the incongruities they cited are batches of ballots that were not sequentially numbered in a results database. That can occur, several election experts explained, when batches of ballots with sloppy ink marks (made by voters) are detected by the software and set aside until the voter’s intent is determined. That process, called adjudication, is done in Colorado in the presence of political party observers. The batches are added to the database after the voter intent issues are resolved. (It was at this step where Brown failed to correctly use the system’s computers).

The Mesa County prosecutor took the duo’s report seriously and investigated. On May 19, 2022, Rubenstein sent a 24-page letter to Mesa County Commissioners and the Grand Junction City Council summarizing the investigation and debunking the vote-padding claims in the most pedestrian way. Two initial miscounts had occurred. The first was in 2020’s general election. The second was in municipal elections in April 2021. Both were “caused by direct action of the former Back Office Election Manager Sandra Brown.”

Investigators found that Brown had stopped and then restarted the computer during the adjudication process, including replacing one computer—without resetting the system. Brown did not call the vendor for assistance, the county prosecutor’s letter said. She was confused, tried to fix things, and erred—essentially double-counting votes at this stage in the process. Election judges from political parties witnessed this, as did an overhead video camera.

“No evidence exists that would indicate that Ms. Brown had any nefarious or criminal motive in those actions, but rather appears to have been trouble-shooting problems in the flow of the adjudication process,” Rubenstein wrote.

Human error in configuring and running election computers also sparked stolen election allegations in Antrim County, Michigan. There, the initial results in the conservative northern Michigan county were incorrect because one contest had been omitted on the ballots when configuring the system’s computers. Nobody caught the error until suspicious vote totals surfaced on Election Night. (Because one race was left out, votes were assigned to the wrong candidate in a tabulation spreadsheet, essentially bumping Trump votes down one line, where they were assigned to Joe Biden.)

In both counties, Trump supporters said that the entire state’s election apparatus was corrupt and demanded that the state’s certified results be thrown out. Beyond such hyperbole, a key observation emerges. Trump’s self-declared election experts were not looking at, nor may not even be aware of, the array of data sets, election records and administrative protocols that catch and correct the errors that occur. In Mesa County, for example, the district attorney’s report made this point.

“These actions were verified to have been done by her [Brown] through video evidence, corroboration of records, audit of randomly selected ballot images [created by ballot scanners], interviews with witnesses and experts, and recreation of certain scenarios using a test environment and prove that the conclusions of Report 3 [O’Donnell’s and Daugherity’s report] are incorrect claims of what may have occurred,” Rubenstein said. “At this time, no evidence suggests that these actions negatively impacted the election.”

In contrast, what the pro-Trump duo used as the basis for their inquiry—analyses built on Peters’ pilfered computer drives—is a thinner evidence base.

The pair, who were reached by email after their August 22 presentation at Mike Lindell’s “Moment of Truth Summit,” sent a rebuttal to Rubenstein’s summary where they rejected numerous assertions and questioned the district attorney’s expertise, evidence, and methods. (Rubenstein also noted they had lied about interviewing 11 people who had been in the room when Brown messed up.)

When asked by this reporter why they did not mention the DA’s review in their presentation at Lindell’s August 2022 forum—where O’Donnell said, “There is still no evidence that this was ever or even could have been something that was done by the clerk at the time”—O’Donnell replied that the DA’s investigation was a sham and said that my questions were “insulting.”

“We did not mention the DA’s report because it is such a sloppy ‘investigation’ that it deserves no recognition other than derision,” the “Lone Raccoon” said. “It is sad to me that somebody who is a ‘national political reporter’ would blindly fall fort the propaganda put by a small-time DA instead of actually doing their own research. However, that seems to be the rule these days.”

“Doing Their Own Research”

Perhaps my e-mail was too blunt when asking the pair if they were aware of other evidence that explained Brown’s incompetence (she was fired and faces charges related to the data breach); and what was their response to the D.A. saying they lied when they said they had talked to the party observers present (who spoke to police investigators) when Brown erred?

But I had done my “own research.” When reporting on the Cyber Ninjas’ review in Arizona in 2021, I had repeatedly seen the disinformation dynamic that I saw here. Partisans with forgone conclusions started to parse election records. Lacking prior experience in studying election systems, they did not understand where what they were seeing in the electronic records related to wider contexts and protocols. That didn’t stop them from putting forth doubts about the results. And I’d also heard about the duo’s missteps from a lifelong Republican and credible election data analyst.

Benny White, a former fighter pilot and lawyer who lives in Tucson, Arizona, has been an election observer and data analyst for the Arizona Republican party for years. He became a persona non-grata in Trump circles for analyses in early 2021 that found tens of thousands of ballots cast by otherwise loyal Republicans in the greater Phoenix area had not voted to re-elect Trump. (The voting patterns were found in the final spreadsheet of every vote cast in every race.)

Reached by phone, White said that the duo called him as they were parsing Mesa County’s tabulation-related databases. White recalled that he told them where their assumptions were mistaken, and what they were not considering because they were not familiar with election administration and safeguards that find and fix errors.

“These folks have no understanding or appreciation of election administration,” he said. “They’re looking at everything from a sterile, mechanistic perspective. There are problems that can be caused because of human interface in the system design where operators can make mistakes. And for that reason, I am always an advocate of having an independent body, whether it’s a knowledgeable person or a bipartisan group of overseers, that is present at all times to watch what’s going on and ask, ‘Why are you doing that?’”

For example, White recalled that the duo claimed that the county’s voting system “had done something nefarious because these ballots [during adjudication] weren’t all tabulated in sequence.” But that circumstance occurs if the voter’s intent on a ballot is in question, White said, in which case Dominion’s software “will hold that batch [of 1,000 ballots from] being included in the aggregate results… That was another thing that it seemed to me that Daugherity failed to understand.”

“He bases a lot of his conclusions on statistics, statistical analysis,” White said of Daugherity. “There have been single instances where he would tell me something, and I would say, ‘Walter, you’re not considering this other facet of what was going on in that particular election… You have to know more before you reach these conclusions.’”

Election administration is not simple. It takes years to understand election law, varieties in state rules and procedures, the voting system technology and all of the subsets of data created and compiled that add up to winners and losers. Trump’s IT squad might be forgiven for misunderstanding and misinterpreting what they saw, if they had been more humble and fair-minded. But they weren’t.

Their mindset is to create chaos and doubt, while claiming they are seeking the truth. The clearest evidence of that mindset is how they exploited human errors by election officials by not accurately contextualizing those mistakes, but repeatedly overclaiming that an entire jurisdiction’s votes were suspect, and that the same election technology deployed nationwide must be rejected.

With scores of 2020 election-denying candidates running for state and federal office in 2022’s general election, this deceitful pattern is likely to recur.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

How vote count mistakes by two rural counties fed Donald Trump’s Big Lie

County officials didn’t properly set up and use their election computers, helping to launch a looming disinformation juggernaut.

Since 2020’s presidential election, two rural counties in Michigan and Colorado that initially reported incorrect results have had outsized roles in spreading Donald Trump’s big lie that his second term was stolen by Democrats colluding with one of the country’s biggest computerized voting systems makers.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The mistaken 2020 election results occurred in two out of the more than 8,000 election jurisdictions across America. They were caused by county officials who did not properly set up the election system computers in Michigan and properly use them in Colorado. The errors, which notably were caught and corrected, received scant attention compared to the sensation they sparked in Trump circles where a cadre of self-proclaimed IT experts—and, later, some of the same officials who erred—asserted that the computers had been sabotaged.

What unfolded inside the election departments in Antrim County, Michigan, and Mesa County, Colorado, in pro-Trump circles that misunderstood but exploited the counties’ errors—and then fueled conspiratorial and likely illegal evidence-stealing gambits in other battleground states (such as Georgia)—is a cautionary tale before 2022’s state and federal elections.

The procedural lapses that led to initially wrong vote counts are among the findings in research by the Independent Media Institute’s Voting Booth project. It has co-authored a forthcoming guide about how vote-counting systems work. Duncan Buell, a lifelong computer scientist who has spent the past dozen years analyzing election systems, software, and data, and served as an election official, co-authored the guide. The lapses have recurred in every election cycle Buell has studied.

The revelation that complications surrounding using the newest voting system computers by local officials helped launch false but widely believed stolen-election narratives comes as scores of Trump-mimicking election deniers are running for state and federal office in 2022’s general election, and as Trump is still falsely claiming that he was re-elected in 2020.

Some candidates, such as Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, said on the eve of her August primary that the voting apparatus would be rigged unless she won—which she did. Lake’s claim drew scoffs, but most reporters and voters do not know how election computers are set up, and then detect and compile votes. Nor are they aware of basic operational mistakes that can mar this process.

The mistakes by a handful of local election administrators are rare but were confirmed and described in detail in several government-led investigations. They appear to be an unavoidable part of managing elections, especially as new technology is used in high-pressure contests.

Programming and operational errors that led to incorrect initial vote counts occurred in DeKalb County, Georgia, in 2022’s primaries, in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, in 2019’s general election, and 2018 in South Carolina’s general election, which Buell witnessed as a member of the Richland County election board, where the state capital, Columbia, is located.

Comparable errors occurred using different voting systems, Buell noted, including computers from the country’s two biggest voting system firms, Election Systems and Software (ES&S) and Dominion Voting Systems.

“It is worth noting that all the errors observed in Antrim County, on Dominion equipment, have comparable errors that I have observed since 2010 in analyzing the ES&S data in South Carolina,” he said.

Election law attorneys and policy experts who are alarmed about the escalating threats to election officials by Trump factions since 2020 do not like to talk about the possibility that local officials may struggle with the newest election system computers. They have spent months defending election officials as above-the-fray experts that should be trusted, and pointedly say that it is a false equivalency to compare mistakes that get caught and corrected with intentional lies and stolen election conspiracies.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we would be in the same place had a water main in Fulton County not broken [in an Atlanta voting center], had Antrim County not happened,” said David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a non-partisan, non-profit that created a legal defense fund to assist threatened election officials. “These were excuses for the delegitimization of an election that was otherwise much more secure by any measure than anything we’ve ever had, thanks to paper ballots and audits.”

“Trump was using the rhetoric long before any specific instances happened in 2020,” said Ben Ginsburg, a longtime Republican election attorney, speaking at a September 6 briefing with Becker. “And David is exactly right. The system is designed to recognize that things aren’t going to be perfect. That’s why every state has recount proceedings, [vote] contest proceedings, and litigation. So, the notion that there will be mistakes is built into a process.”

Nonetheless, the fact remains that about two-thirds of the 74 million people who voted to re-elect Trump still believe the propaganda juggernaut that the election was illegitimate. In contrast, there are few efforts that explain and contextualize actual errors that occur. Typically, comments by election officials are terse and short-lived news items, acknowledging that mistakes were made and corrected.

Meanwhile, as the 2022 general election nears, many election officials are beefing up security protocols at county offices and operation centers, steps that may make their processes less transparent and invite more conspiratorial accusations.

Setting Up Voting Systems

This article is the start in a series that will explain what happened as actual mistakes occurred and how they become fodder for outsized false claims and disinformation about election results, officials and voting systems.

That some county election managers did not properly set up or use their system’s computers before 2020’s general election is not entirely surprising. Nor it is very surprising that Trump’s allies were poised to follow the former president’s cues and seek to exploit any error or procedural change to buoy their rhetoric.

What must be remembered are the claims of rigging and the concerns about changes to election processes occurred during a pandemic. In the middle of 2020’s presidential primaries, the COVID-19 pandemic arose. Some battleground states that did not postpone their primaries experienced a range of snafus, from poll workers who did not show up to last-minute consolidation of voting sites, creating confusion, congestion and delays for voters and election workers.

By summer, may states responded by encouraging the use of mailed-out ballots, which is a big procedural and logistical change for vetting voters and processing ballots. That abrupt transition came as many locales were using a new generation of election computers for the first time in a presidential election, which is always the highest turnout and most stressful general election to administer.

Introducing any new voting system or balloting option can be confusing for officials and voters. Election officials across the country knew their work would come under a microscope, and they took extra steps to ensure their results would be correct—emphasizing that most of the county would be voting on paper ballots for the first time in many presidential elections. But what is largely unappreciated about the newest generation of voting systems is they contained more individual computerized devices to process ballots than the prior generation of machines.

The new computers could number in the hundreds or thousands depending on the jurisdiction’s population. They include ballot-marking devices, scanners reading ballots, tabulators compiling precinct votes, and a central computer compiling all of the jurisdiction’s results. Each device must be programmed and synced with other computers at polling places and county operation centers.

Getting the correct ballot to voters and configuring the computers that cast or count votes is not simple or trivial—not when jurisdictions have 100s of different ballots. (Ballots vary as local races are added.) Nor are programming mistakes a “minor clerical error [that] turned into a major conspiracy theory,” as an August 26 report by the New York Times characterized Antrim County’s issues. Clerical tasks involve typos, not configuring, syncing, and verifying hundreds of ballot styles, thumb drives, and computers spanning voting sites and county headquarters.

In Antrim County, Michigan, election workers did not check if all of the computers had been properly programmed and synced after some ballots were redesigned at the last minute. As a result, ballot scanners and tabulators did not have the correct list of candidates and wrongly assigned votes. The initial returns incorrectly reported that Joe Biden had won the conservative northern Michigan county.

In Mesa County, Colorado, the back-office election manager did not know how to use a computer that completed the processing batches of 1,000 ballots to compile countywide results. As political party observers stood by, she double-counted more than 20,000 ballots. The scene was captured by overhead video cameras. She later made the same mistake in April 2021’s municipal election.

These mistakes were caught and corrected. Their details were documented by government investigations that issued several key reports. In Michigan, the first report (March 2021) was prepared by one of the country’s leading voting system analysts for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. The second report was by the state senate’s Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee (June 2021). In Colorado, Mesa County prosecutors issued a report (May 2022) that described the operational errors and also refuted accusations by pro-Trump IT specialists that claimed the computer system had secretly stolen votes.

What was somewhat surprising after the 2020 election was the emergence of a cadre of publicity-seeking, self-proclaimed, pro-Trump IT specialists who started claiming that the election was stolen at the same time the Trump campaign lost more than 60 state and federal court lawsuits for lack of evidence.

The self-proclaimed election IT experts had virtually no prior experience with analyzing election system computers. Nor were they apparently aware of other post-Election Day safeguards that find and fix vote count errors. Nonetheless, they asserted that they found unexplained signs of fake votes that they attributed to secretive programming by the equipment manufacturer. Their accusations were among the many efforts by Trump and his allies to cast doubt on the election’s outcome before and after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

But what was unexpected was that some of the county officials tasked with setting up and using these computers—including those who erred—would, months later, blame the mistakes on their computers, or publicly say their election system had been hijacked or were vulnerable to such hacking. In the spring of 2021, these officials began actively colluding with Trump’s conspiracy-minded IT squad.

Viral Lies, Slow Accountability

Of course, other partisan Republicans wanted Trump to win and helped set the stage for putting forth false stolen election claims.

Antrim County’s initial miscount went viral in pro-Trump circles. In early December 2020, a state judge, a former Michigan House Republican minority leader, ordered local election officials to allow outside investigators to analyze the county’s voting system’s computers. A firm hired by Trump’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, copied the system’s hard drives, software and data. (The copies, which the court said were not to be shared, were slowly and selectively leaked. They were widely distributed at an August 2021 forum led by Trump ally Mike Lindell.)

In mid-December 2020, a pro-Trump IT firm, Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG), issued its “forensic audit” report on Antrim County’s computers, which were made by Dominion Voting Systems (whose system was also used in Georgia and Arizona). Its summary said, “We conclude that the Dominion Voting System is intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systematic fraud and influence election results. The system intentionally generated an enormously high number of ballot errors.”

Matthew DePerno, the Michigan Republican Party’s 2022 nominee for state attorney general, helped produce the ASOG report. (In August 2022, Michigan Attorney General, Dana Nessel, a Democrat seeking re-election, appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the illegal breach of the voting system. The appointment sought to avoid conflict-of-interest accusations.)

In response to ASOG’s report, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, commissioned one of the nation’s foremost election technologists, the University of Michigan’s J. Alex Halderman, to analyze what happened. His March 2021 report said ASOG’s review “contains an extraordinary number of false, inaccurate, or unsubstantiated statements and conclusions,” including repeatedly misreading computer logs that record every operation—from ballot paper jams to votes.

Halderman also described how Antrim election officials had failed to properly set up the system, which, in turn, led computers to assign accurately detected votes on paper ballots to the wrong line—and wrong candidate—in the county’s final results database. “The EMS [election management system] ignored most votes intended for [Joe] Biden, reported all votes intended for Trump as votes for Biden, and reported all votes intended for [Libertarian Jo] Jorgensen as votes for Trump,” his report said. “This pattern lets us almost exactly reproduce the erroneous initial results.”

But Trump’s allies, including his data gurus, ignored Halderman’s report and the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee’s report, issued by Republicans that June. Instead, they seized upon a strategy that they took to other states. Their mindset was to create chaos and doubt, so they went looking for fodder for their claims.

One day after the January 6 insurrection, the Atlanta-based technology firm that Powell hired to copy Antrim County’s voting system went to rural Coffee County, Georgia. There, a pro-Trump election official allowed the systems’ hard drives, software, and data to be copied. The official claimed in an online video that the system could be rigged, which also went viral in Trump circles.

In April 2021, Tina Peters, the Mesa County Clerk, shared unauthorized copies of her county’s election system with Trump’s IT allies. Even though Peters’ back-office election manager mistakenly double-counted votes, which was found and fixed, Peters went on to promote pro-Trump conspiracy theories and seek the GOP nomination for Colorado secretary of state in 2022’s primaries. (A day after she lost the primary, Peters was charged with 10 crimes tied to the data breach.)

Some of the IT specialists involved in these efforts then turned up in Arizona in its state-senate-sponsored post-2020 review led by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based IT firm. Its CEO, Doug Logan, contributed to ASOG’s report on Antrim County and was among the IT “experts” who went to Coffee County. In Arizona, he repeatedly raised doubts about the presidential election in the state’s most populous county. In September 2021, Logan announced that Biden won, but his team did not provide evidence showing that his IT squad had accurately recounted votes.

The Trump activists spent months claiming the presidential election was stolen. Many became fixtures—along with their false narrative—on pro-Trump media after the election and remain so today. In contrast, the responses by state and county authorities that initially defended their voting systems, and subsequently investigated and rebutted the accusations, drew less coverage.

Notably, the governmental responses cited and explained the procedural errors by county election managers before and after 2020’s Election Day—errors that were exploited and contributed to a disinformation juggernaut. These investigations also laid the groundwork for prosecuting rogue election officials, and possibly their partisan collaborators, for the illegal data breaches.

Mesa County’ Peters, for example, now faces 10 misdemeanor and felony charges. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who Trump lobbied to “find votes” in an infamous telephone call that was recorded, has authorized a “computer trespass investigation” by state police in Coffee County. Michigan is investigating Antrim County’s unauthorized election data breaches.

But behind the stolen election allegations, which continue in Trump circles, and slower-moving criminal accountability, is a troubling trend that recurs in every election cycle. In a handful of counties, local election managers do not properly set up or operate their computers, giving election-deniers a propaganda vehicle.

These mistakes may be the exceptions, not the rule, across America’s 8,000-plus election jurisdictions. However, they are not “minor clerical errors,” as The Times characterized. They are errors at the start, and at the heart, of counting votes.

NEXT IN THIS SERIES: Mesa County, Colorado. How Trump’s data gurus weaponized human errors, ignored public reports and private advice they were mistaken, and kept repeating lies.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Democratic candidate for Arizona secretary of state talks midterms

An interview with Adrian Fontes, who modernized Phoenix’s election system and helped hundreds of thousands of new voters during 2020’s pandemic and presidential election.

American voters have heard plenty about Republicans seeking high office in 2022 who still deny that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected. They have heard less about the Democratic candidates running against the election deniers, especially in battleground states.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Adrian Fontes is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state in Arizona, where election deniers recently won the GOP primary for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. In 2020, Fontes was the top election administrator in Maricopa County, or greater Phoenix, which became a major target of Donald Trump’s false claims and bad-faith post-election reviews. He spoke to Voting Booth’s Steven Rosenfeld about his 2022 race and message to Arizona voters.

Steven Rosenfeld: Briefly tell us about yourself. You came from a public service family, joined the Marines, became a lawyer, an election official, and more.

Adrian Fontes: Thanks for this opportunity. I’m Adrian Fontes. I was born and raised down on the Mexican border in Nogales, Arizona. My family’s been in that region for pretty much forever. I went to Arizona State University for undergrad and before graduating I ended up leaving and enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. I joined to see the world and I got stationed in Yuma about two hours from my house. After that, I came back to Arizona State, finished summa cum laude from the Honors College, and ended up at law school at the University of Denver.

After prosecuting for a bit at the Adams County and then Denver County DA [district attorney’s office], I was with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office here under Rick Romley, and then I was in charge of the international prosecution unit at the [Arizona] attorney general’s office. I left government services for private practice for several years as a contract public defender with the City of Phoenix, and then with Maricopa County, and eventually with the federal district court in Arizona, including arguing in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

And then, in 2016, I got really angry because people couldn’t vote in my hometown and so I ran for Maricopa County Recorder. And to everyone’s surprise, including myself, I won. And during those four years, we increased the number of voters from 2.1 to 2.6 million voters, which was a significant proportional increase. We also improved our [election] systems so much that even during a pandemic, between 2016 to 2020, we saw 600,000 more ballots cast in just this county alone. I’m real proud of the bipartisan team that I built and the work that we did there. So that’s sort of the nuts and bolts. And when I finished as county recorder after 2020, I went down to Pima County [Tucson] for the transition of the new county recorder there. I served under Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly in Pima County for 100 days to help her create vote centers and do the ballot tracking and do a lot of the stuff we did in Maricopa County.

SR: As the Maricopa County Recorder, you ran the most highly scrutinized election of 2020, the one that brought in the Cyber Ninjas, and was validated, and whose legitimacy was defended, by non-Trump Republicans. I don’t think people may appreciate this. You also lost your reelection. You accepted the results. Tell us about that.

AF: It was the most highly scrutinized election in American history. Broward County [Florida in 2000] doesn’t have anything on Maricopa 2020. It was good to work with the Republican Board of Supervisors between the 2016 through 2020 cycle. There were some bumps in the road, but the system was about 30 years past due for an overhaul, and we created a bipartisan system that made that happen. We used expertise from around the country, asked a lot of questions, did a lot of training and once we executed—very, very well during a global pandemic—I did, as you indicated, come up about 4,600 votes short out of almost 2 million votes cast, and then I straightaway accepted the results.

We knew that was the right thing to do, because by that time, which was just a few days after Election Day, we had already heard all of the grumblings… that perhaps there would not be a peaceful transfer of power in Washington, D.C. I called my opponent in the campaign, Stephen Richer, who is now recorder, my successor, and I asked him if he wanted to do a tour. And we recorded that tour. We did a nice video presentation. The last slide of that was really, I think, the most poignant and important one. It showed the seal of the office. And then it had my name as the 29th Maricopa County Recorder and his name as the 30th Maricopa County Recorder, essentially handing over the reins to the office.

But even he [Richer], having campaigned so vigorously against me and my program, had to admit and come around to the argument that it was a very, very good election and a very, very good system that I created. He has been one of the staunchest supporters of it. In fact, he has received threats, including, I believe, death threats, because he has been such a strong supporter of the Maricopa 2020 election that I built. The [county’s] Republican Board of Supervisors has vigorously defended that election in court and in the public arena, and everybody knows we beat the Cyber Ninjas. We showed that through all of the scrutiny, whether it was from political parties, nongovernment organizations, academics, journalists and the media, the international press—everyone who had eyes on Maricopa 2020. I consider it a professional feather in my cap that it all went so well under my leadership. I’m very excited to be able to bring a lot of those best practices to the rest of the state of Arizona, and anybody else who wants to know how to run a great election.

SR: Let’s turn to 2022. What is the story of this election that you want voters to hear?

AF: There couldn’t be a starker contrast. In my opponent [Mark Finchem] you have a January 6 treasonous insurrectionist who was on the steps of the nation’s Capitol, probably egging on the violence, that could very easily have resulted in the death of [Vice-President] Mike Pence and potentially Speaker [of the House Nancy] Pelosi had they achieved their ends. He is a proponent and promoter of the big lie, and has personally gained, not just because of his currently elected position in the House of Representatives in Arizona, but through many of the other organizations he’s built and has pedaled T-shirts and bumper stickers on the big lie under the “stop the steal” banner. That’s on the one side.

On the other side, you’ve got me, a Marine Corps veteran, fully prepared and a well-versed election expert. I am CERA-certified [Certified Election Registration Administrator], which is certification that comes out of Auburn University and the Election Center. I called the balls and strikes [as the county’s senior administrator] that included my own political loss with integrity and honor, without hesitation, and I’m really excited about… [continuing to work] very closely with Republicans.

So, you’ve got a level-headed, bipartisan, former active-duty military man against an insurrectionist traitor. And while there’s a lot of other contests where you have a Trump supporter versus a non-Trump supporter, there is no other contest in the nation that pits the guy who beat the Cyber Ninjas themselves against a January 6 insurrectionist. This is the only one, at any level, for any office. And so, the A versus B that we’re experiencing in the secretary of state’s race in Arizona could not be a starker contrast between two candidates.

SR: How do you counter the lies that are being told by your opponent or punch through that noise? He doesn’t accept the 2020 results. He hurls personal insults and then he bemoans the lack of public trust in elections. And, apparently, a lot of Arizonans are okay with that.

AF: Well, I would argue that a lot of people are not okay with that. And all you have to do is look at the numbers. He had 58 percent of the voters in the Republican primary in his race vote against him. The truth of the matter is they only represent a very, very small portion of all of the voters in Arizona, and we have continued to chip away at the big lie with the plain truth. The truth of the matter is that it wasn’t just one or two elected officials, but a whole cadre of thousands of American citizens—Republicans, Democrats, independents, libertarians, Green Party members alike, across the entirety of Arizona and the nation—who ran the 2020 election. They did it well. There isn’t, as of yet, any real evidence of widespread fraud. There isn’t, as of yet, one single successful case, prosecution, or presentation of any material facts that might prove the big lie. That’s because it is simply a big lie. At the end of the day, the truth will prevail. We will use the very system that these fascists aim to destroy to beat them, and that will be the sweetest justice against their authoritarian intentions.

SR: Who is the audience for your campaign besides Democratic voters?

AF: The audience here is all Americans, right? We’re going to every corner of the state, both geographically and ideologically, to directly challenge folks who do not have evidence and continue to push the big lie. We’re going to be speaking directly with the Goldwater-McCain Republicans, those reasonable Chamber of Commerce types. We’re going to be speaking to the disaffected independents who don’t like either of the political parties. And, of course, our base, we hope will hear all of this as well. The message is exactly the same.

We want predictability and stability. We don’t want the wild-eyed uncertainty that Trumpism and the big lie present. Whether you’re in the business community, the medical community, the legal community, the education community; whether you’re in industry, in technology, you want the government to just do its job. And not the absolute uncertainty that the neofascists are presenting. The big lie is created, specifically and uniquely, to benefit one person [Donald Trump], not everyone. And that means that opportunities will disappear for everyone across the board because [if they prevail] we’re going to be under their model of having to hang on one person’s every word. That’s not how America is supposed to work.

And so, we will take the message of basic plain old truth. The reality that, you know, gravity exists. The sun comes up in the morning and sets at night. If you wear very tight shoes, you’ll be uncomfortable. It’s really very simple. We will be presenting the alternative to this wild-eyed uncertainty that they present. It’s not really that complicated, and we have already received an enormous outpouring of support from all sides of politics, not just the political left, but the center, and many folks on the political right have already reached out. We’re excited to just call balls and strikes the way folks need us to [as impartial election administrators].

SR: If you win, how hard will it be to rebuild trust after all of this rhetoric and propaganda?

AF: Winning back the confidence of the American people in our elections is not going to be easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. It is critically important that we reach out to every corner of our political society during the course of this campaign and after. We’re going to have to be very cognizant of the ideas that have been put out there, whether they’re correct or incorrect. And we’re going to attack the lies with the truth and trust.

The biggest problem that we have right now is that the big liars have injected mistrust of one another into our systems. So, we have to be consistent. We have to open things up so folks can actually see what’s going on inside [of running elections], so that that trust can be rebuilt. This is a matter of not just trust, but faith. We have lost faith in one another as Americans, and that’s going to be a little bit difficult to build back. But I think with persistence and keeping our shoulder to the grindstone, we will be able to rebuild that trust. I have confidence in the American public.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

MAGA Republicans are a bigger threat than Donald Trump

Three months before the 2022 general election, momentum is tangibly growing for holding Donald Trump and Trump Republicans legally accountable for a range of criminal activities tied to their ultimately violent effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

But Trump’s stepchildren—scores of current candidates who won’t accept the 2020 election’s outcome and want to control future elections—will be on this fall’s ballots, underscoring that the anti-democratic threats posed by Trump Republicans have evolved and are not over.

“It’s time for every American voter to pay attention,” said a July 28 update by States United Action, a bipartisan organization opposing election deniers and defending representative government. “These aren’t just fringe candidates. Election lies are showing up in the platforms of politicians with years of government service as well as candidates seeking office for the first time.”

As of July 28, 22 states and the District of Columbia have held their 2022 primaries. More than 60 percent of secretary of state contests, whose responsibilities include overseeing elections, and 40 percent of races for governor and attorney general “currently have an Election Denier candidate on the ballot,” States United Action reports. Their tally does not include scores of like-minded candidates seeking state legislative races and even law enforcement posts.

“This is America versus Trumpism,” as one analyst said during a late July briefing that sought to tie the impact of the hearings by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol to the less-widely recognized stakes in 2022’s general election.

“Across the country, politicians who won’t accept the result of the last election are seeking control over future elections,” States United Action said. “Election Deniers are now seeking these jobs and positions across the country in a coordinated attack on the freedom to vote.”

In coming weeks, political media may begin to assess the political paradox of looming threats by GOP authoritarians to expand their gains since 2020—which include passing 50 state laws that “politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections”—against the prospect that Trump and his gang may at last face criminal charges for their failed coup.

In August, numerous states will hold primaries with election deniers seeking the top statewide offices—governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Those primaries include Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri on August 2; Wisconsin on August 9; and Florida on August 23.

Shifting Opinion on Trump Coup

Meanwhile, the January 6 committee’s investigations have shifted public opinion. When their hearings began in June, there were still questions—at least among independents and moderate Republicans—about whether Trump and his enablers had committed crimes and whether the public would pay attention. After eight hearings, which will resume in September, it is clear that growing numbers of Americans are watching, there is no doubt Trump led an ultimately violent criminal conspiracy to overturn the presidential election, and the pressing question is whether there will be accountability under state and federal criminal codes.

The momentum for accountability also can be seen in revelations that the Department of Justice is questioning a larger circle of Trump allies, including his Cabinet. At the same time, missing texts surrounding Trump’s actions on January 6 have grown from the Secret Service guarding Trump to top Department of Homeland Security officials. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has alerted many Trump aides they may face prosecution.

Election lawyers tracking these developments say that criminal charges are likely to first appear in Georgia—possibly before the general election. The DOJ is expected to act after the election (unlike in 2016 when the FBI in late October reopened its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails).

Polls have found that 60 percent of likely 2022 voters see Trump’s failed coup as criminal. Political independents—who support Republicans or Democrats—are increasingly frowning upon Trump’s lies and tactics, expect accountability, and say they would not vote for 2020 election-denying candidates seeking office in 2022’s general election.

“Sixty percent of Americans say that they were not patriots and 63 percent say they were not bystanders,” pollster Celinda Lake said at a late July briefing by the Defend Democracy Project, a Washington-based group dedicated to the principle that voters determine election results.

2022’s Election Deniers

However, as the focus expands from holding the coup plotters accountable to countering ongoing power grabs by Trump Republicans, the challenge gets more complex.

In GOP-majority state legislatures, these authoritarians used 2020 stolen election lies and old cliches demonizing Democrats to pass new laws✎ EditSign criminalizing small errors in the bureaucratic tasks conducted by election workers and established get-out-the-vote routines by campaign volunteers. The most common focus of the punitive laws is limiting the use of mailed-out ballots and restricting voters’ options to legally return them.

A related threat concerns a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this fall. It involves the radical right-wing legal theory that was at the heart of Trump’s failed coup, the so-called independent state legislature doctrine. Its most extreme version claims that the Constitution only empowers state legislatures to set election rules and run elections: not state constitutions, state supreme courts, gubernatorial vetoes, election boards or citizen initiatives. (Trump’s forged Electoral College certificates in seven states sought to delay Congress on January 6 and redirect the certification of 2020’s winner to GOP-majority state legislatures that would have backed Trump.)

These new laws and legal gambits are based on old lies and partisan prejudice. Since the 1980s, Republicans have been claiming that Democrats can only win if they fabricate voters and votes—so-called voter fraud. But Trump’s stolen election lies and failed coup, which can be called election fraud, have been seized upon by pro-GOP opportunists.

Self-appointed election integrity activists have emerged and promoted themselves to Trump’s base and right-wing media as superpatriots. These posers have raised millions from Trump voters by hawking conspiracy theories that have been debunked by credible Republicans. But their bogus analysis and lies, amplified by right-wing media, have enraged Trump’s base.

The consequence is that violent threats against election officials have escalated and not abated. This targeting has roiled the previously boring and bureaucratic field of election administration, which typically consists of county-level operations staffed by local civil servants.

For example, on July 29, a Massachusetts man was arrested for an alleged bomb threat against the Arizona secretary of state’s office. In Wisconsin, a pro-Trump sheriff in suburban Racine County is refusing to investigate pro-Trump activists who forged online ballot requests; they wanted to show the process was dishonest but instead were caught by election officials.

“In many ways, the Republican election officials have it worse than the Democratic election officials,” said David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has organized an election official legal defense network, in a late July media briefing.

“The Republican election officials know the [2020] election was secure. They did a remarkable job. Most, if not all, of them voted for Trump,” he continued. “And now they find themselves under attack, and, unlike election officials in maybe deeply blue areas, when they go home at night, their own families, and friends… wonder if they helped steal an election because they have been lied to so much [by Trump and his boosters].”

Front-Line Responses

Election officials have responded to this fraught new environment by tightening security and seeking to proactively reach out to local media and community leaders to try to bolster greater awareness that modern election administration is accurate and filled with checks and balances.

Numerous nonprofit groups have cataloged the danger signs and have sought to respond. CEIR, for example, has organized a nationwide legal defense network to assist threatened local officials. Neal Kelley, who managed the nation’s fifth-largest election district in Orange County, California, is now working with the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections, which seeks to train local police to protect election officials and voters from illegal threats and intimidation. Grassroots groups like Scrutineers, which educates activists about election administration, recently conducted nonviolent conflict resolution training for election observers.

In many respects, defeating Trump Republicans in 2022’s general election is seen by these advocates of fair elections and representative government as the most tangible line of defense before the 2024 presidential election. As the January 6 committee’s disclosures continue and prosecutors move closer to indicting Trump Republicans for their 2020 actions, these and other pro-democracy advocates hope the public will put country ahead of party and vote this fall.

“An informed voter is a powerful voter,” said States United Action. “Election Deniers are on the ballot in many state primaries in August, including all 11 primaries for secretary of state. And pro-democracy candidates of both parties will be on the ballot in the general election this fall. It’s never been more important for our state leaders to believe in free, fair, and secure elections.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Voter guides could be key to cutting through partisan midterm noise

An interview with Paul Loeb, an adviser to guides.vote, which is leading the charge on getting voter guides developed in 30 states.

For many years, Paul Loeb has been involved in civic participation efforts as an author, campus speaker and founder of a nonpartisan project to get students to vote. Recently, he’s been serving as an adviser to guides.vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit project that creates candidate guides for major elections across the United States. The same independent editorial team that created the materials for Loeb’s campus project is running guides.vote. Voting Booth’s Steven Rosenfeld spoke to Loeb about what 2022’s midterm voters seek in candidate guides, and what messages and messengers break through today’s partisan noise.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Steven Rosenfeld: You’re involved with a team that is creating voter guides on 30 states for the 2022 midterms. What do you think voters need in our current environment, and how do you view the work of this particular project?

Paul Loeb: Yes, I’m helping the guides.vote people, serving as an adviser. One of the things that’s hard is that people don’t trust the candidates. They don’t trust the ads and don’t trust their handlers. So, they often put themselves in a box where they don’t know who to vote for, and particularly in a non-presidential year. They don’t know that much. And they don’t have time to research it. The guides allow them to get past a hesitation that says, “They’re all the same. There’s really no significant difference between them.”

The guides allow you to understand that there are actual differences, significant ones, in fact, in the stands different candidates take, and they will be in positions to implement those differences. Then it’s up to the person reading the guides to say, “Okay, well, here’s where I align with their stands.” The guides give voters a credible way to go beyond the character attacks that are part of the political landscape, but which often obscure rather than reveal what a candidate would actually do as a senator or governor or congressional representative.

SR: These guides are very succinct. Basically, a sentence or two on a dozen or so topics. No more than 25 or 30 words. What’s the strength of this approach?

PL: One of the things that makes them accessible is there’s a quick summary and then you click and see a quote from a given candidate or a link to a bill that they voted on. Readers can then look back at the source to get more perspective and confirm that the summary is an accurate representation. It’s easy to do that. It is a way of grounding credibly, what’s summarized as opposed to, “Hey, this is what we think.”

You can do a guide that just recaps what a candidate says on their website, but that approach excludes so much of who they are and their impact. If they’ve held office, or if they’ve voted on key issues. That’s tangible and important information. If they’ve been governor, and they’ve signed or vetoed a bill, that’s also tangible information. There may be things that a candidate says in a primary that they don’t put front and center in the general election but are still a very important part of who they are.

Putting this kind of information out not only helps people decide [who to vote for] but it also plays a really big role in helping them decide whether to vote at all. Because one of the big barriers is people saying, “I don’t trust any of these sources.” “I don’t have time to research it myself.” So, therefore, “I’m staying home.” I think that guides like these are really important antidotes to this, because they contribute to greater participation, even beyond helping somebody who’s already decided to vote to make up their mind between candidate A and B. Though, of course, that’s also really important.

SR: These guides are mostly for statewide races: governor, U.S. senator and secretary of state. In its previous incarnation, the guides.vote team produced guides distributed by hundreds of campuses and many nonprofits and businesses. Do the mix of issues change with different partners and their constituencies?

PL: The team does a lot of research and covers a lot of ground. What we’ve said and what we did under the auspices of our previous organization is let a group use fewer of our questions if they wanted, and say, to post on their website, “Here’s 10 questions from guides.vote.” Or they can do that in a handout. But they can’t change any questions or change any answers. So, if a group decides, “These three questions are not as relevant to our audience, but the other ones are relevant,” they can still use the guides and say they’re from guides.vote. There’s flexibility if groups want to do something different than just linking to the guides.vote site, for instance, if they’re creating a handout with limited room. So, that’s one way to have that flexibility for groups.

SR: What’s the most effective way to deliver this information? For example, I have heard that sometimes it’s not enough to tell someone just to go to a website. Some people prefer texts. Others need to talk face-to-face and read handouts afterward. Has this changed in 2022?

PL: The 2020 election actually changed a lot because of COVID. A lot of face-to-face interactions that would have happened in previous years didn’t happen. People relied much more on online technologies. Different people receive and like information through different channels. There are desktop or laptop people, app people, social media people, and people who still like to read things in print, say, when a group hands out guides as fliers.

The team has suggestions for partners on how they can distribute the guides. Most seem to have a fairly clear idea like, “Okay, we’re going to send out some follow-up materials after registration drives and we can point to your guides in the text, or we’ll push this on social media as long as you can give us some good quality images”—which the project can. Or “we are thinking of doing a field canvass and we’d like to print some copies to hand out.”

It’s really up to the groups how they want to distribute them. But one advantage is that they are trusted messengers. You’ll respond better getting materials from a group you know and trust than encountering the same material completely cold, like an ad on a social media page. Guides.vote is hoping to provide some mini-grants for schools and community groups, so if they want to physically hand out a bunch of guides as fliers but don’t have the budget, or want to hang a blown-up banner of the guide at their student union or in the classroom, they can.

SR: I’m looking at your list of the project’s partners in addition to the roughly 400 campuses who’ve distributed the guides in previous versions and new ones who’ve joined you. It’s quite a mix. Some are grassroots groups. Some are professional organizations. Some are nonprofits that work in the electronic back end of get-out-the-vote and voter-contact operations. Do you have any sense of what this project’s audience or reach will be this fall?

PL: It’s not clear at this point, but a lot of groups are signing on. It’s interesting. The project has a guide to disinformation that’s updated from an earlier version. LULAC [the League of United Latin American Citizens], the oldest Hispanic membership group in the country, is one of the groups that will be distributing the guides and they said that disinformation is so rife that having something credible is really, really valuable. They asked us if we could create a QR code for the guides that they can give out to other groups when they have their convention. That’s an example of how one group is responding.

SR: I’m looking at the Florida U.S. Senate guide. There are a lot of issues: climate change, abortion, critical race theory, guns and was Biden legitimately elected. Are there certain kinds of issues or information that you would like to include but don’t—for whatever reason?

PL: There’s a trade-off with space. If you took more space, you could do more but then people probably wouldn’t read it because it would be too long. That’s a trade-off that’s not about any particular issue.

The area that the team has chosen to not take on is when there’s a scandal of some kind. Of course, scandals get defined differently by different people. But the project avoids addressing scandals. You just can’t do justice to them in a four-line summary. It’s also hard to find a source that would be considered neutral by both sides. And, ultimately, most of the scandals are minefields of who said or did what, and whether [or not] the allegations are credible. The project isn’t in a position to determine that. So, the response in that case is to simply not include those kinds of issues.

SR: I keep hearing, on the left and right, that voters are discouraged, which means harder to turn out. Is 2022 really worse than the recent elections?

PL: It’s an interesting question. Campuses aren’t our sole audience, but the campus vote was 19 percent in 2014. And more than doubled to 41 percent in 2018. That’s a huge difference. Which one will it be in 2022? Will we build on 2020’s high turnout? Or revert to [voting] more like 2014?

My sense is there’s something of a sour political mood. From polling across political lines, people feel like things are a mess. They don’t think they’re necessarily getting better. So, it makes it harder for folks to decide, “Okay, I’m going to go to the polls,” because it’s easy to feel like, “What’s the value?” But political cynicism is always present.

We think the prevalence of that mood makes the guides more important. The hope would be, and this has been borne out by the feedback the team has gotten in the past, is that people will say, “I’m not sure it will make a difference, but it does seem like the candidates and parties have really different positions and are going in really different directions. So, yes, it’s worth voting, since not voting has allowed the kinds of things I don’t like to happen, and voting might bring about some of what I want.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

The nasty side of Donald Trump’s 2020 lies and bullying comes before the January 6th Committee

The scope of Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election widened in the congressional testimony on June 21 as Republican state legislators, state election officials and local election workers described Trump’s pressure campaigns and bullying that targeted them and led to them facing severe harassment for doing their jobs.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” said Ruby Freeman, who, with her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, were election workers at an Atlanta arena and were repeatedly named and smeared by Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for what the men falsely said was an attempt at stealing Georgia votes for Joe Biden.

“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?” Freeman continued. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me.”

A video of the two women as they resumed processing ballots after an evening break was mischaracterized and widely circulated by Trump’s allies. Giuliani told Georgia’s state Senate that the Black women were criminals. Trump said they were part of a conspiracy to steal the election, which led his supporters to threaten and stalk the women, and even saw vigilantes barge into Freeman’s elderly mother’s home to attempt a “citizen’s arrest” of her and Moss.

The January 6 hearings have shown that it was Trump and his minions—not Democrats, nor state officials who followed their oaths of office, nor local election workers who did their jobs—who plotted to overturn the election, and who embraced lying, ignoring laws, harassment and violence to seize the presidency.

“Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them… He went forward with his fake allegations,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY, the panel’s co-chair. “We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”

From a legal standpoint, the hearing of June 21 directly tied Trump to one scheme where complicit Republican Party officials and state office holders knowingly forged and signed fake Electoral College certificates that declared Trump, not Biden, won their state’s votes. That scheme emerged after Trump could not get any Republican governor or GOP-led legislature to reconvene to award him an Electoral College victory despite Biden winning the state’s popular vote.

But what stood out was Trump’s boorish and boundary-breaking harassment of legislator leaders and top election officials who would not bend to his will to overturn their state’s election results. Trump’s ongoing claims that the election was stolen have sparked many copycat candidacies in 2022 among right-wing Republicans. That posturing continued and targeted the panel’s opening witness, underscoring the threat that Trump’s cadre still poses.

Before the hearing began, Trump issued a statement saying that the first witness, Rusty Bowers, the Republican longtime speaker of its House, had personally told Trump in November 2020 that Arizona’s election had been “rigged” for Biden. Bowers was present to describe Trump’s efforts, from receiving phone calls from President Trump to lobbying by his legal team, to push Bowers to launch an unprecedented legislative process to retract Biden’s victory.

“Before we begin with the questions I have prepared for you, I want to ask you about a statement that former President Trump issued, which I received just prior to the hearing,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA. “Former President Trump begins by calling you a RINO, Republican in Name Only. He then references a conversation in November 2020, in which he claims that you told him that the election was rigged, and that he had won Arizona… Did you have such a conversation?”

“I did have a conversation with the president. That certainly isn’t it,” Bowers said. “Anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged—that would not be true.”

Bowers went on to testify that Trump pushed and then bullied him to convene a special legislative session to revoke Biden’s victory. (Michigan’s Senate President, Republican Mike Shirkey, told the panel the same thing in a videotaped interview: Trump had pushed him to take the steps needed to declare him the state’s Electoral College vote winner.)

Bowers testified that he told Trump that he did not have the authority to do so under Arizona’s state constitution and the federal Constitution and that he would not violate his oath of office to do so. Shirkey told Trump much the same thing.

Then Trump moved on to a second ploy based on an untested legal theory by John Eastman, a lawyer who argued that state legislatures had the power to ignore the popular vote and appoint Electoral College slates of their choosing. The so-called fake-elector plan involved Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who Trump asked to promote it—another disclosure that was made on June 21.

In that same conversation with Bowers, Trump claimed to speak on behalf of other senior Arizona lawmakers, Bowers recounted, to pressure the speaker to hold a hearing on Eastman’s theory—which would lend it credibility.

“I said to what end? To what end the hearing?” Bowers recounted. “He said, ‘Well, we have heard by an official high up in the Republican legislature that there is a legal theory or a legal ability in Arizona, that you can remove the electors of President Biden and replace them. And we would like to have a legitimate opportunity through the committee… And I said, ‘That’s totally new to me. I’ve never heard of any such thing.’ And he pressed that point.”

Trump’s lie-laced pressure tactics didn’t end there. Giuliani kept lobbying Bowers. Then came more bullying. When Bowers did not budge, Trump supporters went to his home and held menacing protests, he said. The protests occurred while his daughter was very ill at home and would soon pass away.

“We had a daughter who was gravely ill, who was upset by what was happening outside,” he said.

At the hearing on June 21, numerous Republican and Democratic legislators and state election officials described how Trump’s foot soldiers threatened them on social media, published their private contact information online and stalked them outside their homes—which neither Trump nor his team discouraged, as Cheney noted.

The officials who recounted this harassment included Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who testified, Michigan’s Mike Shirkey, a Republican, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican.

Raffensperger recounted how someone broke into his daughter-in-law’s home after the election, which he attributed to the threats he received. When asked why he didn’t leave his job or cave to Trump, his reply was much the same as Bowers: he felt he had a public duty to oversee a constitutional process even if it meant that his party did not win the White House.

“I knew that we had followed the law, we had followed the Constitution,” Raffensperger said. “You’re doing your job. And that’s what we did.”

But not every witness had a story of valor under duty. Georgia’s Ruby Freeman said that the targeting of her by Trump and Giuliani led to the loss of her business, a loss of privacy and her sense of security. She was afraid to use her name in public, she testified, because she feared it could provoke more harassment.

“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” she said.

And her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, told the committee that she had to leave her job as an election worker after a decade, leave her home and go into hiding—as advised by the FBI—and became deeply depressed. But she was most upset because of the threats made by Trump’s thugs to her grandmother—who called her in a panic when his foot soldiers barged into her house seeking to make a “citizens’ arrest” of her and her mother.

“It was my fault for putting my family in this situation,” she said, referring to her work as an election official.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Schiff replied.

But that morning, Trump was back at it—putting false words into another witness’s mouth, as if nothing mattered except his return to power.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Pressure builds on Donald Trump and allies as January 6th Committee reveals shocking new evidence

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One day after Arizona’s 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump’s supporters, including armed protesters, converged on Maricopa County’s ballot-counting center. That morning, a local congressman, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-AZ, had amplified Trump’s stolen election claims. He tweeted that Trump votes were uncounted in his state’s most populous county because many voters had used sharpie pens, which bled through the paper and spoiled their ballots.

Although the rumor, dubbed “Sharpie-gate,” was false, Gosar made a beeline for the protest. Rather than urging those present to accept disappointing results, he validated their fears. Gosar was not alone. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, another ambitious Republican – now running for the U.S. Senate as a “true conservative” – announced an investigation. These reactions, abusing their office’s prestige and authority, were not unique.

Trump called Maricopa County’s top elected Republican to pressure him to stop counting votes. The Arizona Republican Party, like the GOP in many battleground states, filed baseless lawsuits. Later that month, Trump’s Washington-based lawyers, who knew that Joe Biden won, flew into Phoenix. They met with GOP legislators, who let them use Arizona’s statehouse as a stage for making more false claims. In December, loyalists from state party officials to legislators, forged and signed a fake Electoral College certificate saying that Trump had won. Then they lobbied the vice president to count their fraudulent and illegal votes on January 6.

The fourth hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol will focus on how Trump’s team pressured local and state government officials to overturn Biden’s victory. Tuesday’s witnesses include two Republican election officials from Georgia and a state legislator from Arizona who resisted Trump’s pressure and received numerous threats from Trump supporters that have continued into 2022’s elections.

The events in Arizona followed a template also seen in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to the panel’s disclosures and other reporting compiled by States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan organization advancing free, fair, and secure elections.

“The same lies and conspiracy theories that fueled the January 6 attack contributed to threatening and violent messages aimed at election officials,” its Arizona update said. “These threats were launched over email, voicemails, texts, letters, social media, and in-person events, including gathering outside election officials’ homes.”

As the hearings continue, there are not only questions of what accountability will ensue for participants in Trump’s failed 2020 coup, but what can be done about a Republicans who still embrace the stolen election lie. This past weekend, for example, the Texas Republican Party adopted these claims in its party platform. That action follows scores of election-denying candidates running for state and federal office in 2022 and winning their primaries.

“These candidates and their successful primary campaigns are a stark reminder that the insurrection—and the lies that sparked it—did not end on January 6, 2021 or when former President Trump left office,” wrote States United’s leadership team, Noman Eisen, Joanna Lydgate and Christine Todd Whitman (New Jersey’s ex-governor and a Republican) in Slate. “And they are proof that the kindling for the attack—and the continued stoking of the fire—is alive and well in the states.”

The trio contend that local accountability would have the greatest impact with stopping the cynical and dangerous stolen election claims. They suggest disbarring the “bad lawyers” who perpetuated the evidence-free falsehoods, which means ending their legal careers. They said that “district and county attorneys can bring criminal charges” against the coup’s participants and cited the investigation in Georgia’s Fulton County, where Trump tried to get Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes to reverse Biden’s victory. (Raffensperger and his deputy are witnesses on Tuesday).

They further suggested that local prosecutors go after militias like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers for confrontations with police, citing a lawsuit by the District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. They also suggested that state attorneys general go after Trump’s post-election fundraising where false claims were used to dupe donors, citing a Michigan inquiry that’s underway and a possible New York State investigation.

“Democracy cannot exist without the rule of law,” they wrote. “Seeking accountability for those who step outside those bounds is critical to stopping the ongoing insurrection before it’s too late. If we want to prevent an election hijack in 2022 and 2024, it’s going to take a full-speed-ahead approach to accountability. And just like with our elections, we believe those [accountability efforts] will be run and led by the states.”

Tuesday’s disclosures may suggest which legal venues would be best for seeking accountability.

But there is another aspect of accountability that involves understanding and confronting the dysfunctional political psychologies that enabled this crisis. Pro-Trump politicians, candidates and campaigners seem to share a mindset where they valued obtaining power above other personal, public, and professional considerations. It’s one thing to be a loyal and ambitious politician. It’s another to mimic party leaders who lie, show indifference to facts, embrace chaos and violence, bilk supporters, and say such actions were patriotic — and still are.

The hearings are revealing how far people who admired or envied Trump were willing to go. As new details surface so too are suggestions for how and where to hold participants accountable. But what has not yet been revealed is what might excise the dynamic in political life that allows such self-serving people to advance, and, as just seen in Texas, to keep lying.

Progressives eyeing Georgia to prosecute Donald Trump as coup evidence accumulates

As the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol provides new and mounting evidence of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn a presidential election he lost, so, too, is the expectation rising that the Department of Justice will have no choice but to prosecute Trump and co-conspirators. But in center-left advocacy circles, there is rising talk that the best odds to prosecute and jail Trump may lie in state court in Georgia, not federal court in Washington, D.C.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

“As I said last night on CNN, if there is an audience of one [person to persuade], it ain’t [U.S. Attorney General] Merrick Garland. It’s [Fulton County, Georgia’s District Attorney] Fani Willis,” said Norman L. Eisen, a former U.S. ambassador now with the Brookings Institution, speaking during an activist briefing call one day after the first January 6 House committee hearing.

Eisen and like-minded colleagues were working in public and private to push prosecutions of Trump. Their efforts have followed an arc, he said, from showing “likely criminality that a judge found,” to “substantial criminality” as a Brookings Institution report detailed, to an evolving “Criminal Evidence Tracker✎ EditSign.” He said, “We’re going to get to beyond a reasonable doubt.”

And Eisen predicted that Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia—where Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was bullied by Trump in a phone call to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, and where GOP officials forged an Electoral College certificate declaring that Trump won—would likely file charges against Trump and others this year, which could be before Garland acted. Willis convened a special grand jury in May.

“Whether or not he goes to jail depends on whether she and all of us help frame that case that five justices of the [U.S.] Supreme Court say, as they did with Trump v. Thompson, ‘I don’t want to touch it,’” Eisen said. “It will have to survive federal scrutiny. It will be removed [from state to federal court], and we need to get it kicked back to state court in Georgia. That’s the whole shooting match.”

Willis, like her Justice Department counterparts, has been circumspect in her comments, saying her office has a “duty to investigate” and citing past experience in criminal racketeering cases. The Justice Department has also been investigating the January 6 insurrection, has charged hundreds of rioters, and, as Garland said, is scrutinizing the committee’s work.

While it is premature to speculate whether and where Trump and his allies may face criminal charges for their roles in a failed unconstitutional coup, the evidence presented so far—by the committee and by lawyers such as Eisen’s team—is also leading to public statements and new explanations about the committee’s objectives and what separately might unfold in court.

Building a Case

On Tuesday, June 14, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY, the committee co-chair, posted a Twitter video that reminded Americans what evidence it had most recently presented.

“Yesterday, the Select Committee’s hearing showed all Americans that President Trump’s claims of a stolen 2020 election were, to use former Attorney General [William] Barr’s words, ‘complete nonsense,’” she said, referring to its June 13 hearing. “We heard this from Donald Trump’s own campaign experts, his own campaign lawyers, his own campaign manager, his attorney general, and others Donald Trump appointed to leadership positions in the U.S. Department of Justice. President Trump’s advisers knew what he was saying was false, and they told him so directly and repeatedly.”

Cheney then previewed the next hearing’s topic: how Trump and his loyalists pressured the vice president “to refuse to count lawful Electoral [College] votes. As a federal judge has indicated, this likely violated two federal criminal statutes. President Trump had no factual basis for what he was doing, and he had been told it was illegal. Despite this, President Trump plotted with a lawyer named John Eastman, and others, to overturn the outcome of the election on January 6.”

Cheney’s video had more than one purpose. The House investigation itself is not a prosecution, but a wide-ranging inquiry intended to tell the American public what happened. However, the panel is also compiling and presenting an evidence trail centered around the hardest part of any prosecution—proving that the likely accused intended to break the law.

“The key, in terms of criminal cases and the viability of criminal cases, is the evidence that’s available to prove that Donald Trump and others acted with the requisite criminal intent,” said Kristy Parker, a former federal prosecutor, during a June 14 briefing by Protect Democracy, a nonprofit dedicated to representative government. “And for the kind of charges we’re talking about here, the department would essentially be required to prove that Donald Trump and his associates knew what they were doing was wrong.”

Parker said that proving intent doesn’t rely on knowing what a person is privately thinking.

“Intent is customarily proven by surrounding circumstances, and we’ve seen the committee doing just that,” she explained. “It’s important to understand as a legal matter that prosecutors won’t be in a position of having to prove that Trump believed he lost, only that he knew he couldn’t do certain things to stay in power, like coerce the Georgia secretary of state to find him one more vote than he needs, or tell the DOJ to just announce fraud, and let him do the rest, or pressure Vice President [Mike] Pence to refuse to accept the results, or weaponize the mob to disrupt the January 6 proceeding. And there’s much more to come from the committee on all of those points.”

Cheney’s video tweet promised more revelations to come. But progressives and center-left public policy organizations are trying to get ahead of that breaking news by ramping up the pressure on federal and state prosecutors to act. Eisen and his team of fellow lawyers have compiled an ongoing document, “The January 6th Hearings: A Criminal Evidence Tracker,” which details the “facts and evidence” known thus far, including new revelations from each hearing.

“Although we are just two hearings in, the evidence of possible criminal conduct is steadily mounting, which we document in our three trackers looking at possible federal charges under criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. §371); obstruction of an official proceeding (18 U.S.C §1512); and criminal solicitation to commit election fraud (GA Code § 21-2-604),” its introduction said on Just Security, a public policy forum. “The hearings have often resembled an argument to a criminal jury. That is not because of the heated rhetoric being used; the Committee has been quite restrained. Instead, it is because of the substance: the power, quantity, and import of the evidence.”

The tracker is co-authored by Noah Bookbinder (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW), Norman L. Eisen (Brookings Institution), Fred Wertheimer (Democracy 21), Jason Powell (CREW), Debra Perlin (CREW), and Colby Galliher (Brookings).

In contrast, at the Protect Democracy briefing, which featured three former Justice Department officials, one of the key takeaways was to give the department enough time to be methodical and to build its cases from the bottom up—starting with hundreds of January 6 rioters and working toward the instigators and organizers, including Trump.

“If, in fact, the evidence is there, as it looks like it may well be, to show that Donald Trump knew that he’d lost the election and knew in connection with these things that he was attempting to do that they were improper, then the culpability is right up near the top,” said Donald Ayer, former deputy attorney general. “Now, at the end of the day, we all need to be patient and acknowledge that the department is the one that has to make this call. Ultimately, it’s the attorney general [Merrick Garland]. And I think we listen, and we wait.”

Notably, the criminal evidence tracker co-authored by Eisen and his colleagues includes a section compiling facts, evidence, and criminal thresholds to convict Trump and co-conspirators in Georgia—not just in federal court in Washington. Eisen further told the activists that Georgia has a bipartisan state pardon board, meaning that a conviction could not be readily overturned by the state’s Republicans (unless its legislature reconstituted the board).

All of these developments, from Cheney’s video previewing the committee’s next hearing to the efforts of Eisen and others to frame the media and legal narratives, point toward Trump and his collaborators facing a day in court.

Even the former federal prosecutors, who, in contrast to Eisen’s team, urged patience, said that Trump knew what he was doing—which contrasts with former Attorney General William Barr telling the committee in a videotaped interview that Trump was “detached from reality.”

“That phrase that Attorney General Barr used strikes me as somewhat inapt,” said Ayer. “For example, that phone call with Raffensperger in Georgia, that Trump executed at some length, that was not the conversation of a person who was detached from reality. That was the conversation of a bully. And he had other similar conversations, [also during which he seemed like someone] who basically wanted things to go his way. And he was going to push and shove and lean on people in order to make that happen. And he did it multiple times, which… gives evidence of a high level of intent.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Republican Party extremists are gaining ground in the East while falling flat in the West

Still, fringe candidates are luring GOP voters and winning key races.

The Republican Party’s radical right flank is making inroads among voters and winning key primaries east of the Mississippi. But out West, among the five states that held their 2022 primary elections on May 17, a string of GOP candidates for office who deny the 2020’s presidential election results and have embraced various conspiracies were rejected by Republicans who voted for more mainstream conservatives.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In Pennsylvania, Douglas Mastriano, an election denier and white nationalist, won the GOP’s nomination for governor. He received 587,772 votes, which was 43.96 percent of the vote in a low turnout primary. One-quarter of Pennsylvania’s 9 million registered voters cast ballots.

In Idaho, by contrast, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who also claimed Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate and has campaigned at white supremacist rallies, according to the Western States Center, an Oregon-based group that monitors the far right, lost her bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination to incumbent Gov. Brad Little.

Idaho also saw two 2020 election-denying candidates vying for the GOP nomination for secretary of state lose to a career civil servant and election administrator who defended 2020’s results as accurate. On the other hand, an ex-congressman who is an election denier won the GOP primary for attorney general.

“In addition to Janice McGeachin, who was defeated in her bid for governor, a number of other anti-democracy candidates were rejected by voters, including Priscilla Giddings, who ran for [Idaho] Lieutenant Governor; Dorothy Moon, who ran for Secretary of State; and Chad Christensen, Todd Engel and Eric Parker, who mounted bids for the state legislature,” the Western States Center’s analysis said. “In Ada County, antisemitic sheriff candidate Doug Traubel was soundly defeated, alongside losses for Proud Boy and conspiratorial candidates in Oregon.”

Voters in Western states with histories of far-right organizing and militia violence have more experience sizing up extremist politics and candidates than voters out East, the center suggested. However, as May 17’s five state primaries make clear, the GOP’s far-right flank is ascendant nationally.

Various stripes of GOP conspiracy theorists and uncompromising culture war-embracing candidates attracted a third or more of the May 17 primary electorate, a volume of votes sufficient to win some high-stakes races in crowded fields.

Low Turnouts Boost GOP Radicals

The highest-profile contests were in the presidential swing state of Pennsylvania, where Mastriano, a state legislator, won the gubernatorial primary with votes from less than 7 percent of Pennsylvania’s 9 million registered voters.

In its primary for an open U.S. Senate seat, several thousand votes separated two election-denier candidates, a margin that will trigger a recount. As Pennsylvania’s mailed-out ballots are counted and added into totals, the lead keeps shifting between hedge-fund billionaire David McCormick and celebrity broadcaster Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Mastriano campaigned on his rejection of President Joe Biden’s victory, chartered buses to transport Trump supporters to the U.S. Capitol for what became the January 6 insurrection, is stridently anti-abortion and often says his religion shapes his politics. On his primary victory night, he sounded like former President Trump, proclaiming that he and his base were aggrieved underdogs.

“We’re under siege now,” Mastriano told supporters, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report. “The media doesn’t like groups of us who believe certain things.”

That “siege” appears to include a cold shoulder from pro-corporate Republicans who campaigned against Mastriano as the primary crested, fearing that he would lose in the fall’s general election. A day after the May 17 primary, the Republican Governors Association downplayed his victory, a signal that it was unlikely to steer donors toward him, the Washington Post reported.

Other election-denying candidates sailed to victory across Pennsylvania, including five GOP congressmen who voted against certifying their state’s 2020 Electoral College slate: Scott Perry, John Joyce, Mike Kelly, Guy Reschenthaler and Lloyd Smucker. Their primaries, while not garnering national attention, underscore Trump’s enduring impact on wide swaths of the Republican Party.

It remains to be seen if any of the primary winners will prevail in the fall’s general election. It may be that candidates who can win in crowded primary fields when a quarter to a third of voters turn out will not win in the fall, when turnout is likely to double. But a closer look at some primary results shows that large numbers of Republican voters are embracing extremists—even if individual candidates lose.

That trend can be seen in Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor’s race. The combined votes of three election-denying candidates (Rick Saccone, 15.69 percent; Teddy Daniels, 12.18 percent; Russ Diamond, 5.93 percent) was about 34 percent. That share of the party’s electorate, had it voted for one candidate, would have defeated the primary winner, Carrie DelRosso, a more moderate Republican who received 25.65 percent of the vote and will have to defend conspiracies as Mastriano’s running mate.

Fissures Inside the GOP

While Trump-appeasing candidates won primaries in May 17’s four other primary states—Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon—some outspoken and badly behaved GOP radicals, such as North Carolina’s Rep. Madison Cawthorn, lost to a more traditional conservative Republican.

Cawthorn was defeated by Chuck Edwards, a pro-business Republican and state senator described by the Washington Post as “a McDonald’s franchise owner [who] was head of the local chamber of commerce.”

Edwards campaigned on returning the House to a GOP majority and backed a predictable obstructionist agenda to block the Biden White House, as opposed to Cawthorn’s embrace of 2020 election conspiracies and incendiary antics—which included taking loaded guns on planes and accusing other GOP congressmen of lurid and illegal behavior.

Edwards’ focus, the Washington Post reported, “will be on ‘removing the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hand, and then taking the teleprompter from Joe Biden and restoring the policies that we enjoyed under the Trump administration, to help get this country back on track.’”

Cawthorn’s defeat came as North Carolina Republicans chose a Trump-praising candidate, Ted Budd, for its U.S. Senate nomination over an ex-governor, Pat McCrory.

As Tim Miller noted in the May 18 morning newsletter from the Bulwark, a pro-Republican but anti-Trump news and opinion website, McCrory had “criticized Trump over his Putinphilia and insurrectionist incitement… he lost bigly to Ted Budd, a milquetoast Trump stooge who will do what he’s told.”

As in Pennsylvania, a handful of incumbent members of congress in North Carolina who voted to reject their 2020 Electoral College slate easily won their primaries.

“Virginia Foxx and Greg Murphy voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election after the events of January 6 and have been endorsed by Trump in their 2022 campaigns,” said a May 16 fact sheet from the Defend Democracy Project, which tracks the GOP’s election-denying candidates. “Foxx was later fined $5,000 for failing to comply with security measures put in place in the House after the January 6 attack and Murphy has claimed that antifa may have been responsible for the violence at the Capitol.”

Foxx won her primary with 77 percent of the vote. Murphy won his primary with 76 percent of the vote.

Idaho Republicans Clash

The election-denial and conspiracy-embracing candidates fared less well in May 17’s primaries out West, the Western States Center’s analysis noted.

“Yesterday in elections in Oregon and Idaho, anti-democracy candidates were defeated in several marquee races,” it said on May 18. “Most notably Idaho gubernatorial hopeful Janice McGeachin, whose embrace of white nationalism and militias was soundly rejected by voters.”

In the GOP primary for secretary of state, which oversees Idaho’s elections, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane narrowly beat two 2020 election deniers, state Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley) and state Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d’Alene). McGrane had 43.1 percent or 114,348 votes. Moon had 41.4 percent, or 109,898 votes. Souza had 15.5 percent or 41,201 votes.

“Donald Trump carried Idaho by 30 points in 2020, but… State Rep. Dorothy Moon has alleged without evidence that people are ‘coming over and voting’ in Idaho from Canada and called for the decertification of the 2020 election,” said the Defend Democracy Project’s fact sheet. “State Sen. Mary Souza is part of the voter suppression group the Honest Elections Project and has blamed ‘ballot harvesting’ for Biden’s victory. Only Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane has stated that he believes that Idaho’s elections are legitimate and that Joe Biden was the winner of the 2020 election.”

Another way of looking at the contest’s results is that an election-denying candidate might have won, had Idaho’s Republican Party more forcefully controlled how many candidates were running for this office. Together, Moon and Souza won nearly 57 percent of the vote, compared to McGrane’s 43 percent.

McGrane will be part of a GOP ticket that includes an election denier who won the primary for attorney general. Former congressman Raul Labrador received 51.5 percent of the vote, compared to the five-term incumbent, Lawrence Wasden, who received 37.9 percent. Labrador accused Wasden of “being insufficiently committed to overturning the 2020 election,” the Defend Democracy Project said.

On the other hand, another 2020 election defender won his GOP primary. Rep. Mike Simpson won 54.6 percent of the vote in Idaho’s 2nd U.S. House district in a field with several challengers who attacked him for being one of 35 House Republicans who voted in favor of creating the January 6 committee.

What Do GOP Voters Want?

But Mastriano’s victory in Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial primary, more so than any other outcome from May 17’s primaries, is “giving the GOP fits,” as Blake Hounshell, the New York Times’ “On Politics” editor, wrote on May 18.

“Conversations with Republican strategists, donors and lobbyists in and outside of Pennsylvania in recent days reveal a party seething with anxiety, dissension and score-settling over Mastriano’s nomination,” Hounshell said.

That assessment may be accurate. But one key voice—or GOP sector—is missing from the New York Times’ analysis: the GOP primary voters, a third or more of them on May 17, who embraced conspiratorial candidates—though more widely in the East than in the West.

“For decades we’ve seen that our [Western] region has been a bellwether for white nationalist and paramilitary attacks on democratic institutions and communities, but also home to the broad, moral coalitions that have risen up to defeat them,” said Eric K. Ward, the Western States Center’s executive director. “The defeat of anti-democracy candidates with white nationalist and paramilitary ties up and down the ballot is evidence that those of us committed to inclusive democracy, even if we have vastly different political views, do indeed have the power to come together to defeat movements that traffic in bigotry, white nationalism and political violence.”

Maricopa County GOP leaders torch Arizona attorney general for peddling 2020 election lies

A rare example of Republicans calling out their own instead of bending to pro-Trump lies as 2022’s primaries get underway.

Unlike many Republican candidates who are mimicking Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, or who initially rejected Trump’s claims but are now flirting with conspiracy theorists, Maricopa County’s top elected Republicans have lambasted Arizona’s attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich, for lying about the 2020 election.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

“I just want to say something now to the Republicans who are listening,” said Bill Gates, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair, a lawyer, and a Republican, at its May 4 meeting, before it unanimously voted to send a detailed letter to Brnovich refuting his statements. “We used to be the party of facts. We used to be the party of the rule of law… What happened, Mr. Brnovich? Again, I’m going to say as I’ve said before, the 2020 election is over.”

“I have been so disappointed, on so many levels, with Republican electeds [officials], Republican colleagues, Republican friends,” said Stephen Richer, Maricopa County recorder. “But I’ve never been more disappointed than when somebody omits information, misstates information, and besmirches the good name of the hardworking people in my office and reopens vitriol, hate, and threats that they shouldn’t have to deal with. And when you have the power of the state behind you, the power of law enforcement… that’s a special kind of bad.”

The comments came as the GOP-led county that is home to Phoenix formally responded to an April 6 “interim” report by the Arizona attorney general that criticized the county’s oversight of the 2020 election, but did not say illegal voting had occurred. The report also said the county did not “cooperate” with the AG’s office. Brnovich is now running for U.S. Senate.

“As has been stated previously, the 2020 election in Maricopa County left significant holes to be answered and addressed,” the April report signed by Brnovich concluded. “All branches of government in this state must come together to provide full assurance of the integrity of our elections and answer every outstanding question.”

The supervisors and recorder spoke at length before approving their nine-page letter to Brnovich that noted how the county, not the state attorney general’s office, this past January had parsed and debunked every allegation put forth by the state senate’s private contractors, Cyber Ninjas, during their months-long review that concluded in the fall and declared Joe Biden had won.

“When election integrity is challenged, we have the collective responsibility to investigate and report our conclusions thoroughly and honestly. We have. You have not,” the letter said. “The 2020 election was fair and the results indisputable. Rather than being truthful about what your office has learned about the election, you have omitted pertinent formation, misrepresented facts, and cited distorted data to seed doubt about the conduct of elections in Maricopa County. Given the oaths you took as both a lawyer and elected official, we were shocked by your April 6th letter [interim report].”

The county went on to note that Brnovich had told Fox News on November 11, 2020, that Trump lost because suburban Republicans had voted for most of the GOP candidates on the ballot but not for Trump. (Other Arizona Republicans found the same voting pattern.)

“Your ‘interim report’ is inconsistent with your statement on November 11, 2020, that ‘what really happened [is that] people split their ticket. That’s the reality. Just because that happened doesn’t mean it’s [election] fraud,’” the county said, quoting Brnovich. “It is also inconsistent with your office’s decision against filing any lawsuit following the election.”

Nonetheless, a day after Brnovich issued his April report, he appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where the county said he “made a number of inaccurate statements.” The county wrote:

Though references to artificial intelligence [software] did not make it into your ‘interim report’ you somehow deemed it appropriate to appear on television on April 7, 2022, to allege that you had received a letter from Maricopa County ‘admitting’ that the County used artificial intelligence to verify signatures in the 2020 general election. But the referenced letter, which you posted to the internet, says no such thing.
Nor do any of the training material provided to your investigators on February 9, 2022. We also provided your investigators with in-person instruction on the signature review process where they were told that artificial intelligence is not used to verify signatures. We told your investigators many times that all signatures are verified by humans. In short, your office knew that all signatures were verified by human beings. You stated publicly the opposite. Repeatedly.

The pushback by lifelong Republicans against ongoing post-2020 propaganda is unusual in today’s GOP. In other battleground states, Republican officials who initially rejected Trump’s claims—like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—have been lending credence to conspiratorial claims about the 2020 election and prospects of illegal voting as their 2022 primary election approaches.

But the Maricopa supervisors said that Brnovich’s efforts to smear their election administrators and to campaign in 2022 on false claims about Trump’s loss were “despicable.”

“It’s despicable that Mark Brnovich has made this allegation. He knows better, and so do the other lawyers in his office,” said Gates, the board chair. “It’s my job to tell the truth, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Several hours later, Brnovich replied via a video posted on Twitter.

“I was very disappointed in today’s press conference at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the county recorder because we already live in very divisive times,” he said. “Instead of casting aspersions and casting stones, we should be working together to address issues so everyone, no matter who they are, can have confidence in the electoral process.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Georgia's GOP secretary of state courting supporters of Donald Trump's election conspiracy theories: report

A principled conservative who rejected demands in 2020 to “find votes” is now singing a very different tune.

Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who in November 2020 refused Donald Trump’s demand to “find” the votes for the ex-president to win the state and vigorously defended the accuracy of Georgia’s results and recounts, is “being bent to the will” of 2020 election deniers as his May 24 primary approaches, civil rights advocates say.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Raffensperger, who knows what factually occurred during the election, has endorsed a new investigation by the State Elections Board into specious allegations that thousands of mailed-out 2020 ballots had been illegally collected in metro Atlanta by dozens of workers hired by left-leaning nonprofit groups whose leadership supported Joe Biden’s candidacy.

The allegations, which are not new, and which the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and FBI examined last fall and declined to investigate, are at the core of an inflammatory new movie, “2000 Mules,” made by right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza and a right-wing voter vigilante group, True the Vote, which is now being promoted in pro-Trump circles.

“We will continue investigating every credible allegation of ballot harvesting in Georgia. The only ones that should touch a ballot are the voter and the election official,” Raffensperger said on Facebook on May 2, as he reposted an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on the Georgia State Elections Board launching an investigation into possible illegal ballot collection.

“They [True the Vote] need to provide us [the board] the names of those people that they say harvested the ballots. We’re going to find out who they are and where they live, were they paid, and how much were they paid,” Raffensperger said during an April 23 debate.

While it is standard for Georgia’s secretary of state to open investigations after receiving complaints, Raffensperger’s revisionism appears to cede ground to a primary challenger, Rep. Jody Hice, R-GA, who, like many Republicans across the country, has built his primary campaign on attacking the 2020 presidential results and has been endorsed by Trump. Raffensperger’s last-minute validation of True the Vote’s allegations is troubling to voting rights advocates.

“Raffensperger, whether you like him or not, still followed the rule of law [in 2020]. And now he is being bent to the will of these conspiracists,” said Ray McClendon, Atlanta NAACP political action committee chairman. “These people who used to be genuine conservatives are now part of the cult when they know better.”

“I do believe that a lot of people respected Raffensperger for having a little integrity and a backbone and standing up and telling the truth that there was no fraud,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda. “And to veer away from that is just playing politics and not really being truthful with voters.”

True the Vote

True the Vote is a Texas-based voter vigilante organization that grew out of the Tea Party and has been promoting the myth of voter fraud since the early years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Initially, the group sought to train poll watchers to confront what its founders, predominantly white conservatives, believed were illegal votes by people of color. Despite earning media coverage, it failed to deliver on its claims—in part because illegal voting is exceptionally rare, and when it occurs it is usually a result of an individual’s error and not a partisan conspiracy. True the Vote filed lawsuits that were ridiculed by Republican judges and senior election officials. However, in today’s era of social media-driven disinformation, it has found new audiences, including Trump, who played the trailer to “2000 Mules” at an Ohio rally in late April.

True the Vote is known for making outsized allegations based on shoddy methodology and withholding evidence to support its claims, including its Georgia-based assertion made last fall that it had analyzed cell phone-tracking data and video footage, and had identified 279 people who made repeated trips to ballot drop boxes in 2020’s general election. Under Georgia law, only voters, their immediate family members, and the caregivers of voters with disabilities are allowed to handle and return mailed-out ballots.

“The key distinction to make here is between ballot harvesting and ballot trafficking,” D’Souza told Chicago’s AM 560 talk radio. “In Georgia, for example, you can give your ballot [to another person to return]—but only to a family member, or, if you are in a nursing home, to a caregiver to drop it off… What we have here is left-wing nonprofit organizations operating as vote stash houses, accumulating vast numbers of ballots, and then hiring paid political operatives called mules to deliver them. That is illegal.”

Last fall, when True the Vote presented these allegations to state officials, D. Victor Reynolds, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation director, wrote back saying his agency had reviewed the allegations, consulted with the FBI, and concluded that “based on what has been provided and what has not been provided, an investigation is not justified.”

“What has not been provided is any other kind of evidence that ties these cell phones to ballot harvesting; for example, there are no statements of witnesses and no names of any potential defendants to interview,” Reynolds’ letter said. “Saliently, it has been stated that there is ‘a source’ that can validate ballot harvesting. Despite repeated requests that source has not been provided to either the GBI or to the FBI.”

But now that the movie, “2000 Mules,” is poised to debut in 270 theaters across the country, the filmmakers are trumpeting interview footage—which they claim is real—of a paid ballot trafficker explaining the ballot delivery operation. And the right-wing filmmakers have expanded their allegations, claiming that a “‘network’ of non-governmental organizations… worked together to facilitate a ballot trafficking scheme in Georgia” that was based out of “10 hubs” in metro Atlanta, according to an April 21 subpoena by the State Elections Board to True the Vote founder Catherine Englebrecht to testify on May 26—two days after the state’s 2022 primary—and present her evidence.

When Englebrecht testified about the same allegedly illegal ballot trafficking scheme before Wisconsin’s legislature in late March, Democratic legislators replied that she was overclaiming—replying that Englebrecht may not like mailed-out ballots, but that did not mean illegal voting occurred. She replied, “Maybe a few percentage points of your population needs to vote legitimately by mail because, certainly, we don’t want to see anyone deprived… But that tips over into an indefinitely confined list and it becomes theater of the absurd.”

Other Ways to Vote

The Atlanta NAACP’s McClendon said that it is the 2020 election deniers who are putting forth political smears that have no basis in reality.

“It’s unbelievable to me, the depths to which they will go with these lies, and that they can gain traction with no evidence,” said McClendon, who led a field operation in 2020 that spanned 17 counties where 75 percent of Georgia’s Black voters live and involved nonprofit civic groups.

“We haven’t done anything like what they are alleging. I don’t know any groups that have done, quote-unquote, [ballot] harvesting,” he said. “I know people that have delivered valid ballots to the county registrar’s office. They don’t bring them to drop boxes… Those people are nursing home attendants and family members.”

McClendon said that the new allegations by the Trump propagandists and the responses by the State Elections Board and Raffensperger lending credence to their claims—allegations that the GBI and FBI already rejected—were ugly but not unexpected. But he said that there was little more that Georgia’s Republicans could do to impede voting with mailed-out ballots in 2022, because the state’s red-run government has passed laws making that option inconvenient.

Under SB 202, a massive election bill passed last year, the Georgia legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp instituted an overly bureaucratic absentee ballot application and return process. It also made returning mailed-out ballots less convenient by restricting drop boxes. For example, metro Atlanta’s most populous county, Fulton County, can deploy fewer than 10 drop boxes across the entire jurisdiction, McClendon said. As a result, the NAACP and other groups seeking to turn out primary voters were encouraging people to vote early and in person.

“Our game plan has already been—and this is part of our text-banking that started last weekend—to tell all of our people, if you are physically able, you need to early vote starting May 2,” he said. “Don’t rely on any kind of mail-in balloting.”

On May 3, the Associated Press published its fact-check report on “2000 Mules,” finding the film’s research and claims were “based on faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cell phone location data, which is not precise enough to confirm that somebody deposited a ballot into a drop box, according to experts.”

In other words, the propaganda put forth by the latest pro-Trump movie is not relevant to Georgia’s 2022 voting options, as the state’s Republicans have already impeded absentee voting. Raffensperger certainly knows that reality, as well as the fact that his state’s 2020 presidential results and recounts were accurate. And that’s what makes his last-minute embrace of 2020 election denial claims disturbing.

“People should tell the truth, stick with the truth, and leave it at that,” said Butler.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

New efforts seek to build trust in elections in the face of a still-thriving 2020 election denier community

Believers of Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election continue to ignore national media and election experts. Will they be convinced by poll workers and local leaders to trust the democratic process again?

As 2022’s primaries approach, an unprecedented wave of public and private efforts are underway to foster trust in election operations and election officials in response to ongoing claims by Donald Trump and his supporters, including many officeholders and candidates, that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Public-facing efforts include creating an election official appreciation day on April 12, a newly launched Election Official Legal Defense Network to counter new Republican-drafted laws that criminalize mistakes in administering elections, and federal lobbying to protect election officials and their families from threats. There also are behind-the-scenes efforts to educate local civic, business and faith leaders so that trusted voices can help to respond to election deniers.

The efforts come as scores of candidates for statewide and local office, including many seeking reelection, have made the unproven claim that Trump’s second term was stolen a key feature of their 2022 campaigns, and, as a supermajority of Republicans—a figure unchanged since late 2020—still believe that Democrats and election insiders stole the presidential election.

“You can’t have 30 percent of the county not believing in elections,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a veteran Republican Party election lawyer who has spoken out against the “big lie”—Trump’s assertion of victory—and a co-chair of the Election Official Legal Defense Network.

“Where we are really lacking is how we talk to that 30 percent,” he continued, speaking on a March 28 podcast with Sarah Longwell, publisher of the Bulwark, a media outlet featuring Republicans who reject the big lie. “There is a dialog that really has to take place about the election system and how reliable it in fact is… That’s an important conversation that we’re trying to figure out how to have, but haven’t really succeeded yet.”

The comments by Ginsberg, who said he has “spent 30 years doing Election Day operations for Republican Party committees and candidates” and “never” found evidence of Democrats or an election official who rigged the results, underscore both the challenge and, so far, the limited impact of trying to convince Trump’s base that elections are trustworthy and 2020’s results were accurate.

Nonetheless, the efforts to instill confidence and build new guardrails is a departure from more traditional election protection work, where teams of lawyers help voters cast their ballots and sometimes sue to ensure their votes are counted. Those efforts, led nationally by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, usually focus on the fall’s general elections and not the earlier primaries. Yet the primaries tend to draw the most partisan candidates and voters.

2022’s primaries feature an unprecedented number of candidates who deny that Biden won and who cite an array of doubts and conspiracies to press their case.

“As of April 4, 2022, in two out of three governor and secretary of state contests, there is an Election Denier running. This is true for one out of three attorney general contests as well,” reported States United Action, a group supporting inclusive and accurate elections, in an update to a March report that detailed how the post-2020 trend of pro-Trump Republicans pushing for more restrictive voting laws has evolved into candidates who deny Biden won, spread conspiracies about the election, and attack election officials and voting systems.

“Replacing the refs—the people who administer our elections—is a key pillar of the anti-democracy playbook. Voters across the political spectrum should be paying attention to who these Election Deniers are, where they are running, and the seriousness of their false claims about the 2020 election results,” said Thania Sanchez, senior vice president of research and policy development at States United Action.

What remains to be seen is how 2022’s candidates and their base will react—in words and actions—if they lose in the primaries, as many of them will because some of them are seeking their party’s nomination for the same office. And, moreover, what would or should be done if Election Day and vote-verifying steps that follow are intentionally disrupted or contested by conspiratorial assertions that hidden hands have tampered with the results.

Election officials, some of whom were threatened by right-wingers in recent months, have been steeling themselves for 2022’s elections and preparing to respond to emotion-laden threats.

“Not only are our elections technically more complex, [but] we are expected to know a lot of things that… wouldn’t be typical of a public servant,” Natalie Adona, Nevada County, California, assistant clerk-recorder, told a national organizing call for April 12’s Thank Election Heroes day organized by Public Citizen, one of many groups supporting the effort.

“I had to learn all that I can about de-escalation—and it’s something that I would normally depend on the police to offer,” Adona said. “Our workers, who I train to serve at our vote centers, are increasingly being confronted by more and more aggressive people. I, myself, have been confronted by people who have threatened me.”

Challenges Are Clear, Answers Are Not

There have been numerous webinars and reports from organizations that work with current and former election officials seeking to counter Trump-led disinformation. These efforts, which usually feature civil service professionals who are highly regarded for their election work, reveal a deepening understanding of the election deniers in their midst. But acquiring a new understanding of their critics and adversaries is not the same thing as changing their minds.

At the National Association of State Election Directors’ semi-annual meeting in early March, one session open to the press featured Colorado’s Judd Choate, who recounted how his office had surveyed voters last summer and identified some contradictory beliefs. Many voters distrusted 2020’s national results but had confidence in local elections. Choate said his state’s response was “not so much countering misinformation but getting good information out.”

An April 6 report and briefing on neutralizing partisan impulses among election officials from the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center and Election Reformers Network differentiated between which election officials and workers were more and less likely to be partisan, which may be an index of who can best attest to the reliability and accuracy of elections.

Kevin Johnson, Election Reformers Network executive director, noted that the U.S. was unique among democracies because (as Business Insider’s Grace Panetta pointed out) about 60 percent of the approximately 8,000 state and local election administrators across the country had “pretty substantial ties to political parties.”

These officials, who run for office or are appointed, include secretaries of state, many county or municipal officials, canvass boards (which assess voter intent on ambiguously marked ballots and other documents) and partisan observers appointed by their political party. “[They] see each other as existential threats to the nation and its democracy,” Johnson said.

On the other hand, most election administrators “run their offices in a professional way and want to get the count right” despite their personal views, said Matt Weil, Bipartisan Policy Center elections project director. But Weil added that partisan local officials were more of a concern than high-profile statewide officials because they “have access to witnesses, and they have access to ballots… [And there’s] no real good way of monitoring that on any kind of comprehensive scale.”

At a late-March webinar on countering disinformation, Chris Piper, the former Virginia election commissioner, whom Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican elected last fall, recently replaced with Susan Beals, suggested that poll workers could attest to the legitimacy of elections and convince “those folks in the middle that could be swayed either way [by facts or fiction].”

“What we really focused on… was how elections are run by everyday people,” Piper said. “Not only are they run by everyday people, but there are thousands and thousands, literally hundreds of thousands of people that are required to put on a national election… It’s important for us to explain [that] these are your friends, these are your neighbors, co-workers.”

The voices of local poll workers largely have been missing from the responses to election denial. Some Republicans, such as the Bulwark’s Sarah Longwell and GOP election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg, believe these and other locally respected voices might be persuasive to less ideological voters. During their March 28 podcast, they both said that little else has changed people’s minds.

“I really agree,” said Longwell, whose podcast included comments from focus groups she had convened where Trump supporters would not consider that he lost in 2020. “It has to be hyperlocal because [with] the breakdown of trust, it can’t come from national sources. It has to be from people like them in their communities that they know.”

“Going into 2022 and 2024, I would like to hear from a lot of the poll workers themselves,” she continued. “The people from the community talking about how seriously they take it; and how they stand side by side with other people who [they politically] disagree with… That, to me, is trying to inject some of that civic virtue back into it.”

“I completely agree with that. I think it’s got to be local,” said Ginsberg. “If you need an example of why the national approach doesn’t work: For the past 15 months, the mainstream media, every organization, has repeatedly talked about the big lie… And, as you know from your polls, the number of people who still don’t believe that the elections were accurate has not budged one iota in those 15 months. If anything, it’s gone up.”

“That just tells you that the national messaging from the big media outlets is not getting through, and people do not believe the national entities,” he continued. “We’ve got to start going local, and the communities where you’ve got to go first is pretty self-evident.”

Those communities are the handful of swing counties in swing states, especially jurisdictions targeted by election deniers since 2020. In Georgia, this includes metro-Atlanta counties and outlying areas where pro-Trump Republicans have ousted longtime election officials who are elected Democrats. In Michigan, they are urban counties where Republicans have replaced moderates on canvass boards with pro-Trump loyalists.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Are Iowa’s days as the nation’s first presidential nominating contest numbered?

The jockeying has begun over which mix of states might take part in a series of coordinated opening primaries for 2024’s Democratic nominee.

In the past half-century since the Iowa caucuses have led off the presidential nominating season, only one Democratic candidate who was not already president—a U.S. senator from the neighboring state of Illinois, Barack Obama—went on to win the White House. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden all lost in Iowa in their first bid for the presidency, even though they went on to win the nomination and the election.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The record for Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, the nation’s first presidential primary election, isn’t much better. In the same time period, only Carter—in his first campaign for the presidency in 1976—won the state’s primary, Democratic nomination, and White House.

These awkward facts, coupled with criticism that both states’ voters do not reflect a sufficiently diverse cross-section of the national electorate, and a technical meltdown during Iowa’s 2020 caucuses that led to its results being delayed, have led the Democratic National Committee to open its first review since 2005 to reassess which states will open the 2024 presidential nominating season.

“Our party is best when we reflect the people we are trying to serve,” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison told the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) on March 28. “I want folks to understand that this process, like all of the processes that we have gone through time and time again after each election cycle, will be open. It will be accessible. And it will incorporate the diverse perspectives that make our party strong.”

Harrison’s language, like much of the RBC meeting, was cordial, and emphasized transparency and inclusiveness. But it was clear, from the comments made by several RBC members, that Iowa’s days as the nation’s first contest, a party-run caucus, may be numbered. If the state kept an early role, it would be conducted as a party-run primary—not a party-run caucus—which, in itself, would be a major change inside the state and nationally.

More pointedly, the jockeying has begun over which mix of states might take part in a series of coordinated opening primaries on the same day in different regions of the country. While it is impossible to predict what will emerge from the RBC’s review, which it hopes to present this August, voices have suggested that Michigan, New Jersey or Wisconsin should replace Iowa, amid concurrent elections in Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“As things stand right now, the first state to hold a delegate selection process in 2024 would be Iowa, whose 80 percent white electorate hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in a decade,” wrote Morley Winograd, a former RBC chair and top party official who oversaw the creation of the party’s opening primary schedule, in a March 25 blog at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “The second state would be New Hampshire, which may have more of a historical and legal claim [since 1920] to be ‘first in the nation’ but whose electorate is even whiter, 90 percent, than Iowa’s… Most importantly, neither state voted for Joe Biden’s candidacy in 2020.”

Morley was welcomed at the March 28 meeting by James Roosevelt Jr., RBC co-chair, who said that the panel looked forward to hearing from him. At the meeting, Harrison announced that the RBC would be holding “three national virtual listening sessions” in coming months to gather input from the public and stakeholders. RBC members also suggested that state parties, unions, political scientists, and past and future presidential candidates should all weigh in.

But the groundwork was already being laid for reconfiguring what the RBC committee refers to as “the pre-window period,” which are the nominating contests before the numerous primaries held on the first Tuesday in March, called Super Tuesday, and the final contests in mid-June.

As Roosevelt summarized, the RBC is envisioning a process where state parties would apply and make their case for an early slot. The panel is looking at several criteria, which are priorities but not inflexible. States should commit to a primary election, not a caucus. States should also play a competitive role in the fall’s general election. And they should have a diverse electorate.

New Priorities, Led by Diversity

At the meeting, some RBC members began to press various constituencies’ cases, starting with a push for choosing early states that have a more racially diverse electorate.

“We know that we can engage more diverse groups that we need to help us win in the general election,” said Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair, presidential campaign manager and recent Fox News analyst. “It’s time for us, Mr. Chairman, to take a hard look at this.”

“We cannot be stuck in a 50-year-old calendar when we are trying to win 2022 and 2024,” said Leah Daughtry of New York. “This idea of considering the changing electorate is so important. Our country is very different than it was when we first set up the [pre-Super Tuesday] window… African Americans comprise 25 percent of rural America, and when you add [in] Latino Americans and Native Americans, rural America is nearly 40 percent people of color.”

But other members countered that the presidential campaigns prefer smaller states.

“[What] presidential candidates have always wanted from us… is that the early states be small states, and I do not see that listed in this framework,” said Carol Fowler of South Carolina. “And presidential campaigns have very good reasons for that. It has to do with cost. It has to do with a candidate who is not well known being given a benefit about campaigning in small states before they move onto larger states. I do hope that will be something that we can consider.”

“Carol’s right,” said Scott Brennan of Iowa, speaking several minutes later. “I think it would be very helpful to hear from presidential campaigns, folks like that, because, again, well, I think the touchstone is electing Democratic presidents.”

David McDonald of Washington noted that the RBC had yet to formally specify how it would assess states. Like Fowler and Brennan, he said small states help “startup” candidates.

“The states that are upfront are basically smaller states, more accessible to startup candidates; they’re not major media markets,” McDonald said. “I would hope that we will continue to have the upfront window be as accessible as possible to candidates and not slide into a situation where, essentially, we end up with four large states upfront and an election decided based on mass media markets.”

Even though the RBC’s review has barely begun, there is also lobbying by politicos in states seeking to preserve their early role—as well as the prestige and millions of dollars in political campaign dollars spent by candidates, new media, and constituency groups.

Early Reactions

Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa, recently wrote a Washington Post opinion piece where he said the DNC was poised to bypass and disrespect rural America, and, with that, extinguish the prospect of another candidate like Obama emerging and triumphing.

“Yes, the Democratic National Committee is holding its quadrennial ritual of lashing us deplorables because, its notables believe, the two early-voting states do not represent the electorate and because politicians hate having discerning voters run the show,” he said.

“The caucuses are misunderstood—they were never meant to pick a winner,” he continued. “Their role is to winnow the field—down from 10 or 20 candidates sometimes to five or six viable campaigns going into New Hampshire. In 2020, the Democratic winner was picked by Black women turning out in droves for Joe Biden in South Carolina.”

But even South Carolina, despite Biden’s debt to that state’s Democrats, might not make the RBC’s final cut, as it hasn’t elected a Democratic presidential candidate in the fall since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and is not a battleground state. (The DNC, however, historically follows an incumbent president’s preferences.)

Nevada, despite its diversity, has other problems. The state party has internal leadership fissures after Democratic Socialists swept all the positions, prompting Nevada’s top elected Democrats to create a “shadow party.” In 2020, the state party ignored the RBC and used untested software to tally its caucus votes, causing delays in announcing the winner that were longer than Iowa’s breakdown weeks before. (Because Bernie Sanders won by a large margin, the press ignored the technical snafus.) In 2021, Nevada passed legislation making it the earliest presidential primary state in the West.

In contrast, Iowa, which has become an increasingly red-run state in recent years, has not passed legislation to replace its caucuses with a government-run primary. That means Iowa’s Democratic Party would have to stand up another entirely new voting system in 2024—if it preserved its early role—after the high-profile failure of its new voting system in 2020.

And Winograd, who led the RBC decades ago and had a major role in shaping the party’s current schedule, apart from pushing for Michigan to replace Iowa (he was that state’s Democratic Party chair in the 1970s) also noted in his recent blog post that New Hampshire might have to change its primary rules to satisfy the committee’s new requirements.

“There is, however, one thing New Hampshire can do to assure their first in the nation status, at least for 2024,” he wrote. “To deal with the state’s lack of diversity, the party should permit only registered Democrats to vote in its primary in 2024, abandoning their tradition of allowing voters from one party to vote in the other party’s contest.”

The RBC is heading into stormy waters. The politics, voting rules, and election administration details quickly become complicated. For example, other states, such as South Carolina and Virginia, have open primaries where voters who are not registered Democrats can participate. The RBC is unlikely to pursue a rule change that would upend more states than necessary.

No matter what the RBC decides, some states will not be pleased, which raises another possibility. The earliest nominating races, while high profile, only involve a small number of the delegates needed to win the nomination. Thus, small states might ignore the DNC and proceed no matter what, even if the RBC sanctions them after the fact—as it did in 2008 when Florida and Michigan moved their primary dates. (The RBC stripped both states of half of their delegates, but restored them before the national convention.)

Meanwhile, the competition to be first only promises to become more heated.

“Why not end the early primaries with the most bitterly contested swing state in the nation—Wisconsin?” wrote the New Republic’s Walter Shapiro, a veteran political journalist who first covered the Iowa caucuses in 1980, endorsing yet another Midwestern state.

“What matters more than anything is that the Democrats retain for 2024 and beyond the most democratic aspect of running for president,” he wrote. “And that is creating a system under which candidates do not view most of America as flyover country as they race from major media market to major media market. Even in a nation of 330 million, personal campaigning should matter.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Would mandatory voting save democracy?

American democracy is facing grave and unprecedented tests in our time, many political pundits, election officials and voting advocates have said. A majority of Republicans believe partisan propaganda that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The angriest pro-Donald Trump partisans have threatened election officials as never before. A new cottage industry of 2020-denying conspiracy theorists has not just fanned these flames, but “at least 20” are candidates for secretary of state—to oversee elections.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Such dire threats require a bold response. The remedy put forth by Miles Rapoport, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and former Connecticut secretary of state, and E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and Brookings Institution senior fellow, is universal voting: requiring every eligible American citizen to vote. Their new book, 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting, discusses these challenges and makes the case for the remedy now found in 26 countries. Voting Booth’s Steven Rosenfeld spoke with Miles Rapoport.

Steven Rosenfeld:

Why does the United States need universal voting? In 2020, we had 209 million registered voters. One hundred and sixty-one million, or 77 percent, voted in the presidential election. That was the biggest number ever. Some people say that that’s a tremendous accomplishment, especially in a pandemic. Why should we do more?

Miles Rapoport:

First, I should say that writing 100% Democracy was a great experience. E.J. Dionne, my co-author, is an incredible journalist and a great collaborator as well. Both of us believe strongly in the power of universal voting, and we see the book as a way to put this game-changing idea into the public discussion about the future of American elections.

On the 2020 turnout, it was indeed quite an accomplishment. The turnout in 2020, and if you go back to the midterms of 2018, they both were record turnouts. But at 50 percent in 2018, and 67 percent in 2020, that was good, especially in the midst of a pandemic. But it’s certainly nothing to write home about. The United States still lags well behind other major industrialized countries. And for those of us who really believe in full participation, in full democracy, and in representation and the consent of all of the governed, we have a long way to go.

I’ve been working on these issues for almost 40 years. I believe in the progress that’s been made: with same-day voter registration, the restoration of voting rights for people with felony convictions, mail-in voting, and early voting. They’ve all moved the needle, but not very far. And in reading some of the things that [co-author] E.J. Dionne had written, I discovered that there are places around the world, Australia, perhaps most notably, where they really have moved that needle. It’s really something that the United States should consider.

SR:

We cited slightly different numbers. I mentioned the numbers of registered voters and the percentage of those who turned out; and you are looking at the bigger number of all eligible voters and the percentage that voted. Rather than get lost in which statistic is better, the real question is who’s not voting and why aren’t they voting? What insights do you have into that?

MR:

The actual voting electorate in the United States has for many years, [and] though the gap has been closing somewhat, been significantly skewed toward whiter voters, older voters, richer voters, and more educated voters. If you ask who’s not voting, or who is voting in less proportion, we’re talking about African Americans—although that has caught up quite significantly—other communities of color, young voters, poorer voters, less-educated voters. If you believe that the electorate ought to be fully representative of the population at large, then we still have a very skewed electorate and that’s a real problem.

SR:

That phrase or assumption, 'be fully representative of the population at large,' seems to be the dividing line in our national political parties. Democrats believe in wider representation and participation. Republicans believe in narrower representation, or, at least, a smaller electorate because it helps them preserve power as they’re demographically shrinking. The question then becomes, how does this begin to move forward? Federal election reform died. Battleground state Republicans are complicating, not simplifying, the process.

MR:

Well, the first thing we need to do is explain what the advantages of a universal voting system would be. So let me do that first. In addition to the point that I made about a fully reflective electorate; I think it would change our political culture in a number of ways that would be extremely healthy.

First of all, I think if it were a requirement for every citizen to vote, which exists right now in terms of serving on a jury, then all of the institutions of society would bend themselves and adjust themselves to encourage it. If I were a principal at a high school, and all 18-year-olds were required to vote, would I be more likely to have a good civics education program? I think I would. If I were an employer and all of my employees were required to vote, would I be more likely to give them the time to participate? I think I would. I think you would see institutions really bend toward it.

Secondly, I think campaigns would change. Right now, campaigns are a contest for who can pull out their own base. In the worst-case scenario, they try to depress the base of the other people or other candidates or political parties. But in the system of universal voting, everyone is voting and therefore everyone is listening all the time. And what is required of campaigns is that they speak to everyone; they make the case for why all voters should be in favor of their principles and proposals, rather than just ginning up their base by whatever means necessary.

There is evidence in the countries that use universal voting that citizens themselves, when they know [that] they are required to vote, take the time in very significant numbers to educate themselves about the issues, to be cognizant of who’s on the ballot, and to participate. I think in a lot of ways this would make our system a lot better.

SR:

You and I both have this elevated view of politics as it could be or should be as a noble, civic-minded public endeavor. But there are tens of millions of people who are now registered who are not voting, just like there are large numbers of people who are not getting vaccines. What do you do about that slice of society or the electorate that’s not exercising their right? Doesn’t that pose difficulties?

MR:

The case of Australia is reasonably analogous. They’ve had universal voting since 1924, so almost 100 years. The first year they implemented it, the turnout in the country went from 60 percent to 90 percent. They have a pretty positive political culture. Elections are on Saturday. It’s a kind of a celebratory day. They have what’s called 'democracy sausages,' which are booths outside of every polling place where people hang out after voting and buy food for a cause. I think it is possible; possible to create an upward cycle in a political culture. At least that’s an article of faith on my part. Do we have a long way to go in order to get there in the United States? Yes. We definitely do. But I think that we’ve got to be able to dream a little bit; to think about the future in ways that can really improve the situation. And that’s what we’re trying to do in this book.

SR:

Let’s talk about 2020 and how we get there from here. Forty-three percent of the 161 million voters cast mailed-out ballots. I’ve heard people make the argument that the closest thing that’s just shy of universal voting is mailing everyone a ballot and it boosts turnout. We have seen some of that on the west coast in blue states for decades. Some red states like Utah are adopting it. Purple states like Nevada are now mailing every registered voter a ballot. Is that a pragmatic first step, since nothing in our political culture seems to change overnight?

MR:

Yes, I think that is a really positive step forward. In the book, we describe a whole series of what we call gateway reforms, which are policies that encourage people to vote. Mail-in voting, universal mail-in voting, is certainly a major step in that direction. I’m very heartened by the fact that 40 states now offer early voting, so you don’t have the problem of if you’re busy on the Tuesday of Election Day, you’re out of luck. I think that same day or election day voter registration is a very important reform.

So yes, I do think that many of the things on the current agenda for people who believe in widening our democracy are very important and really good things. What universal voting is, for us, is kind of a North Star that says, 'Okay, what is it that we really, really want?' And in my view, what we really want is everyone participating. And it is possible to take the reforms that are being done now, which, of course, are being strongly opposed in many places, but take those reforms and then really go the full distance to full participation or 90 percent turnout. And I think we can get there.

SR:

You mentioned early voting, same-day registration, and other reforms that are inclusive. They boosted turnout, but they almost go unacknowledged in the partisan rhetoric, and in partisan fundraising. Democrats are always saying that voter suppression is everywhere. It’s in some places, but it’s not everywhere. And Republicans keep talking about voter fraud, which is a myth on any scale that would affect election results. So how do you shift the narrative away from doom and gloom scenarios, or these partisan cliches of enrage to engage, which tears down legitimacy and faith in elections?

MR:

We have a severely damaged political culture right now. The phrase 'enrage to engage' is an apt one. And it’s true, there are enraging things taking place. But if you look at the number of states that have passed [voting-related] legislation according to the Brennan Center, which was widely quoted, 19 states had passed restrictive legislation. However, that very same report says that 26 states passed expansive voter legislation. But it’s almost never mentioned in the headlines in the media or in the public debate.

We have both a media culture and a partisan political culture that have reasons to emphasize the negative and that’s a very big hill to climb. And no single policy around voting is going to change that, including the idea of universal voting. But what we hope is that if we can put this idea into the public debate, we can start to get people thinking again about what a democracy could be in terms of full participation. And maybe it will be adopted in a few places. We believe it will show, as it does in Australia and 25 other countries, that it really works, and we can start to change the tenor of the debate.

I also want to acknowledge—and I want to make this point because I think it’s important as a former election official—that there are a lot of dedicated Republican election officials who are trying to do their job, trying to make sure that people can vote, trying to make sure that the votes are counted accurately. So it’s not the entire Republican Party, but there is certainly a faction which is determined to enshrine minority rule by any means necessary. Those people have to be fought, strongly and tenaciously. But I also think that what we’re doing is trying to put an alternate stake in the ground to say, 'Wait a second, there’s a very, very different way to think about this.' Let’s try to open our minds a little bit.

SR:

Can you advance this in a few places? Is this something that states could adopt?

MR:

I think it can. Universal voting could be adopted on three levels. You could imagine federal legislation which would require participation for federal elections. It’s unlikely that that will happen very soon. But you can also definitely imagine it for states. States absolutely have rights in the constitution to control the state elections, the time and manner of elections. And you could definitely do this for state elections, for legislature, for constitutional officers, for governor, for judges.

And you could even do this in municipalities. I have no doubt that the first efforts will be those of municipalities to do this for municipal elections. In most states, that will require some form of state-enabling legislation. Each state is going to be different. But you could definitely imagine some cities taking the bold step of saying we want absolutely everybody in our city to vote and for their votes to be counted. And frankly, if they are successful in that, it puts a real pressure on other places to do the same. I think there is a way to do this.

Our hope is that we can first and foremost put the idea into the public domain discussion, then try to get organizations and elected officials who see the merit in it to begin to debate it at the policy level. I think it’s going to be a multi-year process, but a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step and that’s the step we’re trying to take.

SR:

That might be a good place to end this but let me just ask one other thing. When I’ve seen Republicans react to New York City giving non-citizens the vote in municipal elections and they turn it into fear mongering in other states, I can only imagine how they will attack this.

MR:

There’s a torrent of misinformation and negative attacks on our democracy going on. The very act of voting and of allowing people to vote, not talking about requiring people to vote but allowing people to vote in[, in] an expansive way, is under attack. There is both a need to push back against all of the efforts and the narrative and the misinformation about voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent, and come back with the truth about what is happening. And then also go forward to say what can happen—that voting should be for everybody.

We expect that this proposal will be attacked and criticized. We did a thorough review of whether it’s constitutional and we believe it is. We did a poll, which is in the book that actually shows that only 25 percent of the population supports this idea now. But I think in large measure, that’s because it has never been put forward in a serious way. We’re trying to begin that discussion, mindful of the fact that there will be strong opposition and it won’t happen overnight. But we’re hoping that we can make a start and add something valuable to the discussion that isn’t simply, you know, small steps forward and trying to prevent small steps backward; that leaps over the current debate to say what if we gave an election and everybody came?

SR:

So even though other people might be saying that there need to be other interventions given the partisan election subversion tactics that are unfolding in states like Georgia, and differently in Texas, you are saying that the concept of universal voting needs to be on the table as part of the narrative or bigger picture or context that pushes back?

MR:

Yes. The push back against the efforts to restrict the vote, the efforts to undermine nonpartisan and independent Election Administration, the efforts to invent the problem of massive voter fraud, all those need to be pushed back; all those need to be fought in court, in the legislature, in local communities. We’re not saying, by any means, drop what you’re doing and focus on universal voting. But we are saying that universal voting can be a kind North Star of where we could go, if we made the kind of fundamental and fundamentally democratic premise going forward, that every single person will be participating in the act of self-governance in the United States.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

More than 80 election-denying candidates running for governor, attorney general and secretary of state in 2022’s primaries

Partisan propaganda about the untrustworthiness of elections was worse in 2021 than during the 2020 presidential election, when Donald Trump claimed that he won and incited a riot at the U.S. Capitol to block ratification of Joe Biden’s victory, according to state election directors who fear that 2022’s elections will see deepening disinformation from losing GOP candidates.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

“2021 was far worse than 2020,” said Minnesota Elections Director David Maeda, speaking at an election security webinar at the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. “The temperature from 2020 had carried over and gotten worse… [and] just keeps escalating because of all of the mistrust from this misinformation, and questions about the security and fairness of our voting systems.”

Those worries were echoed by current and former top officials from Colorado, Virginia, and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who recounted their responses but cited new developments, including ongoing threats to election officials by Trump backers and an exodus of those officials and poll workers.

“They’re not dealing with facts, obviously. They’re dealing in emotion,” said Chris Piper, the former Virginia election commissioner, whom Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican elected last fall, recently replaced with Susan Beals. “I can give you all the facts in the world, but if your confirmation bias is ‘elections are rigged,’ then the facts are only going to serve to help bolster their [mistaken] case.”

But one trend not cited by the career civil servants on the March 17 webinar was that scores of 2020 election-denying candidates are on 2022’s primary ballots, where they are vying to be this fall’s Republican nominee for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. This May and June, nearly 30 states will hold primary elections, including for these statewide offices.

“To put it simply, the future of fair, professional and nonpartisan elections is on the line,” said a 2021 year-end report that tracked anti-voter legislation in 41 states produced by States United, Law Forward and Protect Democracy, all groups that support inclusive and accurate elections.

In March, States United Action published a more troubling report, “Replacing the Refs,” that showed how the post-2020 trend of pro-Trump Republicans pushing for more restrictive voting legislation has morphed into scores of election-denying candidates running for state office. As of March 1, there were “at least 53 election deniers” running for governor in 24 states, “at least 11 election deniers” running for attorney general in 11 states, and “at least 22 election deniers” running for secretary of state in 18 states.

“The anti-democracy playbook is simple: Change the rules, change the referees, in order to change the results,” their report said. “Politicians who continue to deny the results of the 2020 election want the power to overturn the will of American voters in the future if they don’t like the results. In 2021, legislators introduced more than 260 bills that would interfere with the nonpartisan administration of elections. Today, Election Deniers are lining up to oversee voting at all levels of the system—from top state offices to precinct-level poll workers. It’s all connected.”

“It’s critical to pay attention to this trend,” it continued. “Research suggests that hyper-partisan or poorly trained election administrators can negatively impact voter experience and affect outcomes. In 2021, some Election Deniers won their seats—and in 2022, certain candidates are running on election lies as a campaign issue and earning the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and others who promote the myth that the 2020 election was ‘stolen.’ In fact, there is a coalition of ‘America First’ Secretary of State candidates—a group of at least eight people running for the post this cycle—that all backed former President Trump’s efforts to undermine the will of the voters in 2020.”

The candidates for secretary of state have garnered the most attention because they oversee their state’s elections. Many have continued to claim that Trump was robbed of a second term despite numerous lawsuits in their states that never produced any proof that he won. But governors and attorneys general also have roles in elections. Beyond driving media narratives, attorneys general participate in post-election litigation and governors certify presidential victors.

Many of the election-denying candidates will not emerge as Republican nominees on the fall 2022 general election ballot, as some states have multiple candidates vying for the same statewide post. The candidates for the different offices appear to have slightly different strategies with casting doubt on the 2020 election’s results. These stances, which reflect their hoped-for office’s authority, are seen in their statements on social media, on podcasts, and in press clips.

Shades of Election Denial

States United defines an “election denier” as a candidate who meets one of the following criteria: They “[f]alsely claimed former President Trump won the 2020 election instead of the legitimate winner”; they “[s]pread lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election in public fora”; they “[c]alled for a ‘forensic audit’ of the 2020 presidential election after the results were certified and/or officially audited and/or stood up to multiple legal challenges”; they “[p]romoted conspiracies about the 2020 presidential election in public fora”; and they “[t]ook actions to undermine the integrity of the 2020 presidential election” by backing lawsuits seeking to overturn the results, or organizing or taking part in “Stop the Steal” events.

“It’s so important to remember that it’s all connected,” said Lizzie Ulmer, senior vice president of communications for States United. “The lies about the 2020 election, the January 6 insurrection, the corrupt election reviews we are seeing happen all over the country, the election hijacking and interference attempts we are seeing happen in state legislatures, the threats against election workers, election deniers running for office. Those things are all connected, and they all drive distrust in our system.”

The candidates for attorney general were most oblique in their election-denial statements. Nonetheless, Steve Marshall, the Republican incumbent in Alabama’s attorney general race, showed up at the White House in December 2020 to support Trump’s post-election fight. Abraham Hamadeh, a Republican candidate in Arizona’s attorney general election, attacked the former recorder in the state’s most populous county (Adrian Fontes, a Democrat now running for secretary of state in Arizona) for unspecified “unconstitutional” actions “to hijack our elections.” Ashley Moody, the Republican incumbent in Florida’s attorney general race, urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a motion from Texas’ attorney general seeking to overturn the Electoral College results from other battleground states, saying “the process” was not followed, but not citing evidence. Matthew DePerno, a Republican candidate for Michigan’s attorney general, attacked the Democratic incumbent “Dana Nessel, the Radical Left, and the RINOs [Republicans in name only]” and touted his role (“he gets results”) in an error-filled and debunked post-2020 “audit” in Antrim County, as he reiterated Trump’s September 16, 2021, endorsement in February 2022.

The candidates for governor were more explicit in their attacks on the voting process and President Biden’s legitimacy. Alaska’s Christopher Kurka said that questioning the results was patriotic and called for an audit and hand count of all 2020 ballots. Charlie Pierce, who is also running to be Alaska’s Republican nominee for governor, said on social media that problems ranged from “100,000+ Alaskan’s [sic] data being stolen at the State Level to vote dumps in the middle of the night in Swing States.” (The stolen data was voter lists, which are unrelated to counting ballots. Top Republican election officials in Arizona and Georgia said there were no vote dumps.)

In Colorado’s gubernatorial race, Laurie Clark claimed that one voting system maker, Dominion, has stolen elections “since 2005,” while another Colorado candidate, Danielle Neuschwanger, repeated false claims about the election from Pennsylvania and Georgia, pledging, “When I am elected Governor of Colorado, on day one my priority will be restoring election integrity.” Much the same claims were made by Republican candidate for Georgia’s governor David Perdue, a former U.S. senator who in a January 2021 runoff election lost his 2020 re-election bid and who in November 2020 had called for the resignation of his secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican, for rejecting Trump’s demand to find enough votes so that he’d win the state in 2020. Like-minded candidates also are running in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York and Ohio.

Many of their election-denying statements were made on social media platforms and podcasts that cater to right-wing audiences, screenshots of which States United included in its reports. In 2021, these platforms championed post-2020 partisan audits (led by the Cyber Ninjas’ review in Arizona) and skepticism about vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these platforms and personalities are now promoting Russia’s perspective on the war in Ukraine.

Conspiracy-Minded Secretaries of State?

The candidates for top statewide election administrator were most explicit in perpetuating the stolen election narrative and attacking key features of the voting process. Wes Allen, a Republican candidate in Alabama’s secretary of state election, supported suing to overturn other states’ election results. Arizona’s Shawnna Bolick, a state legislator running for secretary of state, sponsored a (failed) bill allowing the legislature to reject the voters’ presidential choice. Another Arizona Republican lawmaker running for secretary of state, Mark Finchem, has regularly invited other election conspiracy theorists to the state. Eddie Joe Williams, a former Arkansas state senator now running for secretary of state, won’t say that Biden won the election.

Colorado’s Tina Peters, a county clerk who shared proprietary voting-system data with pro-Trump activists—drawing wide criticism from election professionals—is running against David Winney, another promoter of stolen election conspiracies, for the GOP nomination in the Colorado secretary of state race. Georgia, similarly, has two candidates attacking the Republican incumbent, Brad Raffensperger.

“The Real Lie is Brad looking us in the eyes and telling us that 2020 was the most secure election in Georgia’s history,” said David Belle Isle, one of the Republican candidates in Georgia’s secretary of state race. Georgia Republican Congressman Jody Hice, also running for secretary of state in Georgia, boasted of voting against ratifying Georgia’s 2020 Electoral College votes, and has said that “[t]hey stole the presidential race” and that his candidacy “means being vigilant to all fraud and irregularities.”

The other candidates have spread similar misinformation, saying that denying the 2020 election results is patriotic. They have attacked media outlets that report that Biden’s victory was legitimate. And they have continued to claim that hidden hands secretly manipulated vote totals, even though they have produced no proof.

States United’s Ulmer said that the election-denying candidacies and the false beliefs they present about American elections pose a continuing threat to American democracy.

“It’s a warning sign that the challenges that we saw launched at our free and fair elections in 2020 are far from over,” she said. “And while some have tried to downplay those threats, or move on from 2020, we cannot. It is so important to our system of democracy, and how the people of this country are represented, and their votes are counted, that we have nonpartisan trusted election officials in these positions that are making these decisions. And what we are seeing happen across the country is putting that system at risk.”

Inside Michigan's multi-front efforts to protect voting rights

Competing state constitutional amendments go to different lengths to enshrine voting rights and target anti-voter legislation and court rulings.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

A new front is opening in Michigan’s voting wars that raises fundamental questions about how far defenders of fact-based elections and representative government must go to protect voting rights in an era marked by Republicans who deny results and spread lies about elections.

Republicans have launched ballot initiatives to bypass a gubernatorial veto and enact laws that would complicate voting, and sanction outside inquiries into close results. Voting rights groups and Democrats, in turn, are using the initiative process to amend Michigan’s constitution to close the veto loophole and to affirmatively enshrine voting rights and balloting options.

There are three pro-voter proposed amendments. The first would close the veto dodge. The other two, affirming voting rights and options, would, if passed, lay the groundwork to strike down the GOP’s initiative-sparked legislation. But the latter two proposed amendments go to different lengths to block legislators and even the courts from rolling back voting rights.

“They’re all interested in what the ground rules all are,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, speaking of Michigan’s five competing ballot initiatives to enact laws or amend its constitution. “They’re also all interested in how these different political actors have power relative to one another, and how to restrict or expand that power.”

Michigan’s initiatives are responses to ongoing fights over its 2020 election, where Joe Biden officially beat Donald Trump by 154,000 votes out of 5.5 million cast. On February 11, its Board of State Canvassers finalized the 100-word summaries describing the latest measures to initiate legislation or amend its constitution. The next step is gathering signatures by July 11 to advance the GOP’s proposed laws or to put the amendments before voters in November.

The initiatives are part of a surge of more restrictive or permissive voting measures that have flooded state legislatures since the 2020 presidential election. But unlike states such as Arizona and Nebraska, where single ballot measures have emerged in addition to many bills proposed by legislators, Michigan offers the broadest spectrum of ballot initiatives that may complicate elections or construct guardrails against antidemocratic power grabs.

The faction seeking more onerous rules for voters, led by pro-Trump Republicans, wants to adopt legislation that was vetoed last October by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. They have turned to Michigan’s ballot initiative process, where signatures from 8 percent of the votes cast for governor (340,000) would refer the measure to the GOP-led legislature, which could then enact the law. (Laws initiated this way are exempt from vetoes.) A second potential law proposed by Trump allies would empower private contractors to audit election results, like Arizona’s much-maligned 2020 review that concluded Biden won after spending months casting doubt on the election’s results.

The GOP proposals have been met by countermeasures to amend Michigan’s constitution from proponents of more expansive voting rights. Amending a state constitution supersedes new law and establishes a basis to challenge existing laws. (The amendments need 425,000 signatures to get on Michigan’s November 2022 ballot.) Center-left groups are behind the three proposed amendments. The first would close the veto loophole. The other two proposals overlap in their enumeration of voting rights and voting options, but they differ in how far each goes to restrain conspiracy-driven legislation and courts from upholding laws based on unproven threats.

These differences may confuse voters as signature-gathering efforts start. The authors of the competing proposals talk about them in very different ways.

How Far to Go?

“The Promote the Vote (PTV) proposal is about moving the state forward,” said Sharon Dolente, an attorney and senior adviser to Promote the Vote, a coalition that includes Michigan chapters of many voting rights groups such as the ACLU, League of Women Voters, and NAACP, and has been endorsed by the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. “The voters of Michigan are tired of talking about November 2020… Now, how do you do that?” continued Dolente. “You do that by creating [affirmative constitution-based] policies that make your system, your voting system, more accessible and more secure. People want both.”

“It’s not just about the mechanics of voting, because that’s not the only part of what makes your system accessible and secure,” she added. “For example, voters in Michigan don’t want there to be any risk that they are able to cast their ballot, but then their vote doesn’t count. You saw after the 2020 election [various pro-Trump] efforts to subvert the votes.”

The competing amendment is from MI Right to Vote (RTV), a coalition of grassroots ballot campaign activists led by a retired longtime election official. It also affirms a fundamental right to vote and enumerates pro-voter options in the Michigan constitution. But it requires that legislators and courts use strict evidence standards when writing or reviewing voting laws. Its authors emphasize that such specifics are needed to block laws based on unproven threats.

“That’s the heart and soul of our proposal,” said Fred Green, an attorney with RTV, during the Board of State Canvassers meeting on February 11. “The fundamental right to vote, alone, is not effective. The Michigan Supreme Court provides that unless a restrictive law is severely restrictive, the court will allow the restriction. Our amendment will change the constitution so that any law that unduly burdens or limits the right to vote will require a compelling state interest. If there is no compelling state interest, the law will fail.”

MI Right to Vote also drafted a constitutional amendment to close the veto loophole.

Both pro-voter groups say that they were unaware of each other’s effort to draft constitutional amendments. Each group also played a pivotal role in the passage of constitutional amendments in 2018. MI Right to Vote helped create the state’s independent redistricting commission, which has been meeting and has been praised as a model to hedge against gerrymanders. Promote the Vote drafted a successful amendment expanding voter registration, including same-day access to a ballot, and ended the “excuse requirement” to receive a mailed-out ballot.

Ballot initiatives to adopt laws or amend state constitutions are not new in the voting sphere, Morales-Doyle said. However, the specificity of these proposals, especially RTV’s language that legislators must establish a factual record of illegal voting before passing new restrictions on voters, and its requirement that courts follow the strictest judicial scrutiny and evidence standards when evaluating election laws “is not something that I would say I’ve ever seen written into a constitution.”

“There are 18 states that can follow what we are doing,” said Jan BenDor, co-founder of MI Right to Vote and a former election official. “We are trying to get them to follow our lead.”

Responding to Republicans

Twenty-six states have ballot initiatives, where petition drives can change the law. Of those, 18 states including five presidential battlegrounds—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio—allow measures to amend their state constitutions.

Michigan’s accessible voting options were attacked by Trump and his allies during and after the 2020 election. Efforts to roll back these options and impose restrictions by its GOP-majority legislature were vetoed by the state’s Democratic governor last fall, leading Republicans to draft a ballot initiative with the same changes.

Their measure, put forth by “Secure MI Vote,” a GOP front group, would require that voters produce additional identifying information when registering to vote, signing in at polls, and applying for a mailed-out ballot. It also would bar officials from proactively informing voters about voting by mail, from widely using absentee ballot-return drop boxes, and from taking foundation grants to help pay for running elections.

“Secure MI Vote is committed to increasing confidence in the results of Michigan elections by expanding voting opportunities and making it harder to cheat by, for example, implementing real signature verification and prohibiting special interest funding of the conduct and administration of elections,” Robert Avers, its attorney, told the Board of State Canvassers in emailed comments on Promote the Vote’s petition summary language.

At its February 11 meeting, Avers criticized the more inclusive ballot measures, saying that it was “unnecessary” to affirm the right to vote in the state’s constitution, as other federal and state court rulings have already done so. “It is not impartial [wording],” he said, referring to the 100-word summary voters will read. “It would work to essentially make the public want to sign the petition. Because who doesn’t want to establish a fundamental right to vote?”

A second Republican-based proposal, from “Audit MI,” would initiate legislation authorizing outside contractors “to carry out a systematic or formal inquiry to discover and examine the facts of the November 2020 general election or any other future statewide or federal elections so as to establish the truth.”

These inquiries have failed to find any evidence in any state that Trump did not lose but created fodder for pro-Trump media to report for months that the 2020 results were illegitimate, which a majority of Republicans now believe. In essence, the representatives of the GOP-based proposals said that they did not trust local election officials to run elections.

The state board, with two Republican and two Democratic members, rejected these criticisms and approved the summaries for the measures from the pro-inclusion groups, MI Right to Vote and Promote the Vote.

A Deeper Look

Promote the Vote’s proposed constitutional amendment declares that Michigan voters have a “fundamental right to vote” and bars “any harassing, threatening, or intimidating conduct”—a nod to recent right-wing protests in Michigan. It states that voters can present a wide range of ID or sign an affidavit attesting to their identity if they lack ID. If a voter’s signature does not match a state record (as signatures change over time), they have time to cure that discrepancy. It states that mailed-out ballots will be sent with prepaid return postage, requires localities to deploy one dropbox for every 15,000 voters, and states that once a voter has applied for a mailed-out ballot that they will not have to reapply for “any future elections.”

The measure also bars election audits by non-governmental officials, including political parties, and states that election officials can accept grants “to conduct and administer elections.” It also says the legislature “may by law establish boards of county canvassers,” and clarifies the role of the State Board of Canvassers, which is ministerial and to certify results.

“We don’t want to address each and every effort [to roll back voting rights] every two years,” said Dolente. “This is developing future infrastructure to avoid these problems.”

MI Right to Vote has two proposed amendments. The first would bar ballot initiatives from referring laws to the legislature that were exempt from a gubernatorial veto. The second would establish voting rights and enumerate voting options. Like Promote the Vote, it requires the use of drop boxes and prepaid postage for absentee ballots, denotes a wide range of acceptable voter ID, creates a permanent absentee voter list, and allows local officials to accept foundation grants.

Where their proposal differs from Promote the Vote is it specifically seeks to hem in legislators who want to intentionally complicate the voting process and similarly creates higher burdens of proof for courts to keep judges from issuing rulings that thwart voters and voting options.

“While there are many areas where the proposed constitutional amendments of MI Right to Vote and Promote the Vote are in agreement, we have been asked by many people to include what we have determined are some of the significant differences,” RTV’s website said.

The RTV proposal makes the right to vote “a fundamental enumerated right by putting it in Article I of the Michigan constitution,” the website said, whereas the PTV measure puts it in Article II. The RTV proposal also “[r]equires that any proposed law limiting the right to vote shall require the strictest judicial scrutiny… [and] be necessary and narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest,” which is not in PTV’s measure.

BenDor said that provision was intended to challenge a 2007 Michigan Supreme Court advisory opinion that held the possibility of voter fraud, even unproven, justified tougher voter ID requirements. Similarly, the proposed amendment stated that “any proposed [new] law [from legislators] restricting voting based on fraud must be based on clear evidence of fraud, not on the mere assertion of possible fraud,” RTV’s website said.

BenDor also criticized one line in Promote the Vote’s proposal, “The legislature may by law establish boards of county canvassers.” She said that language was a “Trojan Horse” that could allow a GOP-run legislature to replace local canvass boards (now with two Democrats and two Republicans) with Republican majorities, which has been seen in Georgia where legislators purged Democrats on some county boards after passing legislation in 2021. Dolente replied that BenDor was misreading that language and called her charge “disinformation.”

The likelihood of any of these measures moving onto the next stage—either the GOP referring their proposed laws to the legislature or the voter advocates’ constitutional amendments being on the fall ballot—depends on raising the funds to underwrite signature-gathering campaigns.

But what is intriguing about the pro-voter measures is how far they go to address what their authors distrust about those who would suppress votes in Michigan and in the institutions overseeing Michigan’s elections. In that respect, the Brennan Center’s Morales-Doyle said the proposals are grappling with the same question that hovered over the federal election reforms that recently died in the U.S. Senate and shadowed the drafting of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965—which is how to stop power brokers from disenfranchising voters and subverting election results.

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was aimed at particular practices. It said, ‘You can’t have literacy tests. They can’t have certain tests of devices that are used to discriminate,’” Morales-Doyle said. “The call that President Johnson made for its passage said, ‘We also need something to protect against ingenious discrimination.’ Basically, it was passed with this recognition that no matter what rule you can’t have, these states and localities are going to figure out ways to accomplish the ends of race discrimination in voting by different means. They’re very creative. They’ll find another way to do what they’re trying to do. And we need to have a system in place to prevent that.”

Power grab: How Georgia Republicans are trying to undo l​ocal elections

A new wave of power grabs by Georgia’s Republican legislators is threatening to wrest control of key local government bodies where Democrats, often people of color, have recently been elected and currently hold governing majorities.

The Republican moves are an effort to consolidate political control after passing sweeping legislation in 2021 that limited popular early voting options, and allowed state officials to oust county election officials and possibly overturn results.

The latest power grabs are occurring under the umbrella of reconfiguring political districts after the 2020 census, and they target county commissions, school boards and prosecutors in the metro-Atlanta region and other areas where recent elections have left Republicans as political minorities.

“They are not waiting for the [next] election,” said Richard Rose, Atlanta NAACP president. “That’s not quick enough for the powers that run Georgia.”

“They used to believe in local control,” said Helen Butler, a civil rights activist who was purged from Morgan County’s Board of Elections by GOP legislation passed in 2021. “The legislature is now coming in and saying, ‘we don’t like the maps that local people put together,’ and they’re drawing their own maps… They want total control.”

Legislation that is now progressing includes Republican-drawn maps for county commissions in several metro-Atlanta counties, where numerous elected Democrats, who are Black, say they are being targeted for replacement by Republicans, who are white. In one of those counties, Gwinnett, home to the state’s largest school district and most diverse demographics, a bill would make its school board elections nonpartisan—masking a candidate’s party—and reschedule the election months before November, when voter turnout is lower.

The school board’s new chair, Tarece Johnson, speaking at a statehouse press conference on January 27, said the Senate-passed legislation was “targeting people of color and attempting to suppress the vote, erase their historical truths and censor diverse perspectives.” Republicans pressing for the change have attacked the board’s leadership, which only recently changed to control by elected Democrats, as incompetent.

That same charge, of managerial incompetence, has been used to justify legislation that passed in 2021 to remove local election officials, such as in Spalding County on Atlanta’s outskirts. It is also the rationale of another bill that would allow a newly created state panel to fire elected prosecutors, which is the latest development in a GOP effort to unseat Deborah Gonzalez, the state’s first Latina district attorney, who won after pledging to ignore low-level drug offenses.

“It was a very progressive platform, and I was very vocal about wanting to run to address systemic racism,” Gonzalez told the Marshall Project, a media outlet covering the justice system.

County-level partisan targeting often escapes coverage by national media. In Georgia, however, a national battleground state where demographic changes have evenly divided its electorate, the Republican takeover attempts follow 2021 legislation that rolled back early in-person and mail-based voting options, and empowered a GOP-run state board to purge election officials in eight counties. Voting rights advocates fear 2021’s legislation could set the stage for overturning election results. The latest power grabs worry but do not surprise advocates.

“We are hearing more and more that the worst abuses, the worst discriminatory redistricting and gerrymandering is playing out at the local level,” said Yurij Rudensky, a redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “This is becoming an increasing concern in states that were formerly covered by [preclearance in] Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This is the first redistricting cycle to occur without those protections.”

“In decades past, all of these sorts of changes, whether it is where district lines fall or the size of local governing bodies, county school boards, city councils, etc., would be assessed [by federal officials in Washington] for their tendency to diminish the influence of communities of color,” he said. “And there was certainly a deterrent effect because a legislature like Georgia’s legislature would know that what they were doing would have to pass muster.”

But outside of the Atlanta-based policy and activist circles that are tracking the power grabs, many Georgia voters are not yet aware of the Republicans’ latest moves, said Julius Johnson, who runs a democracy center in rural Hawkinsville—in mid-Georgia—that includes a food bank, meeting space, Black history museum and library, and hosts voter drives.

“Typically, locally, people don’t realize the importance of the local elections,” said Johnson, a Democrat who lost a 2020 bid for the state Senate. “We have to articulate very clearly what’s happening here—‘Here is the Republican strategy to get these people in at the local levels’—so that we can get people to step up their game with participation and keep people voting.”

Deepening Structural Racism?

Many Democrats have described the latest GOP moves as the latest structural racism in Georgia politics. The bills to redraw local districts, change who serves on local boards, alter the timing of local elections, and expand ways to unseat locally elected officials are seen by these officials as imposing rules that will steepen the path for people of color to hold majority power. The latest bills come after Republicans in 2021 reversed policies that made early voting easier.

“They’re leveraging their power wherever they happen to have it,” said Ray McClendon, Atlanta NAACP political action chair. “If you look at all of these [voting] changes, it is not to take us back to Jim Crow where you have to count jellybeans in a jar to vote. All they need to do is just take off three, four or five percent of voter turnout and they will accomplish what they want.”

McClendon said that the GOP’s 2021 election reforms were designed to discourage voting and disqualify votes cast early—which is when many working-class Georgians prefer to vote. Unlike the aftermath of the 2020 election when Donald Trump pressured top state officials to “find” enough votes for him to win, McClendon said the GOP’s strategy is for local officials to winnow votes.

“The combination of all of these [rule] changes on the mail-in ballot, no longer being able to have Sunday voting in certain cases because they stacked local election boards, the narrowing of the dates for early voting, the cutting back on the number of voting locations and drop boxes—they don’t sound like they are onerous provisions individually,” McClendon explained. “But when you take them collectively, and you take the fact that every one of these is in a state that is purple, these are steps that are intended to ensure minority rule.”

Data suggests McClendon’s analysis is correct. In November 2021’s municipal elections, the number of rejected absentee ballots increased 45-fold when compared to the percentage that were rejected in November 2020’s presidential election. The GOP’s 2021 law required that all ballot applications and returned ballots be accompanied by a photocopy of a voter’s ID.

Republicans, notably, have rejected the accusations of racism surrounding their voting reforms and county gerrymanders as “ugly” and “baseless.” They have defended their bills as efforts to make local government more representative, especially in parts of Atlanta where whites may now be in the political minority. (GOP sections of the city have repeatedly tried to secede.)

“I do believe that all of the communities in our county matter,” Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, whose map redrawing county commissioner districts in Gwinnett County passed her chamber, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That is why I drew lines that represent those distinct communities.”

Rep. Houston Gaines, a Republican who represents a portion of Athens, a city about 70 miles east of Atlanta, told the newspaper that the legislature-imposed maps “protect the voice of every Athenian… [thus] ensuring greater opportunities for minority communities.”

Critics like the NAACP’s Rose say that rhetoric—portraying white Republicans as victims of discrimination after losing to people of color—is offensive. It also masks what is unfolding.

“It is a complete overhaul of the system that we know of,” Rose said. “They have to make sure that they control the elections, that they control the counting, that they control how absentee ballots are processed… And, in some counties, like Gwinnett, for example, where the county commission is all Democratic, they now want to change that. They want to change the school board… They feel they must change it if it does not allow them to maintain power.”

Georgia’s 2022 Primaries

There are many signs that Georgia’s upcoming primaries on May 24 will be chaotic for election officials, candidates, campaigns, and groups urging voters to turn out. The ballot will feature each party’s nominees for federal, state, and local office, including local judgeships. In short, the legislature’s election law and voting rule changes (and federal redistricting litigation) have left many issues unresolved, which makes it harder to inform voters about what will affect them.

In August 2021, the Georgia Association of Voter Registrars and Election Officials (GAVREO) passed a resolution in which they “implore[d]” the legislature to postpone 2022’s primary from May to June, because the officials needed time to make “complicated redistricting changes,” such as finalizing maps, allocating resources and related planning before candidates could file to run for office.

GAVREO’s plea was ignored, just as, several months before, a handful of counties with Black election officials (administrators and policymakers) were “blind-sided” when their lobbyists discovered that GOP legislators were drafting bills to fire them (by requiring they live in the county) or to purge election board members (who were Democrats), according to emails obtained by American Oversight, a progressive law group that has used public document requests to expose numerous anti-democratic effort by pro-Trump Republicans.

All of Georgia’s 159 counties are affected by the post-2020 legislation. But the counties that have been additionally targeted in specific legislation have notable populations of color. As a result, organizers like the NAACP’s McClendon or Helen Butler, who is executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a civil rights group, have been scrambling to track the changes to help voters chart a path through what she says is intentional chaos.

“They’re throwing so much stuff at us that we just have to put things in place,” Butler said. “Our ‘Democracy Squads’ monitor boards of elections to see what they’re planning on doing with regards to the vote… We send people to meetings. We get their minutes. We basically try to get people to report to us in real time so that we know what’s going on.”

“The chaos is real,” McClendon said. “It builds on what they are already doing to marginalize a percentage of voters. They are creating so many whack-a-mole situations that all we are doing as activists is trying to beat down one thing after another and then another thing pops us.”

In the meantime, the NAACP and its allies from the 2020 campaign—which include professional associations in communities of color and data-driven grassroots campaign experts—are looking to revive those networks and stand up “democracy centers” across the state, so that ordinary Georgians have trusted sources for addressing local needs, including voting.

“We have talked about the issues to raise, and one has to be true patriotism,” Rose said. “You cannot support the insurrection of January 6, and if you’re a veteran you cannot support the Confederacy… We’re also going to talk about bread-and-butter issues like Medicaid expansion, because rural hospitals are closing. And education, because the GOP is losing its mind over critical race theory, which has never been taught in public schools.”

But while Rose is looking to reactivate the grassroots networks that led Georgia to elect a Democratic presidential candidate and two Democratic U.S. senators in 2020, the Republican-run state legislature is seeking to reconfigure state and county election districts and boards in Georgia’s blue epicenters—by finding ways to oust popularly elected representatives.

“It’s untethering policymaking from public will and from voter preference in response to changing demographics and the political changes and policy preferences changes that go along with that,” said the Brennan Center’s Rudensky. “It’s very concerning because it really cuts to the heart of what our system is supposed to be about.”

As voting advocates talk about election reform, GOP-led battleground states are busy restricting voting

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

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“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

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“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Battleground State View

Seasoned advocates in battleground states say that Republicans have been pursuing a bottom-up strategy of targeting key decision points in the voting process that, collectively, could end up suppressing more votes than the winning margins in recent highest-stakes contests.

They point to new laws and policies in Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Texas, where the GOP has foreclosed early voting options, imposed new rationales to disqualify voters or cancel their ballots, and, in Georgia, has purged longtime Democratic county election officials. They also are concerned about new legislation that may be introduced in early 2022.

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Georgia, whose 2020 elections were key to Donald Trump’s defeat and the return of the U.S. Senate’s Democratic majority, offers many examples. (The state received a 100 percent grade in the Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform report, meaning it already complies with its suggested remedies.)

Beyond launching a state investigation of metro Atlanta’s Fulton County, which is seen as a precursor to a GOP-led takeover of its operations, pro-Trump Republicans’ partisan actions in Georgia also include a handful of smaller counties that have seen Democratic officials purged, polling place closures and Sunday voting suspended, and more ballots disqualified during 2021’s municipal elections than in 2020’s presidential election.

“There’s a clear a pattern going on where they [pro-Trump Republicans] are burrowing into these counties,” said Ray McClendon, Atlanta NAACP political action chairman. “These [county] election boards are going to be hardened targets that you won’t be able to make heads or tails of how much they have rigged the system pro-Republican and anti-Democrat.”

“They’re going to tell you, ‘We’re just following the rules. There’s no requirement that we have Sunday voting. There’s no requirement that we have more than one polling place,’” said McClendon. “This is not a top-down strategy.”

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News reports from local, regional, and national media confirm the overall pattern.

In rural Lincoln County, Georgia, county commissioners announced they would only stand up one polling place for 2022’s elections instead of seven. “We are not trying to suppress any votes; we’re trying to make it better,” Walker Norman, Lincoln County Commission chairman, told the local NBC TV affiliate. “If I thought it was suppressing anybody’s vote, I’ll be the first one with opposition to it.”

In Spalding County, south of Atlanta, several election commissioners in mid-2020—Black women and Democrats—were ousted under new authority given to local judges and county officials under SB 202, the GOP-led legislature’s response to the 2020 election. The new election board, led by Republicans, did not offer Sunday voting during 2021’s elections.

A Reuters investigative report found that Spalding’s Board of Elections (BOE) was among six county BOEs that had seen purges of Black Democrats under SB 202, which the federal Department of Justice has sought to overturn in a voting rights lawsuit filed in June 2021.

The six counties cited by Reuters—Lincoln, Troup, Morgan, Stephens, Pickens and Spalding—supported Trump by large margins in 2020. But, collectively, the counties had more than 33,000 Biden votes, which was about three times Biden’s statewide victory margin over Trump. In contrast, in Fulton County, Biden beat Trump by more than 240,000 votes.

Similarly restrictive moves can be seen in Texas, said Andrea Miller, who heads the Center for Common Ground, which seeks to assist minority voters in Southern states.

“We’re currently dealing with the aftermath of the [2021] legislative changes in Texas,” she said, citing new rules over applying for a mailed-out ballot that have led to abnormally high rejection rates for the upcoming March 2022 primary elections.

“About 40 percent of the ballots are being rejected (which is a lot for Texas) and it is also taking nearly 30 days to get a ballot,” Miller said via email. “Seems Texas changed the length of your driver’s license number so if you have an old one, it doesn’t have nearly enough numbers and they ‘can’t find you in the system.’ The new law also requires that if you drop the ballot off, you must do so in person and you can only drop off your own ballot.”

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Texas has also run out of voter registration forms, which the Texas secretary of state’s office has blamed on supply chain issues. (In his media briefing, Becker said that rejected absentee ballot applications were a failure by the state to educate the public, and the registration form shortage represented a failure to plan for implementing a new law.)

2022 State Legislation

Meanwhile, as 2022 begins, more legislation is looming. In Georgia, GOP legislators have introduced several bills to continue to foreclose voting options. One bill, sponsored by a state senator running for lieutenant governor, would prohibit the use of drop boxes to return mailed-out absentee ballots, which were a convenience during 2020’s COVID-19 outbreaks and alleviated polling place congestion on Election Day. In another battleground state, Wisconsin, a county judge ruled in mid-January that the ballot drop boxes were not properly authorized under state law in a lawsuit filed by a right-wing foundation. The state agency that approved their use in 2020 has been attacked by GOP lawmakers and is targeted in new legislation, Becker said.

Seen from the ground up, the purpose of the post-2020 legislation and related litigation is to allow newly empowered local Republicans to chip away at Democratic turnout, and, subsequently, to try to disqualify as many mailed-in ballots as possible, the NAACP’s McClendon said.

“They have become smart enough to know that they can’t justify just blocking people of color from voting,” McClendon said. “If they can just peel off a half a point from no Sunday voting, a quarter of a point from provisional ballots getting thrown out, another quarter of a point from people not properly filling out their ballot return envelope, they will get their numbers.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

These Republicans are actually showing how to stand up to lies about the 2020 election

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, their ballots and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsities that attack election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

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Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

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The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating its presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

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“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

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When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the report said, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

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When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Joe Biden’s voting rights strategy comes into focus

On December 6, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas for the second time in 2021 under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This lawsuit was for drawing congressional and state legislative districts following the 2020 census that “refused to recognize the state’s growing minority electorate.” In other words, districts intended to impede candidates of color.

“Although the Texas congressional delegation expanded from 36 to 38 seats, Texas designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities,” said the DOJ’s lawsuit alleging a racially discriminatory redistricting scheme. “Texas also intentionally eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity in Congressional District 23, a West Texas district where courts had identified Voting Rights Act violations during the previous two redistricting cycles.”

In November, the DOJ sued Texas after the adoption of 2021’s Senate Bill 1, which restricted voting options for people with disabilities—which also clashed with the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The new Texas law also canceled an absentee ballot if a voter did not properly fill out their ballot return envelope. That clerical “error or omission” was “not material in determining” a voter’s eligibility and rejecting ballots, the DOJ argued, citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Texas lawsuits represent an emerging Justice Department strategy to defend voting rights using as wide a palette of federal authority as possible. But the DOJ also is acting under statutes that have been weakened by the Supreme Court and against a backdrop where former President Donald Trump and many Republicans, including state and federal legislators, keep attacking 2020’s election—which, in some high-profile instances, are beyond the DOJ’s authority to intervene.

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“Generally, only federal involvement or actions protect voting rights,” said David Schultz, a Hamline University constitutional scholar specializing in presidential elections. “All major expansions or protections of voting rights come only when the national government steps in. We are now in the middle of the second great disenfranchisement in American history, with the first being after Reconstruction ended [following the Civil War].”

Many voting rights advocates have been frustrated that the DOJ has not been more aggressive, just as they have been frustrated that the U.S. Senate has not passed legislation to counter the historic assault. Yet the Biden administration appears to be building a foundation for upholding voting rights given its tools. Today, that means issuing warnings and suing states rather than overruling egregious laws and rules, which the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional in 2013.

Consider the escalating attacks by legislators and county sheriffs in Wisconsin on the Wisconsin Elections Commission (created by GOP lawmakers in 2015) and on local officials in Madison and Green Bay, two Democratic epicenters. So far, what appears to many observers as abuses of power by elected officials are outside of the DOJ’s reach, because, scholars say, they involve state-level politics and have not yet hurt voters or violated federal law.

“The Justice Department, as you know, has a certain set of tools available to it—and those tools don’t necessarily reach all of the things that people are concerned about or might be concerned about,” said Rick Pildes, a New York University School of Law constitutional scholar.

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Despite these constraints, Biden’s DOJ is strategically pushing ahead.

Voting Rights Enforcement

The first signs of the administration’s voting rights enforcement priorities emerged in the spring of 2021. In May, the DOJ wrote a letter to the Arizona state Senate to warn that its partisan contractors conducting a Senate-sponsored post-2020 election review could violate federal law on preserving election records and intimidating voters. (No lawsuit followed. However, in late July the DOJ issued a “guidance” document on the reviews, which haven’t advanced as far in other states.)

In June, Attorney General Merrick Garland gave the first of several speeches stating the DOJ’s commitment to voting rights. He launched a task force to combat criminal threats to election officials, and filed the DOJ’s first major voting rights lawsuit against Georgia for its passage of 2021’s SB 202, a massive bill that was hastily drafted and passed by its GOP majority after the 2020 election.

The DOJ’s suit alleged that Georgia’s Republican legislature intentionally created SB 202 with a racially discriminatory purpose—to “deny or abridge” Black voters after Democrats won its 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate elections. The new law was illegal under Section 2 of the VRA that barred intentional race-based discrimination in elections, the DOJ suit said. It also violated the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the suit said.

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It is important to note what the DOJ’s complaint did and did not do. The VRA’s Section 2 also allows the DOJ to sue when new laws or rules have a racially discriminatory effect or result. But the DOJ’s lawsuit sought to stop aspects of SB 202 before they would impact its first election cycle—not after those effects were seen.

Pildes said that proving a racist intent in court is much harder than proving a racist result. The DOJ’s complaint cited public statements by GOP lawmakers, the bill’s hasty drafting and passage, and Georgia history to show a racist intent.

“It’s really quite remarkable to see the Justice Department declined to invoke the results test in Section 2,” he said. “I think that’s clearly out of concern that the Supreme Court might well cut back on the scope of Section 2 [if an appeal of a more broadly drawn suit, challenging both race-based intentions and race-based results, ended up before the court].”

Several days after the DOJ sued Georgia, that narrower strategy appeared prescient when the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee that undermined Section 2’s result tests.

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As summer progressed, the DOJ’s wider voting rights strategy started to emerge.

In July, the DOJ issued a “guidance” document that laid out its premise for suing to protect “methods of voting” under the VRA and U.S. Constitution, and previewed arguments it would make. That guidance anticipated the DOJ’s first lawsuit against Texas in November—in response to a new law allegedly foreclosing voting options for voters with disabilities, and also rejecting any absentee ballot return envelope that wasn’t filled out properly. The DOJ cited the VRA’s protection of voters with disabilities and contended that a little-used part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act barred disqualifying otherwise legal ballots for a voter’s mistakes on envelopes.

“That’s an example of the DOJ looking to more creative uses of some of the tools that are potentially out there,” Pildes said. “They’re not saying the state can’t impose this requirement. They are saying the state can’t reject ballots for failing to meet the [envelope’s notary] requirement.”

In late July, the DOJ also issued guidance on the conduct of post-election audits, where it noted that federal election records requirements included public officials preserving and maintaining custody of all election records—paper and digital—and reiterated voter intimidation law. (It has not yet sued here; by the time the guidance was issued, Arizona’s post-2020 review was largely completed.) In September, the DOJ issued guidance concerning redistricting that anticipated the December 6 lawsuit against Texas.

“I hope that my remarks provide you a sense of the seriousness and care the Civil Rights Division devotes to ensuring that districting maps comply with the Voting Rights Act,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Legislative Summit on November 4, where she explained the DOJ’s standards weeks before suing Texas for its 2021 redistricting.

“Our review of these maps will be thorough, fair and fact-based,” she said. “We hope that in this redistricting cycle, you, and other officials drawing those maps, produce plans that give citizens a full, fair, and equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.”

An Uphill Struggle

These actions are the contours of an overall strategy to use the legal tools that remain available: issuing guidance on voting rights and election administration; sending letters to state legislators conducting post-2020 election audits noting that those inquiries might violate voter intimidation laws; filing “statements of interest” in lawsuits brought by voting rights groups; top officials giving speeches signaling where and why the DOJ is likely to sue; and then filing lawsuits.

These tools and arguments, as Clarke said, are built atop federal civil rights laws that have been upheld by the Supreme Court over the years, including by its current conservative majority. But top DOJ officials are well aware of the limitations of their authority.

“Earlier this year, I noted that this redistricting cycle would be the first to proceed since 1960 without the protection of preclearance,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said on December 6, announcing the Texas redistricting lawsuit, referring to the DOJ’s power before 2013 to overrule any new law or rule that rolled back voting rights. “I also said that the department would use all available authorities and resources to continue protecting the right to vote.”

In his remarks, Garland urged Congress to restore the VRA’s preclearance provisions. As before, he restated the DOJ’s commitment to voting rights. But there are still areas where Garland’s initiatives—notably convening an interagency task force to counter violent threats to election officials (primarily from Trump’s supporters)—thus far have not led to any prosecutions.

That absence of visible progress has led to a coalition of bipartisan election lawyers (which includes Republicans who reject Trump’s attacks) to announce they would defend election officials under attack. One lawyer who is part of that effort said that he knows that the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division was decimated by the Trump administration, but he had “no patience” given threats of violence, especially after Reuters reporters tracked down Trump activists making death threats (where local prosecutors declined to press charges).

Such tension between those inside the highest reaches of government and outside advocates seeking federal action on civil rights has been part of American history since before the Civil War. For his part, Garland said the DOJ was proceeding “carefully,” but also sought to restore the VRA to its full strength.

“In all these matters, we have carefully assessed the facts and the law before taking action,” he said when announcing the second Texas voting rights lawsuit. “Before I conclude, I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority. Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint.”

Progressives sweep 2021 municipal elections across Georgia

Georgia’s 2021 municipal runoff elections saw dozens of progressives elected as new mayors, city council members and local officials in a wave that challenges the political narrative that only centrists can win in Southern battleground states, according to several organizers of voter outreach efforts.

“Last night proves two things,” said Ray McClendon, the Atlanta NAACP’s political action chair, speaking a day after the November 30 municipal runoff elections. “One, it proves the value of the grassroots relational organizing that we’re doing. And two, it explodes the myth of what the national narrative is about a progressive capacity for victories.”

“In other words, progressives are not the problem,” said Andrea Miller, executive director of the Center for Common Ground, whose tools for finding and informing Black voters were used by the NAACP and its allies in the runoffs, as well as in Virginia’s recent statewide elections where they led to some of that state’s highest voter turnout in communities she targeted.

McClendon and Miller made their remarks during a Zoom briefing that discussed a new e-book, “The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections,” which McClendon co-authored. The e-book is an oral history of the bottom-up organizing that turned out infrequent voters from communities of color to vote in its 2020 elections. Voting Booth’s Steven Rosenfeld is also a co-author.

The organizers’ approach combines the use of cutting-edge digital analytics and voter contact tools with “relational organizing,” which emphasizes listening to overlooked people’s concerns, helping with their upward mobility, and then asking them to register and vote. Both McClendon and Miller said that this strategy’s impact in 2021’s elections was a template for 2022’s midterm elections.

“We suddenly find a community that [reportedly] doesn’t vote with 18 percent early voting turnout among the Black voters,” Miller said, referring to the center’s recent targeted outreach in Virginia’s 2021 elections. “In Fairfax County, which is in northern Virginia, [the region prioritized by the state Democratic Party’s campaign ads,] the early voting turnout [among Black voters] was 8.77 percent.”

The victories of progressives across Georgia have been slowly recognized by the state’s media. Georgia’s most influential newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, initially characterized the runoffs’ results as a bad day for incumbents rather than voters embracing progressives.

“Holders of political offices across metro Atlanta didn’t like what they saw Tuesday night after runoff votes were counted,” began the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s report on December 1. That report noted, however, that in South Fulton, the state’s eighth most populous city, that Khalid Kamau, a “prominent Democratic Socialist… got 59 percent of the vote.”

On December 2, the paper noted that two city council members with a combined “four-and-a-half decades of experience” on the panel “were ousted Tuesday by younger, more progressive challengers.” (One victor, 34-year-old Antonio Lewis, is among the activists featured in “The Georgia Way.”)

Lewis defeated four-term incumbent Joyce Sheperd, 69, who told the paper that Tuesday’s results across the city were “part of a paradigm shift.”

McClendon added that November 30’s municipal election results were part of a wider trend across Georgia, which reflected the state’s changing electoral demographics. He noted that in 2016, Republican Donald Trump won the state’s presidential election by about 211,000 votes; in 2018, Republican Brian Kemp was elected governor by about 55,000 votes; but in 2020, Democrat Joe Biden beat Trump by more than 12,000 votes, and two Democrats were elected to the Senate in January 2021’s runoffs. (Kemp’s 2018 opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, announced her 2022 candidacy for governor one day after 2021’s municipal elections.)

“We have, first of all, elected a very progressive new [Atlanta] mayor… Andre Dickens,” said McClendon. “We also have turned over a substantial number of city council seats that will make the council more progressive and more prone toward action. And then across the state, the state has elected first-time Black mayors.”

McClendon cited the mayoral elections of Cosby Johnson in Brunswick (where Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, was killed by white vigilantes); LaRhonda Patrick in Warner Robins; and Sandra Vincent in McDonough. He noted that Vincent was elected in the city that was home to the former governor and U.S. Senator Herman Talmadge, who was a staunch segregationist.

“Over 50 municipal seats flipped to progressives in the most recent cycle,” McClendon said. “This completely debunks the national narrative that there is not a [progressive] movement afoot… And what we need to do is get the word out that when you do bottom-up, relational organizing with a digital strategy like the Center for Common Ground[’s tools], we can make major inroads. So, ‘The Georgia Way’ is really a blueprint that we can build on.”

(To hear more about “The Georgia Way” and its impacts in 2020 and 2021, see a recording of the December 1 Zoom briefing.)

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Wisconsin has become the new front line in the war by pro-Trump Republicans over the 2020 election

As COVID-19 swept the country in March 2020, Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to postpone the April 7 presidential primary. But Republican state legislators aligned with President Trump and, denying the severity of COVID-19, sneered, sued, and won in court hours before the polls were to open. That fray left Wisconsin's 1,850 municipal clerks who administer elections, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which guides the clerks, frantically scrambling.

"I was given a cardboard box with a roll of paper towels, six pairs of rubber gloves, a couple of bottles of what looked like Everclear [grain alcohol], and a roll of painter's tape and a half a box of masks—all of which were open," Municipal Clerk Vicki Terpstra of Spring Green, a village in central Wisconsin, recalled at a November 9 state legislative hearing on 2020 election administration. "That's what we received in April, after I had to let go of all of our poll workers."

What ensued became a national model of how not to conduct in-person voting in a pandemic. Terpstra told the Joint Legislative Audit Committee she tried "to reach out to anybody I can find to figure out how to make this work, and the Elections Commission was there for us; they're doing their best to help us boots on the ground." She said, "I don't know how many people in this room or on these committees have actually worked as a poll worker… But my legislature failed me, as well as it failed all the other clerks, the boots on the ground that are doing the work."

Terpstra's remarks came during the public comment section of a hearing that was not intended to praise the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) for helping 3.3 million people to vote in 2020's presidential election, including a record number who cast mailed-out ballots. Instead, the Republican-majority legislature was using an October report from the body's auditors—one that affirmed Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump—to attack the agency and perpetuate doubts about the election.

READ: 'Knowingly lying': DeSantis torched after falsely claiming the COVID vaccine is 'not preventing infection'

"I find it absolutely repugnant that nobody [WEC commissioners] could show up" today, fumed state Rep. John Macco, a Republican eyeing a 2022 run for governor, addressing WEC Executive Director Meagan Wolfe. Moments before, she said that the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report was filled with errors, in part because it did not allow the WEC to respond to mistaken assumptions and findings—as has been the legislative bureau's practice in every audit since its founding in 1965.

"It's also worth repeating that no major errors were identified that could have changed the outcome of the election," Wolfe said. "Now I plan to take you through some of the key sections of the LAB's report."

Wisconsin has become the new front line in the disinformation campaign by pro-Trump Republicans to delegitimize Biden's presidency by casting doubt on his election and attacking election officials and protocols that assisted voters during 2020's pandemic. The presentation of a flawed report on November 9, which criticized the WEC but did not mention that COVID-19 concerns drove its guidance to clerks like Terpstra, was the latest chapter in a long saga where Wisconsin Republicans have targeted elections for partisan gain.

But what sets the latest episode apart is deliberate amnesia by pro-Trump partisans who know the history and facts—because they were there. It was Wisconsin's GOP who created the WEC in 2015 to replace a bipartisan election oversight board that was composed of retired state judges. The same legislative leadership that did not reconvene after the pandemic struck to adopt emergency measures to respond to COVID-19, unlike many red-run state legislatures. And these legislators are questioning the very election that returned them to their statehouse posts.

READ: Top GOP donors alarmed by number of Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of Biden's infrastructure package

"A big lie does not take shape on its own, but must be carefully built upon a scaffold of lies," observed Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, in his new book that details Trump's authoritarian gambits to attack Biden during the 2020 campaign and efforts to overturn Biden's victory, both of which prompted Trump's impeachment.

Smears and Power Grabs

Such a "scaffold of lies" could be seen in one of the most scurrilous attacks on the WEC, an attack that also highlights another aspect of the disinformation campaign underway in Wisconsin and other battleground states. Elected Republicans are abusing their authority by making allegations of illegal voting in forums where there is no requirement to present fact-based evidence, unlike a courtroom with rules of evidence, and there is no penalty for intentionally lying.

In Racine County, Wisconsin's fifth-most populous, Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, an elected Republican, and his deputy, Michael Luell, have gone on social media and held press conferences to claim that at least eight 2020 presidential ballots cast at a nursing home were fraudulent. They cite family members who said that their relatives were incompetent to vote. (Under Wisconsin law, only courts can revoke a voter's registration for mental incompetence.)

The officers have said the ballots are indicative of a wider fraud and demanded a statewide investigation—impugning the 3.3 million ballots cast in the election. And they blamed the WEC for suspending a state law requiring special election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (These accusations ignore that the GOP-authored statute that created the WEC allows it to issue such directives. Election officials also conducted routine audits and recounts that affirmed the results, and Trump's campaign didn't seek a statewide recount.)

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In normal times, the nursing home incident—if it occurred—would be handled proportionately. Police would press charges, which the sheriff has not pursued. Instead, Schmaling has said that the WEC's commissioners (three Republicans, three Democrats) should be charged with felonies for violating a state law that required election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (After COVID-19's outbreak, state health officials ordered all nursing homes closed to visitors.)

Josh Kaul, Wisconsin's attorney general and a Democrat, has ignored the sheriffs' call for prosecutions. But the Wisconsin assembly speaker, Republican Robin Vos, has not. Initially, Vos called for the WEC executive director to resign. Wolfe has not. More recently, Vos said felony charges are warranted. And there's more.

In June, Vos, following the example set by Arizona's pro-Trump Republicans, launched a 2020 election review, and appointed a retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, to lead it. In October, Gableman told reporters that he "doesn't understand" how elections work. More recently, Gableman told legislators that he would pursue the issues raised by the Racine County sheriffs.

In November, one of Wisconsin's U.S. senators, Ron Johnson, another pro-Trump Republican, cited the audit bureau report and said the legislature should ignore the governor and WEC and take over administering Wisconsin's federal elections. This power-grabbing suggestion, however glib, is following Trump's template for partisan propaganda, disinformation, and anti-democratic authoritarian rule.

READ: The GOP's new 'Southern Strategy' evokes civil war and bloodshed — but it has a fatal flaw

"I want to stress this is not normal," said David Becker, founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, which organized a letter in support of Wolfe signed by more than 50 bipartisan state election officials. "It is not normal for a sheriff, in a county, in a state, to hold a Facebook press conference about alleged election crimes and not follow up on them."

"If there's a legal law enforcement reason to suggest that there's a crime, what would happen is there would be an arrest, and an arraignment or indictment and a prosecution. That is not happening in this case—and I think it's pretty clear why," said Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department Voting Section attorney. "It's because these claims have no evidence to support them. A taxpayer-funded sheriff [is] doing this. An audit bureau, who, rather than going through its normal process and allowing for a review of procedures, [is] putting things out [that are] roughly timed with some other disinformation about the election in Wisconsin."

Taken together, such history-denying and boundary-breaking behavior is tearing at the institutions and civil servants who try to uphold American democracy, he said.

"I think there's no way to overstate the danger we're in," said Becker, whose nonprofit just conducted a poll finding that about two-thirds of the Republican electorate still believe that the 2020 election was stolen and there were problems with voting. "This is as dangerous a moment for American democracy as the Civil War and perhaps worse. We have a situation where a majority of one of our two major parties believes without any evidence that elections are stolen because they're sincerely unhappy with the results."

READ: Why GOP strategists are increasingly worried about the 2022 Senate race in Pennsylvania

"There's no one in the United States that hasn't experienced a bitter electoral disappointment in the last five years or so," Becker continued. "But elections matter, and they have consequences, and there's always a winner and always a loser. And our system has always depended on people putting country over party, country over themselves."

No End in Sight

Wisconsin's 2020 presidential primary was a GOP-fueled disaster. Public health efforts were thwarted. Poll workers vanished. Voter turnout fell. The state's 1,850 municipal clerks faced immense chaos. In cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay, only a handful of polls opened. Voters often waited for hours, including several dozen voters and poll workers who later contracted COVID-19.

The WEC sought to prevent a debacle in the fall by shifting to mailed-out ballots, which Trump's allies also sought to block in court. No Republican legislator at the Joint Legislative Audit Committee's November 9 hearing recited 2020's troubled chronology. Instead, they attacked the WEC. Only Wolfe, several Democratic lawmakers and voter advocates called out the denials and revisionist history.

"What was the Elections Commission to do there—deprive the residents of the right to vote?" asked the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Matt Rothschild, after the auditor chastised the WEC for helping nursing home voters without explicit legislative approval. "Not only was this the prudent thing to do, the [WEC] staff was in a legal bind because Gov. Evers and the Department of Health Services had declared a public health emergency prohibiting nonessential individuals from going to nursing homes and long-term care facilities."

READ: Outrageous': Wisconsin Republicans seek full control of state's elections in 'partisan power grab'

But history, facts, and prudence have no place among Wisconsin's pro-Trump Republicans. On Monday, November 15, former Republican Lt. Gov. and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch sued the WEC to stop it from allowing municipal clerks to use ballot drop boxes, move polling places, and suspend the statute sending special election deputies into nursing homes.

"Wisconsinites are sick and tired of unelected bureaucrats intentionally ignoring the law," Kleefisch said. "The lawsuit forces WEC to clean up their act prior to administering the 2022 election."

On Wednesday, November 17, Timothy S. Ramthun, a Republican assemblyman, proposed a resolution to decertify Wisconsin's presidential election results.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Democrats have a roadmap to electoral success — and it was drawn in Georgia

Corey Shackleford knew he could rely on Georgia's Prince Hall Masons—named after the freed slave who created the civic-minded group's first Black chapter in 1784. "We're in those corners of the state, those rural areas, where others don't normally go. But we are there."

Shirley Sherrod, whose Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education has been active since the 1960s, trusted the young women on her staff to reach rural voters—even during a pandemic. "I really allowed them to take this program and just go, and it worked."

And Keith Reddings, who leads Georgia's Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and lives in Brunswick—where three white men killed Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, in February 2020—knew neither he nor his members could be idle in the 2020 election. "I've been in movements for quite a while. You get these waves where you're involved; you can be involved."

Their comments are from an oral history of the grassroots organizing across Georgia that led to the state's historic voter turnout and election of Democratic candidates for president and the U.S. senate. The e-book, "The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections," recounts the mindsets, values, tactics, challenges and solutions that coalesced in 2020 in a 21st-century voting rights triumph.

"What happened in 2020 in Georgia was the manifestation of coming together, setting ego to the side, and saying that we can be much more effective and efficient if we work together through coordination, collaboration and communication," said Ray McClendon, the Atlanta NAACP political action chairman and a co-author of the e-book. "Once that happened, we became a much more effective group."

The campaign's organizers built on this model with some success in November 2021's elections, and hope to deploy this model across the South in 2022's federal midterm elections. Georgia's GOP is trying to copy this template by opening community centers in Black neighborhoods.

"The Georgia Way," which was co-authored by Voting Booth's Steven Rosenfeld, features the voices of three dozen organizers from an array of civic and civil rights organizations serving Georgia's communities of color. Together, they made a determined effort to reach out to their communities in a coordinated and unprecedented manner. They did not start by focusing on voting, but first listened, validated, and sought to meet local needs. Those efforts prompted thousands of people not on any political party's radar—or contact lists—to vote in 2020's elections.

"Your work just didn't revolve around voting, but around other issues that people cared about, that mattered to them, and impacted their lives," said Dr. Gloria Bromell Tinubu in her interview with Sherrod in "The Georgia Way," which Tinubu also co-authored. "That is really the crux of relational organizing—that you have a relationship with people outside of the formal voting process."

Building Toward 2020

Inside the NAACP, Masons, Black fraternities and sororities (known as the Divine Nine), and civil rights groups, the leadership knew the 2020 election was going to be pivotal. Many leaders in these volunteer posts recalled their frustration after 2016's presidential election, where voter turnout among communities of color was disappointing. The next big election, Georgia's 2018 governor's race where Democrat Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp, showed there was a deep vein of civic engagement to be tapped. But activists and voters had to be engaged.

"I started to understand what we needed to do going forward," said Richard Rose, the Atlanta NAACP president, who noted that 77 percent of Georgia's Black voters lived in 19 of the state's 159 counties. "What I did know was that people were willing to help. Young people were willing to give up their time. Members of various fraternities, sororities and the Masons were willing to help. But it was fragmented."

2020 brought a series of focusing events. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, the once-a-decade U.S. census got underway. Rose and many others were concerned their communities would be undercounted. One obstacle little noted by the media was food insecurity—hunger. People who were worried about their next meal had no patience for the census or voting. That reality led groups like the NAACP and others to step up food giveaways. Those settings led to relationships where people were later informed about vaccines and planning to vote.

"We used those food distributions and the long lines to try to get people to respond to the census," recalled Bobby Fuse, a civil rights activist. "Out of that came this idea of feeding people at Thanksgiving and encouraging them to come back and vote in the runoff… See, all of this is about celebrating while we're in the midst of this [challenging] thing."

The pandemic, social distancing requirements, and a local legacy of poor health care among lower-income communities in the state forced the organizers to be innovative.

"Coming into the pandemic, we did have to be innovative because the old gathering, meeting, marching was not safe," said Omega Psi Phi's Reddings. "So different organizations, different groups, came up with different strategies to get the word out. There were billboards. There were buses that went around from city to city with voter information. There was phone banking where brothers and sisters would get on the phone, and they would make call after call. There were email blasts, caravans, motorcades."

While Black voters are among the Democratic Party's most reliable base—with 85 percent routinely voting for Democrats across the South, according to the Center for Common Ground's Andrea Miller—this grassroots outreach had little logistical or financial support from the Georgia Democratic Party, several organizers emphasized.

"This was not necessarily a Georgia Democratic Party operation," Fuse said. "Without being offensive, I'd like to say that the majority of our funding and resources came from outside any political party. And it came directly from these nonpartisan grassroots organizations with whom we interacted—and boy, did we interact."

Many voters eyed by the coalition's organizers have long been overlooked by the major political parties, and these voters don't consider themselves members of any party, Miller said.

"The voters that we called, unfortunately, haven't really been called by anybody," she said. "They haven't been called by candidates. They haven't been called by political parties. So, they stopped voting, which means they're not going to be called by candidates, political parties."

There were several mindsets that emerged and shaped the outreach. The pandemic forced groups to innovate. Local organizing was prioritized. Hiring local campaign workers, including teenagers who knew where and when to find voters, was preferable to out-of-state volunteers. Teaching members of families and congregations to use online media was a necessity at first but evolved into an opportunity that expanded campaigning.

"COVID-19 really helped the younger generations to connect with the older generations," said Tiffany Carr of the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education. "I know for myself and my family, my mom will always call on me and my brother and ask, 'How do you work Zoom?' 'How do I join this virtual meeting?' 'How do I get on Facebook?' 'How do I do this and how do I do that?' So, it really opened the door for the older generation to learn more about technology and to see how convenient it is and how quickly you can reach a lot of people at one time."

The leaders from the various groups spoke of enlisting their members and reaching out to their communities—in rural areas, in cities, and in colleges and universities. They often let young people be the frontline. They created events that set a tone and were highly visible, but kept the messaging personal. They used different media that various age groups were familiar with.

"We invited our undergraduates, and we pushed that information out to them," said Sigma Gamma Rho's Celestine Levanne. "We didn't leave anyone of voting age out of this conversation, from our 18-year-olds to our 100-year-olds. Everyone got that information and if, for some reason, they couldn't vote, they had that information to give to a relative or a church member. So, again, it was about making sure they understood their rights."

"We had to be intentional about setting the atmosphere," said the Masons' Marvin Nunnally. "We built momentum, we kept building and building the audience, but more importantly, what we kept doing was working on their minds. And that was the beauty of all this moving around: the food, the music, the motorcycles [and motorcades]… It all played a role."

As November's U.S. Senate election headed to January's runoffs, the Center for Common Ground—which by that fall had 40,000 volunteers across the country writing postcards to Black voters in Southern states, and also sent hundreds of thousands of text messages and made tens of thousands of phone calls—turned its full attention to the runoff.

By then, the numerous frontline efforts were well positioned to use the center's various data-driven tools—for identifying eligible voters, reaching them by postcard (if their phone numbers weren't correct in political data lists), or by text or phone, as well as by going door to door.

"What was most impressive was the organizations working together rather than in competition, and each of us really using our strengths," the Center for Common Ground's Miller said. "Our strength is building out the digital tools and platforms and that is what really made the difference, and making sure we weren't duplicating efforts—that we were covering the entire state instead of 40 groups working in the city of Atlanta."

"That's what worked in 2020 and 2021," the NAACP's McClendon said, referring to the Senate runoff's results and unexpectedly high turnout in Black communities in Georgia and Virginia that were targeted in November 2021's general election. "That result was the result of several years of deciding that it was the time for us to coalesce, and manifest through the efficiency and effectiveness of collaboration. Now we are ready to ramp this up across several battleground states to get ready for 2022."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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