Voting Booth

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.

Trump Team turns to disinformation as the GOP keeps losing in court

Democrats and voting rights advocates keep winning swing state lawsuits extending the deadlines when absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day can arrive by mail and be counted. But as Republicans appeal those extensions, President Trump and his family are ramping up disinformation about absentee ballots and counting votes after Election Day.

Keep reading... Show less

Did unruly Trumpers break the law at a Virginia polling place?

The photo showed six mask-less Trump supporters waving Trump-Pence signs outside the entrance to Fairfax County Government Center on September 19, Virginia’s second day of early voting. The accompanying New York Times’ report describing their loud electioneering in the populous blue county outside Washington inflamed passions and went viral.

Keep reading... Show less

Why younger voters are the most likely to have their absentee ballots rejected

As half or more of the 2020 presidential election’s votes will be cast on mailed-out ballots, a new study on why absentee ballots were rejected in three urban California counties in 2018 reveals why young voters’ ballots were rejected at triple the rate of all voters.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES