How the Right Is Sowing Doubt in Our Elections

Steve Bannon and Kari Lake speaking with attendees at an Arizona First Election Eve rally at the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore

As voters head to the polls today, a right-wing campaign to sow doubt in the 2022 midterms is underway.

Since former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and tried to overturn the election results by alleging voter fraud, the GOP has fallen in line behind him, making so-called “election integrity” a key component of its platform. Nearly 300 Republicans who have denied the results of the 2020 election are running for office this year, and many refuse to say whether they will accept the results of their elections should they lose. A network of right-wing groups has set the groundwork by fearmongering about widespread voter fraud, with groups like True the Vote catapulting their voter fraud conspiracy theories to propaganda hits.

Perhaps no one was so blunt as to what all of this election denialism means as Ali Alexander, the leader of the so-called Stop the Steal campaign, which after Trump’s loss in 2020, worked to overturn the election. “Any election I don’t like is stolen,” Alexander said during a livestream last week. “If I don’t like it, it’s stolen. If I like it, it’s not stolen. If you win, it’s stolen.”

Election deniers running for office are playing by the same rules. In Arizona, Kari Lake built her gubernatorial campaign on denying the results of the 2020 election. When asked if she would accept an election in which she lost, Lake said she wouldn’t lose. “I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that result,” she said. “The people of Arizona will never support and vote for a coward like Katie Hobbs.” As the New York Times noted, this sets “up a framework in which, if Ms. Hobbs were to win, Ms. Lake could present the result as evidence of election fraud.”

Partisan Poll Workers

As they did in 2020, the GOP and right-wing activists are honing their voter fraud fearmongering in on battleground states.

In Michigan, Republican Party operatives have partnered with activist groups in recruiting and training partisan poll watchers, who have been primed to believe that fraud is everywhere, to challenge election results. Politico reported that the Republican National Committee has put these poll workers in direct contact with Republican Party lawyers, even equipping poll workers with a hotline and website “to live-chat with party attorneys on Election Day.” As of May, more than 5,600 people had signed up to be poll workers, according to audio recordings obtained by Politico.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the harassment of existing polls workers, who faced baselessly accusations that they counted illegal ballots for Joe Biden in 2020. Such harassment has led to widespread quitting, with 1 in 5 election workers saying they plan to leave their jobs before the 2024 presidential cycle, according to the Brennan Center.

This harassment came from those at the very top. In one instance in 2020 in Fulton County, Georgia, Trump and Rudy Giuliani pointed to a security video of poll workers and began a conspiracy theory alleging that election worker Shaye Moss and her mother stole the county for Biden. Moss received hundreds of threats and quit her job. When asked during a hearing this summer how many of the election workers shown in a security video were still working, Moss said none: “There is no permanent election worker or supervisor in that video that’s still there.” This summer, Fulton County sought to fill 2,000 poll worker positions.

Election officials in battleground states are more likely to receive threats, according to the Department of Justice. The DOJ found that 58 percent of potentially criminal threats were directed at poll workers in states that underwent 2020 post-election lawsuits, recounts, and audits, including Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin.

Demonizing Mail-In Ballots and Drop Boxes

Attacks on vote by mail—which was widely used during 2020, especially among Democrats who wanted to avoid COVID-19—have also remained constant. Before Election Day in 2020, Trump fearmongered about mail-in ballots. GOP candidates and right-wing activists have done same ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

True the Vote partnered with Dinesh D’Souza for the propaganda flick “2000 Mules” which alleged mass voter fraud by voters who dropped off more than one ballot at ballot drop boxes (referred to as “mules” in the film). Dropping off ballots for family members is legal in many states, and the film was widely discredited, but “2000 Mules” and its looney claims took MAGA world by storm.

As Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery reported, this film got the attention of far-right “constitutional” sheriffs, who have partnered with True the Vote. These sheriffs, who believe they are above federal law, have vowed to investigate any instances of alleged fraud.

And it’s not just sheriffs whom voters may be intimidated by. In Arizona, armed men with the group Clean Elections USA patrolled drop boxes, believing them to be a source of electoral fraud. Last week, a judge ordered the men to move their patrols more than 75 feet away from ballot boxes, to not carry weapons, and to not to speak to voters. Voter advocacy groups had filed a temporary restraining order, saying such patrols were an attempt to “bully and intimidate lawful Arizona voters.”

Republicans have also gone after mail-in or absentee ballots in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where two lawsuits seek to prevent some mail-in ballots from being counted. In Pennsylvania, Republicans have asked that mail-in ballots with incomplete or wrong dates not be counted despite being received on time. The state supreme court ruled in the Republicans’ favor, causing voters across the state to rush to fix their mail-in ballots.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Kristina Karamo, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, launched a lawsuit calling for tens of thousands of mail-in ballots in Detroit—a majority Black, majority Democratic city—to be disqualified. On Tuesday, a Wayne County judge dismissed the lawsuit and had some harsh words for the Republican candidate. “Plaintiffs’ failure to produce any evidence that the procedures of this November 8th election violate state or federal election law demonizes the Detroit City Clerk, her office staff, and the 1,200 volunteers working this election. These claims are unjustified, devoid of any evidentiary basis and cannot be allowed to stand,” the judge wrote in his decision.

However, should Karamo lose, as she is expected to, she will likely point to mail-in ballots in Detroit and say that the allowance of such votes “stole” the election from her.

The “Red Mirage”

And as they did in 2020, the right is likely to weaponize the “red mirage,” the appearance that Republicans are ahead on Election Day because in-person votes get counted first and Republicans more than Democrats vote in person.

When White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre cautioned against expecting all of the results on election night, The Blaze TV’s Dave Rubin said it was evidence of a plot. “They’re really gonna try to steal this thing aren’t they?” he said in response in a tweet that’s garnered more than 17,500 likes as of publication.

Rubin wasn’t the only one. At Fox News, hosts dismissed the idea that ballots counted after Election Day mattered, Media Matters reported. “Don’t listen to the lies they’re spewing that this could take days or days, you know, to know who won,” Fox host Jesse Watters said on the eve of Election Day. “This is total B.S. A wave like this, we should know that night, basically, who won the Senate and the House. Anything that happens Wednesday into Thursday is gravy.”

And Steve Bannon told his listeners on the eve of the election that mail-in ballots are a “scam” and that results that don’t come in on Election Day is “how they steal it.”

In states where right-wing groups have trained election workers to contest votes, constant contestations could delay the counting of votes more than normal. This, of course, will be used by right-wing activists like Bannon to cry fraud.