Religious Right Echoes Trump Claims that Efforts to Count All Votes are Attempts to ‘Steal’ Elections

Graphic and headline from November 9, 2018 story in Tony Perkins' Washington Update from the Family Research Council

President Donald Trump and other Republican officials have been trying to stop the counting and recounting of ballots in still-undecided races by asserting, loudly and without evidence, that Democrats who are trying to ensure that all votes are counted are actually trying to “steal” the elections. Religious Right leaders who are Trump’s most loyal supporters and provided ground troops for GOP campaigns are helping with the messaging.

This morning, for example, the Christian Broadcasting Network highlighted Trump’s claim about the Florida election which the president made via Twitter, writing: “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”

As Politico reported on Saturday, Gov. Rick Scott’s own election monitors agreed with state law enforcement officials that they had seen “no evidence” of voter fraud. But that’s not damping the right-wing rhetoric.

Even though it is widely understood that in close races, the election night results could change when absentee, provisional, and overseas ballots are counted, Republicans have charged fraud when their candidates’ leads have shrunk or disappeared as all the votes are counted. Right-wing protesters stormed Broward County’s election offices. And right-wing activists on Twitter adopted the #StoptheSteal hashtag to try to establish a narrative that ongoing counting was something nefarious—and perhaps as a way to distract from voter suppression efforts like those overseen by Georgia’s Brian Kemp.

Newt Gingrich declared over the weekend that “Democratic dishonesty is a lot greater threat to freedom than some unproven Russian conspiracy. … Democrats will end up stealing a lot more votes than Putin ever dreamed of taking.”

Gary Bauer charged last Friday that a Democratic election lawyer brought in to advocate for all votes to be counted was in Florida “to oversee their legal efforts to overturn the election results.”

Last Friday, the Family Research Council Tony Perkins sent a Washington Update email under the headline, “Florida Dems: Steal Going Strong?” It’s short on evidence but heavy on snappy rhetoric, like this quip: “More people have been burned by voter fraud on the east side of Florida than the sunshine.”

Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, an ad hoc group of Religious Right activists formed to counter the voices of evangelicals who were advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, got in on the act. On Sunday morning, EBI’s Facebook page posted this message: “Thou Shalt Not Steal. As we’ve been saying … #StoptheSteal.” The message accompanied a story from NBC’s Miami affiliate with the startling headline: “Nearly 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens” and failed to note that the story had been debunked long ago.

That headline makes for an inflammatory Facebook image. But if you actually follow the link, you find out that the story was actually from May 2012, and it has been updated with this information:

Editor’s note on Nov. 12, 2018: This story was published in May 2012.

The initial list of 180,000 names was whittled to 2,625, according to the Florida Department of State. The state then checked a federal database and stated it found 207 noncitizens on the rolls (not necessarily voting but on the rolls). That list was sent to county election supervisors to check and it also turned out to contain errors. An Aug. 1, 2012, state elections document showed only 85 noncitizens were ultimately removed from the rolls out of a total of about 12 million voters at that time.

Gingrich was among the GOP operatives making the same kind of charges regarding Arizona’s Senate election; to her credit—or due to political calculation—Republican Martha McSally conceded to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema when it was clear that Sinema had won. McSally did not resort to the kind of fraud claims being made by other GOP officials—or activists like Gingrich, who said at the end of last week:

In Arizona, you can bet many of the 400,000 mail-in ballots still outstanding will likely turn out to be non-existent or votes cast by illegal immigrants – or simply made up by the election officials in two of the state’s most liberal counties. Already, the state Republican party has alleged that left-wing election officials in one county destroyed evidence related to early voting irregularities.