In Idaho, “there was fraud” becomes “I will not encourage voting at all”

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Ada County, Idaho has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1936. It is the most populous county in the state but, unlike more populous counties in other states, it is not a place where Joe Biden was going to have a clear path to victory. .

This is useful context to consider a grant the county received in October 2020 from a nonprofit group called the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL). The nearly $500,000 award was given to the county for “planning and operationalizing a safe and secure election administration,” according to a letter sent by CTCL. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, that was important, as county clerk Phil McGrane explained last week.

“Our spending skyrocketed in this election,” McGrane said during a Republican primary debate for Idaho secretary of state. “…We applied for this grant because we wanted to make sure Idahoans could vote at the polls on Election Day. I’m proud that we were able to keep all of our polling places open here in Ada County, and we even provided training to state employees to help other counties.

All pretty trivial stuff, really. But only if you don’t follow the rhetoric that’s bubbling up in the Republican electorate right now, rhetoric that casts this CTCL grant as part of a terrible left-wing conspiracy and culminates precisely where one of the opponents of McGrane in this debate landed during last week’s debate: getting people to vote at all is a dereliction of duty.

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Understanding this link is made easier by the Wisconsin review. There, the Republican-led Legislature hired a Republican official to conduct a review of the conduct of the state’s 2020 election. In March, that official, Michael Gableman, said the legislature should perhaps try to figure out how to untie President Biden’s victory in the state based on a set of vague claims about a surprisingly robust vote in homes. of nursing – and on the work of CTCL.

Well, not on CTCL, really. Instead, Gableman’s report focuses on the fact that CTCL took money from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a nonprofit philanthropy funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. Thus, CTCL funding for electoral systems across the country becomes a “Zuckerberg-Funded CTCL/Zuckerberg 5 Program” in Gableman’s writing (the number referring to five counties that received CTCL grants), a program which “would prove to be an effective means of accomplishing the partisan effort to ‘involve’ desired voters.”

The heart of Gableman’s argument is that the money was used to help turnout efforts in counties that normally vote Democratic — and therefore the fearsome liberals at Facebook were trying to steal the election. There is no consideration that strongly Democratic counties are often ones in which voter turnout is unusually low compared to other places or that CTCL has given grants to many places where one would not expect not for Democrats to emerge victorious, like Ada County, Idaho. Because so much energy has been expended by Republicans bolstering former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of fraud and election tampering, anything that can be twisted to serve that narrative is being dutifully twisted. A tech guy donating money to a group that promotes turnout becomes proof that the election was stolen — and the very idea of ​​“raising turnout” becomes anathema.

Again, this is only part of the overall effort to spin Trump’s claims about the election into something that makes sense. It’s complicated in the connections but easy to summarize: the election was stolen by “Zuckerbucks”! (Zuckerberg, having learned his lesson on partisanship from trying to help democracy, announced he wouldn’t do it again.) That’s the line that spills over to the right, just this idea that “Facebook” tried to steal Biden’s election.

And that’s what McGrane was presented with during last week’s debate. State Senator Mary Souza attacked him for accepting the grant, wrongly referring to the award as a “Facebook grant” in the process.

Election security was a central theme of the debate, although there is literally no evidence that anything untoward happened in the state. Trump won it by 31 points…but since supporting Trump means believing the election is in jeopardy, state Republicans need to be wary of the alleged threats that even their own elections face. Souza had a very “Homer Simpson wants to buy your anti-Tiger rock” argument for being concerned about Idaho’s vote security.

“I am a member of the Honest Election Project, which brings together a dozen lawmakers across the country,” she said. “And I’m the only one who wasn’t from a swing state. So it’s really wonderful to meet these people twice a year with election experts and learn what’s happened in these swing states – what we haven’t seen happen in Idaho, they don’t. haven’t seen it happen in their states. So we have a chance to learn from them and improve the security of our elections.

The Honest Election Project is funded by the 85 Fund, a 501(c)(3) dark money run by conservative Trump supporter Leonard Leo. (Perhaps not acknowledging the irony, Souza criticized CTCL as both a 501(c)(3) and a black money organization.) Regardless of any claims the group might make, it’s safe to to say that the reason these swing states in Souza refer to swing states is not because their electoral systems have been crippled by widespread fraud.

Eventually, the debate turned to the issue of increasing voter turnout. Each candidate was asked what turnout would look like if they won the election in November. McGrane and state Rep. Dorothy Moon bragged that they would take attendance to new heights. Souza did not.

“I don’t think it’s a secretary of state or even the county clerk’s role to increase turnout for a particular party or even turnout in general,” she said. “That’s the role of partisan groups, special interest groups, people who are very supportive of a candidate or an election measure. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

It was there, remarkably, that she disparaged CTCL’s involvement as a partisan effort to boost turnout. Again, the fact that the group was funding election efforts in a number of Idaho counties, despite the obvious election outcome in that state, tends to undermine this case. But, of course, she had just said that the supporters should be engaged in participation. She squared that circle criticizing CTCL for being a 501(c)(3), which should be nonpartisan. Maybe something she picked up from the Honest Election Project literature.

One of the moderators, surprised, tried to clarify Souza’s comments.

“So are you saying that if you were elected secretary of state, you wouldn’t do anything to promote voter turnout?” she asked. “Historically, our Secretary of State has run billboards, campaigned, spoken at the press and made promoting voter turnout a top priority.”

Souza said that was what she meant; that the state should only tell people when the election was due and what was needed to vote.

“We should not entrust the office of the secretary of state with the task of going out and organizing a rally or an event that looks partisan,” Souza added. “It’s not appropriate.”

That’s the crux of the matter, really: increased turnout is unacceptably partisan. And this is not an improvised conception of how elections work. Rather, it’s downstream of the rhetoric that has framed turnout precisely than for Trump’s election-rigging claims to have some sort of scaffolding to stand on.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump won Ada County by 4 percentage points.


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