The Effort to Smash the US Election

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Tellingly, in an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake invoked false “facts” to defend her efforts to undermine confidence in her state’s election. .

As she did the previous week, she told ABC’s Jonathan Karl that three-quarters of a million votes in Arizona’s largest county should have been discarded because they “violated the requirements of the broadcast channel. guard” – an argument that is both false and bizarre: because someone moving ballots from a drop box to a counting facility has not signed a form, thousands of votes would have to be cast? When Karl pressed her about it, she insisted it was a “fact” that it happened, when it wasn’t.

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That tracing Lake’s efforts to overhaul the vote in his new blue state upstream is leading to misinformation about the vote is no surprise. The GOP’s long acceptance of bogus voter fraud allegations — acceptance based in part on blocking expanded voting access to Democratic constituencies — set the stage for Donald Trump’s enthusiastic, multi-year effort. to undermine confidence in US elections. Republicans in particular, but not exclusively, now have little faith in elections and, relatedly, in democracy itself, thanks in part to constant misinformation about election security.

But there is an unrecognized aspect of the effort. The system tolerated allegations of widespread fraud for years, in part because the effects were limited in scope or abstract. American elections are a hodgepodge of local administrators and tools, varying state laws, and differing political outcomes. It’s flawed both generally and locally, but it’s distributed in such a way that people can maintain confidence in their own elections even if they were skeptical of them – or, say, in towns with strong black as Philadelphia, far from where they lived.

In the Trump era, doubt rooted in false claims of fraud has infected these local systems. Intentionally. A flawed process reliant on old bureaucracy and volunteers has been attacked from both without and within, both at the national and county level. As midterm elections loom, we see increasing reports of an effort to overwhelm electoral systems and shatter confidence in their announced results with one obvious desired outcome: seizing power what What do these results say?

There have been several recent stories about one aspect of this often uncoordinated effort. Election administrators in several states — including Nevada, Georgia and Virginia — are simply resigning rather than face the abuses that now come with the job. (Earlier this month, a Nebraska man was sentenced to 18 months in prison for threatening election officials.) The common theme? Republican activists and, often, officials lobbying them based on false allegations of widespread fraud.

Earlier this year, I spoke with Michella Huff, the administrator of elections for Surry County, North Carolina. Huff told me she was threatened by the County Republican Party Chairman as he sought access to voting machines, mistakenly believing he (and those he worked with, as the ally of Mike Lindell, Douglas Frank) could prove that machines facilitated fraud. Trump won Surry County by a 3-1 margin in 2020, but Huff thought county politics made the attack more likely: It was, she said, an “easy target” for the conspiracy theorists since the party had more clout in the election. See also: Otero County, NM, where officials loyal to Trump sponsored a failed ‘audit’ of the vote and even tried to block election results this year on preposterous ‘fraud’ grounds.

At the same time, there is what could be described as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack underway on local election systems. In computing terms, a DDOS attack renders a website unusable by flooding it with requests for information. The electoral analog is the concerted effort to systematize the contestation of electoral operations and to increase the cost of voting.

A number of groups have recruited Trump-sympathetic volunteers to “monitor” polls and vote counting. Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who eagerly joined Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results, trained volunteers to staff polling places in a bid to catch ‘fraud’ – an effort supported by the Republican Party.

The practical effect of this was seen in South Carolina this summer, as reported by The New York Times. Supporters of a pro-Trump candidate visited various polling places, raising unfounded complaints about the process or the tools available. These claims have also been posted online, which is how things work now: false or obnoxious claims are posted on official-looking websites where they reinforce the sense of wrongdoing, even if they don’t demonstrate none.

It is not new that candidates or political parties send people to polling stations to observe what is happening. But these people, like those responsible for observing the counting, are trained. They are informed of what is normal and what is not normal and when it is or is not appropriate to challenge an official at a polling station. Creating an ad hoc group of scrutineers is something very different – ​​just like instructing people to go to the polls assuming illegality is in the works.

Politico obtained a recording of a formation led by Mitchell earlier this year. In it, she suggested that a central aspect of the effort was to oppose left-wing efforts to make voting more widespread. Democrats were trying to register more people from groups and regions where voting rates have traditionally been low, Mitchell said, and “we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Flooding polling stations and electoral systems with baseless complaints or allegations of wrongdoing has a practical effect: it is fuel for post-election efforts to undermine results. On Sunday, Rolling Stone reported that Trump and his allies had strategized how to raise questions about results in close races this year, following his own failed 2020 playbook.

“[T]They have come up with scenarios on how to aggressively contest elections, especially ones in which a winner is not declared on election night,” report Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of the magazine. “If there is any doubt about the winners, the teams plan to wage aggressive legal campaigns and launch a media blitz.” And, of course, there will be a lot of “doubt” about the winners because there is a structure in place to generate that doubt. (Not that doubt can’t be invented as an afterthought, as we’ve seen for the past two years.)

Why could it work now when it didn’t in 2020? Partly because 2020 allowed testing of the weak points in the system. And, in part, because the effort is more determined and deliberate than just Trump complaining about his loss.

“We’re 100 times better prepared now,” former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon told The Times. “We will judge every battle. That’s the difference.

Again, however, the formal effort summoned by Trump, Bannon or Mitchell is accompanied by a fervent grassroots effort to root out the alleged fraud. The Washington Post reported last week that voters using drop boxes in Arizona faced self-proclaimed poll watchers tricked by rhetoric like the debunked film ‘2000 Mules’ into believing rampant ballot box stuffing was occurring. . No, Georgia had to remind people that you can’t just challenge someone else’s right to vote.

The aftermath of the midterm election will no doubt see a wave of absurd allegations of “fraud” and illegality from a thousand directions, claims that can be raised by any campaign within earshot. of victory to pressure efforts to certify the result.

It’s deliberate. Sowing doubt on the elections. Overwhelm the elections with observers both at polling stations and elsewhere. Gin up claims of illegality and fraud everywhere. Apply these demands as needed to try to change the outcome of the election. The system – an ad hoc system operating for decades on good faith participation – was not designed for this type of attack.

In his interview with Kari Lake, Jonathan Karl also asked her if she would accept her race results no matter what.

“I will accept the results of this election if we have a fair, honest and transparent election,” she replied. “Absolutely, 100%. »

That’s how it works, of course. If she or a number of other Republicans lose, then the election was not fair and honest, as evidenced by the countless “evidence” collected by observers. The formality of the “vote” over, the real struggle for power begins.


Washington

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