By Tuesday night, the long, bizarre recall will finally be over, unless Governor Gavin Newsom wins. If that happens—and recent polls have indicated that it will—many of the losers are all set to cry election fraud, and it’s anyone’s guess what happens after that.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the same “big lie” conspiracy theories that were spread on Fox News, Facebook, and elsewhere throughout the 2020 Presidential election and led to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, are still alive and festering in old their old haunts, and have now infected Tuesday’s contest.
Last week, former President Donald Trump told a Newsmax audience that the recall is “probably rigged,” adding, “They’re sending out all ballots. The ballots are mail-out, mail-in ballots.” According to a 2020 study by the Brookings Institution, there’s no evidence that mail-in voting increases election fraud.
Still, the unfounded claims are already causing headaches for officials. In one instance, Sacramento County registrar of voters Courtney Bailey-Kanelos was accused of having two employees of election equipment maker Dominion Voting Systems working for her by a man who toured her offices and then spread the allegation at a conference sponsored by conspiracy theorist and “My Pillow Guy” Mike Lindell, who Dominion hit with a $1.3 billion defamation suit in February.
Since then, Bailey-Kanelos has received a barrage of furious emails, phone calls, as well as Public Record Act requests for any communications with Dominion. Her attempt to quell the fraud talk had no effect.
“The frustrating part is we put out the release, we say this isn’t true, and it doesn’t matter,” Bailey-Kanelos tells the Times. “Even though it’s not true, the message doesn’t get across.”
Now, she has a steady stream of election observers overseeing her office as it processes mail-in ballots. Though she says her office can deal with the 30 to 40 signatures the observers have challenged so far, she adds that “there is a fine line between observers and disrupting the process.”
Recallers have an army of such citizen sleuths at their disposal. California Republican Party chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson says it has trained 1,100 poll watchers and will have 115 election lawyers on hand to “keep sunlight” on the process. The GOP also has a website where anyone’s fraud claims can be stored as “evidence that may be used at a later time.”
“I don’t know if there is fraud or not,” Patterson tells the Times. “We are not messing around.”
For mobile vigilance, recall boosters like Stephanie Suela, a volunteer for Election Integrity Project California, are on the case. Suela not only has “eyes on” a drop box at a Sacramento library, but also plans to follow a polling station worker in her car to ensure that ballots are properly dropped off at county offices.
“As much as I’ve worked this recall, if [Newsom] doesn’t go, I’m going to question it,” she told the paper. In California, 46 percent of voters are registered Democrats compared with the 24 percent who are registered Republicans and 23.2 percent who have no party affiliation. In 2018, Newsom won his election against Republican John Cox in a landslide of 62 percent to 38 percent; in the 2020 presidential election, Biden won the state with 63.5 percent of the vote.
As the fraud chatter reached a frenzy, Republican frontrunner and right-wing talk show host Larry Elder adjusted his opinion of the 2020 election accordingly. As the New York Times reports, Elder told the Sacramento Bee last month that he thought President Joe Biden had won fair and square. Asked by fellow conservative chatterboxes a bit later in August if he still held that position, Elder responded, “No, I don’t.” Elder has also said he predicts there will be “shenanigans” in the recall.
So what happens Wednesday and in the foreseeable future?
Calling the preemptive fraud claims “the most damaging trend we’ve seen in our democracy,” Thad Kousser, co-director of UC San Diego’s Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, tells the Los Angeles Times that a close win for Newsom in the final moments of election night would be California’s “nightmare scenario.”
“The miracle of American politics is that we have managed to keep these fights primarily in rallies, elections, and debates on the floor,” Kousser says. “The worry is always that they will move into violence.”
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