The results of the California recall election will not be known until Tuesday evening. But some Republicans are already predicting the victory of Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom for a reason that should sound familiar to you.
Shortly after the recall race was announced in early July, the embers of denial of the 2020 election ignited in new bogus claims on right-wing news sites and social media. This vote, too, is said to be “stolen”, with embezzlement ranging from deceptively crafted ballots to malice on the part of corrupt postal workers.
As a recent wave of polls indicated Mr Newsom was likely to fend off his Republican challengers, the baseless allegations have accelerated. Larry Elder, a leading Republican candidate, said he was “concerned” about voter fraud. Fox News commentators Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson have suggested wrongdoing was the only way Mr. Newsom could win. And former President Donald J. Trump predicted it would be “a rigged election.”
This rapid adoption of bogus allegations of cheating in the California recall reflects a growing instinct on the right to argue that any lost election, or any ongoing race that could result in defeat, must be tainted with fraud. The relentless lies spread by Mr. Trump and his allies about the 2020 election only fueled such fears.
“I quite honestly believe there were irregularities and fraudulent activity,” said Elena Johnson, 65, a teacher from Los Angeles County who was in the crowd at a rally for Mr. Elder this week. last in Ventura County, about last year’s presidential contest. “It was stolen.”
Due to her concerns about voter fraud in the 2020 election, Ms Johnson said, she would vote in person on Tuesday rather than by mail. She said she supported the Republican because she believed California, her adopted country after immigrating from the Philippines 40 years ago, was on the brink. “California is where I came from, and California is where I want to stay,” she said.
Since the start of the recall, allegations of electoral fraud have simmered on social media in California, with daily mentions in the thousands, according to a review by Zignal Labs, a media monitoring agency.
But singular claims or conspiracy theories, such as a selectively edited video claiming to show that people with a post office “master key” could steal ballots, quickly ricocheted across the board. of the conservative ecosystem. The post’s video has surpassed one million views, amplified by prominent Trump allies and members of the conservative media.
Nationally, Republican candidates who deny their election results remain outliers. Hundreds of top-to-bottom GOP candidates in the poll in 2020 have come to terms with their defeats. But at the same time, many of them have joined Mr. Trump in the assault on the presidential race outcome, and in other recent election cycles the candidates, their allies and the conservative media have increasingly come to the fore. more expressed doubts about the validity of the electoral process.
And while false allegations of wrongdoing have long surfaced in the days and weeks after the election, the Republicans’ quick turn before California’s recall – a race that was always going to be a long shot for them in a deep blue state – signals the increasing normalization of glaring fraud.
“It’s now part of the playbook,” said Michael Latner, associate professor of political science at California Polytechnic Institute. As soon as the recall was official, he added, “you’ve already started seeing stories and individuals on social media claiming that, you know, they got five ballots or their uncle got some. received five “.
Some Republican leaders and strategists across the country fear this is a losing message. While such claims may fuel the base, leaders fear that repeatedly telling voters that the election is rigged and that their votes won’t count could have a repressive effect, causing some potential Republican voters to stay at home. them.
They mark the second round of senatorial elections earlier this year in Georgia, where two incumbent Republicans, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, were ousted by Democratic challengers for the first time. Although the state had just voted Democratic in the presidential election for the first time in decades, Senate races were seen as an even bigger task for Democrats.
But in the months following the November general election, Mr Trump launched countless attacks on the legitimacy of Georgia’s contests, launching conspiracy theories and lambasting the Republican secretary of state and governor for not acquiescing. to his desire to overthrow the presidential election. By the time of the second round, more than 752,000 Georgians who voted in November did not vote, according to a study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. More than half of those voters came from constituencies that leaned for Republican candidates, the review found.
“The person they most admired in their Conservative beliefs was telling them their vote didn’t count,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan of Georgia, a Republican, referring to Mr. Trump. “And the next day he would tell her that the elections were rigged, and the next day he would say to them, ‘Why even run? And they didn’t. And that alone was enough to tip the election on the Democrats’ side. “
“This whole notion of fraud and elections,” Mr. Duncan continued, “it’s a brilliant object which, frankly, is trying to save face, not take ownership of reality.”
California Republican officials have played a balancing act, trying to acknowledge their constituents’ concerns about fraud while ensuring that the same voters trust the state’s mail-in voting system enough to vote. Party officials encouraged postal voting on social networks, and relied on popular members of the Republican leadership, including Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, to cut videos advocating the safety of postal voting.
But some prominent Republicans in the state simultaneously denounced a bill passed by the state legislature this month that would permanently enact an extension to postal voting that was introduced as an emergency measure in 2020. Republicans in the legislature have continued to make baseless claims that postal voting invites fraud and that drop boxes remain insecure.
“I can tell you story after story in my district,” State Senator Shannon Grove, a Republican from Bakersfield, said during a floor debate this month. She added that Democrats who dominate the chamber would admit they had also heard “if you were honest” complaints.
The state’s Republican Party has also stepped up what it calls an electoral integrity operation, which aims to recruit more poll observers and direct voters to a hotline to send complaints of fraud. The program, according to Jessica Millan Patterson, president of the state party, was designed to assure voters that elections in California would be secure.
“My main goal,” Ms. Patterson said in an interview, “is to build trust and faith in our process and to make sure people are confident.” She added that she was not paying attention to the national conversation on voter fraud and that she was not worried that the Republican effort would harm turnout because “our # 1 turnout operation has Gavin Newsom as governor. everyday”.
“I’ve always focused on California; everything outside of that is noise, ”Ms. Patterson said. “We have to fix our own house before we can worry about what’s going on nationally. “
Mr Elder, Mr Newsom’s Republican challenger who claimed without proof that there would be “scheming” in the voting process, also set up a queue for voters to offer evidence of fraud .
Trump’s attempt to overturn the election
“We have a voter integrity council in place – most of them are lawyers,” Elder said last week, according to CNN. “So when people hear things, they contact us. We will take legal action as soon as possible.
The operations carried out by Mr. Elder and the California Republican Party are very similar to the one the Trump campaign put in place with the national GOP in the 2020 campaign, which sought to recruit an “army” of poll watchers and sparked off concerns about voter intimidation.
Some experts say the growing popularity of such so-called electoral integrity operations risks further eroding confidence in the elections.
“The narrative that we need to create a force for electoral integrity separate from the state and election officials, I think, serves to undermine, and is designed to undermine, the credibility of professional election administrators,” said Dr. Latner. .
These groups, he added, make it difficult “for election scientists and election administrators to work together and identify the real issues we have with electoral integrity.” Because there are real issues that require attention and resources. These are just not the ones these people are complaining about.
Mr Elder initially took a stand against those in his party who focus on the fraud allegations, telling a left-wing editorial board more than a month ago that President Biden won fairly last year. . But after his campaign started to gain attention, he quickly reversed his position, telling conservative radio interviewers last month, “No, I don’t. “
Shawn hubler contributed reporting from Sacramento, and Jeremy W. Peters from Los Angeles.