The results of the California recall election won’t be announced until Tuesday evening. But some Republicans are already predicting a victory for the Democrat, Governor Gavin Newsom, for a reason that should sound familiar.
Shortly after the recall race was announced in early July, the embers of the 2020 election refusal sparked new false claims on right-wing news sites and social media channels. This vote is also supposed to be “stolen”, with offenses ranging from deceptively designed ballot papers to nefariousness by corrupt postal workers.
As a recent surge of polls suggested that Mr. Newsom was likely to hold off his Republican challengers, the baseless allegations mounted. Larry Elder, a senior Republican candidate, said he was “concerned” about election fraud. Fox News commentators Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson said that the only way to win Mr. Newsom was by misconduct. And former President Donald J. Trump predicted it would be “a rigged election.”
This rapid acceptance of false accusations of fraud in the California recall reflects a growing instinct for the right to argue that any lost election or ongoing race that could lead to defeat must be tarnished by fraud. The relentless falsehoods that Mr Trump and his allies are spreading about the 2020 election have only fueled such fears.
“I honestly believe there have been irregularities and fraudulent activity,” said Elena Johnson, 65, a Los Angeles County teacher who was in the crowd at a rally for Mr. Elder in Ventura County last week, about the presidential contest at the last year. “It was stolen.”
Because of concerns about 2020 election fraud, Ms. Johnson said she would cast her vote in person on Tuesday instead of by mail. She said she supported the Republican because she thought 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 recall began, California social media allegations of election fraud have been simmering with daily mentions in the bottom thousands, according to a review by Zignal Labs, a media tracking agency.
But individual allegations or conspiracy theories, like a selectively edited video supposedly showing that people with a “master key” in the mail could steal ballots, quickly ricocheted off the broader conservative ecosystem. The Post video surpassed a million views, bolstered by high-profile Trump allies and members of the conservative news media.
At the national level, Republican candidates who contest the results of their elections remain outliers. Hundreds of GOP candidates up and down in 2020 accepted their defeats. At the same time, many of them joined Mr Trump in attacking the outcome of the presidential campaign, and in other recent election cycles, candidates, their allies and the conservative media have increasingly expressed doubts about the validity of the electoral process.
And while false allegations of wrongdoing have long since surfaced in the days and weeks following the election, the quick turn of Republicans before the recall in California – a race that would always be a long way for them in a deep blue state – signals the increasing Normalization of writing fraud.
“This is now built into the playbook,” said Michael Latner, associate professor of political science at the California Polytechnic Institute. Once the recall was official, he added, “You have already seen stories and people on social media claiming they received five ballots or their uncle received five ballots.”
Some Republican leaders and strategists across the country fear this is a lost message. While such claims could fuel the grassroots, leaders fear that it could have a suppressive effect if voters are repeatedly told that the election has been rigged and their votes don’t count, and some potential Republican voters stay home.
They point to the Georgia Senate runoff elections earlier this year in which two Republican incumbents, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, were ousted by first-time Democratic challengers. Despite the fact that the state had just voted democratically in the presidential election for the first time in decades, the Senate races were seen as an even bigger task for the Democrats.
But in the months following the November general election, Mr Trump launched countless attacks against the legitimacy of the Georgia competitions, spread conspiracy theories, and scourged the Republican Secretary of State and Governor for failing to indulge in his desire to undermine the presidential election. When the runoff election took place, more than 752,000 Georgians who voted in November did not vote, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. More than half of those voters were from constituencies prone to Republican candidates, the review said.
“The person they most admired in their conservative beliefs was telling them their vote didn’t matter,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan of Georgia referring to Mr. Trump. “And the next day he told him the election was rigged, and the next day he told them, ‘Why show up at all?’ And they didn’t. And that alone was enough to swing the election on the democratic side. “
“This whole notion of fraud and voting,” Duncan continued, “is a shiny object that is honestly about saving face, not having reality.”
Republican officials in California have struck a balancing act in trying to acknowledge their constituents’ concerns about fraud while ensuring that those same voters trust the state’s mailing system enough to cast a vote. Party officials have been promoting postal votes on social media and have relied on popular members of the Republican leadership, including California MP Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, to cut videos preaching the safety of postal voting.
But some top Republicans in the state have also denounced a law passed by state lawmakers this month that would permanently enforce an expansion of postal voting, introduced as an emergency measure in 2020. Republicans in the legislature have continued to claim, for no reason, that postal voting invitations are fraudulent and that Dropboxing remains unsafe.
“I can tell you one story at a time in my district,” said Senator Shannon Grove, a Republican from Bakersfield, during a floor debate earlier this month. She added that the Democrats, who dominate the chamber, would admit that they have also heard complaints “if you are honest”.
The state’s Republican Party has also launched what is known as an electoral integrity operation, which aims to recruit more election observers and put voters on a hotline to file complaints about fraud. According to Jessica Millan Patterson, chairman of the state party, the program was intended to reassure voters that the California elections would be safe.
“My whole focus,” Ms. Patterson said in an interview, “is building trust and confidence within our process and making sure people are confident.” She added that she did not pay attention to the national discussion on electoral fraud and that she said she was not concerned that Republican efforts were affecting voter turnout because “our # 1 voter turnout has Gavin Newsom as our governor every day.”
“I’ve always focused on California; everything outside of that is noise, ”said Ms. Patterson. “We need to fix our own house before we can worry about what’s going on nationally.”
Mr. Elder, the Republican challenger to Mr. Newsom, who has claimed without evidence that there will be “gimmicks” in the electoral process, has also set up a warning line for voters to use to produce evidence of fraud.
Trump’s offer to undermine the election
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Pressure on state officials to “find votes”. With the president continuing to refuse to admit the election, his most loyal supporters declared January 6th, when Congress convened to formalize Mr Biden’s election victory, as a day of reckoning. That day, Mr Trump delivered an incendiary speech in front of thousands of his supporters, hours before a mob of loyalists forcibly stormed the Capitol.
“We set up a voter integrity panel – most of them are lawyers,” Elder said last week, according to CNN. “So when people hear something, contact us. We will file complaints in good time. “
The operations conducted by Mr. Elder and the California Republican Party are very similar to those launched by the Trump campaign with the national GOP during the 2020 campaign that sought to recruit an “army” of election observers and raised concerns about intimidation Elicited voters.
Some experts say the increasing popularity of such so-called electoral integrity operations could further undermine confidence in elections.
“The narrative that we need to build a state integrity power that is different from the state and from election officials is, I believe, to undermine and undermine the credibility of professional election administrators,” said Dr. Latner.
These groups, he added, “make it difficult for election scholars and electoral administrators to work together and see the real problems we have with the integrity of the elections. Because there are real problems that require attention and resources. They are just not the ones these people complain about. “
Mr Elder initially staked a stance on those in his party who focus on fraud allegations, telling left-wing editors over a month ago that he believed President Biden won quite a bit last year. But after his campaign attracted attention, he quickly reversed his position, telling conservative radio interviewers last month, “No, I don’t.”
Shawn Hubler contributed the coverage from Sacramento and Jeremy W. Peters from Los Angeles.