Republicans have succeeded this year in passing a range of voting restrictions in states they control politically, from Georgia to Iowa to Texas. They’re not stopping there.
Republicans in at least four states where Democrats control the governor’s office, the legislature or both – California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania – are pursuing statewide ballot initiatives or veto-proof proposals to enact voter ID restrictions and other changes to election law.
In another state, Nebraska, Republicans control the governor’s office and have a majority in the single-house Legislature, but are pushing a voter ID ballot measure because they have been unable to get enough lawmakers on board.
Republicans say they are pursuing the changes in the name of “election integrity,” and repeat similar slogans – “easier to vote, harder to cheat.” Democrats dismiss it as the GOP following former President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread fraud cost him the election. They say Republicans have tried to whip up distrust in elections for political gain and are passing restrictions designed to keep Democratic-leaning voters from registering or casting a ballot.
Sixteen months before last November’s presidential election, a researcher at Facebook described an alarming development. She was getting content about the conspiracy theory QAnon within a week of opening an experimental account, she wrote in an internal report.
On Nov. 5, two days after the election, another Facebook employee posted a message alerting colleagues that comments with “combustible election misinformation” were visible below many posts.
Four days after that, a company data scientist wrote in a note to his co-workers that 10 percent of all U.S. views of political material — a startlingly high figure — were of posts that alleged the vote was fraudulent.
In each case, Facebook’s employees sounded an alarm about misinformation and inflammatory content on the platform and urged action — but the company failed or struggled to address the issues. The internal dispatches were among a set of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times that give new insight into what happened inside the social network before and after the November election, when the company was caught flat-footed as users weaponized its platform to spread lies about the vote.
acebook has publicly blamed the proliferation of election falsehoods on former President Donald J. Trump and other social platforms. In mid-January, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was “largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, told lawmakers in March that the company “did our part to secure the integrity of our election.”
But the company documents show the degree to which Facebook knew of extremist movements and groups on its site that were trying to polarize American voters before the election. The documents also give new detail on how aware company researchers were after the election of the flow of misinformation that posited votes had been manipulated against Mr. Trump.
What the documents do not offer is a complete picture of decision making inside Facebook. Some internal studies suggested that the company struggled to exert control over the scale of its network and how quickly information spread, while other reports hinted that Facebook was concerned about losing engagement or damaging its reputation.
Yet what was unmistakable was that Facebook’s own employees believed the social network could have done more, according to the documents.
“Enforcement was piecemeal,” read one internal review in March of Facebook’s response to Stop the Steal groups, which contended that the election was rigged against Mr. Trump. The report’s authors said they hoped the post-mortem could be a guide for how Facebook could “do this better next time.”…
For years, Facebook employees warned of the social network’s potential to radicalize users, according to the documents.
In July 2019, a company researcher studying polarization made a startling discovery: A test account she had made for a “conservative mom” in North Carolina received conspiracy theory content recommendations within a week of joining the social network.
The internal research, titled “Carol’s Journey to QAnon,” detailed how the Facebook account for an imaginary woman named Carol Smith had followed pages for Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting. Within days, Facebook had recommended pages and groups related to QAnon, the conspiracy theory that falsely claimed Mr. Trump was facing down a shadowy cabal of Democratic pedophiles.
By the end of three weeks, Carol Smith’s Facebook account feed had devolved further. It “became a constant flow of misleading, polarizing and low-quality content,” the researcher wrote….
In a September 2020 public post, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote that his company had “a responsibility to protect our democracy.” He highlighted a voter registration campaign that Facebook had funded and laid out steps the company had taken — such as removing voter misinformation and blocking political ads — to “reduce the chances of violence and unrest.”
Many measures appeared to help. Election Day came and went without major hitches at Facebook.
But after the vote counts showed a tight race between Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., then the Democratic presidential candidate, Mr. Trump posted in the early hours of Nov. 4 on Facebook and Twitter: “They are trying to STEAL the Election.”
The internal documents show that users had found ways on Facebook to undermine confidence in the vote.
On Nov. 5, one Facebook employee posted a message to an internal online group called “News Feed Feedback.” In his note, he told colleagues that voting misinformation was conspicuous in the comments section of posts. Even worse, the employee said, comments with the most incendiary election misinformation were being amplified to appear at the top of comment threads, spreading inaccurate information.
Then on Nov. 9, a Facebook data scientist told several colleagues in an internal post that the amount of content on the social network casting doubt on the election’s results had spiked. As much as one out of every 50 views on Facebook in the United States, or 10 percent of all views of political material, was of content declaring the vote fraudulent, the researcher wrote.
“There was also a fringe of incitement to violence,” he wrote in the post.
Even so, Facebook began relaxing its emergency steps in November, three former employees said. The critical postelection period appeared to have passed and the company was concerned that some pre-election measures, such as reducing the reach of fringe right-wing pages, would lead to user complaints, they said….
On the morning of Jan. 6, with protesters gathered near the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, some Facebook employees turned to a spreadsheet. There, they began cataloging the measures that the company was taking against election misinformation and inflammatory content on its platform.
User complaints about posts that incited violence had soared that morning, according to data in the spreadsheet.
Over the course of that day, as a mob stormed the Capitol, the employees updated the spreadsheet with actions that were being taken, one worker involved in the effort said. Of the dozens of steps that Facebook employees recommended, some — such as allowing company engineers to mass-delete posts that were being reported for pushing violence — were implemented.
But other measures, such as preventing groups from changing their names to terms such as Stop the Steal, were not fully implemented because of last-minute technology glitches, according to the spreadsheet….
In a Jan. 7 report, the scope of what had occurred on Facebook became clear. User reports of content that potentially violated the company’s policies were seven times the amount as previous weeks, the report said. Several of the most reported posts, researchers found, “suggested the overthrow of the government” or “voiced support for the violence.”…
Another report, titled “Stop the Steal and Patriot Party: The Growth and Mitigation of an Adversarial Harmful Movement,” laid out how people had exploited Facebook’s groups feature to rapidly form election delegitimization communities on the site before Jan. 6.
Some organizers sent hundreds of invitations to build the groups, essentially spamming people, the report found. They also asked everyone who joined to invite as many other people as possible, making the groups balloon in size. (Facebook has since begun more closely monitoring the amount of group invites.)
Some organizers of Stop the Steal groups on Facebook also appeared to be cooperating with each other for “growing the movement,” the report said.
“Hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back, to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection,” the report said.
They called it the “command center,” a set of rooms and suites in the posh Willard hotel a block from the White House where some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal lieutenants were working day and night with one goal in mind: overturning the results of the 2020 election.
The Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and the ensuing attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob would draw the world’s attention to the quest to physically block Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s victory. But the activities at the Willard that week add to an emerging picture of a less visible effort, mapped out in memos by a conservative pro-Trump legal scholar and pursued by a team of presidential advisers and lawyers seeking to pull off what they claim was a legal strategy to reinstate Trump for a second term.
They were led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon was an occasional presence as the effort’s senior political adviser. Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik was there as an investigator. Also present was John Eastman, the scholar, who outlined scenarios for denying Biden the presidency in an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4 with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
They sought to make the case to Pence and ramp up pressure on him to take actions on Jan. 6 that Eastman suggested were within his powers, three people familiar with the operation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Their activities included finding and publicizing alleged evidence of fraud, urging members of state legislatures to challenge Biden’s victory and calling on the Trump-supporting public to press Republican officials in key states.
The effort underscores the extent to which Trump and a handful of true believers were working until the last possible moment to subvert the will of the voters, seeking to pressure Pence to delay or even block certification of the election, leveraging any possible constitutional loophole to test the boundaries of American democracy.
Signs that Eastman is getting increasingly desperate to distance himself from his false claims that the election was stolen from Trump and that VP Pence could unilaterally steal it back for him when Congress was supposed to confirm the Electoral College votes:
When Eastman spoke that day, he echoed Giuliani’s claims regarding the conspiracy theory that voting machines had fraudulently changed the vote tallies in Georgia. “We now know, because we caught it live last time in real time, how the machines contributed to that fraud,” Eastman said of the Georgia Senate and 2020 presidential-election results. “They put those ballots in a secret folder in the machines, sitting there waiting until they know how many they need.”
As for the electoral-vote tally at the Capitol, Eastman made the case that “all we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at one o’clock he let the legislatures of the states look into this so that we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not! We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question!”
But Eastman now tells National Review in an interview that the first of the two strategies Giuliani highlighted on stage — having Pence reject electoral votes — was not “viable” and would have been “crazy” to pursue.
What makes that admission remarkable is that Eastman was the author of the now-infamous legal memo making the case that Pence had that very power — that the vice president was the “ultimate arbiter” of deciding whether to count Electoral College votes….
Eastman says he disagrees with some major points in the two-page memo. That version says that Trump would be reelected if Pence invalidated enough electoral votes to send the election to the House of Representatives: “Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote. President Trump is reelected there as well.”
Eastman’s final six-page memo says Trump would be reelected by the House “IF the Republicans in the State Delegations stand firm.” But Eastman says he told Trump at the January 4 meeting in the White House: “Look, I don’t think they would hold firm on this.” (There were actually 27 delegations under GOP control, but Liz Cheney is the sole representative for Wyoming, Wisconsin’s decisive vote would have been Mike Gallagher, and both Cheney and Gallagher strongly opposed overturning the results of the election.)
“So anybody who thinks that that’s a viable strategy is crazy,” Eastman tells National Review.
When it comes to the legal argument that the vice president is the only person with authority to count the electoral votes, Eastman says: “This is where I disagree. I don’t think that’s true.”
“It’s certainly not been definitively resolved one way or the other,” he adds. “There’s historical foundation for the argument that the vice president is the final say and the argument that he is not. I think the argument that he is the final say is the weaker argument.”
Eastman says that weaker argument “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that we know the vice president is very likely to be one of the contenders for the office that he’ll be deciding.”
“The memo was not being provided to Trump or Pence as my advice,” he insists. “The memo was designed to outline every single possible scenario that had been floated, so that we could talk about it.”…
In other words, a plain reading of both versions of the memo would lead the reader to conclude that Pence had the power to take any of the options outlined in them.
When I pointed out that both memos said it’s a “fact” that Pence is the “ultimate arbiter” and “we should take all our actions with that in mind,” Eastman at first incorrectly claimed he’d only written that in the two-page “preliminary” memo.
“No, that’s the preliminary memo,” Eastman replied. “I don’t think that’s the strongest legal argument or scenario. So that was just the first piece that I’d been asked to look at and put together how that would work if that condition was true. And it was that condition that I specifically told them I thought was the weaker argument, which is why I’m going to give you a more complete assessment of all the various scenarios.”
After I pointed Eastman to identical language near the end of the six-page memo, he argued that he did not mean it was a fact that Pence was the ultimate arbiter of which electoral votes to count. He meant only that Pence was the ultimate arbiter of which ballots to open in a contested election, while he believes that Congress “most likely” makes the final substantive decision.
Readers can read the final memo for themselves, but that seems like a very odd interpretation of a memo that concludes: “The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter. We should take all of our actions with that in mind.”
Republicans believe they have a good shot at taking Congress next year. But there’s a catch.
The G.O.P.’s ambitions of ending unified Democratic control in Washington in 2022 are colliding with a considerable force that has the ability to sway tens of millions of votes: former President Donald J. Trump’s increasingly vocal demands that members of his party remain in a permanent state of obedience, endorsing his false claims of a stolen election or risking his wrath.
In a series of public appearances and statements over the last week, Mr. Trump has signaled not only that he plans to work against Republicans he deems disloyal, but also that his meritless claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the White House in 2020 will be his litmus test, going so far as to threaten that his voters will sit out future elections.
“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020,” Mr. Trump said in a statement last week, “Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It’s the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
The former president’s fixation on disproved conspiracy theories is frustrating to many in his party who see it as needlessly divisive at a time when Republicans feel they are poised to take back the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They worry he could cost Republicans otherwise winnable seats in Congress and complicate the party’s more immediate goal of winning the governor’s race in Virginia next month….
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has supported exhaustive audits of the 2020 results to look for evidence of voting irregularities that repeated reviews have failed to produce. Still, she has told colleagues that she was surprised by a recent survey of Republican voters in her district, according to one person who spoke with her about it.
The internal survey found that 5 percent of Republican voters said they would sit out the 2022 election if the state of Georgia did not conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 election — a demand that some of Mr. Trump’s hard-core supporters have made. Another 4 percent said they would consider sitting out the election absent an audit.
The possibility that nearly 10 percent of Republicans could sit out any election — even one in a solidly red district like the one held by Ms. Taylor Greene — was something Republican strategists said they found alarming.
Since Mr. Trump left office, polls have repeatedly shown that large majorities of Republican voters want him to run in 2024. And roughly 40 percent of Republicans say they consider themselves to be primarily his supporters rather than supporters of the party — about the same share who said so last November, according to the political research firm Echelon Insights.
Many Republicans don’t seem to want to hear anything critical about him. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center, for instance, highlighted the lack of an appetite for much dissent. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans, Pew found, said their party should not be accepting of elected officials who criticize Mr. Trump.
Daniel Dale for CNN.
The glaring errors became clear soon after a former Wisconsin judge issued subpoenas earlier this month in a Republican review of the state’s 2020 presidential election. Some of the requests referred to the wrong city. At least one was sent to an official who doesn’t oversee elections. A Latin phrase included in the demands for records and testimony was misspelled.
Michael Gableman, the former judge leading the review, admitted days later that he does not have “a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work.” He then backed off some of his subpoena demands before reversing course again, telling a local radio host that officials would still be required to testify.
The latest round of reversals and blunders is intensifying calls to end the probe, one of several recent efforts around the country to revisit Joe Biden’s win in states where former president Donald Trump and his supporters have leveled baseless accusations of voter fraud.
This seems to escalate the Big Lie and put Republicans in a tough position:
Georgia election investigators were unable to find any counterfeit ballots among batches identified by Republican vote-counters, according to a court brief Tuesday, dealing a blow to a lawsuit seeking to inspect absentee ballots cast in last year’s presidential election.
The court document filed on behalf of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said investigators reviewed 1,000 absentee ballots from batches in Fulton County that allegedly contained “pristine” ballots with perfectly filled-in ovals and no fold lines. All ballots in those batches appeared to be legitimate.
“The secretary’s investigators have not uncovered any absentee ballots that match the descriptions given by affiants or otherwise appear to be fraudulent or counterfeit,” stated the 89-page response to the court by Georgia Assistant Attorney General Charlene McGowan.
The hand count of ballots in Maricopa County was off by more than 312,000, according to a review of newly released Arizona audit records.
Election analysts also say Cyber Ninjas, the contractor for the hand count, didn’t tally as many as 167,524 Maricopa County ballots in its monthslong review of 2020 election results.
A 695-page report, produced by former Arizona GOP chair and audit spokesperson Randy Pullen, was supposed to provide a snapshot of all the counts of the 2.1 million ballots cast in the county’s general election. The Arizona Senate released the report late Friday after The Arizona Republic filed a request under the state’s Public Records Law.
The hand-countnumbers in the report reflect a 15% error rate when compared with a separate machine count of ballots authorized by the Arizona Senate, according to analysts who reviewed the report for The Republic.
“This is proof that the Cyber Ninjas’ vote count wasn’t real,” said Larry Moore, co-founder of the Boston-based Clear Ballot Group. “You can’t even talk about their vote counts anymore.”
Moore is part of a three-person team known as the Audit Guys. It also includes Benny White, a prominent Pima County Republican data analyst, and Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot’s retired chief technology officer.
Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan did not respond to requests for comment Monday. But in an Oct. 6 statement, he refuted claims that the hand count was inaccurate. He said the hand count wasn’t finished when the 695-page report on the counts was compiled
Former President Trump claims Arizona’s ballot audit found “massive fraud,” yet the new recount says he actually lost the state by 360 more votes than originally reported. He is now demanding an audit of the 2020 election in . . . Texas, which he won by nearly six points. When are Republicans going to quit playing this game?…
On Friday Mr. Trump was set to Defcon 1, saying the audit found “incomprehensible Fraud at an Election Changing level,” and demanding that Arizona “immediately decertify their 2020 Presidential Election Results.” Is anyone surprised? This is what Mr. Trump does, regardless of the facts. Remember in 2016, when he said the results of the Iowa Caucus should be “nullified” based on “the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz ”?
The GOP should quit chasing him down rabbit holes. Mr. Trump lost last year by 74 electoral votes, so even flipping Arizona would have left him two states short. He can’t admit to his fans that he lost, since it would undermine his rally attendance, fundraising and teasers about 2024. Perhaps Mr. Trump can’t even admit to himself that he lost, and in his final days he’ll be raging on the heath about “ballot dumps.”
As noted by Political Wire:
“I’m telling you the single biggest issue, as bad as the border is and it’s horrible, horrible what they’re doing, they’re destroying our country — but as bad as that is, the single biggest issue — the issue that gets the most pull, the most respect, the biggest cheers — is talking about the election fraud of the 2020 presidential election.”
— Donald Trump, quoted by Politico.
Playbook: “That’s a problem for Republicans. Many of them want to make the midterm elections about the issues — inflation, the border, Afghanistan, etc. — to set the election up as a referendum on Biden’s presidency. Trump doesn’t.”