Some recall campaign leaders fear that mistrust could backfire on their cause by discouraging conservatives from casting ballots. The short timeline of the special election, wildfires and the pandemic have left some counties with fewer options for in-person polling places, making it imperative for the movement to recall Newsom to turn out its voters by any means possible. But fraud rumors are especially prevalent around mail-in ballots.
“It really hurts us if people go out and say, ‘fraud, fraud, fraud,’ because people won’t vote,” said Anne Hyde Dunsmore, campaign manager for Rescue California, the main pro-recall group….
n recent weeks, videos have surfaced purporting to show hundreds of ballots being stolen from mailboxes. Facebook forums are packed with worried posts about holes in ballot envelopes that fraudsters could use to find pro-recall votes (but which actually serve a dual purpose of allowing blind people to know where the signature line is and giving election workers a way to ensure the envelope is empty before discarding it).
Some of those conspiracies have targeted local officials.
In Sacramento County, the registrar of voters, Courtney Bailey-Kanelos, was accused of having two employees of election equipment maker Dominion Voting Systems working for her. The man who made the claim had toured her offices and made the allegation while speaking at a conference sponsored by “My Pillow Guy” Mike Lindell, a national leader in vote fraud conspiracies.
Since then, Bailey-Kanelos has been deluged with angry calls, emails and Public Records Act requests about any communication with Dominion, including one tweet claiming that if Newsom wins, it will be because of Dominion fraud in her office, she said. The onslaught prompted her to put out a news release denying it.
“The frustrating part is we put out the release, we say this isn’t true, and it doesn’t matter,” she said. “Even though it’s not true, the message doesn’t get across.”
Now, she has election observers watching her office process mail-in ballots nearly every day. They have challenged the signatures on about 30 to 40 ballots so far. It is a manageable number and she welcomes the scrutiny, she said, but “there is a fine line between observers and disrupting the process.”
Recall organizers are deploying hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers to examine mail-in ballots and work at the polls, Dunsmore said. Their observations are being collected by the state GOP and organizations including the Election Integrity Project California, founded by a tea party conservative, which has used such reports in the past to sue state and local election officials….
Thomas W. Hiltachk, a longtime election lawyer whose firm represents the California Republican Party, said paranoia about election fraud may stem from common errors by election officials, such as sending ballots to incorrect addresses. Such mistakes can be construed by some as evidence of fraud.
“Does that mean there is a massive conspiracy to win the election?” he asked. “No. It is election incompetence. When you have incompetence, it leads people to think that something is amiss.”…
Thad Kousser, co-director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research at UC San Diego, said the ongoing push by some conservatives to claim election fraud before the results are even known is “the most damaging trend we’ve seen in our democracy.”
He said that a close vote tally, or a “nightmare scenario” of late-counted ballots flipping the win toward Newsom, could turn dangerous.
“The miracle of American politics is that we have managed to keep these fights primarily in rallies, elections and debates on the floor,” he said. “The worry is always that they will move into violence.”