As many in the Election Law group know, allegations of election fraud in the last few decades have been impossible to quash. Over the years, after numerous attempts to verify rumors of widespread voter fraud, studies have found only scattered instances in every election of people who have unintentionally or intentionally voted illegally. The numbers come nowhere close to what is needed to overturn Congressional or Presidential elections.
Nonetheless, the fraud allegations were supercharged by Trump and his supporters, and what was once dismissed as a side issue threatens to undermine confidence in the legitimacy of the entire electoral system. A recent NPR report tracks and profiles four prominent election deniers who continue to provide “evidence” that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. One of them, Seth Keshel, has made over 121 appearances in 36 states and another, Douglas Frank, 137 events in 29 states. As the article points out, the penetration of this messaging is likely much wider online, but this activity testifies to the evangelical fervor of Trump’s fraud squad:
It’s this constellation of election conspiracy theorists,” said Chris Krebs, a former Department of Homeland Security official who oversaw the federal government’s election security efforts in 2020. “You can see the complexion of local politics shifting as a result. They have decentralized post-January 6th and are really trying to effect change at the lowest-possible level.
It is especially disturbing that some of their rhetoric contains the thinly veiled threat of violence and intimidation that election officials now face and has been highlighted in the January 6 investigations:
Clements ends his talk with a request to the people in the audience: Go to the offices of your local officials. ‘They respond to fear,’ he says. ‘You need to hold these institutions with the contempt they deserve.
Clearly, this is deeply problematic and cannot be ignored by people who care about maintaining our democratic institutions. But what can be done?
Convincing the hardest core is probably a waste of time. Moving to online voting, as Andrew Appel’s post on Swiss e-voting reminds us, still creates security issues and would only encourage more suspicion from the election conspiracy faction. For the foreseeable future, we are stuck with paper ballots.
Ben Ginsberg and Bruce Cain have been asked Hoover Institution to study where Democrats and Republicans can find consensus on election integrity. Whether or not this will yield any breakthrough insights, we must continue to try to find a bipartisan pathway on the Electoral Count Act and ballot integrity before this delegitimization hits some tipping point from which we cannot recover. Perhaps the cumulation of efforts from many of us working with elections officials and studying more closely what feeds election suspicion and what dampens it will start to close the festering wound.