Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb walked out to standing applause at Donald Trump’s July 22 rally in Prescott, Arizona, wearing his usual cowboy hat-and-blue jeans getup and flashing a blindingly white smile. He waved and pumped a fist as he stepped to the podium, asking that everyone doff their hats and remain standing for a brief moment of silence in honor of a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed the previous month around Prescott, before quickly pivoting to the former president.
“I can see that you guys love the rule of law and law enforcement, and we appreciate that,” Lamb told the crowd. “Do you know who else loves the rule of law? Donald Trump,” he said without irony, urging them to support a slate of Trump-endorsed candidates for state office who echo the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. The sheriff also touted his new effort to monitor elections with True the Vote, a far-right group peddling unfounded voter fraud conspiracies that have overtaken the Arizona GOP.
“We’re gonna make sure that we have election integrity this year,” Lamb declared. “Sheriffs are going to enforce the law. This is about the rule of law. It is against the law to violate elections laws—and that’s a novel idea, we’re going to hold you accountable for that. We will not let happen what happened in 2020.”
Big Lie messengers have looked to far-right sheriffs for a veneer of credibility as both Democratic and Republican election officials, prosecutors, judges and state attorneys general across the country reject every baseless lawsuit blaming Trump’s loss on voter fraud. True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht—who, as Reveal has reported, helped turn election conspiracies into a lucrative enterprise for conservative activists and lawyers—has said she turned to sheriffs for help after federal and state law enforcement dismissed her group’s claims.
True the Vote’s partnership with Lamb and a coalition of right-wing sheriffs he leads and helped found called Protect America Now—which includes sheriffs from states as politically diverse as California, New Mexico, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Florida—is part of a nationwide attempt to police elections by emboldening sheriffs to surveil ballot drop boxes and chase down tips from anonymous hotlines that will report alleged fraud.
Last month, Engelbrecht also announced that her group would partner with the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), a group of so-called constitutional sheriffs who believe that their office is uniquely endowed with the power to enforce only those laws they deem constitutional and who have promoted the Big Lie in rallies and training sessions. Sheriffs affiliated with the CSPOA have promised to monitor future elections and hunt down lingering claims of fraud from the 2020 presidential election.
These partnerships highlight the uniquely aggressive role of sheriffs in efforts to police the vote leading up to the 2022 and 2024 elections. Politicians with badges and guns, sheriffs have extensive powers to launch criminal investigations, seize evidence and even threaten violence or jail to force compliance, making them uniquely potent as compared to judges or prosecutors or legislators.
As they perpetuate conspiracies about fraud that have inspired increased threats against election administrators and volunteers, the True the Vote sheriffs are also in a unique position to widen their reach, using the environment they helped create as justification for more policing. The prospect of increased involvement of armed officers recalls the days of voter intimidation in the Jim Crow South (and beyond), and could also help encourage extremist vigilante violence by perpetuating baseless rumors of fraud, often against Black and Latinx communities.