“How a Spreader of Voter Fraud Conspiracy Theories Became a Star; For more than a decade, Catherine Engelbrecht, a Texas mom turned election-fraud crusader, has sown doubts about ballots and voting. Her patience has paid off.”

NYT profile by Cecilia Kang:

Her journey into the limelight illustrates how deeply embedded the idea of voter fraud has become, aided by a highly partisan climate and social media. Even though such fraud is rare, Mr. Trump and his allies have repeatedly amplified Ms. Engelbrecht’s hashtag-friendly claims of “ballot trafficking” and “ballot mules” on platforms such as Truth Social, Gab and Rumble.

Misleading memes about ballot boxes have soared. The term “ballot mules,” which refers to individuals paid to transport absentee ballots to ballot boxes, has surfaced 326,000 times on Twitter since January, up from 329 times between November 2020 and this January, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company.

In some places, suspicions of vote tampering have led people to set up stakeouts to prevent illegal stuffing of ballot boxes. Officials overseeing elections are ramping up security at polling places.

Voting rights groups said they were increasingly concerned by Ms. Engelbrecht….

She has “taken the power of rhetoric to a new place,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, the acting director of voting rights at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “It’s having a real impact on the way lawmakers and states are governing elections and on the concerns we have on what may happen in the upcoming elections.”

Some of Ms. Engelbrecht’s former allies have cut ties with her. Rick Wilson, a Republican operative and Trump critic, ran public relations for Ms. Engelbrecht in 2014 but quit after a few months. He said she had declined to turn over data to back her voting fraud claims.

“She never had the juice in terms of evidence,” Mr. Wilson said. “But now that doesn’t matter. She’s having her uplift moment.”

Cleta Mitchell, Ms. Engelbrecht’s former attorney and now a lawyer for Mr. Trump, and John Fund, a conservative journalist, told Republican donors in August 2020 that they could no longer support Ms. Engelbrecht. They said that her early questions on voting were important but that they were confounded by her recent activities, according to a video of the donor meeting obtained by The New York Times. They did not elaborate on why.

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