Sabotaging the election process

MGN

Second in a series

This is the second of MSR’s “Elections Under Attack” series that looks at four threats to our elections growing out of the Big Lie that the former president won the 2020 election. Articles in the series look at each of these threats to democratic elections in the United States, with an emphasis on Minnesota. 

Election sabotage is not just something that could happen in November 2022 or in 2024: It is an ongoing crime that began with the 2020 election. This sabotage prominently included attempts to coerce state officials to “find” more votes, designation of illegal slates of electors, Congressional Republican votes against certification of election results, and the January 6 armed attack on the Capitol.  

Electoral sabotage continues with the Big Lie that the former president won the election and that there was widespread election fraud. The Big Liar and other proponents of the Big Lie ignore all evidence and now prepare to attack and undermine the coming elections. They cannot overturn the 2020 election, but they can foment distrust and disgust with the electoral process that is vital to democracy. 

Yes, in Minnesota, too

While other states have far worse problems with electoral sabotage, Minnesota is not immune. Lilly Sasse, director of the We Choose Us campaign, said, “We have seen an increase in anti-democracy organizing that is happening across the state.” 

Election deniers pressure county boards to change the rules for vote counting and for absentee ballot returns, and to spend county time and money compiling masses of documents in response to information requests. 

The absurdity of those claims is evident in Crow Wing County, where election deniers insist that the 2020 election was fraudulent—despite Trump winning Crow Wing County by a margin of 30 percent. Crow Wing County Commissioner Steve Barrows told the Minnesota Reformer: “There are no facts backing up the fact that the Crow Wing County election in 2020 was rife with fraud. None. Zero.”

Minnesota law requires hand-counting of ballots in a specific number of precincts after each general election, in order to verify the accuracy of the machine count. Even though no discrepancies were found in Crow Wing County, the election deniers demanded more hand counting. 

The county board decided to appease them by agreeing to double the number of precincts that are hand-counted. That, of course, did not satisfy the election deniers. They demand all ballots be hand-counted. Sasse notes this “would take an incredible amount of time for election judges, leaves far more room for human error, and increases the potential for challenging ballots on baseless claims.”

The election deniers, whose leaders include My Pillow Mike Lindell, Rick Weible and his Minnesota Swamp Watch, and Seth Keshel, have hosted rallies and organized demands of county commissioners across Minnesota. Counties that have been targeted include Anoka, Benton, Carver, Crow Wing, Dakota, Kandiyohi, Rice, Sherburne, Stearns, Winona, and Wright. In all of these counties except Winona, Trump won the 2020 election, usually by large margins. That makes right-wing claims of election fraud in those counties even harder to believe. 

Common demands, both in Minnesota and in other states, include ending all use of voting machines and going to all paper ballots; onerous information requests that take up hours and days of staff time; restrictions on absentee voting; detailed personal information on election workers; information on voting machines; and extensive data on ballot records in past elections. 

Attacking absentee voting and voting by mail

Absentee voting and voting by mail are also under attack. One example from Wisconsin shows the breadth and the absurdity of some of the new restrictions on absentee voting. 

Martha Chambers was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident. She needs assistance to vote and relies on relatives to mail in her ballot. Now, however, Wisconsin has made that illegal, saying that only the voter can return their ballot. 

Martha is physically unable to put a ballot envelope in a mailbox—so this provision means she is no longer allowed to vote. Many other states have also restricted absentee ballots and criminalized voter assistance. 

In Minnesota, the election deniers have succeeded in getting absentee ballot drop boxes removed in at least three counties. 

Making voting harder

Closing polling sites and punishing people standing in line to vote are two of the tactics used in other states to make voting harder.

From 2013 to 2018, Texas alone closed 750 polling places. That makes voting much harder for people who have to travel farther to cast their votes. Other southern states closed nearly a thousand more polling places. This year, Lincoln County, Georgia tried to close six of its seven polling places, which would mean some voters would have to travel more than 20 miles to vote. 

Fewer polling places also may mean longer lines to vote. Georgia’s attack on voting includes a 2021 law that makes it a crime to give food or water to people standing in line to vote. That’s just one of many recently-passed state laws that make it harder to help voters. 

An analysis by States Newsroom found that states created more than 60 new felonies and more than 50 new misdemeanors related to elections since 2020. 

Refusing to abide by the vote

Across the country, a dozen prominent Republican candidates either say they will not accept election results if they lose, or refuse to answer the question. In Alaska, after Sarah Palin lost the election to fill a vacant seat, she said the election was rigged. While many other Republicans say they will abide by the results of the upcoming 2022 election, these election deniers continue to undermine public trust in the entire electoral process. Their position might best be summarized as “Heads, I win. Tails, the election was stolen.” 

Taken one by one, the attacks on electoral processes are serious and dangerous. Perhaps even more seriously, these attacks by election deniers undermine public confidence in democratic elections by trumpeting false claims of election fraud. 

Next two weeks: Part III: Threats to election officials, and Part IV: Attacking voting rights.

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