The GOP Effort To Install “Big Lie” Election Officials Raises Alarms
Carson Markley completed his undergraduate at Youngstown State University and is pursuing a graduate degree at Richmond University. He participated in a summer internship with the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right where he worked on projects analyzing the relationship between the Alt-right and democracy.
As the Alt-right rises in global popularity, so too do the conspiracy theories affiliated with them. One of the main conspiracy theories is that widespread election fraud is what prevents the Alt-right from gaining power. These accusations have happened in elections all over the world from Germany to Canada to the United States and elsewhere. A significant issue for future elections is whether the people who believe in these theories become the election administrators.
As the number of people who believe these conspiracy theories increases, the probability they become election officials and poll workers also grows. Believing in election conspiracy theories as an election official can result in being over skeptical of voters, distrusting coworkers, misunderstanding election laws, and exploiting possible loopholes. Whether the damage is intentional, or accidental is not important when the effect is the same: inefficient election administration. This work uses a case study of the United States to show these issues in a real-world context.
A System Ready To Be Exploited
The United States has had multiple baseless Alt-right conspiracy theories about election fraud. The legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate and, therefore, his ability to be president was questioned during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. During the 2016 presidential election, it was claimed that millions of illegal immigrants were voting for Hillary Clinton. Most recently, during the 2020 election, the QAnon theory evolved to claim that Donald Trump actually won, which became Trump’s stance and resulted in the January 6 insurrection. In May 2021, a Guardian poll showed that about 25% of voting-age Americans thought that the election was stolen from Donald Trump.
In recent elections, certain parts of the United States have had issues recruiting poll workers. The Election Assistance Commission has provided statistics on poll worker recruitment. About 65% of districts in 2016 had issues recruiting workers and the number increased to 70% during 2018. Additionally, in the United States, 60% of poll workers are above the age of 61, which is most at risk to COVID-19. Therefore 2020 was even harder than previous years as poll workers decided to stay home due to worries over their personal health.
Although not as poll workers, the United States has had issues with members of the Alt-right interfering with polling locations. In the 2016 election, for example, the “American National Socialist Movement,” a known white supremacist organization, held observation events in majority-black election districts. Some of the members planned to wear the Nazi insignia publicly. In an interview, Jeff Schoep, the event’s organizer, noted that although members were told to be peaceful, some members might push the boundaries. Additionally, the “Proud Boys,” another Alt-right group made of ex-military and police, organized members to be sent undercover to observe elections.
While the Proud Boys are monitoring elections in the United States it’s important to note that they could not do so in other countries including Canada, where they have been labeled a terrorist organization. The issue with these operations is twofold. First, unless the proper paperwork is filled out, some Alt-right activities like covert observation are illegal and could be seen as election tampering. Second, some observation activities serve as voter intimidation, which could affect election outcomes.
How The Republican Party Is Seeking To Corrupt Elections
In short, the United States has three significant issues which combine together. First, a large portion of the population believes elections are fraudulent. Second, election agencies are desperate for new poll workers. Third, organized Alt-right groups that have demonstrated their ability to interfere with elections. This creates a possible scenario where Alt-right groups organize members to fill empty poll worker positions and election agencies recruit them out of desperation. The Alt-right could be incentivized to do this for two reasons.
First, as the cliche goes, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. If the Alt-right wants “fair elections” (meaning rigged elections in their favor) they may attempt to do so from the inside. The second is that most poll worker organizations are compensated. Some members of the Alt-right prefer to do things from the outside of government like those who protested at the Capital riot. However, money talks, and may serve as an incentive even for the most government-skeptical.
This strategy is already being tried to some success. After the 2020 election, the Republican party passed new election regulations. Some of these regulations are targeted at changing how election administrators and poll workers do their job and how they are recruited. Additionally, members of the Republican Party are actively recruiting election officials and poll workers who falsely believe the election was stolen. Tina Peters, a poll worker from Colorado has spoken extensively about the “Big Lie’ inspiring many to sign up for open positions. 10 candidates that believe the Big Lie have filed for Secretary States races including in multiple swing states. So far these candidates have been performing well. Jody Hice in Georgia for example has received Former President Trump’s endorsements and has out-fundraised his opponent two to one.
Just this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed a new Secretary of State with ties to former President Trump’s 2020 election challenges:
BREAKING: Gov. Greg Abbott appointed John Scott as Texas’ new top election official.
Scott briefly represented former President Donald Trump in a lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania. https://t.co/f0GExpVL2m
— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) October 21, 2021
Gaining control over election administrators and poll workers (especially Secretaries of State) can help justify fake claims of election fraud and can work as a way of voter suppression. During the 2020 election, a handful of election officials refused to play along with former President Trump’s election lies. In the future, that could change. Along with other voter suppression legislation, the Republican Party has figured out that controlling election officials is a strategy for electoral success.
Although the United States is a perfect example of the threat, they are not the only ones being challenged. Countries that recruit poll workers in a similar fashion to the United States might also face issues if they are experiencing similar symptoms. A rise in the Alt-right and a decrease in poll workers should be signs of concern. Election agencies all around the world should prepare for this threat.
The solution to the problem of poll workers is simple: election agencies need to be more selective with who is chosen as a poll worker. However, many are unable to do this because they lack resources, hence recruitment is unsuccessful. Instead, this issue falls upon higher-up government offices that need to provide election agencies with more resources. Election agencies that have ample resources would be more selective with recruitment and have better worker training. Additionally, they could use some resources to sponsor civil education programs that could combat the false information narratives about election integrity.
When it comes to higher-up election officials, it’s more difficult. There is also the issue of legislation being pushed in red states that are attempting to shift responsibilities and replace career election officials with Big Lie enthusiasts. This is a more complex issue that requires federal legislation to protect the voting rights of Americans.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world. Rantt has been partnered with CARR for 3 years. We’ve published over 150 articles from CARR’s network of PhDs, historians, professors, and experts analyzing extremism and combating disinformation.