Efforts to Build Trust in Elections Face Thriving 2020 Election Denier Community

As 2022’s primaries approach, an unprecedented wave of public and private efforts are underway to foster trust in election operations and election officials in response to ongoing claimsDonald Trump and his supporters, which includes many officeholders, candidates, and candidates, claimed that President Joe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected.

Public-facing activities include creating an election official appreciation dayOn April 12, a new website was launched Election Official Legal Defense NetworkTo counter new Republican-drafted laws which criminalize errors in election administration, and federal lobbyingto protect election officials and their families against threats. There are also behind-the-scenesLocal civic, business, and faith leaders are being educated so that they can respond to the election deniers.

These efforts are worth it scores of candidates for statewide and local office, including many seeking reelection, have made the unproven claim that Trump’s second term was stolen a key feature of their 2022 campaigns, and, as a supermajority of Republicans — a figure unchanged since late 2020 — still believe that Democrats and election insiders stole the presidential election.

“You can’t have 30 percent of the county not believing in elections,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a veteran Republican Party election lawyer who has spoken out against the “big lie” — Trump’s assertion of victory — and a co-chair of the Election Official Legal Defense Network.

“Where we are really lacking is how we talk to that 30 percent,” he continued, speaking on a March 28 podcastSarah Longwell, the publisher of The BulwarkA media outlet that features Republicans who discredit the big lie, is. “There is a dialog that really has to take place about the election system and how reliable it in fact is… That’s an important conversation that we’re trying to figure out how to have, but haven’t really succeeded yet.”

The comments by Ginsberg, who said he has “spent 30 years doing Election Day operations for Republican Party committees and candidates” and “never” found evidence of Democrats or an election official who rigged the results, underscore both the challenge and, so far, the limited impact of trying to convince Trump’s base that elections are trustworthy and 2020’s results were accurate.

The efforts to instill confidence, build new guardrails, is a departure form traditional election protection work where teams of lawyers assist voters with their ballots and sometimes sue them to ensure that their votes are counted. These efforts are led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, usually focus on the fall’s general elections and not the earlier primaries. The primaries are the ones that draw the most partisan candidates.

2022’s primaries feature an unprecedented number of candidates who deny that Biden won and who cite an array of doubts and conspiraciesTo make their case.

“As of April 4, 2022, in two out of three governor and secretary of state contests, there is an Election Denier running. This is true for one out of three attorney general contests as well,” reported States United Action, a group that supports inclusive and accurate elections in an updateTo a March reportThe article explained how the post 2020 trend of pro-Trump Republicans pushing to increase voting restrictions has turned into candidates who deny Biden was elected, spread conspiracies about election results, and attack election officials, voting systems, and voting system officials.

“Replacing the refs — the people who administer our elections — is a key pillar of the anti-democracy playbook. Voters across the political spectrum should be paying attention to who these Election Deniers are, where they are running, and the seriousness of their false claims about the 2020 election results,” said Thania Sanchez, senior vice president for research and policy development at States United Action.

What remains to be seen is how 2022’s candidates and their base will react — in words and actions — if they lose in the primaries, as many of them will because some of them are seeking their party’s nomination for the same office. What should or would you do if Election Day or the vote-verifying procedures that follow are deliberately disrupted or contested?

Election officials, some of whom were threatened by right-wingers in recent months, have been steeling themselves for 2022’s elections and preparing to respond to emotion-laden threats.

“Not only are our elections technically more complex, [but] we are expected to know a lot of things that… wouldn’t be typical of a public servant,” Natalie Adona, Nevada County, California, assistant clerk-recorder, told a national organizing call for April 12’s Thank Election HeroesDay organized by Public Citizen, one group supporting the effort.

“I had to learn all that I can about de-escalation — and it’s something that I would normally depend on the police to offer,” Adona said. “Our workers, who I train to serve at our vote centers, are increasingly being confronted by more and more aggressive people. I have been there. confronted by people who have threatened me.”

Challenges Are Clear, Answers Are Not

There have been many webinars. reportsOrganizations that work with former and current election officials to counter Trump-led disinformation. These efforts, which often include civil service professionals who are highly respected for their election work reveal a deeper understanding among the election deniers. It is not enough to gain a better understanding of their critics or adversaries.

At the National Association of State Election Directors’ semi-annual meeting in early March, one session open to the press featured Colorado’s Judd ChoateHe recounted the process by which his office surveyed voters last summer, and uncovered some contradictory beliefs. Many voters distrusted 2020’s national results but had confidence in local elections. Choate said his state’s response was “not so much countering misinformation but getting good information out.”

An April 6 report briefingWashington-based election officials on neutralizing partisan impulses Bipartisan Policy Center Election Reformers NetworkIt was clear which workers and election officials were more important. Less likely to be partisan, which could be an indicator of who can best attest the reliability and accuracy elections.

Kevin Johnson, Election Reformers Network executive director, noted that the U.S. was unique among democracies because (as Business Insider’s Grace Panetta pointed out) about 60 percent of the approximately 8,000 state and local election administrators across the country had “pretty substantial ties to political parties.”

These officials can run for office or be appointed. They include secretaries, many county and municipal officials, canvass board members (which assess voter intent on ambiguously-marked ballots, other documents, and partisan observers, who are chosen by their political party. “[They] see each other as existential threats to the nation and its democracy,” Johnson said.

On the other hand, most election administrators “run their offices in a professional way and want to get the count right” despite their personal views, said Matt Weil, Bipartisan Policy Center elections project director. But Weil added that partisan local officials were more of a concern than high-profile statewide officials because they “have access to witnesses, and they have access to ballots… [And there’s] no real good way of monitoring that on any kind of comprehensive scale.”

At a late-March webinarChris Piper, a former Virginia election commissioner and whom Gov. Glenn Youngkin is a Republican who was elected last autumn. replacedWith Susan Beals, suggested that poll workers could attest to the legitimacy of elections and convince “those folks in the middle that could be swayed either way [by facts or fiction].”

“What we really focused on… was how elections are run by everyday people,” Piper said. “Not only are they run by everyday people, but there are thousands and thousands, literally hundreds of thousands of people that are required to put on a national election… It’s important for us to explain [that] these are your friends, these are your neighbors, co-workers.”

The responses to election denial have largely ignored the voices of local poll employees. Some Republicans, such as the Bulwark’s Sarah Longwell and GOP election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg, believe these and other locally respected voices might be persuasive to less ideological voters. Their March 28 meeting podcast, they both said that little else has changed people’s minds.

“I really agree,” said Longwell, whose podcast included comments from focus groups she had convened where Trump supporters would not consider that he lost in 2020. “It has to be hyperlocal because [with] the breakdown of trust, it can’t come from national sources. It has to be from people like them in their communities that they know.”

“Going into 2022 and 2024, I would like to hear from a lot of the poll workers themselves,” she continued. “The people from the community talking about how seriously they take it; and how they stand side by side with other people who [they politically] disagree with… That, to me, is trying to inject some of that civic virtue back into it.”

“I completely agree with that. I think it’s got to be local,” said Ginsberg. “If you need an example of why the national approach doesn’t work: For the past 15 months, the mainstream media, every organization, has repeatedly talked about the big lie… And, as you know from your polls, the number of people who still don’t believe that the elections were accurate has not budged one iota in those 15 months. If anything, it’s gone up.”

“That just tells you that the national messaging from the big media outlets is not getting through, and people do not believe the national entities,” he continued. “We’ve got to start going local, and the communities where you’ve got to go first is pretty self-evident.”

These communities are the handful that make up swing counties in swing states, and especially those that have been targeted by election deniers. This includes Georgia’s metro-Atlanta county and outlying areas, where pro-Trump Republicans have reelected long-serving Democrats. They are urban counties in Michigan where Republicans have won. have replacedModerates with pro-Trump loyalists on canvass boards