Sheriffs Who Spread 2020 Lies Are Planning More Voter Intimidation for Midterms

A controversial group of right-wing sheriffs that has spread false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election and propagated Donald Trump’s Big Lie is now vowing to monitor this year’s midterm elections through surveillance of drop boxes and a hotline for reporting purported election fraud.

The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, (CSPOA), supports the far-right fringe belief of county sheriffs having extensive power under the U.S. Constitution that overrides all other federal, state, or local authorities. It recently partnered up to a Texas nonprofit called True the Vote. This group has been spreading conspiracy theories about voter corruption. Now the two groups are promising to keep on investigating allegations about a “stolen election” in 2020 and also to police future voting. This combination is troubling for both election officials and advocates for voting rights.

This partnership provides an insight into the role the “constitutional sheriff” movement is playing in sowing doubts about the election process and monitoring how voters cast their ballots. Advocates claim that such efforts amount to voter intimidation or voter suppression in many cases.

Having county elected officials spreading conspiracy theories “makes it more difficult to break down the walls of voters that we’re talking to,” said Natali Bock, co-executive director of Rural Arizona Action. “There is a cynicism that takes root when you have these outlandish stories.” That kind of “misinformation spreads like wildfire,” she continued, “and instead of just being able to present facts, now we are have to do a lot of relationship building.”

Sheriff Mark Lamb, Pinal County, Arizona has emerged as a prominent member of the movement that lends law enforcement credibility to false election-fraud claims. He helped found Protect America Now, a coalition of almost 70 sheriffs from different parts of the country who say they are working together to protect America against “an overreaching government.” In partnership with True the Vote, the coalition has raised more than $100,000Aiming for $1 million to finance grants for sheriffs surveillance of the ballot drop boxes and an anonymous hotline to report voter fraud, Lamb’s office did not respond to Salon’s request for comment.

“Sheriff Lamb is the continuation of every other [form of] voter suppression that has happened,” Bock said, “only now it’s the more dangerous form because he carries a badge and a gun and is seated at an elected position of power.” Bock’s organization does advocacy and outreach work in Pinal County (which is south and east of Phoenix) as well as other parts of rural Arizona.

Lamb’s rhetoric is dangerous, Bock adds, because it may embolden other far-right extremists to the point of violence, which can endanger voters and election workers. There’s also the danger of perpetuating a “cycle of cynicism” among historically marginalized communities that have faced voter suppression, which may prevent them from participating in the democratic process.

“Communities of color are experiencing apathy around voting and the democratic process,” she said, before asking: “Is it apathy? Or is it the conclusion of generations of oppression?”

Lamb promoted his coalition’s partnership at a July rally in Prescott, Arizona, saying that “sheriffs are going to enforce the law… We will not let happen what happened in 2020.” A fervent Trump supporter, Lamb also endorsed a slate of election-denying candidates backed by the former president. Lamb continues to recruit sheriffs from all fifty states. has published ads defining his coalition’s mission as “fighting back against a liberal takeover.”

At least three states have had their county sheriffs launch their own investigations into election fraud. This was fueled by right-wing conspiracy theories that have been in circulation since 2020. Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf is a Michigan resident. under state investigationFor allegedly altering voting machines. Last year, Leaf seized a Dominion voting tabulator from Irving Township and allegedly “tore it apart,” later returning it with a broken security seal, the county clerk told News 8.

Leaf’s lengthy investigation into election fraud has been fruitless, with the Barry County prosecutor finding no evidence of any wrongdoing. This is just one example of many others that election deniers have launched across the country. Although these efforts have not exposed any instances of voter fraud they have been criticized by voting rights advocates as negatively impacting voter turnout.

Law enforcement’s role in policing the election can dissuade voters from casting their ballots, said Sharon Dolente, a senior adviser at Promote the Vote Michigan. That “chilling effect” won’t just impact individual voters, but also entire communities, especially those that have historically been disenfranchised.

“There were many instances after the 2020 election where individuals who were questioning the result were only questioning the results specifically in Black and brown communities in the state of Michigan,” Dolente said. “I don’t think that’s an accident, right? I think that is a response to the political power and will those communities expressed, and it’s an effort to dampen that.”

True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht played a key role in recruiting conservative activists, lawyers, and sheriffs to the purported crusade to stop voter fraud. When federal and state law enforcement dismissed her group’s claims, she turned to county sheriffs for help.

Engelbrecht was featured in “2000 Mules,” a documentary by right-wing pundit Dinesh D’Souza that claimed to provide new evidence that the 2020 election had been stolen. Engelbrecht made unfounded claims about widespread abuse of ballot drop box, which she has repeated numerous times on right-wing media.

CSPOA founder Richard Mack (an ex-Arizona county sheriff) joined Engelbrecht in July to announce their partnership at an event in Las Vegas. Mack said that investigating election fraud was his group’s top priority, referring to it as a “holy cause.” He has also served on the board of Oath Keepers, the militia group some of whose members now face seditious conspiracy charges for their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

An extensive 2021 report by the Anti-Defamation League describes the CSPOA as an “anti-government extremist group” and outlines Mack’s extensive ties to “militia and sovereign citizen movements” and his associations with white supremacists. (He stated that he doesn’t agree with their views. On many occasions, he has led training sessions that the ADL claims are intended to indoctrinate law enforcement officers to extremist movements. KrisAnne Hall, a far right activist and activist, has led some of these sessions. believesThe 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments are not constitutional.

Although it’s too early to gauge the effects of this new far-right movement, Florida and Georgia have passed restrictive laws on absentee voting and the use of ballot drop boxes, two principal targets of Trump’s false claims about widespread voting fraud.

Joe Biden won Georgia with about 12,000 votes. Democrats then won two narrowly won U.S. Senate seats. Georgia is a state where Black voters outnumber white voters. Even though Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has repeatedly said there was no widespread fraud in the state’s elections, lawmakers enacted sweeping changes to its voting law that advocates say are likely to harm minority voters.

“By creating these new bureaucracies and this new red tape,” said Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, lawmakers are “creating a cycle of voter intimidation.” This is “a relic of the past”, she went on, and too close to “what we saw in Jim Crow, with folks coming to people’s doors with guns and pitchforks, trying to ask, ‘Are you the registered voter here?’”

Her group has developed an election protection program meant to help dispel any doubts voters have about the election process and to ensure they don’t encounter barriers while casting their ballots. But Dennis says Georgia’s new law, SB 441The law, which allows state police to investigate allegations of voter fraud, worries her. Such unfounded allegations, she says, can create a “domino effect,” damaging voters “who are not in areas that are inundated with news and disempowering their voices at the ballot box,” Dennis said. “I think in Georgia particularly, [there] is a coordinated effort to purposely do that.”

Dolente, a Michigan resident who has been involved in voting rights work for over 20 year, strikes a similar note. She says that in addition to efforts to restrict voting access for those from historically disenfranchised areas, there is also a coordinated effort by these communities to spread misinformation. But despite dozens of lawsuits launched in 2020 and 2021 to look for election fraud in her state, she said, authorities couldn’t find any.

“The system is safe and secure and the voters of Michigan know that,” Dolente said. “They can concoct as many investigations as they like and it’s never going to come up with a different result.”