The 2022 general election has many takeaways. But beyond the winners and losers from a political and policy perspective, one obvious, persistent and disturbing result is that election-denying partisans still don’t know how elections work.
Across the country, activists — mainly Trump Republicans whose candidates lost — claim the results are inaccurate and illegitimate. Their criticisms and demands, including calls for new elections, are based on misconceptions about how ballots are obtained, cast and counted.
The allegations aren’t just in high-profile battleground states like Arizona, where supporters of Trump-aligned candidates who have lost bids for governor, state sects and the U.S. Senate are planning a protest in the state capitol to demand new elections on Friday, Nov. 25.
Take a look at the following examples from ElectionLine.org, which collects press releases from around the county on election administration and policy issues.
- In Forsyth County, North Carolina, the fourth most populous state and home to the Winston-Salem metro area, confusion over the software used to shut down polling stations’ voting computers on Election Day led Kenneth Raymond, the president of the county Republican Party, claimed that a “security breach” may have occurred. He called for a “full forensic” investigation; a term used by election deniers that is an open inquiry that can perpetuate doubt.
At an election board meeting, Forsyth County Elections Director Tim Tsujii acknowledged the apparent programming error, but said it would not have affected the vote count. All paper ballots in two randomly chosen districts were counted by hand and they matched the electronically compiled totals, he said, confirming the accuracy of the voting system.
- In Dallas County, Texas, electronic voter rolls called e-poll books, which are used to check in voters before receiving a ballot, are updated throughout the day. This is done to ensure that the number of voters and ballots match and to prevent anyone from voting more than once.
However, partisan poll observers claimed on social media that they saw the data on the voter rolls “jump” repeatedly, saying, “Think about it, this time the fraud is so undeniably obvious.” It happened in every state, in every province.” USA Today’s fact-checking team said: “We rate the claim that a voting machine in Texas is FALSE [was] adding voters as the polls close was electoral fraud. Dallas County e-poll books experienced a processing delay that resulted in already checked-in voter data being downloaded after the polls closed.
The contrast between snappy conspiratorial claims and duller factual reality can be striking. It often takes years to understand how suffrage, polling station procedures and the data in voter rolls and voting computers interact – to get the correct version of a ballot into a voter’s hands and then correctly detect and count the votes.
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Partisans new to this arena often do not realize the checks and balances that follow the complex steps in the process. They suspect—or have been led to believe—that anything that isn’t immediately obvious is suspicious or cause for alarm.
Last week in Delaware County, Pennsylvania — a populous suburb of Philadelphia — two GOP poll watchers and a failed Republican candidate for state representative filed a petition for an emergency order to delay the certification of winners. They called a blizzard of detailed claims. The county had mailed ballots to “unverified voters.” It had removed mail ballot requests for others. It had “allowed a partisan third party to monitor and handle mail ballots”. It took “hours” to return paper ballots and flash drives from voting computers from polling stations to headquarters. The process was anything but simple and transparent.
A day-long court hearing led to a district judge — who allowed those suing to present witnesses — to remark from the court that “he had not heard any testimony to even suspect fraud or bad actors… and that he became more and more convinced as the horn went with it [election board attorney Nick] Centrella correctly identified the petition as an election challenge [to the unofficial results]a local newspaper reported on Nov. 23.
Election officials and workers make mistakes when setting up and operating the multitude of computers and paper files used in voting. But occasional mistakes don’t mean election stealing, which is the default attitude of many disappointed Trump Republicans.
On Nov. 17, Liz Harris — one of Arizona’s most staunch Trump Republicans who will go to state by 270 votes in 2022 in her bid for state representative (prompting a recount) — said on Facebook that “we need to call new elections immediately” because of “clear signs of foul play.” She cited “machine malfunctions, chain of custody issues, and just blatant math impossibilities.”
“I will now withhold my vote on all bills in this session without this new election in protest of what is clearly a potentially fraudulent election,” she wrote.
Whether Harris takes a less draconian stance in her race after the upcoming recount is an open question. But in nearby Nevada, Mark Kampf, the Nye County clerk and a 2020 presidential election denier, is doing something no other Trump Republican is doing.
Kampf, a retired corporate auditor for Fortune 500 companies, is conducting an unofficial manual recount of general election paper ballots. Kampf and other Trump Republicans, including Nye County supervisors, said they did not trust their voting system computers.
“As of Wednesday, more than 12,000 ballots had been counted in Nye County, Kampf reported, with an accuracy of 99.89 percent compared to results from electronic machines,” the Pahrump Valley Times reported on Nov. 21. “We learned a lot,” he told a local TV channel.
Was the electronic vote counting system perfect? No. But a 99.89 percent accuracy rate and understanding where minor variations occurred is a far cry from a claim that an election was stolen, and election workers and voting system computers cannot be trusted.