The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: 2020 presidential election

Dominion Voting Systems Files $1.3B Lawsuit Against MyPillow Guy

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Like many things about the Trump era and its lingering remnants, the news that a voting machine maker is suing a pillow executive for $1.3 billion sounds faintly ridiculous—but is part of a very serious effort to undermine democracy. The big lie, pushed by Donald Trump for months, is that the election was stolen, that President Biden won only through theft. The specific lie involved in this lawsuit is that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems deleted votes for Trump or double-counted votes for Biden or were manipulated by foreign governments.

But the specific lie matters—in the world at large, not just to Dominion—because of the power of the big lie. Trump spent months pushing the claim that the election was stolen, delegitimizing Biden's presidency, and polls show that large majorities of Republicans—65 percent in one poll, 76 percent in another—believe there was widespread fraud or that Biden's win was not legitimate. And in this, as in so many things, Trump continues to lead the institutional Republican Party. On Sunday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise went on ABC's This Week and repeatedly insisted that Biden's win was related to there being "a few states that did not follow their state laws."

That right there is all the evidence you need that Trump has made the effort to undermine U.S. democracy mainstream in the Republican Party.

Dominion's lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, which also names MyPillow, relates to a less establishment-friendly form of the big lie, but it's all part of the same effort, and Lindell wasn't pushing his Dominion claims alone. This lawsuit follows similar ones by Dominion against Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and voting company Smartmatic similarly sued Giuliani, Powell, Fox News, and some Fox hosts for $2.7 billion.

In the lawsuit, Dominion alleges that "Acting in concert with allies and media outlets that were determined to curry favor with one of their biggest sponsors and to promote a false preconceived narrative about the 2020 election, Lindell launched a defamatory marketing campaign about Dominion that reached millions of people and caused enormous harm to Dominion."

As for those media outlets, Lindell paid to air his lies about the election and Dominion in a two-hour documentary that ran on One America News. OAN offered an extensive disclaimer about how the documentary was just Lindell's opinion, "not the product of OAN's reporting." But it also promoted the show as "a never-before-seen report breaking down election fraud evidence & showing how the unprecedented level of voter fraud was committed in the 2020 Presidential Election." The video was subsequently pulled from YouTube for violating the platform's presidential election integrity policy.

OAN, one of Trump's current favorite media outlets since he turned against Fox News, has been the target of a defamation suit by a Dominion executive and, following cease and desist letters from Dominion itself, quietly removed a bunch of election-related conspiracy theory coverage from its website in January.

So this is very much not just a voting machine maker suing a pillow maker. Lindell, as absurd as it may seem, is part of a much bigger effort to overturn or at least throw doubt on the results of a presidential election, an effort that started with someone who, as absurd as it may seem, was then the sitting president of the United States. It was pushed in its extreme forms by the latter's lawyers, including a once-respected former mayor of New York City, and widely aired on more than one right-wing television news network. The big lie led directly to a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol aimed at stopping Congress from certifying the election results. The lie continues, in a slightly watered-down form, to be spread by one of the top Republicans in the House of Representatives on a major network's flagship Sunday news talk show. The veneer of absurdity does not make this any less serious.

Study: How Online Propagandists Targeted The 2020 Election

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Partisan disinformation to undermine 2020's presidential election shadowed every step of the voting process last year but took an unprecedented turn when the earliest false claims morphed into intricate conspiracies as Election Day passed and President Trump worked to subvert the results, according to two of the nation's top experts tracking the election propaganda.

At the general election's outset, as states wrapped up their primaries and urged voters to use mailed-out ballots in response to the pandemic, false claims began surfacing online—in tweets, social media posts, text messages, reports on websites, videos and memes—targeting the stage in the electoral process that was before voters. These attacks on the nuts and bolts of voting, from registration to the steps to obtain and cast a ballot, began as "claims of hacking and voter fraud… [that] honed [in] on specific events," said Matt Masterson, who helped lead the Department of Homeland Security's election security team.

"This is a lot of what we talked about with you at CISA [the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] in the lead-up [to Election Day], anticipating that were there were problems experienced, and then in the contested elections, those would be used to blow out of proportion or lie about what was actually taking place," Masterson said, speaking to the nation's state election directors in early February at a winter 2021 conference.

But as November 3's Election Day approached and the vote-counting continued afterward in presidential battleground states, Masterson and a handful of teams working inside and outside of government to trace and track disinformation, and to urge online platforms and sources to curb their false content, saw an unexpected development. The narrowly focused threads that attacked earlier steps in the process of running elections swapped out purported villains and protagonists and became a full-blown conspiratorial tapestry attacking the results.

"They all got combined into one big narrative… one large lie to try to undermine confidence in the election," said Masterson, whose presentation at the National Association of State Election Directors' (NASED) meeting traced this evolution.

"Misinformation is the frontier in election security and election integrity," said Aaron Wilson, senior director for election security at the Center for Internet Security, which tracked 209 cases of misleading or deliberately false attacks on voting, at the same NASED forum.

Early Predictable Attacks

Masterson's and Wilson's presentations were some of the most detailed analyses yet tracing the evolution of propagandistic attacks on 2020's voting process and election administration. The Stanford Internet Observatory, where Masterson is a fellow, will release a full report—including naming the biggest purveyors of 2020 election disinformation, both the platforms and their highest-volume users—later this winter.

Election officials knew they would be targets for partisan misinformation (mistaken claims) and disinformation (intentionally distorted claims) in 2020. Their first lines of defense, following the cyber intrusions by Russia in 2016, were hardening their infrastructure—the computers that run elections—and creating clearinghouses to rapidly communicate about threats and responses among the nation's more than 8,000 election jurisdictions. Masterson and Wilson led efforts within this sphere, where, by all accounts, 2020 saw no major cybersecurity breaches.

But while election officials were pleased with the steps they were taking inside their state and local offices, the outside attacks on the nuts and bolts of voting kept building during the general election. The early attacks were narrowly focused but shrewd, noted Wilson, who said election disinformation's purveyors exploited the public's lack of knowledge of how elections are run. As Masterson noted, the initial wave cited procedural steps to claim voter fraud and hacking.

For example, as voting rights groups sent absentee ballot applications to voters in swing states, posts appeared on social media falsely stating that voters—and dead people—were receiving multiple ballots, Wilson said. As states put up online voter registration portals to assist voters during the pandemic, online posts falsely asserted that voter information could be sabotaged—altered by political opponents to block would-be voters. When early in-person voting began, false claims erupted about when and where to vote, using ballot drop boxes, the results (before there were any), and votes being thrown out.

"A theme that permeated the misinformation that was reported to us was that it really resulted from or took advantage of people's lack of knowledge of how elections are run," Wilson said.

In the week before Election Day and in its immediate aftermath, the volume of misinformation and disinformation increased. Half of CIS's cases emerged in this period. As the process shifted to casting ballots and counting votes, more conspiratorial narratives emerged where the vote-counting process became the target—and the villains were swapped to fit the new storyline.

Masterson offered two examples of this transition. The first showed how ex-President Trump's fervent supporters rapidly embraced the false claim that Trump votes were being disqualified because of the pens they used to mark their ballots. The second example showed how older false claims were updated and expanded in ways not seen in prior election propaganda.

More Than Echo Chambers

The first example was "Sharpiegate," which emerged on November 4, a day after Election Day.

"Sharpiegate was, of course, the claim that using Sharpies [pens] on ballots either invalidated the ballots or the votes weren't counted," said Masterson. "It originated in Arizona. And what you saw was these messages really begin to take off. Of the 100 messages that were shared [on Twitter], they got 200,000 or more retweets, or likes, or furtherances."

Within hours, fact-check organizations like PolitiFact posted responses on Twitter, he said. But those posts barely drew more than 10,000 viewers on November 4 and the next day, whereas the "#Sharpiegate" retweets escalated to 20 times that volume. Masterson said Sharpiegate showed "how quickly a narrative can take off, and despite really good efforts to push back, how fast people will latch onto a false or misleading narrative."

The episode didn't stop there—and showed how the architecture of online communications amplified a patently false claim to an audience primed to receive it.

"It started in Arizona, but it didn't take much time to then have those claims alleged in other states, other jurisdictions, Michigan specifically, even if the same [voting] systems, the same pens, Sharpies, weren't used at all," Masterson said.

Election officials did not sit idly by. The secretaries of state in Arizona and Michigan, and county election departments in those states, all responded with their own tweets on November 4, he said. Their rebuttals took the best form at dispelling misinformation: first stating facts, then addressing the disinformation's claims, and then laying out other information, he said.

Notably, two Arizona NBC TV affiliates reported on the fabricated controversy and posted on its Twitter page, "Sharpies do not invalidate ballots," Masterson recounted, showing slides of the posts. "Those are two local television stations pushing back, offering facts, [yet] along the side there, in the comments, people are basically saying, 'You're lying,' 'You're incorrect,' 'You don't know what we are talking about…' 'You're covering it up.'"

Masterson then turned to his second case study, which showed "the building of the conspiracy or narrative around a fraudulent election."

Hammer And Scorecard Becomes Dominion

Masterson started with a November 2018 post on a social media page for QAnon, which is an increasingly popular and layered far-right conspiracy that, among other things, baselessly accuses leading Democrats of operating pedophile rings and drinking the blood of children. The 2018 post includes "claims or theories—false, incorrect—that DHS [the Department of Homeland Security—where Masterson was a senior adviser for election security] was putting watermarks and isotopes on ballots in order to track those ballots to track voter fraud."

"It was not new to 2020. But it built. It grew. The narrative got more and more complex as it went on," he said. "And 'Ballotgate' became a phrase that started with that tighter conversation around how DHS was going to track voter fraud and crack down on it, and began to be used to describe any claims of any manipulation of any ballots… which then grew into 'Hammer and Scorecard."

"For those of you not familiar, Hammer and Scorecard was a claim that there were two pieces of software that U.S. intelligence had developed to use internationally to rig [voting] systems, and the two pieces of software allowed for the manipulation of the systems in it," he continued. There were several versions of this claim. One said that foreign governments were using the software against Trump. Another claimed that federal officials were using this software against Trump. Another blamed unspecified domestic "bad actors."

The "obviously, demonstrably false" Hammer and Scorecard story drew hundreds of thousands of retweets and shares in the week after Election Day, Masterson noted. By the next weekend, the related traffic on Parler—an unregulated platform favored by Trump supporters until it was taken offline in January—escalated into hundreds of thousands of messages, as traced hashtags. Those conversations then began to blend with claims that Dominion Voting Systems, whose balloting and counting machines were used in a few swing states, were secretly stealing Trump votes.

"Hammer and Scorecard morphs into, instead of just this CIA-, intelligence community-focused theory, to then begin to talk about Dominion and the various conspiracies about Dominion," he said. Theories about unadvertised counting features on voting systems being used by insiders to steal votes have circulated among the political left for two decades, Masterson noted.

"But now they got all combined into one big narrative that used Hammer and Scorecard, and Dominion, and other systems into one large lie to try to undermine confidence in the election," he said, "to the point… [where] there were conversations [by Republican legislators in Arizona] about the seizure of voting systems. That should make any state election official's skin crawl and shudder. Because none of it is true, and yet there's this push to use the lie to undermine the results completely."

More Transparency, More Propaganda

Masterson and Wilson discussed other 2020 trends that had unexpected consequences that fed the stolen election narrative. By many measures—live video streams, public and press viewing areas, partisan election observers—the 2020 presidential election was the most transparent ever. But some of those public images were put forth as false evidence of election theft, they said. Images of ballot drop boxes and storage bins were top examples, where pro-Trump pundits and bloggers claimed that the images showed vote theft in progress.

"The same goes for data," Masterson said. "We have more data available around elections than we've ever had before. I think that's only going to increase. That is, again, a positive, a good thing. But we saw over and over again the misapplication of election data, whether it was election night reporting… [or] vote totals—you know, the claims that there were dumps of votes, even though election officials had messages over and over and over again [about] how the vote count was going to proceed."

More insidious were statistical reports that purported to show vote count irregularities from academics and others who had little experience running elections or that made big assumptions—such as that registered Republicans would only vote for Trump. "I know [MIT election scholar] Charles Stewart and the folks at Stanford [Internet Observatory and its partners] just picked apart all these statistical inaccuracies and claims. But [those making the claims were] using the data to create really good-looking but completely misleading and incorrect charts… to undermine confidence."

Masterson said that foreign adversaries, such as Russia and Iran, both overtly and covertly drew on the domestic disinformation campaigns to fan an already chaotic election—for example, there were reports of Iranian intelligence officials posing as the far-right Proud Boys and sending threatening emails to Democrats.

He praised some statewide election officials, such as Wisconsin's Meagan Wolfe and Georgia's Gabriel Sterling, for being constant presences that debunked disinformation. He said that a constant media presence was needed in 2020 and would be needed in future elections.

"The more avenues that it's coming at people, the more likely they are to both see it and digest it, because they are seeing it [disinformation] from multiple sources," he said. "The response to these claims needs to be a continued broad push of transparency and facts, not recoiling and saying, 'It doesn't matter. It's already too late…'

The Platforms Feint Response

Masterson and Wilson ended their NASED presentations on upbeat notes. But their analyses underscored that online disinformation attacking the voting process was often more effective in its ability to propel cynical partisan beliefs than factual rebuttals.

Immediately after their talk, another little-known aspect to combatting 2020's misinformation emerged. The next panel featured representatives from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They defended how their platforms dealt with the falsehoods on their perches, such as posting labels on posts that were disputed or false, posting voter alerts, and occasionally taking down posts.

When the time for questions came, the very officials who avoided cybersecurity breaches in 2020, who pivoted to voting by mail and early voting in the pandemic, and who presided over America's highest-turnout presidential election sat in grim silence.

"I'll jump in," said Judd Choate, Colorado's elections director. "There was a real concentrated effort to dismiss or undercut all the basic tenets of the way we operate elections."

"We had Sharpiegate. We had attacks on our voting systems and on our election policies, claims of fraudulent votes, dead voters, and so forth, all of which we have the facts. We have the ability and wherewithal to… attack on each one of those claims," he said.

But after Election Day, when counting votes was under attack and new narratives emerged that attacked the accuracy of the results and election's legitimacy, Choate said that the platforms' ban on political ads prevented officials from responding to falsities filling their platforms.

"Colorado, in particular, made several attempts to purchase time on Google, and [we] were rebuffed every time. We were categorized as a political ad. We're clearly not a political ad. We were the facts. We were the trusted voice," he said, adding that Colorado met similar obstacles at Facebook.

"Going forward… we need the ability to be proactive," he said. "And we really didn't have it in this post-election environment."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.


Major Radio Network Shuts Down Conspiracy Propaganda By Talk Jocks

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In AM talk radio, a long list of far-right pundits have been promoting the debunked conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump was the victim of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. But following the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 by a mob of violent extremists, domestic terrorists and white nationalists, Atlanta-based Cumulus Media has ordered its employees to quit promoting voter fraud conspiracy theories.

The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reports that in an internal memo — which was first reported by Inside Music Media — Brian Philips, executive vice president of content for Cumulus, wrote, "We need to help induce national calm NOW." Phillips went on to say that Cumulus and Westwood One, which syndicates Cumulus programming, "will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved, and there are no alternate acceptable 'paths.'"

Phillips warned Cumulus employees, "If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately."

Farhi explains, "The new policy is a stunning corporate clampdown on the kind of provocative and even inflammatory talk that has long driven the business model for Cumulus and other talk show broadcasters. And it came as Apple, Google and Amazon cut off essential business services to Parler, the pro-Trump social media network where users have promoted falsehoods about election fraud and praised the mob that assaulted the Capitol. Apple and Google removed the Parler app from the offerings for its smartphones, while Amazon suspended it from its Web-hosting services."

Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino are among the many far-right radio hosts who are employed by Cumulus and, as Farhi notes, "have amplified Trump's lies that the vote was 'rigged' or in some way fraudulent." Levin, in fact, encouraged Republicans in Congress not to honor the Electoral College results, which showed that President-elect Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes. In the popular vote, Biden defeated Trump by more than 7 million.

The mob that stormed the Capitol Building on January 6 was hoping to prevent Congress from ratifying Biden's Electoral College victory but only succeeded in delaying it. Hours after the attack, Congress resumed its joint session and ratified Biden's win.

One radio host who won't be directly affected by Cumulus' directive is Rush Limbaugh, whose program is broadcast on many Cumulus-owned stations but is syndicated by Premiere Networks. Cumulus owns and operates Westwood One.

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, told the Post that Cumulus and other media companies "recognize they're in the hot seat right now because the national eye is on them" and that talk radio hosts "never expected" their comments on the 2020 election to "get out of hand" in the way they did on January 6.

"I would hope they put their personal feelings aside and come clean with their listeners," Harrison told the Post. "I encourage them to pursue the truth and to tell their audience something that Trump may not like."

Details Of Trump's Georgia Extortion Scheme Provoke Calls For Criminal Probe

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

President Trump told Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he "needs" the Georgia Republican to immediately find enough votes for Trump to be declared the state's 2020 election victor. Raffensperger repeatedly refused to do so, telling Trump in an hourlong call on Saturday that he had lost the election and that his claims of illegal voting were ill-informed and based on bad data.

"I have to find 12,000 votes," Trump said, referring to President-elect Joe Biden's 11,779-vote margin that Georgia certified after counting the ballots three times. "What are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know, we have that in spades already."

"Mr. President, you have people that submit information and we have our people that submit information," Raffensperger replied. "And then it comes before the court and the court then has to make a determination. We have to stand by our numbers. We believe our numbers are right."

"Why do you say that?" Trump countered. "I mean, sure, we can play this game with the courts, but why do you say that? … I know this phone call is going nowhere other than, other than ultimately, you know. Look, ultimately, I win, okay? Because you guys are so wrong."

Their conversation was first reported by The Washington Post, which published the audio and a transcript, and may expose Trump to state and federal statutes that bar "criminal solicitation of election fraud," as the Georgia legal code puts it. The immediate impact of Trump's bid to recast 2020's election results will be in political circles. The call came days before runoffs in Georgia that will decide the U.S. Senate majority, and days before Congress will ratify 2020's Electoral College vote.

Trump's interference in Georgia, the state in 2020 with the slimmest margin between him and Biden, immediately revives the charges of election interference that led to his impeachment. Trump was impeached after tying foreign military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation in the business activities of Biden's son.

"We now have irrefutable proof of a president pressuring and threatening an official of his own party to get him to rescind a state's lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place," said Bob Bauer, a longtime election lawyer and senior advisor to president-elect Joe Biden, after the call became public.

"Absolutely right," tweeted Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School constitutional scholar. "No choice. Failure to open a criminal investigation of this 'perfect' call would be an inexcusable dereliction of duty."

Trump will be holding a rally in northwest Georgia on Monday in a region where Republican voter turn out for the Senate runoffs has lagged behind the Democrat turnout in blue epicenters. On the call with Raffensperger, Trump threatened to release "a new tape" showing ballot box stuffing from a suburban Atlanta county that he called "devastating." How much Trump's attacks on Georgia Republicans will undermine GOP turnout on the runoffs is an open question. Trump's attacks on Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, have not helped the party's two Senate candidates, other Georgia GOP leaders have said.

Trump's extortion-laden phone call also adds an uncertain element to the growing swath of right-wing House and Senate members who planned to challenge the Electoral College slates in battleground states when Congress convenes to ratify the 2020 results. The call with Raffensperger revealed that Trump's post-election team has prepared new analyses to contest the accuracy of the votes in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The president boasted that these reports were done by accountants, which was a telling admission. It was not likely to be accurate as analyses done by former election officials and election administration experts.

Trump's Bullying

Trump dominated most of the call with Raffensperger. He started by saying that he "won" in Georgia and that "anywhere from 250-300,000 ballots were mysteriously dropped into the rolls." Trump said the center of the alleged illegal activity was in Fulton County, the largest jurisdiction in metro Atlanta. "We're going to have an accurate number over the next two days with certified accountants," Trump said.

Trump said "about 4,502 voters who voted… weren't on the voter registration list." He said, "You had 18,325 vacant address voters. The address was vacant and they're not allowed to be counted." He said that 904 voters had a post office box number, not an address. "You had out-of-state voters," he continued. "They voted in Georgia but they were from out of state." He said that "dead people voted, and I think the number is close to 5,000 people."

Trump said that his team found the dead voters "by going through the obituary columns in newspapers." He said that his team also reviewed U.S. Post Office data—presumably the national change of address database; which lists heads of households and not every resident. These kinds of data sources would not identify every legal voter in the state because they are not definitive.

Raffensperger listened and simply replied that these claims had been brought up in lawsuits and that none of them were found by judges to have a factual basis.

"Well, I listened to what the president has just said," the Georgia Republican said. "President Trump, we've had several lawsuits and we've had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. Um, we don't agree that you have won. And we don't—I don't agree about the 200,000 number that you mentioned."

After saying that his office has spent hours briefing Georgia legislators, Republican members of Congress, and done three vote counts—including an unprecedented hand count—Raffensperger and his staff rebutted most of Trump's scenarios.

"Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong," he said.

Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Trump campaign lawyers said that Raffensperger's office was not sharing all of the voter data that it had—and tried to pressure the secretary into providing it. Raffensperger's attorneys said the state was not obligated to share confidential information in its voter files. That data, such as Social Security numbers and other unique identifiers, is used to verify voter's identities and to ensure that no fraudulent ballots are cast.

Trump's attorneys did not like that response. At one point, Trump implied that Raffensperger could face federal charges for not assisting with Trump's review, which Trump kept saying would reveal massive illegal voting.

"You know what they did and you're not reporting it," Trump told Raffensperger. "You know, that's a criminal — that's a criminal offense. And you know, you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan [Germany], your lawyer. That's a big risk."

Trump also said that Atlanta counties were "shredding" ballots. Raffensperger's staff replied that their office had investigated and that those were ballots from prior elections. Federal law requires all election records be kept for 22 months.

"Mr. President, the problem you have [is] with social media – people can say anything," Raffensperger said, discussing the ballot-shredding charge.

"Oh, this isn't social media," Trump replied. "This is Trump media. It's not social media… Social media is Big Tech. Big Tech is on your side. I don't even know why you have a side, because you should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican."

"We believe that we do have an accurate election," Raffensperger responded.

"No, no you don't. No, no you don't. You don't have. Not even close," Trump said. "You're off by hundreds of thousands of votes… I'm notifying you that you're letting it happen. So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is more than we have because we won the state."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tape Reveals Trump Pressured Georgia Official To 'Recalculate' Vote In His Favor

On Saturday Donald Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find votes" and help him overturn the state's presidential election results in a stunning hour-long phone call that was taped. Unfortunately for Trump,The Washington Post. obtained and published the tape on Sunday.

The shocking development occured as Trump continues to seek avenues to block certification of the election by Congress so that he can somehow retain power.

The Post reports that Trump "alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims."



With White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell, other Trump associates, and Georgia state attorney Ryan Germany on the line, Trump told the state official to announce publicly that he had "recalculated" the November vote -- a clear demand to commit election fraud. (Any such demand or "solicitation" is a felony in the state of Georgia.)

Supported by his counsel Germany, Raffensperger consistently rejected a series of outlandish claims by Trump about fraudulent ballots and tampered Dominion Voting Systems machines.

"The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry," Trump told him on the tape. "And there's nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you've recalculated."

Raffensperger retorted: "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong."

At another moment Trump said: "So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state." Although Trump insistently blustered that he had won the state by "hundreds of thousands of votes," he later adopted a wheedling tone: "So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break."

But the president threatened Raffensperger more than once, warning that he and his counsel would be committing a "criminal offense"and taking "a big risk" if they failed to endorse Trump's false claims. Neither Meadows nor Mitchell uttered any objection to Trump's unlawful demands, and in fact Meadows chimed in with a suggestion that Raffensperger "cooperate" with the president.

"So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break."

Like Trump's infamous call to the Ukrainian president last year, this brazen attempt to force a public official to falsify election results is not just a crime -- actually a series of crimes -- but an impeachable act. There just isn't enough time left in Trump's term to impeach him again. But now every Republican who backs Trump's "election fraud" campaign knows exactly how hollow, fraudulent, and fascistic it is.

Ted Cruz And At Least Ten More GOP Senators Challenging Electoral College Vote

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

As January 6 approaches, more Republican lawmakers are joining the Trump bandwagon to challenge the Electoral College vote despite having no substantial evidence of widespread voter fraud to suggest the presidential election was rigged.

On Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) along with Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Mike Braun (R-IN), and Senators-Elect Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) released a statement just days ahead of the Electoral College certification process.

Read Now Show less

Senate Republicans Brawl Over Trump’s Coup Plot

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Tensions are escalating among Republicans in Congress over the January 6 certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory over President Donald Trump in the Electoral College. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been urging Republicans not to contest Biden's certification, but Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri announced, this week, that he will defy McConnell's request — and CNN's Jake Tapper is reporting that "at least 140" House Republicans plan to "vote against the Electoral College results showing President-elect Biden won."

The Republicans who agree with McConnell and have publicly acknowledged Biden as president-elect include, among others, Nebraska's Ben Sasse, Utah's Mitt Romney, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and South Dakota's John Thune in the Senate to Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger in the House. And Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama has been feuding with Kinzinger and is quite vocal about his plans to contest the Electoral College results.

Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports that during a conference call with Senate Republicans on Dec. 31, McConnell demanded an explanation from Hawley:

Later, in an e-mail to Senate Republicans, Hawley noted that he was unable to join the conference call and reiterated his plan to contest the Electoral College results next week on January 6. Isenstadt tweeted a copy of that e-mail:

In a lengthy Facebook post, Sasse vehemently criticized Senate and House Republicans who are planning to contest the Electoral College results — warning that they are "playing with fire." And Sasse has even questioned their sincerity and accused them of acting not out of conviction, but out of fear of Trump's rabid MAGA base.

Trump and his legal team have been making the debunked and baseless claim that the president was the victim of widespread voter fraud, and according to Sasse, many House and Senate Republicans don't actually believe it. But they lack the courage to publicly say what they really think.

Sasse explained, "When we talk in private, I haven't heard a single congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent — not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will look to President Trump's most ardent supporters."

Another reason for House and Senate Republicans to voice their objections to Biden's Electoral College certification — even if they know he won the election — is financial. Axios' Jonathan Swan notes that Hawley has been "fundraising off of his planned objection to the election results."

Swan reports that during the New Year's Eve Day conference call with GOP senators, McConnell described his January 6 vote as a "vote of conscience." According to Swan, an Axios source paraphrased McConnell as telling his fellow Republicans, "I'm finishing 36 years in the Senate, and I've cast a lot of big votes…. And in my view, just my view, this is will be the most consequential I have ever cast."

Best-Run Election In Decades — But Most Republicans Distrust The Result

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Angela Clark-Smith, a lawyer, started learning about the intricacies of observing elections when she was a member of the same sorority as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In 2020, three decades later, she was deployed by the Democratic Party of Georgia to observe the presidential election and, most recently, the processing of returned absentee ballots in its Senate runoffs.

"There's a process. It is very straightforward," Clark-Smith said during a break at an early voting center in an Atlanta suburb, where she praised poll workers and the process of verifying signatures on ballot envelopes and flagging problems for follow-up with voters. "Watching it was like watching a work of art."

Elections in Georgia are better run than those in many blue states. But as the state has become a national battleground following Joe Biden's narrow win there and during Senate runoffs that could return control of Congress to the Democrats, the artful process that Clark-Smith has seen and praised has become a "circus," she says.

Clark-Smith witnessed the turmoil that is tearing apart American democracy: where partisans do not understand the process; do not know what they are seeing as they view election administration up close for the first time; and are part of a tidal wave—nearly three-fourths of Republicans, according to an NPR poll conducted in early December—who don't trust that the 2020 election results are accurate.

"It went from a really dignified process to feeling it was like a circus," Clark-Smith said, referring to the Republican observers who came to watch the initial processing of the runoff's absentee ballots. "You had people who were jumping on tables and making accusations. There was this one man who said, 'We should count this vote!' And I'm like, 'Sir. It's a write-in vote for Mike Pence. He's not on the ballot! Relax… Sit down… Come on!"

A Deepening Democracy Crisis

American politics and elections have always had dark sides: Suspicions versus inquiries. Fictions versus facts. Conspiracies versus realities. Yet the darker impulses seem to be worsening. In every close presidential election since 2000, growing numbers of partisan activists and voters whose side lost are angrier.

The 2020 election stands apart because the president has been leading this truculence by making false claims to rally his base, raise hundreds of millions of dollars and dangle extremist courses to stay in power, such as recently floating a declaration of martial law. Trump's anti-democratic antics and sowing of wide distrust of electoral institutions are in a class by themselves. No foreign power has made as persistent an attack on American democracy.

There are other differences between 2020 and recent presidential elections that roiled voters. In 2000 and 2004, and then in 2016, voting rights reformers called out structural deficiencies—not fantasies. It was a real problem that all-electronic voting systems meant that ballots could not be recounted. It was a valid concern that central counting nodes could be tweaked by local election officials or their contractors to tilt outcomes, or theoretically infiltrated by computer hackers.

By 2020, some of these top criticisms had been addressed. Russian interference in 2016's presidential election was an unanticipated impetus to replace or shore up voting systems. Reformers' demands, such as using paper ballots and better vote count audits, were adopted. Other demands, mostly from progressives who could not accept that Republicans had again won, fell on deaf ears. Those demands, such as abandoning electronics in voting systems, have been seized by Trump backers.

What is more ironic from an election administration perspective, however, is that 2020's general election has been one of the best-run elections in years. The same can be said of the early voting for Georgia's Senate runoffs, which culminate in a January 5 election. The positive outlook on the 2020 elections is supported by facts, which Trump and his supportersignore as they make baseless claims to the contrary.

No election is flawless. That's especially true of presidential contests, such as this fall's election where 158.2 million people cast ballots in a national exercise staffed by 900,000-pluscitizen poll workers. There are always poll worker errors, uncounted votes and some people voting illegally. Most lapses are due to human error and do not affect the outcomes in major races. Those issues were seen in isolated instances in presidential battlegrounds this fall. Yet consider the objective measures about the larger contours of the 2020 general election.

Record numbers of voters participated—even in a pandemic. Automatic and online voter registration has never been as widespread. Voters had more options to cast ballots than ever: by mail, voting early or on Election Day. Never before have as many voters cast mailed-out ballots or voted early. Almost everyone cast paper ballots. More vote counts were double-checked by audits and recounts than ever. The counting process was widely streamed onlineand has never been as public. Georgia's presidential ballots were counted three times each using a different methodology—including an unprecedented manual count. Each count reaffirmed that Biden won. This catalog of election administration achievements is remarkable.

But it is also indisputable that these facts barely matter in some important circles. More than a few Americans, possibly tens of millions (if recent polls accurately represent the rest of the nation's 74 million Trump voters), will wince when Biden puts his hand on the Bible on January 20 to be sworn in. Some voters still expect that Trump will serve a second term. How these Trump supporters will react in the short and long run is not a trifle. Their response will impact what follows every major election, which are the lessons learned and the reform agendas for states and Congress.

When Mobs Are Swayed

When multitudes believe that elections cannot be trusted, democracy is in trouble. Those believers in 2020 include scores of Republican members of Congress, state attorneys general and legislators, all who signed onto pro-Trump lawsuits seeking to overturn the popular vote in their state—or more outrageously, in other states. Those lawsuits were filled with fabrications, shoddy analyses and lies that were overwhelmingly rejected by dozens of state and federal judges. Some of these same assertions have been recurring in GOP-led lawsuits targeting Georgia's runoffs. They are being rejected there as well. But these narratives have not disappeared from the court of public opinion, especially in right-wing media, whose audiences grow in response to baiting and fanning their fears and fantasies.

Many constitutional scholars believe that the country was lucky that Trump's lawyers overplayed their post-election cards. Had the 2020 election hinged on a single state, legal experts believe that the country could now be in a constitutional crisis. They doubt that a single state's laws and top officials could have withstood this White House's pressure to select—not elect—Trump as its Electoral College winner. Some Republicans in Congress, nonetheless, are still expected to challenge ratification of Biden's Electoral College victory on January 6. But a continuing Democratic majority in the House ensures that Biden will be sworn in as the next president on January 20.

The incompetence of Trump's legal team and its allies is one thing. Their power-hungry guile and ongoing effort to subvert the electoral process is another. And the willingness of more than 70 percent of Republicans to distrust the results, according to NPR's poll, is most disturbing of all.

Polls are imperfect snapshots of a slice of voters in any given moment. One can hope that the Trump team's ongoing failures to win election lawsuits will sink in and shrink the numbers who distrust 2020's results. But they probably will not, because these court defeats address false claims, not deeper feelings.

For example, in Georgia, the Republican lawsuits targeting the Senate runoffs have tried to disqualify hundreds of thousands of voters. The lawsuits cite a government database to posit that these voters are no longer state residents—rendering them ineligible to vote. But that database, the post office's national change of address file, was never intended to track voters. It mostly lists heads of households and addresses, not every person living at an address and every voter. Judges and county election boards have been rejecting the illegal voter claims. One result has been that the early voting turnout in the Senate runoffs has rivaled the general election. Accommodating high voter turnout is a sign of a well-run election.

But there's a disconnect. On one hand, those attacking the process in Georgia and disparaging the presidential results say that the electoral sky is falling. But quieter multitudes have found that it has been easier to vote in 2020, even during the pandemic. This is because there were more voting options in 2020: in person or via a mailed-out ballot, early or on Election Day. (Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a rare Republican who has stood up to Trump, said on December 23 that local officials are "overwhelmed" and called onthe state's GOP-led legislature to reinstate the requirement that Georgia voters need an excuse to get a mailed-out ballot. Democrats won't be pleased if that proposal gains traction in 2021.)

Normally, in years when the presidency changes party, the period between early November's Election Day and late January's Inauguration Day is a time when experts seek to influence a new administration. In the election fold, however, some of the biggest players have been notably quiet. Some privately say that the attacks by Trump and his allies are still a big and unfolding crisis—a bonfire that won't disappear until he leaves office. The harms being unleashed, at least among the voters who backed Trump, may take years to undo.

Nonetheless, there has been some talk among elections experts since November 3 about what to do next in Congress and state capitals. Many of these experts from different disciplines have suggestions on how to fine-tune the voting process. Constitutional scholars say that holes in 19th-century law must be filled so that another president cannot overrule a popular vote and have state legislatures select him for a second term. Voting rights lawyers want to ward off efforts to shrink voting options, such as Raffensperger's move to reel in Georgia's absentee ballot program. Those talks are happening as Trump and his allies keep attackingthe electoral process. But the full damage Trump has done to America's elections has yet to emerge.

Way Beyond Seeds Of Doubt

Why do so many people believe elections are stolen if their presidential candidate loses? There's no one answer. From an election reform perspective, the fact that the intricacies of election administration are not readily apparent—or self-evident to untrained observers—does not help. But when so many partisans have a predisposed view that ranges from suspicious, to paranoid, or even conspiratorial, it is clear that something deeper is going on to trigger these assumptions and impulses.

Brené Brown, one of America's best-known trauma experts, recently said in a New York Times podcast that the most aggressive Trump campaign t-shirts—those saying, "Fuck your feelings"—are overly defensive and are a reflection of people who are struggling rather than embracing some high-minded cause. Apart from how that emotional dynamic unfolds politically, it means that election officials and experts seeking to improve America's elections are facing hurdles that cannot be cleared solely by emphasizing facts, instituting best practices, and producing better evidence of vote counts. If the mistrust of elections is as deep as polls suggest, one must ask what solutions can address the underlying triggers, so elections are not collateral damage in a wider societal or cultural schism.

American elections are not perfect. In the 21st century, they are privatized as never before. They are overly complex, meaning that impassioned citizens who race to election centers to observe cannot readily grasp what they are seeing. The many stages of the process, from the starting line of voter registration to the finish line of certifying the vote count, take years to learn, appreciate and unwind. These steps and stages are not sufficiently self-evident, which fans conspiracies.

One might like to think that there is a silent majority of Americans who have figured out how to ignore the noise and vote in a pandemic—even in numbers that have not been seen before. One can look to Georgia and see such turnout in its presidential election and in the early voting in the Senate runoffs. One might hope that there were more Republicans, such as Georgia's secretary of state and governor, who said "no" to Trump's demand that they select him as their state's Electoral College slate winner—ignoring the results of the 5 million votes cast by Georgians.

But elections will always be about power. There is usually more than one reason why political leaders do anything. Raffensperger might be saying that he wants to end no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia because county officials cannot handle the extra workload. That policy, should it be enacted before the 2022 governor's race, could undermine turnout. That impact may help a fellow GOP incumbent, Gov. Brian Kemp, who will be seeking reelection.

Is that an unduly cynical take? Perhaps. Or perhaps it shows why elections can become mirrors of societal distrust. Even if the process met challenges in 2020 and empowered record numbers of Americans to vote, some of the candidates seeking high office were less honest and less straightforward than the electoral process was. In 2020, the democratic process, if viewed apart from some candidates, might be better than ever. But American elections cannot be divorced from the candidates, especially not in the Trump era.

When America faces a leader with totalitarian impulses who thinks he can will his way into another term, it is also facing its greatest democratic crisis in decades. The passage of time always heals wounds, including political wounds. But what can be done to revive public trust in elections in the meantime is not just an open-ended question. Democracy's fragile skin has been stretched as never before, when tens of millions of voters say that they don't trust the results from the best-run election in years.

(Reporting for this article from Georgia was contributed by Sue Dorfman, a photographer with the Documenting Democracy Project.)