Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who in November 2020 refused Donald Trump’s demand to “find” the votes for the ex-president to win the state and vigorously defended the accuracy of Georgia’s results and recounts, is “being bent to the will” of 2020 election deniers as his May 24 primary approaches, civil rights advocates say.
Raffensperger, who knows what factually occurred during the election, has endorsed a new investigation by the State Elections Board into specious allegations that thousands of mailed-out 2020 ballots had been illegally collected in metro Atlanta by dozens of workers hired by left-leaning nonprofit groups whose leadership supported Joe Biden’s candidacy.
The allegations, which are not new, and which the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and FBI examined last fall and declined to investigate, are at the core of an inflammatory new movie, 2000 Mules, made by right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza and a right-wing voter vigilante group, True the Vote, which is now being promoted in pro-Trump circles.
“We will continue investigating every credible allegation of ballot harvesting in Georgia. The only ones that should touch a ballot are the voter and the election official,” Raffensperger said on Facebook on May 2, as he reposted an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on the Georgia State Elections Board launching an investigation into possible illegal ballot collection.
“They [True the Vote] need to provide us [the board] the names of those people that they say harvested the ballots. We’re going to find out who they are and where they live, were they paid, and how much were they paid,” Raffensperger said during an April 23 debate.
While it is standard for Georgia’s secretary of state to open investigations after receiving complaints, Raffensperger’s revisionism appears to cede ground to a primary challenger, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) who, like many Republicans across the country, has built his primary campaign on attacking the 2020 presidential results and has been endorsed by Trump. Raffensperger’s last-minute validation of True the Vote’s allegations is troubling to voting rights advocates.
“Raffensperger, whether you like him or not, still followed the rule of law [in 2020]. And now he is being bent to the will of these conspiracists,” said Ray McClendon, Atlanta NAACP political action committee chairman. “These people who used to be genuine conservatives are now part of the cult when they know better.”
“I do believe that a lot of people respected Raffensperger for having a little integrity and a backbone and standing up and telling the truth that there was no fraud,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda. “And to veer away from that is just playing politics and not really being truthful with voters.”
True The Vote
True the Vote is a Texas-based voter vigilante organization that grew out of the Tea Party and has been promoting the myth of voter fraud since the early years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Initially, the group sought to train poll watchers to confront what its founders, predominantly white conservatives, believed were illegal votes by people of color. Despite earning media coverage, it failed to deliver on its claims—in part because illegal voting is exceptionally rare, and when it occurs it is usually a result of an individual’s error and not a partisan conspiracy. True the Vote filed lawsuits that were ridiculed by Republican judges and senior election officials. However, in today’s era of social media-driven disinformation, it has found new audiences, including Trump, who played the trailer to “2000 Mules” at an Ohio rally in late April.
True the Vote is known for making outsized allegations based on shoddy methodology and withholding evidence to support its claims, including its Georgia-based assertion made last fall that it had analyzed cell phone-tracking data and video footage, and had identified 279 people who made repeated trips to ballot drop boxes in 2020’s general election. Under Georgia law, only voters, their immediate family members, and the caregivers of voters with disabilities are allowed to handle and return mailed-out ballots.
“The key distinction to make here is between ballot harvesting and ballot trafficking,” D’Souza told Chicago’s AM 560 talk radio. “In Georgia, for example, you can give your ballot [to another person to return]—but only to a family member, or, if you are in a nursing home, to a caregiver to drop it off… What we have here is left-wing nonprofit organizations operating as vote stash houses, accumulating vast numbers of ballots, and then hiring paid political operatives called mules to deliver them. That is illegal.”
Last fall, when True the Vote presented these allegations to state officials, D. Victor Reynolds, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation director, wrote back saying his agency had reviewed the allegations, consulted with the FBI, and concluded that “based on what has been provided and what has not been provided, an investigation is not justified.”
“What has not been provided is any other kind of evidence that ties these cell phones to ballot harvesting; for example, there are no statements of witnesses and no names of any potential defendants to interview,” Reynolds’ letter said. “Saliently, it has been stated that there is ‘a source’ that can validate ballot harvesting. Despite repeated requests that source has not been provided to either the GBI or to the FBI.”
But now that the movie, 2000 Mules, is poised to debut in 270 theaters across the country, the filmmakers are trumpeting interview footage—which they claim is real—of a paid ballot trafficker allegedly explaining the ballot delivery operation. And the right-wing filmmakers have expanded their allegations, claiming that a “‘network’ of non-governmental organizations… worked together to facilitate a ballot trafficking scheme in Georgia” that was based out of “10 hubs” in metro Atlanta, according to an April 21 subpoena by the State Elections Board to True the Vote founder Catherine Englebrecht to testify on May 26—two days after the state’s 2022 primary—and present her evidence.
When Englebrecht testified about the same allegedly illegal ballot trafficking scheme before Wisconsin’s legislature in late March, Democratic legislators replied that she was overclaiming—replying that Englebrecht may not like mailed-out ballots, but that did not mean illegal voting occurred. She replied, “Maybe a few percentage points of your population needs to vote legitimately by mail because, certainly, we don’t want to see anyone deprived… But that tips over into an indefinitely confined list and it becomes theater of the absurd.”
The Atlanta NAACP’s McClendon said that it is the 2020 election deniers who are putting forth political smears that have no basis in reality.
“It’s unbelievable to me, the depths to which they will go with these lies, and that they can gain traction with no evidence,” said McClendon, who led a field operation in 2020 that spanned 17 counties where 75 percent of Georgia’s Black voters live and involved nonprofit civic groups.
“We haven’t done anything like what they are alleging. I don’t know any groups that have done, quote-unquote, [ballot] harvesting,” he said. “I know people that have delivered valid ballots to the county registrar’s office. They don’t bring them to drop boxes… Those people are nursing home attendants and family members.”
McClendon said that the new allegations by the Trump propagandists and the responses by the State Elections Board and Raffensperger lending credence to their claims—allegations that the GBI and FBI already rejected—were ugly but not unexpected. But he said that there was little more that Georgia’s Republicans could do to impede voting with mailed-out ballots in 2022, because the state’s red-run government has passed laws making that option inconvenient.
Under SB 202, a massive election bill passed last year, the Georgia legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp instituted an overly bureaucratic absentee ballot application and return process. It also made returning mailed-out ballots less convenient by restricting drop boxes. For example, metro Atlanta’s most populous county, Fulton County, can deploy fewer than 10 drop boxes across the entire jurisdiction, McClendon said. As a result, the NAACP and other groups seeking to turn out primary voters were encouraging people to vote early and in person.
“Our game plan has already been—and this is part of our text-banking that started last weekend—to tell all of our people, if you are physically able, you need to early vote starting May 2,” he said. “Don’t rely on any kind of mail-in balloting.”
On May 3, the Associated Press published its fact-check report on “2000 Mules,” finding the film’s research and claims were “based on faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cell phone location data, which is not precise enough to confirm that somebody deposited a ballot into a drop box, according to experts.”
In other words, the propaganda put forth by the latest pro-Trump movie is not relevant to Georgia’s 2022 voting options, as the state’s Republicans have already impeded absentee voting. Raffensperger certainly knows that reality, as well as the fact that his state’s 2020 presidential results and recounts were accurate. And that’s what makes his last-minute embrace of 2020 election denial claims disturbing.
“People should tell the truth, stick with the truth, and leave it at that,” said Butler.
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.
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Reprinted with permission from Alternet
After the 2020 presidential election, North Carolina-based financier and Donald Trump supporter Fred Eshelman donated $2.5 million to True The Vote — a far-right group that claims it is promoting "election integrity" but has been attacked by critics as a tool of voter suppression. Now Eshelman, according to Washington Post reporters Shawn Boburg and Jon Swaine, is disappointed and is demanding a refund.
"The story behind the Eshelman donation — detailed in previously unreported court filings and exclusive interviews with those involved — provides new insights into the frenetic days after the election, when baseless claims led donors to give hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse President Biden's victory," Boburg and Swain explain. "Trump's campaign and the Republican Party collected $255 million in two months, saying the money would support legal challenges to an election marred by fraud. Trump's staunchest allies in Congress also raised money off those false allegations, as did pro-Trump lawyers seeking to overturn the election results — and even some of their witnesses."
The Post reporters add that although True the Vote's election-related lawsuits "drew less attention than those brought by the Trump campaign," the group "nonetheless sought to raise more than $7 million for its investigation of the 2020 election."
According to Boburg and Swain, "Documents that have surfaced in Eshelman's litigation, along with interviews, show how True the Vote's private assurances that it was on the cusp of revealing illegal election schemes repeatedly fizzled as the group's focus shifted from one allegation to the next. The nonprofit sought to coordinate its efforts with a coalition of Trump's allies, including Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the documents show."
Eshelman has filed two lawsuits: one in federal court, the other in state court. The federal lawsuit has been withdrawn, while the one in Texas continues. And in both of them, Eshelman has alleged that his donations to True to Vote were not used as he meant for them to be. True the Vote, in response, has maintained that Eshelman's donations were used properly.'
Of course, no serious evidence of widespread voter fraud — the kind Trump supporters hoped would overturn Joe Biden's win — ever materialized.
True the Vote was founded by Catherine Engelbrecht, a Texas-based Tea Party activist. And the 2020 presidential election was not the first time it made bogus claims of voter fraud. After the 2016 presidential election, for example, True the Vote claimed that "more than 3 million non-citizens" voted in that election and announced that it was launching a thorough investigation. But True the Vote ended up dropping that investigation, saying that it didn't have the funds needed to continue.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and the late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings are among the well-known Democrats who have accused True the Vote of voter suppression tactics. In a letter to True the Vote in 2012, Cummings wrote, "Some have suggested that your true goal is not voter integrity, but voter suppression against thousands of legitimate voters who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates. If these efforts are intentional, politically motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights."
Some conservatives have a problem with the fact that Democrats were the reason that Mississippi senator Thad Cochran beat Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff — so they’re doing everything they can to call the results fraudulent.
True the Vote, a group that works to hunt down any evidence of voter fraud — even though it’s very rare — has filed suit with the state of Mississippi so the group can gain access to election records. True the Vote clearly leans Republican, and its directors also run King Street Patriots, a Tea Party group. True the Vote has also worked to stop the recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and supported the Florida voter purge. Its record of uncovering actual fraud is weak, at best.
The group claims that it already has evidence of voters who illegally voted in both the Democratic primary and the Republican runoff. Mississippi has an open primary system, but voters cannot vote in both elections.
“True the Vote has been inundated with reports from voters across Mississippi who are outraged to see the integrity of this election being undermined so that politicos can get back to business as usual. Enough is enough,” True the Vote president Catherine Engelbrecht said in a statement.
“This isn’t about personality, party, or politics. Senators come and go.” she continued. “What must withstand the test of time is the integrity of the process by which we elect our representatives and establish our government. No candidate or party should ever be allowed to twist election laws or subvert voters’ rights in the interest of political ambition.”
True the Vote cites the “unusual voter patterns” in the runoff as one of the reasons why there must have been voter fraud, as they don’t think Mississippi Democrats should have anything to do with electing Republican candidates.
Chris McDaniel is also doing what he can to emphasize that he would have won the election if Democrats weren’t involved. In an email to supporters, he wrote, “On June 24th, we won the Republican primary election. As you might have heard, we’re not quite done. We are in the process of trying to ensure a fair and accurate election took place on Tuesday.”
The McDaniel campaign is currently searching through election books in a futile attempt to find enough irregular votes to invalidate Cochran’s win. So far, they claim that they’ve found more than 3,300 suspicious votes after examining less than half of Mississippi’s counties.
The Cochran campaign dismissed these numbers. “Their numbers are wildly exaggerated,” Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell told the Sun Herald. “For instance, in one county where they say they found 200 illegal votes, only 37 Democrats voted on June 3.”
But the McDaniel campaign’s strategy isn’t just to prove that there was voter fraud — it’s to create enough of a frenzy to force yet another runoff election.
“We don’t have to prove that we have 7,000 [invalid] votes … all there needs to be is enough doubt about the election, and we’re confident about that,” Noel Fritsch, McDaniel’s press aide, said to Fox News.
So conservative groups are trying their best to create that atmosphere of “doubt.” The Mississippi Tea Party says that it found at least 800 illegal votes in heavily Democratic Hinds County (where McDaniel’s campaign says it’s found 1,500 such votes).
Tea Party group FreedomWorks is calling on the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate the Cochran campaign after RedState.com released an interview with a reverend who says that Cochran’s campaign paid him to give black voters $15 to vote for Cochran. However, the reverend was paid to do the interview, and the Cochran campaign called his allegations “baseless and false.”
Meanwhile, the far right’s vendetta against Cochran and Mississippi Democrats will likely serve to continue to alienate minority voters.
AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan
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