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Election subversion efforts in 2020 were bad. Now they’re worse.

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Election subversion efforts in 2020 were bad. Now they’re worse.

Apr 11, 2024 | 10:24 am ET
By Quentin Young
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Election subversion efforts in 2020 were bad. Now they’re worse.
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A ballot box is seen on Super Tuesday in Denver, March 5, 2024. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)

Defenders of democracy in the aftermath of the 2020 election triumphed against lie-fueled efforts to subvert the will of voters.

But the forces behind those attacks on democracy never went away. The election deniers of four years ago are back at work planning election subversion in 2024. Their hostility to democracy has deepened, their methods have matured, their conspiracies have metastasized, and their ill intent has hardened.

Heading into November, free and fair elections are at even greater risk. So-called election integrity groups plan to disrupt election processes, and the Republican Party for years has nurtured the falsehood that elections can’t be trusted.

Colorado is a blue state that would never vote for the “big lie” originator, former President Donald Trump, who is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. But it is the site of widespread election subversion activity, and several homegrown election deniers have strong ties to individuals and organizations that could compromise elections in Colorado and elsewhere.

Mike Lindell, the pillow salesman and staunch Trump ally, who is among the most influential election deniers in the country, in late 2021 launched “election integrity” organization Cause of America after observing the work of a similar Colorado-based group, U.S. Election Integrity Plan. Colorado resident Shawn Smith, who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, was named president of the organization.

Founded on the baseless premise that elections can’t be trusted, Cause of America has since become one of the primary hubs for grassroots “election integrity” organizing and activity. A group representative took part in an April 4 virtual meeting of election conspiracists that, notably, featured an appearance by Republican National Committee’s Christina Norton, election integrity director, demonstrating an alarming alignment of the national party, its presidential nominee and extremists who once were relegated to the fringe.

The civic decay that results from the mainstreaming of election misinformation is already appearing throughout the state, including threats of violence against election officials. Few public officials have had to endure — or more courageously withstood — physical intimidation like Jena Griswold, the Colorado secretary of state. The New York Times this week published audio clips of threatening voice messages sent to Griswold.

“I can’t wait to find you and follow you to your house and expose your address,” one person said. Another told her, “I hope you die, painfully.” The Times also reported that Griswold has received hundreds of threatening messages, emails and social media posts, including death threats.

As Newsline’s Sara Wilson has reported, almost half of Coloradans this year will vote in a county that has a different chief local election official than the one who oversaw the previous presidential election. An increasingly stressful work environment and harassment toward election workers was a major reason for this unusual turnover.

I hope you die, painfully.

– Phone message left for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold

An increasing number of Republican county canvass board members are refusing to sign off on local vote counts, The Denver Post reported this week. The board members say, without justification, that they distrust the election process.

“It’s concerning any time people want to play political games or score cheap political points with our elections,” Matt Crane, a Republican who is executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, told the outlet.

Such malign local activism exemplifies the tactics developed by a growing number of national election subversion initiatives, which seek to mobilize thousands of on-the-ground volunteers in every state.

“In recent weeks, these groups have held training sessions about how to organize on a hyperlocal level to monitor polling places and drop boxes, challenge voter registrations en masse, and intimidate and harass voters and election officials,” Wired reported this week. 

Democracy Docket, the progressive election-news site, reports that such groups are planning widespread voter challenges.

“New Republican election vigilante groups are cropping up around the country to lodge mass challenges against unsuspecting voters — seeking to deprive them of the right to vote,” the Docket reported this month.

Among the most noxious of national election subversion groups are True the Vote, United Sovereign Americans and Election Integrity Network, in addition to Cause of America.

The threat to democracy that election subversion efforts poses goes beyond elections themselves. These groups hope to secure for Trump another term in the White House. But democracy is loathsome to Trump, who attempted a violent coup to stay in power and who would rule as an autocrat if he regained the presidency.

Every person who wants to preserve democracy has a role to play in protecting it. Many democracy experts advise people to consider what they can do every day in their own lives and among family and friends to promote democratic values and push back against misinformation. The Brennan Center for Justice has published a paper about “How States Can Prevent Election Subversion in 2024 and Beyond.” County election offices invite community members to help administer elections and ensure the integrity of vote tallies.

Democracy’s enemies might be organizing and planning, but its defenders can organize, too. At stake in the contest between the two sides is the preservation of free and fair elections in America.