Members Only | October 13, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Death-threat squads harass voting administrators out of their jobs, clearing way for election theft. It’s a slow-motion coup

“They’re playing the long game.”

Image courtesy of WITF.
Image courtesy of WITF.

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Michele Carew is the latest casualty in the Trumpist war on voting. The veteran elections administrator tendered her resignation to officials in Hood County, Texas, on Friday after a brutal campaign by Trump loyalists to oust her. Trump won 81 percent of the vote there, but Carew still found herself in the crosshairs of those seeking to entrench the GOP’s control over election administration. They want to see Carew’s duties reassigned to a county clerk, who is notorious for (what else?) sharing electoral conspiracy theories on social media. 

Carew is one of many local election officials across the country who have chosen to quit rather than absorb right-wing abuse. Among 14 southwestern Ohio counties, one in four of election officials has already called it quits. Pennsylvania is grappling with a similar exodus

“These conspiracy theorists are in it for the long haul,” county clerk Barb Byrum told the Associated Press. “They’re in it to completely crumble our republic, and they’re looking at these election administrator positions. They’re playing the long game.”

It all keeps coming back to the Big Lie. The Big Lie of voter fraud is a classic stabbed-in-the-back narrative. These fantasies crop up whenever fascists need to reconcile their conviction that they’re strong and special with the reality that they’ve been shut out of power. They convince themselves that they would have won, if it hadn’t been for the treacherous Other who denied them their glorious birthright. 

“The bottom line is they don’t like people that have some type of intelligence and know what they’re doing, because they know they can’t influence them,” said Ms. Lonnie Hollis.

In the most famous stabbed-in-the-back narrative, it was the German Army of World War I that supposedly could have triumphed had the craven politicians not betrayed them. Today, Donald Trump’s supporters console themselves with the fantasy that they won the 2020 election, but Democrats, unions, Black people and the Chinese Communist Party cheated them out of power. 

A good stabbed-in-the-back narrative also suggests a target at which to direct resentment and even violence. “Stop the Steal” was the rallying cry that Trump used to sic a mob on the Capitol on Jan 6. 

Local elections officials are still bearing the brunt of Trumpist fury. A special investigation by Reuters documented 102 threats of death or violence against 40 local election officials. Those are a fraction of the true number of threats. Milwaukee election official Claire Woodall-Vogg estimated she’d received 150 threats since a Gateway Pundit, a massively popular conspiracy blog, published lies about her. 

Election administration skews disproportionately female, like education and public health — two other spheres where GOP radicals have directed their ire. The California Voter Foundation, a watchdog group, estimates that 75 percent of local election officials are women.

“The common thread is that no one has any respect from women […],” Milwaukee elections official Woodall-Vogg said in an interview with CNN in which the mother of two small children recounted how her harassers delight in calling her a cunt and a whore. 

In Georgia, Republicans are using a new state law to purge Democrats of color from local elections boards. At least 10 board members have been removed under the new state law or by local ordinances. Of these, at least 5 of the ousted members are people of color. 

“I speak out and I know the laws,” Ms. Lonnie Hollis, an ousted Black board member told the Times. “The bottom line is they don’t like people that have some type of intelligence and know what they’re doing, because they know they can’t influence them.”

Michigan Republicans are busily replacing local election board members with pliant functionaries who, they hope, will refuse to certify future Democratic victories. The state’s former elections director warned that it would create “a mess” if 10 or 15 counties refused to certify the election. It would be more than “a mess.” It would be yet another procedural coup attempt. The GOP is organizing to steal the next election in plain sight, but the Department of Justice has done little more than convene a task force to study the problem. The Big Lie must not be allowed to cast a shadow over our democracy. 

Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.

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