Feature 05.10.2023 9 minutes

Unrigging Our Elections

Voting By Mail Concept

Republicans need a serious counter-offensive if they want to stand a chance.

It might not matter whom Republicans run for president in 2024.

America’s propaganda press traffics in disinformation. Its Big Tech oligarchs censor news and information helpful to conservatives, while elevating biased news and information that helps the Left. And its election systems have been overrun by privately funded groups that run Democratic “get out the vote” campaigns to traffic ballots into ballot boxes. We catalogued this particularly complex problem in Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections.

Instead of election day, we now have an “election season”—during which, over a period of months, we flood homes across the country with tens of millions of mail-in ballots, regardless of whether secretaries of state or local registrars have any idea if those ballots are being sent to the correct addresses. This in a country where 11% of residents move every year. We then wait for sophisticated partisan turnout operations funded by activist billionaires and run by ideological statisticians to round up those ballots in entirely selective ways.

This culminates with us all glued to our TVs on a Tuesday evening in November listening to “journalists” who spent the months leading up to the election smothering any accurate information about the state of the country with a pillow, making empty judgments about the health of American democracy based entirely on how much the results will further advance policies that favor a toxic admixture of their own corporate paymasters and woke Montagnards.

In this world, concerns about candidate quality are irrelevant. If we don’t fix this complete capture of election infrastructure, it might be impossible for anyone with a sincere desire to prioritize the interests of voters over the ruling class to win a national election.

Case in point: To the surprise of many, Republicans’ electoral expectations fizzled in the 2022 midterms. With runaway inflation, Biden’s disastrous exit from Afghanistan, and a long line of electoral precedents, Republicans should have had an historic victory. Instead, Democrats gained in the Senate despite a very favorable map for Republicans, and the GOP captured only the narrowest of margins in the House.

Despite this disappointing outcome, Republicans still won the popular vote in the midterm election by a healthy 3% margin. That should have translated into much bigger electoral gains. Instead, there was “Republican robustness in the wrong places,” in the words of New York Times election guru Nate Cohn. The conventional wisdom has been that the GOP was punished for running bad candidates in key elections. Perhaps there is something to this, but GOP candidate quality doesn’t explain everything when you consider that the new Democratic senator from Pennsylvania is literally brain damaged, and the recently elected Democratic governor of Arizona was a scandal-plagued lightweight who refused to debate, and her signature gubernatorial accomplishment has been going to war against selling tamales in a state that’s 32% Hispanic.

The more likely explanation for these results is that Democratic ballot harvesting operations have reached such heights of sophistication that they can parachute into decisive battlegrounds and scare up enough votes among ignorant and unmotivated citizens to overcome the natural enthusiasm of informed and self-motivated voters.

Responding in Kind

At the same time as these ballot harvesting operations have been ramping up, there has also been a lot of talk about “voter fraud” on the Right. While there’s evidence voter fraud is a bigger problem than anyone wants to admit, it’s also true that the focus on voter fraud to explain GOP failures is often just an unhelpful cope. It distracts people from the fact that they’re getting outspent and out organized.

Whether Republicans like it or not, some ballot harvesting operations are technically legal or operate in gray areas. Not that long ago, everyone from MIT to Jimmy Carter to the New York Times would admit that voting by mail raised serious concerns about fraud and manipulation. However, mail-in balloting has gained so much purchase both as a legal method of voting and a matter of habit among voters themselves that there’s not much that can be done to stop it at this point. Even Trump, who quite vocally opposed mail-in ballots, has come around on the need for Republicans to start competing with Democrats by developing their own harvesting and vote-by-mail turnout strategies. It is still preferable to encourage more voting in person, but for now our only hope of getting electoral arms control is if both sides have nukes.

Just because some Democratic voter operations are technically legal, however, doesn’t mean strategists and lawmakers shouldn’t routinely point out that many of their schemes are genuinely sinister and should be immediately stopped. Facebook-turned-Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent in excess of $400 million on “COVID election grants.” Naturally, those grants were distributed in a highly disproportionate way such that a) the largest grants went to areas of swing states with a high concentration of Democratic voters and b) the money came with strings attached, such that Democratic Party activists were allowed to run “get out the vote” operations directly from ostensibly nonpartisan local election offices. The problem was so bad that a city clerk in Green Bay, Wisconsin quit because these outside activists had taken over her job.

Incredibly, letting outside activists pay to administer America’s election infrastructure was allowed, because it was such outrageous behavior that no one thought they would ever have to pass a law to stop it from happening. Since 2020, at least 17 states have passed laws making private funding of elections illegal. Naturally, the same groups involved in this scheme in the last presidential election have been brazenly trying to skirt those laws. These attempts to purchase electoral outcomes through giving “grants” to election offices also remain legal in much of the country, and despite some good work from GOP-led legislatures addressing the issue, much more needs to be done.

A related issue is the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which was created to allow states to share voter registration data. In theory, this multistate cooperative allowed states to clean up their voter rolls and potentially reduce fraud by weeding out duplicate registrations. In practice, however, ERIC was once again another seemingly benign group run by Democratic activists. A number of Republican states have stopped participating in ERIC, after the organization was unable to satisfactorily answer questions about how they were securing the voter data of more than 30 states, and whether that data was being purloined for Democratic ballot harvesting. You will be unsurprised to learn that, aside from his previous history working for radical left-wing groups such as People for the American Way, the founder of ERIC was also the founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), one of two groups responsible for distributing Zuckerberg’s dubious election grants.

Get Organized

It’s also worth noting that international observers who police elections in inchoate democracies have long considered elections neither free nor fair if they take place in a propaganda-laden news environment. Volumes could be written on the alarming growth of America’s “disinformation industrial complex,” which is an unsavory hellbroth of deep state agencies, media elites, NGOs, Big Tech executives, and academics working together to suppress inconvenient news and powerful voices objecting to the corrupt status quo. The Twitter Files, the controversy over the censorship of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the draconian social media enforcement of COVID regime talking points have awoken the American public to the depth of the problem. But little has been done to capitalize on this sub rosaoutrage politically, much less actually dismantle these insidious networks. It ought to be sobering to contemplate that what these elite gatekeepers get away with hiding must often be more consequential than the outrages we do know about.

Regardless, the disinformation industrial complex is literally an existential threat—not just to fair elections but to the country itself. We’re currently fighting a proxy war with a nuclear power, and it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine America having the diplomatic credibility with Russia to either prevent the Ukraine War, or now to end it, when both President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken were publicly claiming that news about Hunter Biden’s disgusting and illegal conduct was foreign election interference, in the closing days of a hotly contested presidential runoff. Both the President and America’s intelligence services, who’d been in possession of Hunter’s laptop for nearly a year before news of its existence was public, knew full well it was real. And yet, they relied on a suppliant press to spread a knowing lie to win an election. They stood back silently as this deliberate disinformation prompted an unprecedented domestic censorship campaign and further soured relations with a dangerous foreign leader. It is supremely dangerous to remain inured to this state of affairs.

Finally, we need to demand leadership from the leaders we do have. As Kyle Shideler reminds us in a recent essay, “Successful political action is about organizing, not merely about grassroots willpower.” For decades, the Left has used the Democratic Party as a vehicle to do little more than redistribute taxpayer largesse to unions and other special interest groups that do their organizing for them. On the Right, far too many of our elected leaders have become laser focused on simply getting themselves reelected. They have no use for their grassroots supporters in between election days. The Republican Party, if it wants to survive and help restore both sanity and a balance of power in this country, has to enlist ordinary voters in campaigns to effect policy changes at the local level as well as federal that ensure fair elections and open debate. These campaigns must have competent leadership that is capable of pursuing specific tactics and targets in service of long-term goals.

Similarly, conservative think tanks and advocacy groups need to get beyond policy papers and fundraising and use their resources to get aligned citizens to demand integrity and accountability of so many of our foundering institutions. The Right is generally uncomfortable with pressure campaigns; but they would do well to remember that these institutions have already largely been captured because the Left had no compunctions about them. If anything, we need to cultivate our own organizational powers specifically to counter the Left’s unchecked desire to make threats. If leftist shock troops want to burn city centers to the ground, intimidate conservative lawmakers at their homes, or shut down legislative bodies with protests, this behavior must be countered immediately with the force and legal consequences necessary to stop them from pursuing these reprehensible tactics again.

So while it is only natural to have detailed thoughts about a Trump-DeSantis match up, when you consider the events that defined the 2020 election—nationwide riots, social media censorship, the partisan co-opting of local election offices, and the wholesale rewriting of America’s election laws on the fly—the fate of America rests on the ability to win over voters on issues far larger than a personality contest. The problems are pressing and dire, and the best time to start working on these structural challenges was about 50 years ago. The second best time is now.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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