In Colorado – a state President Joe Biden won handily in 2020 – a Republican candidate for US Senate pointed his firearm at a fake Dominion voting machine and blasted it to smithereens in a campaign ad riddled with falsehoods.
In deeply liberal Washington State, one local Republican party launched a door-knocking effort to try to uncover phantom voters.
In Crow Wing County, Minnesota, a bright red enclave in a state that’s gone blue in presidential contests since 1976, residents are pressing the board of commissioners for a post-election audit.
And in Alabama, a state where former President Donald Trump walloped Biden by 25 points in 2020, the Republican secretary of state is still batting back unfounded claims of fraud.
In the year since rioters stormed the US Capitol, convinced the 2020 election was stolen, many conservatives are still lapping up Trump’s election lies. They’re pressuring local officials to revisit 2020, running for higher office, challenging fellow Republicans in GOP primary contests and passing legislation making it easier to meddle in election administration.
“Thirty-two of those bills have become law in 17 states, which is a really unprecedented amount of legislative interest in the mechanics of election administration,” said Jessica Marsden, counsel for the nonprofit Protect Democracy.
Efforts to undermine confidence in election results – such as spreading conspiracies about voting machines, calling for audits and door-knocking to uncover nonexistent widespread fraud – began in hotly contested battleground states, but they have since ballooned into a nationwide crusade.
Marsden said she worries that the continuing spread of misinformation could lead to more political violence in the future or could be used as fodder for lawmakers looking to overturn the will of the voters.
“When we look back at 2020, I think we should see it as a dry run or a first draft of an attempt to throw out free and fair election results,” Marsden said. “These bills are a part of that story, but disinformation that we have seen spread in a coordinated way about what happened in 2020 is another part of that story, and we should not take our eye off that ball as we move through 2022 and 2023 and sort of start gearing up for the 2024 election in earnest.”
‘I don’t think anything has been debunked’
Colorado state Rep. Ron Hanks was among those who showed up at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Since then, the Republican has kept up the barrage of election misinformation back home and launched a campaign for US Senate late last year.
Hanks has said he did not go inside the building and claimed in a July radio interview that he believed Antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters were among the agitators.
In an interview with CNN, Hanks didn’t explicitly pin the blame for the insurrection on other groups, but he did suggest they were not Trump supporters coming from the former President’s rally in the city earlier that day.
“We were a little bit surprised to see people had scaled the scaffolding and were waving flags,” Hanks said. “It didn’t seem like the same people that we had just spent the last seven hours with.”
Hanks has also called for a review of the 2020 election in his home state, even though Biden won Colorado by nearly 14 points.
“What we are looking for is a full forensic audit of the systems,” Hanks told CNN. “We’re starting to see a majority of the American populace now believing, understanding there has been fraud in the 2020 election, probably fraud in elections prior to that. And if we can get inside the systems, we will find it.”
In Fremont County, Colorado, which Hanks represents in the state legislature, Clerk Justin Grantham said he’s aware of Hanks’s inaccurate claims about the 2020 election and the campaign ad he has been running.
“With his copy machine that he blew up with a rifle?” Grantham asked in an interview, “Yes, I have seen that.”
Grantham said the Senate hopeful has rebuffed repeated overtures to learn about the election system firsthand.
“I’ve extended multiple offers for him to come into my office and talk to me about the election and he’s not responded and not come in,” Grantham said.
Hanks told CNN, “I appreciate the invite of the Fremont County Clerk and Recorder. I didn’t really need it. I was at other locations. And so that made it rather redundant.”
As for that explosive advertisement, Hanks told CNN they took a little bit of “Hollywood license,” and it was in fact a copy machine he targeted. But Hanks said his concerns about the Dominion voting machines and other issues surrounding the 2020 election are real.
When a reporter noted that many of his claims had been debunked, Hanks disagreed.
“I don’t think anything has been debunked,” Hanks said. “We have found evidence and it is compounding daily.”
A spokesperson for Dominion, meantime, warned against ads like Hanks’, saying in a statement, “Election misinformation is dangerous on its own, but violent demonstrations even more directly endanger our employees and customers who have been targets of ongoing harassment and threats.”
Conspiracies swirl from Washington state to Alabama
In Washington state, the Skagit County Republican Party has claimed its door-knocking efforts have already uncovered “anomalies.”
The canvassing confused voters, who began calling the local auditor’s office, which then issued a statement clarifying that it was not a government effort.
“This is not an official government survey, and community members should not feel compelled to answer questions unless they want too,” Skagit County Auditor Sandy Perkins said. A spokesperson for Perkins added that, while the canvassing group has provided spreadsheets of the alleged anomalies, the auditor’s office still has not found any evidence suggesting there was widespread fraud.
Back in Alabama, Merrill said debunking claims from election deniers, including MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, was an easy exercise.
In one meeting, Lindell and associates presented Merrill with information about IP addresses. Merrill said many of them were not associated with the elections division or even the state of Alabama. In another instance, they showed Merrill what they claimed to be evidence that a suspicious number of people were registered at the same address.
“As they introduced this information, we started looking that information up on Google and one of the addresses that they showed was an apartment complex. One of the addresses they showed was an assisted living facility. One of the addresses they showed was a nursing home,” Merrill said in an interview. “The information that they had been sharing with us could have been cleared up by doing a simple Google search of addresses.”
Merrill – who has assured reporters, voters and out-of-state election skeptics that Alabama’s elections were fair and secure – said he believes misinformation has snowballed because people are getting information from uninformed or deliberately misleading sources.
“I think a lot of that is people listening to people who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, people who are fabricating information, fabricating numbers, who have absolutely no evidence,” Merrill said. “It’s almost as if they will claim that a murder was committed and yet they cannot prove that the person ever lived, let alone a body or a weapon.”
2020 election ‘will not die’
Other officials are going to extra lengths to appease their constituents.
In Minnesota’s Crow Wing County, the board of commissioners has been inundated with unfounded claims that votes were changed and that the county’s election equipment could be corrupt.
“That log will tell us if that thing went on to the internet and switched any votes. That’s the real question,” one resident said at a recent board meeting, repeating a widely shared conspiracy. “Can we do an audit and do the paper ballots and compare it to what the electronics said?”
Multiple members of the board of commissioners have said they were confident in the county’s elections, including Commissioner Paul Koering.
But when CNN requested an interview with Koering to discuss the audit request, he declined. Instead, he read the interview request during a county board meeting this week and passed it off to an election skeptic leading the audit push. In that same meeting, the board voted 4-1 to ask Minnesota’s secretary of state for an audit of election materials.
It’s not a request Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, is likely to grant.
“There is no legitimate reason 14 months after the general election in particular to second guess the integrity of the election in Crow Wing County or in Minnesota,” Simon said in an interview. “We certainly aren’t going to engage in sweeping inquiries based on vibes, hunches and beliefs – no matter how sincerely held they may be.”
Simon said if residents have knowledge of specific instances where something went awry, they should report those instances to law enforcement.
Simon said while most Minnesota residents have faith in the state’s elections, he said a vocal minority of often well-intentioned voters have been misled by election lies.
“Have we been hearing from people espousing all sorts of disinformation and wrong facts about the 2020 election? Yes, that’s been a pretty steady drumbeat,” Simon said. “2020 is the election that will not die.”