Be the Fraud You Think You See in the World
On making "voter fraud" happen
I’ve been writing about the conservative movement’s fixation on policing “voter fraud” for more than a decade. For the right, the existence of large-scale “voter fraud” is both a pretext for laws making it harder for certain groups to vote and also very much a myth that one must accept as true for membership in the club. That is, contrary to what some liberals wish to believe, they don’t “know better.” (They don’t really care.)
So over many years of covering “voter fraud” you get used to writing some variation of the following sentence: Voter fraud is largely imaginary and even if it did exist it would be an ineffective way to “steal” an election. I’ve recently started to think that that boilerplate sentence, which was true the first five hundred times I used some version of it, may no longer be true, or may not be true for much longer. Mainly because I suspect conservatives might start trying to do voter fraud on a mass scale.
“Voter fraud,” the way the right uses it, generally means impersonation (voting for someone else) and voting more than once, two things which are vanishingly rare and really quite difficult to organize on a scale necessary to alter election outcomes. On the right, though, it is simply common knowledge that this sort of fraud is both endemic and effective. The fact that Mitt Romney got no votes at all in certain Philadelphia precincts in 2012 might occasion some soul-searching for a normal political party; for Republicans it is simply self-evident proof of fraud.
This morning the dog lawyer account “southpaw” tweeted this story about Debra Meadows, the wife of former Donald Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. Now, I don’t keep up with most of the former Trump gang, in part because I spent my politically formative years “keeping up” with all the guys who did Iran-Contra and nothing bad ever happened to them, so I did not realize until I saw that tweet this morning that Meadows and his wife were doing voter fraud.
Apologies for linking to Glenn Kessler, who simply cannot write clearly to save his life, but the gist is that Meadows and his wife claimed to live in North Carolina, so that they could vote in North Carolina, despite actually living in Virginia. In the grand scheme of things, this is fairly trivial, except of course that Meadows was among those amplifying claims that our elections are being stolen by illegal voting fraud schemes and so on. But two things about this story struck me: 1) I learned about this from a dog lawyer on Twitter linking to a brainless avatar of false equivalence, and have heard nothing about it from any elected Democrat; and 2) I have now read multiple stories about Republicans committing voter fraud that liberal politicians just don’t ever bring up.
Four people from The Villages, the largely white and right-wing senior community in Florida (which has come up in this newsletter before), have been arrested for voting in both Florida and the places they lived before they settled in The Villages. Other Floridians have been charged with trying to fraudulently register people as Republicans, including dead people, presumably so that they could cast their votes for them. It is oddly overlooked that, in 2020, President Donald Trump literally (and repeatedly) instructed his supporters to vote twice.
I think smarter observers get how conservatives give themselves permission to act outrageously by convincing themselves that their opponents, with whom they are locked in an apocalyptic battle for the soul of the nation, already act outrageously. But I suspect we are not prepared for mass voter fraud basically being summoned into existence by the conservatives who think it is already widespread.
In the midst of a Supreme Court confirmation process in which all the conservatives are indulging, referencing, and echoing the weirdest and darkest conspiracies and myths of their unpopular subculture, it’s useful to think of seemingly bizarre conservative claims about what liberals believe and do not as “lies” but as plans. It would also be useful, I imagine, to call attention to these plans, not as airless hypocrisy accusations but as straightforward claims of systematic wrongdoing and criminality. It shouldn’t be left to the fact-checkers and dog accounts to notice it all.