SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With less than a week to go until the California recall election, some Republicans are falsely claiming that votes are rigged in favor of Democrats and suggesting, without evidence, that Gov. Gavin Newsom can only win with fraudulent votes.
The claims are unsubstantiated, and echo similar false messages promoted by Republicans last year following the election of President Joe Biden.
Larry Elder, the top-polling Republican candidate seeking to replace Newsom, is already preparing to challenge the recall results if Newsom survives.
Elder told reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday that he believes "there might very well be shenanigans" in the recall election, but that he expects to win anyway because "so many Californians are angry about what's going on," according to CNN.
Elder said his campaign nevertheless is ready to file lawsuits and encouraged people to report any issues.
"We have a voter integrity board all set up — most of these are lawyers," Elder said Wednesday, according to CNN. "So, when people hear things, they contact us. We're going to file lawsuits in a timely fashion."
A link on Elder's campaign website, labeled as "report election incident," takes users to a form to report incidents of voter fraud and sign a petition to investigate the results of the recall.
Some of the language on the site is written as though Newsom has already won. The page invites them to sign a petition to investigate the "twisted" results of the recall.
"We implore you ... to join us in this fight as you are able, primarily by signing our petition demanding a special session of the California legislature to investigate and ameliorate the twisted results of this 2021 Recall Election of Governor Gavin Newsom," the website says.
The petition states that voters who use "improperly formed ballots" have an advantage over those who vote at the polls and that instances of "undocumented ballots" were discovered prior to Sept. 14. It offers no evidence for either of those claims.
It also states that, if there is an audit of the recall election, county election officials should not be a part of the recount, because doing so would be similar to "allowing an alleged criminal to examine the crime scene," the petition says.
Finally, the petition claims, without evidence, that "statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor."
Users can also click on an "affidavit" button that takes them to a form to report "discrepancies in the California Election."
The Elder campaign did not respond to questions about the website.
Jenna Dresner, a spokesperson for the secretary of state's office, said unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud threaten a "free and fair democracy."
"The reality is, no one takes election security more seriously than election officials given their only motivation is safe and secure elections," she said in a statement. "In California, at both the state and county level, there are a multitude of layered security protocols in place to protect our elections — starting with the ballots themselves.
Numerous studies have found little evidence that mail-in ballots help one party over another. Of the 16 states where more than half of voters cast mail ballots in 2020, Trump won nine, according to The New York Times.
No matter which voting methods are used, Democrats have dominated California elections for over a decade. The last time a Republican was elected to statewide office was in 2006, when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won reelection.
Democrats now make up nearly half of all registered voters in the state. Newsom won the 2018 election by a landslide of more than 20 percentage points over Republican challenger John Cox, who is running again this year.
According to recent polling from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, a majority of likely voters intend to vote "no" on the recall. Newsom won his election in 2018 by 20 percentage points, the biggest victory since 1950.
The California Republican Party has not made any false claims of voter fraud, but is urging voters to report any "suspicious activity" in the upcoming election on its website. Republicans are also recruiting volunteers to be poll observers and donations to its "election integrity fund."
"California voters have a right to know the election process is safe, fair and secure, but it's up to all voters, working together, to keep our government accountable," California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said in a Facebook video. "Join us in protecting all California voters by helping us ensure that every vote is counted and verified."
Patterson, speaking to The Sacramento Bee, said the overall goal of the election integrity website is to "encourage and inspire confidence in the vote."
"We want to make sure that they feel confident that their ballot is counted and that there isn't any funny business going on," she said.
The chairwoman said she has been a longtime user of vote-by-mail ballots, and is "very confident in the mail-in process," but the party still plans to monitor the collection and processing of ballots.
The California GOP has representation in all 58 counties. Patterson said the party has recruited more than 2,000 poll observers and has more than 115 attorneys to monitor county election officials as they administer the recall election.
When asked if the GOP would accept the results if the recall is defeated, Patterson said she did not want to speculate.
"This is why we're doing the election integrity project. We want to make sure that we have the confidence in our election," she said. "I can't speculate to the future, but we are keeping an eye on everything."
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to improve the voting process, said no voting system is perfect, but California has the "most robust election security requirements" in the nation.
"It's disappointing that there's this narrative out there that is, unfortunately, undermining some people's confidence in elections," she said.
Former President Donald Trump has joined the conversation, telling Newsmax this week that he believes the California recall election is "rigged" and repeating complaints he made about mail-in ballots last year.
"It's probably rigged," he said. "The ballots ... are mail-in ballots. ... The one thing they are good at is rigging elections, so I predict it's a rigged election."
There is no evidence that the ballots are rigged for Newsom.
Alexander said Trump's claims lack credibility because he's raising doubts about hand-marked paper ballots, which have long been seen as one of the most reliable voting methods.
"The hand-marked paper ballot is considered the gold standard by election security advocates when it comes to having confidence in the election results," Alexander said. "Now it's been mischaracterized as something we can't trust."
Trump is not alone in casting doubt on the integrity of California's election.
"The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud," said conservative firebrand Tomi Lahren, speaking Tuesday on Fox News. "Pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California, because it's going to have big consequences not only for that state, but for upcoming elections."
Lahren offered no proof for her claim.
After a contentious 2020 election cycle plagued by misinformation, civic groups are concerned to see similar trends popping up in the California election. Last week, more than a dozen civic groups, including Common Cause and the California Voter Foundation, signed a letter to Facebook and other social media giants asking them to crack down on misinformation ahead of the recall.
"In the past several weeks, baseless claims about the integrity of California's vote-by-mail process, the impact of COVID-19 on voting, and additional conspiracy theories debunked by independent fact checkers have spread online. As election day approaches, the problem is likely to escalate unless your platforms take immediate action," the letter said.
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