Column: Trump cultists are trying to sabotage election officials with ‘paper terrorism.’ Don’t let them win



This is peak busy season for those who run the country’s elections, with the Nov. 8 midterms less than 60 days away.

There are polling places to be situated. Election workers to hire and train. Ballots to proofread and mail out.

And, increasingly, there is a flood of lies and misinformation to combat, along with an apparent attempt by Trump cultists to undermine the election system with a deliberate sabotage campaign.

In recent weeks, election offices around the country have been buried with public records requests pertaining to the 2020 vote, part of an effort led by election deniers including former President Trump’s serially indicted ex-strategist Stephen K. Bannon and the MyPillow chief executive and nut case Mike Lindell.

The requests — many identically worded, cut and pasted — shouldn’t be mistaken for an honest attempt at holding public officials accountable. Rather, it is a devious attempt to gum up the country’s election machinery at the worst possible moment.

Resources that should be devoted to ensuring the smooth execution of November’s balloting are instead being diverted to respond to malicious mischief. (Many of the requests seek access to the “cast vote record,” which is data produced by devices such as ballot scanners, in the apparent hope of “proving” the widely debunked notion that election machines were tampered with.)

“Paper terrorism” is how Tommy Gong, the elections chief in the Bay Area’s Contra Costa County, described it. His office has received 64 public records requests — more than in the previous three years combined — even though the results there were hardly in dispute: Joe Biden walloped Trump 72% to 26%.

By law, each request requires an expeditious response, providing the information or a detailed explanation as to what may be released and what cannot because it is protected by law. That means time and energy taken from more urgent and important responsibilities.

To be clear: There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Numerous audits, scores of lawsuits and Trump’s own Justice Department determined as much.

Nor is there a widespread epidemic of voter fraud. The New York Times reviewed hundreds of criminal cases going back to 2017 and found, on average, fewer than two people were charged per state per year. In a nation with nearly 214 million registered voters, that’s an infinitesimally small number.

To the extent there is a crisis affecting our election system, it is one largely created by Trump and his deluded followers, some of whom are running for office to hijack and subvert the voting process, and others who seek to undermine its integrity by spreading deliberate falsehoods.

Kind of like an arsonist who strikes a match, then points to the flames as evidence of fire risk.

For the last several years, the National Assn. of Secretaries of State has worked to fight misinformation through a public education campaign, #TrustedInfo2022, steering voters to states’ websites and social media pages.

“We’re trying to make certain that respective voters have a better understanding of the measures that go into the election process” to dispel myths and build faith in the system, said Tahesha Way, New Jersey’s secretary of state and president of the organization.

That doesn’t mean fact-checking politicians, or policing political speech.

“Our efforts are focused on distributing as widely and frequently as possible accurate information about voting and registering to vote,” said Joe Kocurek, a spokesman for California Secretary of State Shirley Weber.

“We’re in a new environment where there are people who use propaganda to dissuade voters from exercising their franchise,” Kocurek said. “It’s our responsibility to help voters and help counties that administer elections to inform voters about what their voting options are, timelines, eligibility requirements and all of that.”

In the Bay Area, Gong has collaborated with election officials from 11 Northern California counties to dispel misinformation and demystify the voting process by holding information sessions and inviting members of the public to watch as they prepare for the midterm balloting.

“Twenty years ago, a successful election was one where you didn’t make the news,” Gong said. “Now we’re really having to put ourselves out there to advocate for the validity of the election and for the profession of election officials.”

(Faithful readers may recall Gong from a previous column as the subject of unwarranted and racist attacks after he oversaw the 2020 balloting in San Luis Obispo County.)

Transparency is a good thing. Subterfuge is not.

Gong said that one small county had an election staffer trained and ready to venture out in the community as part of an education and outreach effort, but that person is now tied up responding to malevolent public records requests.

Inundating election offices with nuisance paperwork won’t ensure the probity of November’s election. Quite the contrary. It’s a cynical attempt to undermine the results, so critics can then point to any lapses to justify their phony claims of fraud and malfeasance.

Don’t let it succeed. Be sure to vote. Act as if the future of American democracy depends on it.

Because it does.

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