"It’s spreading": Phony election fraud conspiracies infect midterms

The preemptive spin is everywhere. Last week it was Larry Elder in California, who — before getting trounced in the GOP’s failed effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom — posted a “Stop Fraud” page on his campaign website. Before that, at a rally in Virginia, state Sen. Amanda Chase introduced herself as a surrogate for gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and told the crowd, “Because the Democrats like to cheat, you have to cast your vote before they do.” In Nevada, Adam Laxalt, the former state attorney general running to unseat Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, is already talking about filing lawsuits to “tighten up the election” — more than a year before votes are cast. And in Pennsylvania, former Rep. Lou Barletta, who is running for governor after losing a Senate race two years earlier, said he “had to consider” whether a Republican could ever win a race again in his state given the current administration of elections there.

Trump may have started the election-truther movement. But what was once the province of an aggrieved former president has spread far beyond him, infecting elections at every level with vague, unspecified claims that future races are already rigged. It’s a fiction that’s poised to factor heavily in the midterm elections and in 2024 — providing Republican candidates with a rallying cry for the rank-and-file, and priming the electorate for future challenges to races the GOP may lose.

“The fever has not broken,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, an elections lawyer who has represented past Republican presidential nominees. “If anything, it’s spreading. People I knew as rational and principled feel they have to say our elections are not reliable because polls show that is the ante for contested Republican primaries and motivating the base in general elections. California recall results aside, it comes at the expense of the principle that our leaders should not make allegations that corrode American democracy without any credible evidence.”