In the coming days, thousands of pro-Trump poll watchers are set to fan out across battleground states—smartphones in hand—and post themselves outside voting locations to hunt for evidence of fraud. This “army” has been coached on what to look for, and instructed to record anything that seems suspicious. The Trump campaign says these videos will be used in potential legal challenges; critics say their sole purpose is to intimidate voters. But in recent conversations with a range of unnerved Democrats and researchers, I was offered another scenario: If the president decides to contest the election’s results, his campaign could let loose a blizzard of misleading, decontextualized video clips as “proof” that the vote can’t be trusted.
“The goal here is really not producing evidence that stands up for any length of time,” Laura Quinn, a progressive researcher monitoring election disinformation, told me. “They’re interested in sowing just enough doubt … to develop this narrative of fraud—not only so that he can contest the election, not only so that he can refuse to concede a loss, but also so that some portion of his supporters will remain embittered and be able to say the results were illegitimate.” (A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.)…
Three Democratic strategists who are involved in post-election “scenario planning” told me that—barring a blowout on Election Night—Americans should expect a last-ditch disinformation blitz from Trump and his allies to create the impression of wide-scale cheating. (The Democrats requested anonymity to candidly describe strategy discussions.)
“This Election Day poll-watching will be part of a whole campaign to dispute, delay, and bring into doubt the counts in various states,” one Democrat told me. “[Trump] has been setting up the rigged-election narrative for a while,” another told me, “and he needs tools to show that the votes that are rolling in are probably these rigged votes: So here’s the video evidence!”