Conspiracies within the American electoral apparatus


Under the pressure, she gave in.

After 20 years of service as Nye County Clerk in Nevada, Sandra Merlino, in her early 60s, decided to retire last August, ahead of the November 8 midterm elections in the United States. She leaves the work of supervising and organizing the elections, in this rural part of the state, to someone else.

« It was no longer livable », summarizes the lady, a Republican yet convinced, met last week by The duty in a pizzeria in the small town of Toponah, between Las Vegas and Reno. “The contestation of the results of the vote and the electoral process has always been present here, since the beginning of the 2000s. This is not new. But it’s getting bigger. Dangerously. This year, the pressure was very strong to get rid of the voting machines. Even if, since we acquired them in 2004, they have worked very well, have never produced electoral fraud and have even simplified our work. It was a losing battle. I preferred to leave. »

She says she did well. His interim successor, Mark Kampf, another Republican who supports conspiracy theories that these machines participated in massive electoral fraud in 2020 – in contradiction to the facts – has just redesigned the framework for the next election. In Nye County this year, voters will revert to paper and pencil to « ensure transparency and security of the vote », he said. And the vote count will be done by hand.

« It’s only going to delay the process and push back the announcement of the results, » she said. And all this for what ? »

Conspiracy theorists attacking the electoral process: this is what could characterize the next ballot in the United States where, in several states, the proponents of fallacious theories on the conduct of the 2020 vote, to explain and justify the defeat of Donald Trump , are no longer just on social media. They now hold important positions in the country’s election administration, such as in Spalding County, south of Atlanta.

Here, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, Ben Johnson, does not hide, in his online posts, his support for what he calls his “insurgent group” that tried to overturn the certification of the vote for Joe Biden by storming the Capitol, January 6, 2021. He called the Democrat in the White House an « illegitimate president », now calling for the banning of voting machines, advance voting and mail-in voting, convinced that all this allowed the « manipulation of the presidential ballot ». There is no evidence, despite investigations and judicial recounts, to support this belief.

A few months ago, the man did not renew the maintenance contract for electoral equipment signed with Dominion Voting Systems, a company targeted by conspiracy theorists in the pay of Donald Trump. However, these machines, which are not connected to the Internet, contrary to what their Republican detractors claim, are a source of rare errors, below 0.1%, and much less important than during a vote count. hand — 0.3% — according to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a 2011 vote recount.

It is Ben Johnson who, after November 8, will have to certify his county’s vote in the mid-term elections. However, he did not succeed in blocking advance voting or postal voting, which has been in full swing since October 22 in this region of Georgia.

Disturbing infiltrators

“The wolf is in the fold,” summarized last week on CNN Barbara Byrum, clerk of Ingham County, Michigan, another state where the faithful of “ Make America Great Again » (MAGA) of the former president, there too, have decided to get involved in the electoral bodies for the next election. To protect its “integrity”, according to them. Same thing in Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania…

“The rise of these conspirators in these instances is more than worrying”, summarizes at the other end of the wire Larry Diamond, professor at Stanford University and author of the book Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency (Bad wind. Saving democracy from Russian rage, Chinese ambition and American complacency). The duty joined him in Palo Alto, California. “There cannot be free and impartial elections without an independent framework. They did not succeed in canceling the 2020 elections, but by the positions they occupy, they will be able to put in place cadres to disturb the next ones. »

The mechanics are on. It is also accompanied by a strategy of intimidating independent election officers, in the hope of making them leave and replacing them with scrutineers and ballot officers who are more dedicated to their cause.

“It’s part of my daily life, summarizes Sarah, a young African-American met at the opening of an advance polling station north of Atlanta this week and who has worked for the elections for several years. But they don’t scare me. I’m here because I believe in democracy. I have to make sure that all voters have free access to the ballot boxes and that’s what I do. »

She adds: “Yes, I received threats. Someone in the street advised me to find myself a good lawyer for the lawsuits which they say I will have to face after the vote. We’ll see… «

An expected chaos

On Monday, Georgia followed the trend in several other states by implementing an alert system allowing its employees to send text messages to state election officials and law enforcement in the event of a threatens. The office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who stood out in 2020 for standing up to Donald Trump in his attempt to annul the poll in his favor in Georgia, says it seeks by these texts to protect workers from the chaos that will could accompany on election day.

In Nevada, the harassment prompted several veteran employees to quit this year, Joe Gloria of the Clark County Voter Registration Office, the largest in the state, which encompasses the greater region, admitted this week. from Vegas. But he assured the local CBS network that with 15 days to vote, the positions have since been filled.

Since the start of the campaign, the county’s electoral authorities have also been awash in freedom of information requests from supporters of Donald Trump’s « big lie » in an attempt to obtain the names and addresses of election workers. No doubt in order to check whether they adhere to the beliefs and misinformation that drive them, or to convince them by intimidation to do so. When Las Vegas-area election officials refused to respond favorably to their request, the case was even taken to court by the Republican National Committee.

“Clark County takes the privacy of its election officials seriously to protect them from harassment, threats and other forms of intimidation,” said in an interview with the To have to County spokesman Dan Kulin last week. The integrity of our electoral process is essential. We must ensure that those who uphold the right to vote of all citizens are not threatened by others who wish to dismantle our electoral process. »

In Toponah, Sandra Merlino says she is watching this from afar, « for the good of [sa] mental health,” she says with a smile. But she remains worried about the weakening of democracy which now seems to be playing out before her eyes.

« I hope the Republicans will win the election, » she said immediately. But I also hope that by doing so, after all the pressure put on the electoral system, it will convince the conspirators that we have a system that ultimately works very well and that it will help to reduce the pressure on the subject a little . »

Larry Diamond doesn’t really believe it. “We are faced with people who are ready to corrupt the electoral process to make their candidate win. It’s a moral problem, he says. They will never accept results that do not respect their choice. We are going through a difficult time. And the only thing that can help us is to ensure the mobilization of those who want to defend this process. People can no longer be passive when they believe in democracy. »

This report was financed thanks to the support of the Transat International Journalism Fund. The duty .

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