While sore loser Trump Republicans are screeching like scalded skunks about the nonexistent problem of “voter fraud,” they’re busily tampering with elections at the local, state and federal levels. One example is a case playing out here in Florida against a disgraced former state GOP official, Frank Artiles, who is accused of rigging a 2018 special state senate election in South Florida.
Senate District 37 is currently represented by Trump-affiliated Republican Ileana Garcia, who was “elected” in a scam featuring a sham candidate who shared a surname with the incumbent Democrat. Artiles bribed the fake candidate, who was experiencing financial difficulties, to run. The fake candidate drew 6,400 votes in an election where the Trump fraud edged the Democrat by 32 votes.
There are other scams being investigated — all perpetrated by and designed to benefit Republicans — but the Artiles scam that benefited Garcia resulted in the most obviously fraudulent “win” given the margin of “victory.” Garcia claims to have been unaware of the scheme and pretends to be a legit state senator. Florida Democrats have called on Garcia to resign and have asked for a special election so voters could choose a state senator, but the Republican-run state is ignoring the situation so far.
Anyhoo, that’s one example of rampant Republican election tampering. ProPublica is out with a new piece today that sheds light on another technique Republicans are using to rig elections: driving out county-level elections officials and replacing them with pro-Trump stooges. If you’ve wondered why Trump and his cultists at the county level are hounding Republicans in states Trump won handily, like Texas and Florida, to conduct “audits,” this explains it.
The article focuses on an election administrator who oversaw the vote without incident for 14 years in a heavily Republican county, including the 2020 election that Trump won by 80% or so there. Trump cultists made administrator Michele Carew “the public face” of a system the cultists “had come to mistrust,” and she eventually submitted her resignation. The problem is widespread, according to experts:
David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonprofit that seeks to increase voter participation and improve the efficiency of elections administration, said Carew’s departure is the latest example of an ominous trend toward independent election administrators being forced out in favor of partisan officials.
“She is not the first and won’t be the last professional election official to have to leave this profession because of the toll it is taking, the bullies and liars who are slandering these professionals,” said Becker, a former Department of Justice lawyer who helped oversee voting rights enforcement under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “We are losing a generation of professional expertise. We are only beginning to feel the effects.”
Though experts say it is difficult to determine how many elections officials have left their positions nationally, states like Pennsylvania and Ohio have seen numerous departures. According to the AP, about a third of Pennsylvania’s county election officials have left in the last year and a half; in Ohio, one in four directors or deputy auditors of elections have left in the southwestern part of the state, according to The New York Times.
I’ve complained in this space before about Florida’s Trump-affiliated governor championing and signing into law new voter suppression measures like changing the rules around vote-by-mail requests to make it less convenient. (This after he bragged that the 2020 election was the most secure in state history.) DeSantis and other Republican governors talk out of both sides of their mouth like this all the time — not just about voting but about everything, including vaccines.
This widespread effort to undermine election officials who won’t promote Trump’s sore loser lies makes me understand my partisan county officials’ response to Trump’s voter fraud bullshit and DeSantis’s voter suppression efforts a little better. Every single elected official in this county is a Republican, including the supervisor of elections.
The woman who supervised the 2020 election in my county, which Trump won overwhelmingly, is a Republican who ran elections here for decades, and she seemed to do her job with integrity and competence (that’s the problem, from the cultists’ point of view). She retired after the 2020 election, overseeing the election in which her successor was chosen — a woman who had also worked in the SoE office for decades.
While Trump was running around the country pre-emptively lying about a stolen election before votes were cast and baselessly demonizing mail-in ballots and drop-off boxes, our county’s retiring election official put out a gingerly worded statement that gently suggested that voting by mail and using drop-off boxes here was safe. At the time, I thought it was an amazingly supine response to a direct attack on the SoE’s integrity, but now I get it.
After the election, when the governor proposed changing the vote-by-mail rules, the newly elected SoE put out a similarly mealy-mouthed statement, affirming that the county had not encountered significant problems with mail-in ballots, which are widely used by Republicans in Florida. (My hope is that his Trump-placating suppression efforts blow up in DeSantis’s face when Republicans find they can’t vote by mail as usual and don’t bother to turn out, but who knows?)
Meanwhile, the current SoE was opposed in the last election by the biggest Trump stooge in the county — a cattle rancher whose antics split the local GOP into two “clubs” a few years ago because he didn’t think the existing county Republican Party was sufficiently worshipful of Trump. Not coincidentally, he’s an egotistical fool who’s made scads of enemies, so he got nowhere in his quest for elected office.
But not every county will be so lucky. And maybe mine won’t be next time either. The point is, we need oversight to ensure nonpartisan administration of elections. Our patchwork system may make it harder for foreign entities to hack into systems and change results on a widespread basis, but it’s uniquely vulnerable to the cult fuckery that’s happening now, and that’s a problem for all of us.