Sunday, April 11, 2021
April 11, 2021

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Westneat: GOP pushes conspiracy

Republicans in Washington stick to theory that won’t die

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Republicans are down and out around the Seattle area. The big question for them coming out of the wreckage of the past four years is: How to rebuild?

The standard play would be to withdraw a bit from all the national craziness and focus on local debates, such as taxes, hoping that at some point Democrats will overreach (always a strong possibility).

The King County GOP has instead decided to launch a crusade against arguably the most popular government initiative of the past decade.

“End vote by mail in Washington state,” reads a petition the party has begun circulating on social media. “For more than a decade, we have seen the integrity of our election process here in Washington state erode – while paving the way for fraud and electioneering from the left. WE MUST GO BACK TO VOTING IN-PERSON!”

Must we though?

This local push to undo vote-by-mail is a sign that the party has digested the defeat of Donald Trump, pondered it for a few months – and then opted to plunge after the disgraced former president along a maze of unfounded conspiracy theories.

The King County GOP, in January, convened what it called an Election Integrity Committee. Its purpose, as new Chairman Joshua Freed wrote, is to “uncover and collect evidence of voter fraud” and to push for changes in local election systems.

Its first report uncovered zero fraud, but contains assertions that come straight out of a Republican fever dream. Such as the feat that “members of Antifa/BLM” have been registering as voters here, “despite coming from other areas to stay temporarily to riot.”

The report attacks the state’s electronic vote-counting systems, contending, falsely, that they “were originally developed for the purpose of manipulating results to cheat elections.” Its source for many of these claims is a report by Trump’s infamous election lawyer Sidney Powell, who last week admitted in a defamation suit in court that “no reasonable person” could have heard her wild allegations about the election and assumed they were true.

“No reasonable person” is maybe not the rebuilding motto you’re looking for, GOP.

What’s so strange about all this is that after the election, Republicans concerned by the possibility of fraud challenged various vote counts around the state. This is a good thing: It’s a check on the system.

I’m guessing you haven’t heard much about this. That’s because these recounts came up with nothing. Not only was nothing amiss, but in most of the precincts, the laborious process of scrutinizing every ballot by hand didn’t change a single vote.

Hand recounts are a great tool because if there’s a mismatch caused by the vote-counting software – the main suspicion raised by Trump and his lawyers – then an inspection of the physical ballots will detect it. Example: Local Republicans requested a recount of an Orcas Island precinct in the governor’s race, due to concerns about the software and the margin of Gov. Jay Inslee’s win there. Inslee had beaten Republican Loren Culp in that precinct by 711 votes to 199 in the initial machine tally. After a hand recount, Inslee won by the same 711 votes to 199.

Good news, right? Not if you’re drunk on Trump.

“We’re obviously seeing signs of fraud across our state and nation, and it’s extremely discouraging,” Freed said.

The same mania has a hold on Republicans in other states, like Georgia. They did a hand recount of all 5 million votes and it changed the presidential count by less than 0.01 percent. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans there from imposing a series of voting restrictions.

That’s Georgia, but here, going after the voting system is as sure a political loser as I’ve seen in covering politics. Voters here love it: You get a ballot three weeks from the election and then return it however you want, by drop box or by U.S. mail, with no standing in lines.

Election conspiracy theories are zombies; they don’t die (I know Democrats who are still convinced George W. Bush stole Ohio from John Kerry). But for this one to grow into a party-led campaign complete with petitions, after audits proved the vote was rock solid, is full-on tinfoil hat territory.

We need a sane Republican Party. Careening after Trump’s ghost and the tatters of his most damaging lie is not a rebuilding plan. It’s a teardown – and it’s trying to take democracy down with it.

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