It’s been a tougher than usual few weeks for Republican “election integrity” claims. New voter fraud allegations have been leveled against — that’s right — prominent Trump administration officials.
The cases have revealed, once more, the cynical sham at the heart of the GOP’s Big Lie. But in addition to the glaring hypocrisy, these allegations and others reinforce our two unequal justice systems: One for white conservatives who plead guilty and get off easy, another for Black parolees who vote only after being assured they can, then receive harsh prison sentences.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Matt Mowers, a Trump aide running for the US House from New Hampshire, voted twice during the 2016 primaries. He cast one ballot in New Hampshire’s primary when he was working on Chris Christie’s presidential campaign, then voted again that June when he re-registered at his parents’ home in New Jersey. His actions may have violated several federal laws, though the statute of limitations has expired.
These reports followed news that former Donald Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and his wife, Debbie, registered and voted from a trailer home in rural North Carolina, where they never lived, while they actually resided in tony Virginia suburbs.
Yet the Big Lie’s rot runs deeper still. It has been repeated so relentlessly that a majority of Republicans reject reality and believe that Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden, who “won” only because of rampant fraud perpetrated by Democrats. Republicans can’t produce any evidence to substantiate this.
But the actual arrests for voter fraud? Much like Meadows and Mowers, they share things in common: In every example I could find of voter fraud in the 2020 election in the conservative Heritage Foundation’s database, when the voters’ politics are known, they turn out to be Republicans (or conservatives).
Much of the GOP fraud has gone relatively unpunished. Edward Snodgrass, a local Republican official in Ohio forged his late father’s signature on an absentee ballot. Donald Holz in Wisconsin, unable to vote with a felony drunk driving conviction, did so anyway because he really wanted to support Trump. A woman in Scottsdale, Ariz., also a registered Republican, pleaded guilty to returning her dead mother’s absentee ballot and is expected to receive probation. Trump voter Robert Richard Lynn of Forty Fort, Pa., registered his mother from Texas to vote at his house and claimed she was visiting great-grandkids, even though she died in 2015; he received six months probation. Self-described “unabashed conservative” Jonathan Meade West Sr. of Hayes, Va., tried to vote absentee twice and received a suspended sentence.
But all of these pale compared with another case from Nevada. That’s where statewide Republicans — and prominent national voices, including Tucker Carlson and American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp — amplified a vote cast on behalf of Rosemarie Hartle as evidence of widespread, swing-state fraud. Hartle died in 2017, and when the ballot was discovered, her husband Donald — the chief financial officer of a company that hosted a fall 2020 Trump rally — feigned disbelief. “This is pretty sickening to me,” he said, and lends “some credence to what you’ve been hearing in the media about these possibilities. Now it makes me wonder, ‘How pervasive is this?’ ”
Not very. Last fall, Hartle pleaded guilty to casting the ballot in his dead wife’s name. He received a year’s probation and a $2,000 fine. There were not hundreds of cases of voter fraud, as Schlapp claimed. This was the only one prosecuted in the state. The source of the inaccurate fraud claims was the perpetrator.
It’s the GOP fraudulent fraud squad that’s trying to stuff the ballot box. Existing laws are more than enough to spot them. Yet the carefully cultivated Big Lie metastasizes. The number of Americans who have confidence in the fairness of our elections has dropped precipitously over the last year, down to just 44 percent. GOP legislatures then point to that unfounded suspicion about vanishingly rare fraud to justify new voting restrictions. Those additional ID requirements, fewer days of early voting, tighter absentee ballot requirements, and fewer urban drop boxes all happen to disproportionately target communities of color in closely competitive states like Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Arizona.
Impugning democracy in the name of election integrity is a cynical and dangerous game — especially when the punishments for intentional voter fraud while white are compared with accidentally casting a vote while Black.
In Memphis, Tenn., Pamela Moses’s probation officer and the local election official signed paperwork attesting the 44-year-old Black woman could vote. They were wrong, and Moses received a six-year sentence for attempting to register while still on probation. (She was granted a new trial in February.) In Texas, Crystal Mason cast a provisional ballot in 2016 with the approval of local officials. It was not counted because she was on probation for a felony. A judge sentenced her to five years anyway.
Mason and Moses become powerful examples to intimidate any Black person on probation: Cast an accidental ballot, even if officials say you can, even if the vote does not count, and you could go back to jail. The Republican playbook seeks to terrify Black voters while teaching its supporters that the system is so rigged it necessitates strict laws that drive down Democratic turnout.
It’s difficult to believe Meadows and Mowers didn’t know what they were doing broke the law, even as they pointed the finger at others. The real Big Lie is that Republicans don’t believe their own big lie. The sad truth is that it works anyway.
David Daley is the author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.”