by John Schneeberger, Candidate for Senate District 43, Hamilton
Believers in the Big Lie that the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen are part of a nationwide movement of election deniers. State Senator Theresa Manzella and Montana House candidate Alan Lackey, as well as the new organization the Montana Election Integrity Project, are the face of this movement locally. They have recently been putting pressure on the Ravalli County Commission, who has offered up an additional layer of local election auditing in the hope of appeasing them. This movement will not be appeased and when their allegations are refuted, they will simply move on to the next unproven conspiracy theory.
New terms have been added to the vocabulary of our elections by this movement. “Ballot harvesting” is a bad name they gave to the act of delivering someone else’s ballot and is the focus of election denier Dinesh D’Souza’s film “2,000 Mules.” The practice is legal in many states, including Montana (until the Montana Supreme court decision decides whether a new law is constitutional or not), but largely illegal in the states that are the focus of Mr. D’Souza’s movie.
Nowhere in the film does it make the case that these ballots were illegal, i.e. from someone not on the voter file. Starting from a shaky premise, it goes on to make false assumptions about the precision of cellphone tracking data and the reasons why someone might drop off someone else’s ballot. People filmed depositing multiple ballots have recently been found to have been simply dropping off ones for family members.
For this practice to produce enough fraudulent votes to swing an election, one would need a coordinated campaign, focus on a particular set of precincts, and the conspirators would have to open the ballots and change votes. The exceedingly rare case of something like this producing an indictment was in the 2018 US House race in North Carolina, where a paid Republican contractor is alleged to have done just that. In a nationally reported case, the Democrat challenged the results, and the scheme was discovered. The Republican operative and his collaborator were charged, and the election was overturned. (The case is ongoing, but the alleged organizer has subsequently died, delaying the cases against the other defendants.)
Why isn’t there any other case where election deniers have produced enough evidence for an indictment? One reason is that their allegations haven’t mustered enough evidence to make it to court and when filed they have been summarily dismissed or ruled against, seventy times, in many instances by Trump appointed judges. The election deniers of the Montana Election Integrity Project, who were behind the thoroughly debunked allegations of a vote overcount in Missoula, have continued this pattern of refusing to subject their claims to a court and established rules of evidence.
If there were a nationwide conspiracy to open hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots and change them, they should have been noticed by Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr. He knew about the case in North Carolina and his boss was telling everyone within earshot that if he didn’t win the election, it would be because of voter fraud. After the election, Bill Barr officially stated that the Justice Department, and the FBI, uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election.
Undermining faith in our election system is a dangerous game. More dangerous is refusing to abide by the results of a free and fair election as Trump did when he ended the American tradition of the peaceful transition of power in the January 2021 insurrection. At the time prominent Republicans denounced this but their voices, with some notable exceptions, have become muted. They are not speaking out because of the effectiveness of the Big Lie. The Big Lie is popular because people want to believe it. It reaffirms their identity, the truth of their cause and that their problems are caused by people they never liked anyway. In contrast, pluralism and democracy offers uncertainty, complexity, compromise, and often only incremental change. This is the reason for the twilight struggle that continues between democracy and authoritarianism and will determine the survival of our republic.