One night last month, at the recommendation of someone known online as Captain K, a small group of people gathered in an Arizona parking lot and waited in folding chairs, hoping to catch those they thought were false advance notices by filing People who vote to undermine American democracy.
Seth Kesher, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who espouses vote-fraud conspiracy theories, calls himself Captain K, who has started the program. In July, as states like Arizona geared up for primaries, he posted a proposal on the messaging app Telegram: “Host an all-night Patriot tailgate party for every drop box in America.” The post received more than 70,000 views.
Similar calls have inspired people in at least nine other states, marking the latest product of a Republican conspiracy theory of rampant election fraud.
In the nearly two years since former President Donald J. Trump pushed false claims of widespread voter fraud from the political fringes into the conservative mainstream, a group of his supporters have been battling for frantic but unsuccessful evidence. Search from one theory to another.
Many are now focusing on ballot drop boxes — safe and locked containers where people can deposit ballots — according to unfounded Belief Secret agents, or so-called ballot mules, are stuffing them with fake ballots or otherwise tampering with them. They are recruiting observers to monitor countless drop boxes across the country, taking advantage of millions of Americans who are being swayed by false election claims.
In most cases, organizing is in its early stages, with supporters posting unproven plans to watch local drop boxes. But some small-scale “surveillance” has been promoted using Craigslist, Telegram, Twitter, Gab and the Trump-backed social media platform Truth Social. Several sites dedicated to the cause went live this year, including at least one aimed at coordinating volunteers.
Some prominent politicians have embraced the idea. Cary Lake, the Trump-backed Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, asked followers on Twitter if they “would like to take turns watching drop boxes to catch potential ballot mules.”
Supporters liken the events to harmless neighborhood watches or pizza-and-beer-fueled tailgate parties. But some online commenters discussed carrying AR-15s and other firearms and expressed their desire to arrest citizens and record license plates. That has raised concerns among election officials and law enforcement that what supporters call legitimate patriotic oversight could easily fall into unlawful voter intimidation, invasion of privacy, campaigns or confrontations.
“What we’re going to be dealing with in 2022 is more of a bunch of conspiracy theorists who’ve identified a problem and are now looking for evidence, or at least something they can twist into evidence and use it to undermine confidence in an outcome they don’t like ,” said Matthew Weir, executive director of the Elections Program at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “When your whole premise is that there are problems, every problem looks like a problem, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking at.”
Mr. Keshel, whose position as Captain K inspired the Arizona rallies, said in an interview that monitoring drop boxes could uncover illegal “ballot collection,” or voters casting ballots for others.The practice is legal in some states like California, but mostly Unlawful in battlefields like Georgia and Arizona. There is no evidence of widespread illegal balloting in the 2020 presidential election.
“In order to have quality control of a process suitable for cheating, I guess there is no other way than monitoring,” Mr Kesher said. “In fact, when you go up, they have surveillance at the polling station, so I don’t see a difference.”
Mr Weir said the legality of monitoring the boxes was murky. Regulatory Law The number of polling stations — such as whether observers can record voter entry or exit — varies from state to state, and mostly doesn’t accommodate ballot boxes.
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But many conservatives believe the boxes can lead to electoral fraud. The conversation was instigated by conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary 2000 Mules, which uses leaps of logic and dubious evidence to claim that a group of partisan “mules” Ballot boxes are shuttled and filled with fraudulent documents. ticket. The documentary has been popular with Republican campaigns and right-wing commentators eager for new ways to keep skepticism about the 2020 election.
“Vote mules” have quickly become central figures in false stories about the 2020 election. According to Zignal Labs, the term “ballot mules” appeared only 329 times between November 2020 and the first mention of “2000 Mules” on Twitter in January 2022. Since then, the term has appeared on Twitter 326,000 times, 63 percent of which coincided with discussions of the documentary.The documentary’s executive producer, Salem Media Group, claimed in May that the film earned more than $10 million.
The push for civic scrutiny of ballot boxes and legislative efforts to increase scrutiny of ballot boxes have also gained traction. A state law passed this year in Utah requires 24-hour video surveillance at all unattended ballot boxes, often challenging career That cost taxpayers in a county hundreds of thousands of dollars. County commissioners in Douglas County, Nebraska, which includes Omaha, voted in June to allocate $130,000 for drop-box cameras to supplement existing cameras the county doesn’t own.
In June, Arizona lawmakers approved a budget that included $500,000 for a pilot project on ballot box monitoring. The 16 boxes included will have 24-hour photo and video surveillance, reject ballots if cameras don’t work, and accept only one ballot at a time, and generate a receipt for each ballot submitted.
Many proponents of surveillance argue that dropboxes should be banned altogether. Some have posted video tours of drop box sites, claiming that the cameras are pointing in the wrong direction or that the locations are not properly secured.
Melody Jennings, the secretary and adviser who founded the right-wing group Clean Elections America, claimed to have won the honor for the truth social gathering in Arizona, saying it was the group’s “first campaign.” She said in a podcast interview that any surveillance group she organizes will try to record all voters who use drop boxes. The primary, she said, was a “trial run” in mid-November. Ms. Jennings did not respond to a request for comment.
After the Arizona rally, organizers wrote to prominent Truth Social users, including Trump, claiming without evidence that “the mules came to the scene, saw the party, and left without casting a ballot. Comments on other social media posts about the event noted that the group could scare away voters concerned about participating, attract people who plan to report the group’s activities, or simply witness lost passersby.
On Aug. 2, Ms. Lake and several others who rejected the election won the Arizona primary, where the GoFundMe campaign provided “citizen volunteers across the state at every public voting drop box 24 hours a day.” The presence of the location” seeks donations. Republican state Sen. Kelly Townsend said at a legislative hearing in May that people would train “hidden tracking cameras” on ballot boxes and track suspected fraudsters to their cars and record their license plate numbers.
“I’m happy to hear from all the vigilantes who want to camp in these drop boxes,” Ms Townsend said.
Other states are also developing surveillance plans. Auditing posts for voting in Hawaii, where citizens are “converging watch teams” to monitor drop boxes. A similar group in Pennsylvania, Audit the Vote PA, posted on social media that they should.
In Michigan, a shaky video shot from inside a car and posted on Truth Social shows what appears to be a man collecting ballots from a drop box. It ends with a close-up of a truck license plate.
In Washington, a right-wing group launches scheduling service Drop Box Watch Help people organize staking, encourage them to take any “unusual” photos or videos. All volunteer spots for the state’s primary election earlier this month are full, the group’s website says.
A Gab user with more than 2,000 followers offered surveillance tips on the social network and Rumble: “Let their faces be clearly visible on camera, we don’t want blurry Bigfoot movies,” he said in a video. His own face was covered with helmet, goggles and cloth. “We need to put it in the Gab group so we can keep a record of what’s going on.”
Calls for civilian surveillance have gone beyond the ballot box. A post on the conservative blog hailed those monitoring “any suspicious activity before, during and after the election” at ballot printing companies, ballot centers and candidate offices.
Paul Gronke, director of Reed College’s Center for Election and Voting Information, suggested that activists looking to improve election security should push for more data transparency measures and tracking programs that would allow voters to monitor the status of their absentee ballots. He said he had never heard of a legitimate example of a safe deposit box regulator successfully catching fraud.
Self-appointed supervisors, largely untrained in specific state election procedures, have been accused by inculcated misinformation and militarized rhetoric that the prospect of confrontation “is just a source of disaster” and “jeopardizes the ability of voters to vote.” ability”. votes,” Mr Gronk said.
“There are ways to protect the system, but having vigilantes standing around drop boxes is not the way to do it,” he said. “The drop box isn’t the problem – it’s just a misdirection of energy.”
Kang Baizhi Contribution report.