September 30, 2022

Hunting for Voter Fraud, Conspiracy Theorists Organize ‘Stakeouts’

“What we’re going to be dealing with in 2022 is more of a citizen corps of conspiracists that have already decided that there’s a problem and are now looking for evidence, or at least something they can twist into evidence, and use that to undermine confidence in results they don’t like,” said Matthew Weil, the executive director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “When your entire premise is that there are problems, every issue looks like a problem, especially if you have no idea what you’re looking at.”

Mr. Keshel, whose post as Captain K inspired the Arizona gathering, said in an interview that monitoring drop boxes could catch illegal “ballot harvesting,” or voters depositing ballots for other people. The practice is legal in some states, like California, but is mostly illegal in battlegrounds like Georgia and Arizona. There is no evidence that widespread illegal ballot harvesting occurred in the 2020 presidential election.

“In order to quality-control a process that is ripe for cheating, I suppose there’s no way other than monitoring,” Mr. Keshel said. “In fact, they have monitoring at polling stations when you go up, so I don’t see the difference.”

The legality of monitoring the boxes is hazy, Mr. Weil said. Laws governing supervision of polling places — such as whether watchers may document voters entering or exiting — differ across states and have mostly not been adapted to ballot boxes.

In 2020, election officials embraced ballot boxes as a legal solution to socially distanced voting during the coronavirus pandemic. All but 10 states allowed them.

But many conservatives have argued that the boxes enable election fraud. The talk has been egged on by “2000 Mules,” a documentary by the conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, which uses leaps of logic and dubious evidence to claim that an army of partisan “mules” traveled between ballot boxes and stuffed them with fraudulent votes. The documentary proved popular on the Republican campaign trail and among right-wing commentators, who were eager for novel ways to keep doubts about the 2020 election alive.

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