conspiracy theories

McCarthy’s Bogus Conspiracy Theory About Midterm-Election Theft Becoming Republican Holy Writ

Kevin McCarthy, still whining about the midterms. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

You could sort of understand it when House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy embraced a silly “California voter fraud” conspiracy theory first bruited about by his predecessor, Paul Ryan, after the GOP lost its House minority in the 2018 midterms. It had to be embarrassing to McCarthy that his own state of California had become a political wasteland for his party, with Republicans losing half their 14-member U.S. House delegation in one fell swoop. And he also knew his ultimate boss, the president of the United States, just loves California-based conspiracy theories about illegal voting, and requires zero evidence to believe them. In this case, the lurid evidence was basically that Republican candidates were leading on Election Night and somehow lost their leads when late-mail ballots were counted, which is actually pretty normal in a state where the vast majority of ballots are cast by mail and those postmarked by Election Day still count.

At an official House Republican retreat, McCarthy is repeating his little voter-fraud fable, which is apparently transmogrifying from a convention rationalization to holy writ, as Dan Desai Martin reported:

In California, residents who vote by mail are allowed to drop their ballot in the mail up to (and including) Election Day. As a result, many ballots are not and can not be counted until several days or even weeks after Election Day. McCarthy, who represents a district in California, is well aware of this fact.

Yet by bringing up preliminary vote totals before all voters had a chance to be heard, he seems to want to silence Californians who chose to vote by mail in the final days of the 2018 election. He gives no evidence that any type of election fraud took place, and California officials have not identified any sort of widespread fraud.

I addressed this last year when Ryan first cried “fraud”:

[California’s 2018 system] been the practice in Washington [State] for years, without complaint (other than from reporters). And when you think about it, why should we respect ballots cast on Election Day more than those filled out on or before Election Day that are duly placed in the mail, at their own expense? Should such voters have to guess how long it will take the postal service to deliver their ballots? This complaint only makes sense to someone who wants to make voting inconvenient, and hence rarer. 

Or someone who wants to pretend that the fraction of the vote cast and counted on Election Day — which typically does lean Republican — is somehow “final.”

Another element of the GOP’s California fraud claims involves so-called “ballot harvesting,” a procedure that allows third parties to pick up signed and sealed mail ballots and deliver them to election officials, thus saving voters the price of a stamp and the hassle of finding a mail box. It’s not a terribly common practice, as best we can tell, but there’s nothing fishy about it, since it remains a felony offense to open up a completed ballot and tamper with it. In North Carolina’s 9th district, in sharp contrast, a Republican operative ran a scam where unmarked absentee ballots were picked up, filled out, and sent it — and some completed Democratic votes were discarded. Now that’s voter fraud, and its detection led to the invalidation of the results.

In any event, Republicans in California and elsewhere really need to stop whining and focus on winning in 2020. All this ex post facto delegitimization of elections that they lost sounds like a dress rehearsal for how they’ll behave if they do poorly again next year.

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