Don't fall for MAGA's "election integrity" con job

Journalists — and the rest of us — need to quit parroting Republicans' transparent lies about voting

By Kirk Swearingen

Contributing Writer

Published May 19, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

A detail of a hat in support of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump before a rally on May 1, 2024 at Avflight Saginaw in Freeland, Michigan. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
A detail of a hat in support of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump before a rally on May 1, 2024 at Avflight Saginaw in Freeland, Michigan. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Can journalists please stop repeating the term “election integrity” just because Republicans insist on saying it?

Heck, if they don't offer credible evidence (because there is none), I wouldn’t even quote Republicans when they use the term, at least not without setting the record straight. Election laws being put into place in Republican-controlled states have nothing to do with integrity and everything to do with denying citizens their right to vote and intimidating election officials and volunteers.

The second most crucial Republican policy after cutting taxes for the already wealthy has long been to make voting more difficult for populations that tend to vote Democratic. They accomplished this in recent decades by gerrymandering, limiting polling places and hours, using scare tactics and dishing out election disinformation

Now, the MAGA party insists on further cheating its way to permanent minority rule by denigrating the idea that voting can be fair — if the other side wins.

If the idea that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election — which he won by more than 7 million votes, with a 306-232 electoral vote victory — is Trump’s big lie, then Republican efforts to ensure “election integrity” around the country are lies metastasizing from the malignant tumor Trump introduced into our democracy. Trump’s con about election fraud is intended to succeed where his multifaceted effort to overturn the 2020 election failed.

Led by disgraced attorney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani — who claimed the election was stolen way back in 1989, when he lost his first mayoral race against Democratic incumbent David Dinkins — the Trump campaign brought 62 lawsuits claiming some kind of voter fraud or voting improprieties in the 2020 election. Trump's apparatchiks lost 61 of those, either because they lacked standing to sue or because they had no real evidence to offer. (As actual attorneys involved no doubt understood, presenting false evidence in court of law can get you in serious trouble.) Oh, and that one case they won, in Pennsylvania? It was about whether voters should be allowed to correct the identification on their ballot within three days of the election, and did not affect the outcome. 

No evidence of significant voter fraud has existed in any recent American election. The most noteworthy instances in recent years have involved individual Republicans attempting to cast false votes, probably because Fox News–style propagandists and right-wing politicians tell them every day that Democrats are cheating.

A man came up to me the other day — big man, strong man — with tears in his eyes. He asked me, “Kirk, sir, why do Republican-controlled legislatures pass laws about election integrity when there's no evidence of voter fraud?”

As usual for Trumpists, every accusation is an admission. Who cheats at elections? You might ask the phony Republican electors charged in Michigan, Georgia and Nevada, or the 10 Republicans who admitted to what they did in the Wisconsin civil case. Ask the 11 phony electors indicted in Arizona, along with officials in the Trump White House who urged them to cheat the American people. 

You might ask Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who has been indicted both in Arizona and in Georgia for trying to help Trump overturn the 2020 presidential election. Meadows demanded an end to election fraud and, oh yeah, also registered to vote in three states.

Since 2021, more than half the states have passed new “election integrity” laws that place more responsibilities and potential liabilities on poll workers. Republicans are now bragging or threatening about how many poll watchers they are training to contest all aspects of the upcoming election in swing states. To borrow one of Trump’s con-man locutions, everybody knows this announcement is about scaring voters away and undermining the public’s trust in elections. 

I could pause a moment here to mention that a man came up to me the other day —  big man, strong man — with tears welling up in his eyes, and he asked me, “Kirk, sir, why do Republican-controlled legislatures pass laws about election integrity when there has been no evidence of voter fraud?” (Well, I “could” mention it — but I won’t, because it didn't happen. Just as it never happens to Trump.)

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Trump has been talking up voter fraud since before the 2016 election, claiming at rallies that the only way he can lose is if the other side cheats, repeating the lie to brainwash his followers. Every legitimate study of elections in the U.S. has shown that it's nearly impossible to cast a false ballot without getting caught.

While there’s vanishingly little fraud in voting, Trump’s brand is fraud:

  • Trump allegedly falsified business records about payments made to his lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, to reimburse him for the hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to quash her story about having sex with Trump in 2006 — when Melania was at home with their infant son — in an attempt to hide his infidelity from voters before the 2016 election.
  • Trump and his accomplices strong-armed election officials in battleground states to change vote counts. “Look, fellas, I just want 11,780 votes,” he said while haranguing the Georgia secretary of state in an infamous phone call. 
  • Fox News pushed Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election and was sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems, eventually settling the case for $787.5 million. Fox Corporation was also sued by Smartmatic, another voting technology company, for more than $2 billion for allegedly making more than 100 false claims about vote rigging. In January, a New York judge ruled that case should proceed.
  • Trump sycophants Giuliani and John Eastman hatched the fake elector scheme, intended to throw the 2020 election to Trump by defrauding Biden voters in seven swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (and, by extension, defrauding Biden voters in all 50 states).
  •  And of course, Trump and many of his supporters and followers, including his “stand back and stand by” pals the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, perpetrated the violent insurrection and attempted coup of Jan. 6, 2021.

Since leaving the White House, Trump has been indicted in four venues on 88 felony counts. He lost two civil cases for sexually assaulting and then defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll, and another civil case for fraudulent financial statements in New York. Judges have repeatedly issued gag orders against Trump, because he cannot stop himself from publicly criticizing witnesses, jurors, prosecutors and the judges themselves, putting them in harm’s way. (As I recently wrote, we could use a nationwide gag order on Trump's calls for violence against others.)

When Republicans talk about fighting for election integrity, you know the opposite is true. By buying into Trump’s lies about elections, they're cheating the rest of us.

Parroting Trump, an increasing number of Republicans are refusing to say whether they will accept the results of this year's presidential election. Even some slightly saner Republicans are saying that MAGA-friendly members of Congress are spouting Russian propaganda. I’ve contended for years that if Trump isn’t working for Vladimir Putin, he might as well be. But that also applies to an unknown number of Republicans in Congress, not just Marjorie Taylor Greene and her friends on the far-right fringe.

As Anne Applebaum writes in her new book "Autocracy, Inc.," recently excerpted in The Atlantic, autocrats around the globe are banding together with MAGA Republicans to manipulate people into believing that democracies cannot work: 

This is the core problem for autocracies: The Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, and others all know that the language of transparency, accountability, justice, and democracy appeals to some of their citizens, as it does to many people who live in dictatorships. Even the most sophisticated surveillance can’t wholly suppress it. The very ideas of democracy and freedom must be discredited — especially in the places where they have historically flourished.

Meanwhile, threats against election officials continue. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that “large numbers of election officials report having experienced threats, abuse, or harassment for doing their jobs” and that those officials have taken steps since the 2020 election to secure the safety of staff and volunteers. 

When Republicans talk about fighting for election integrity, you know the opposite is true. By buying into Trump’s lies about elections, Republicans are cheating the rest of us. As a pathological narcissist (as well as the world’s biggest crybaby), Trump cannot allow himself to admit defeat, and Republicans are willing to tear the country apart to appease his toddler-like tantrums.

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Republican propaganda around voting happens so often that another glaring example occurred within the last week, while I was finishing this article. House Speaker Mike Johnson held a press conference to announce a bill that would keep non-citizens from voting. But since it's already illegal for non-citizens to vote, journalists immediately called him out on it.

Media outlets must strive not to repeat any Republican permutation of “election integrity” and must patiently spell out the truth again and again — and then again, as tiresome as that may be. They should also report on the larger Republican effort to undermine confidence in elections, pass more rules that make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote and intimidate those voters who show up anyway.

While the Biden administration is doing what it can to promote voting, Republicans are working diligently to create the illusion that they support free and fair elections, all while creating a system of roadblocks and intimidation. They hope to create a system where voting takes place but the outcome is guaranteed. Trump and his enablers have taken that even further by claiming the only way they can lose is if the other side cheats.

As Timothy Snyder writes in "On Tyranny":

We believe that we have checks and balances, but have rarely faced a situation like the present: when the less popular of the two parties suppresses voting, claims fraud when it loses elections, and controls the majority of the statehouses. The party that exercises such control proposes few policies that are popular with society at large, and several that are unpopular — and thus must either fear democracy or weaken it.

By Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and independent journalist. He is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and his work has appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, Bloom, the American Journal of Poetry, Riverfront Times, Medium and Salon.

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections Maga Mike Johnson Republicans Voting Rights