Our forthcoming book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics.
Conservatives are taking a page from the playbook of former President Donald Trump by raising, without evidence, the specter that Democrats are trying to block a California recall election by manipulating the elections process.
Recall organizers have expressed confidence in California's system and believe they have enough valid signatures to qualify a recall election of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. But Republican members of Congress are attacking California's signature verification process, while conservatives with large social media followings are magnifying those arguments ahead of the March 17 deadline to submit 1.5 million valid signatures.
"I expect them to lie, cheat and steal," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in an interview, adding that Democrats could "take all the friendly registrars of voters they can find... and just challenge every signature."
California has plenty of experience with signature-driven ballot fights, given that the initiative process is a well-worn path for interest groups trying to circumvent the state Capitol. As those in the ballot measure industry know, every petition drive must aim to collect hundreds of thousands more signatures than required because there are always invalid submissions. Serious players build enough room in their budgets to overshoot the valid signature goal by 20 percent or more through paid gatherers and outreach.
Some conservatives have already posted false claims on social media, like actor Kevin Sorbo, perhaps best known for his title role on the 1990s "Hercules" TV series. "So California is requiring signature verification for Gavin Newsom’s recall, but didn’t require it for the mail in ballots. How strange," Sorbo tweeted last month in a claim that was false because registrars are required to check signatures on mail-in ballots — one reason election results can take so long to emerge in California.
The tweet — shared and liked more than 120,000 times — was amplified without correction by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has backed the recall and donated more than $100,000 to the campaign.
In other cases, Republicans are using election integrity fears in a bid to collect more signatures. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) last month sent supporters an email saying Democrats "plan to toss any signatures they can render as invalid (surprise surprise)."
"We need it to be beyond the margin of Democrat trickery," LaMalfa said of recall efforts before urging supporters to sign the petition.