Alexandra Berzon and Nick Corasaniti at NYT:
An influential network of conservative activists fixated on the idea that former President Donald J. Trump won the 2020 election is working to recruit county sheriffs to investigate elections based on the false notion that voter fraud is widespread.
The push, which two right-wing sheriffs’ groups have already endorsed, seeks to lend law enforcement credibility to the false claims and has alarmed voting rights advocates. They warn that it could cause chaos in future elections and further weaken trust in an American voting system already battered by attacks from Mr. Trump and his allies.
One of the conservative sheriffs’ groups, Protect America Now, lists about 70 members, and the other, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, does not list its membership but says it conducted trainings on various issues for about 300 of the nation’s roughly 3,000 sheriffs in recent years. It is unclear how many sheriffs will ultimately wade into election matters. Many aligned with the groups are from small, rural counties.
But at least three sheriffs involved in the effort — in Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin — have already been carrying out their own investigations, clashing with election officials who warn that they are overstepping their authority and meddling in an area where they have little expertise.
“I’m absolutely sick of it,” said Pam Palmer, the clerk of Barry County, Mich., where the sheriff has carried out an investigation into the 2020 results for more than a year. “We didn’t do anything wrong, but they’ve cast a cloud over our entire county that makes people disbelieve in the accuracy of our ability to run an election.”
In recent years, sheriffs have usually taken a limited role in investigations of election crimes, which are typically handled by state agencies with input from local election officials. Republican-led state legislatures, at the same time, have pushed to impose harsher criminal penalties for voting infractions, passing 20 such laws in at least 14 states since the 2020 election.
Last fall, Adam Rawnsley reported at The Daily Beast:
The MAGA think tank at the vanguard of pro-Trump public intellectuals is recruiting sheriffs with ties to the far right and a dubious devotion to the “rule of law” to be academic “fellows” as part of a new program launched by the conservative institute this week.
The Claremont Institute, a far-right research group that’s home to a number of former Trump administration officials, announced a new crop of eight “sheriffs fellows” selected from across the country on the basis of their “character, aptitude, accomplishments, zeal, and community reputation” to visit Claremont’s California campus and study a syllabus of standard conservative political catechism.
The coursework, Claremont says, is fairly anodyne—lectures on Locke, the Federalist Papers, and English legal history—but the Institute’s choice of students is far more radical. Of the eight fellows announced this week, six have some affiliation with the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), an organization labeled as an anti-government extremist group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center for its endorsement of the idea that sheriffs can pick and choose which laws to enforce based on their own personal beliefs about what the Constitution allows.
In that spirit, members of Claremont’s first crop of sheriff fellows have vowed not to enforce pandemic restrictions, vaccine mandates, gun laws, and basically any laws they disagree with. For far-right groups like the Claremont Institute, those efforts to sidestep the rule of law and the will of democratically elected governments are a feature, not a bug.