Features Australia

Media misfire on the Big Lie

And what you didn’t know about US elections

19 February 2022

9:00 AM

19 February 2022

9:00 AM

Conservatives are finally wising up about the legacy media. That’s one takeaway from a revealing recent clash between feisty Trump Republican and media veteran, Kari Lake, who is running for governor of Arizona, and 60 Minutes Australia stalwart Liam Bartlett, which descends into name-calling after some robust jousting about US election fraud, January 6 and Trump himself.

That it redounds to the poised Lake’s credit may be inferred from the fact that, contrary to some reports, the 25 minutes of footage was not leaked, but released by Lake, whose husband taped the interview. Smart move, and a pre-emptive strike against any misleading edits.

A clash of worldviews emerges, when Bartlett insists that there’s no evidence of election fraud in Biden’s 2020 win; he is incredulous at Lake’s claim that there is corruption among election officials, the judicial process and some Republicans. This is a common opinion, with most Australians unable to believe that the US election system might be shot through with chicanery and fraud. People here trust our election machinery, and assume, mistakenly, that the US is similarly fair.

To those of this opinion, I offer two words and an astonishing tale as a corrective: Dickinson Debevoise. He was a racial justice activist and New Jersey judge who in 1982 handed down what became known as the ‘Consent Decree’. Modified, expanded and protected by Debevoise, it barred the Republican National Committee from fighting suspected voter fraud in election day operations across the US for 36 years. Yes, you read that right. For nearly 40 years the RNC and its agents were ‘prohibited by law from helping out with poll watcher efforts or nearly any litigation related to how voting is conducted,’ as Mollie Hemingway says in her book Rigged. Multiple court challenges failed to dislodge the decree, and its influence permeated down through state bodies, effectively paralysing the GOP’s political work on election days. The RNC trained its staff to avoid election day operations, including recounts, for fear of lawsuits.

The case arose out of a 1981 Democrat party lawsuit against GOP officials over alleged black and Hispanic voter intimidation in a New Jersey gubernatorial election, after off-duty sheriffs and police, some with guns, had turned up at polling places. Party officials settled with the consent decree, which limited the GOP’s – but not the Democrats’ – capacity to conduct ‘any ballot security activities… where the racial or ethnic composition… is a factor’. What the Left saw as voter intimidation, the Right deemed voter integrity. If America’s original sin is slavery, race continues to distort the rules of the Republic.

It wasn’t until after Debevoise died in 2015 that the GOP escaped the decree, in 2018. In the final court case in 2017, Trump spokesman and ex-RNC official Sean Spicer testified: ‘It had been abundantly clear for the six years that I worked at the RNC that the RNC and its employees were prohibited from engaging in Election Day activities, including poll watching…’.

Poll watching is what we know as scrutineering. I had always been puzzled by 2020 US election footage showing authorized GOP poll watchers being kept out of tally rooms, or being ejected once in, or being corralled into corners where they could see nothing. How was this allowed to happen? In Australia lawyers are always on hand for instances of election day law breaches, such as bullying by overenthusiastic volunteers, signage violations and destruction, etc. – trivial matters compared with nobbling scrutineers.

The Debevoise decree effectively gave Democrats carte blanche to organise and institutionalise their election day activities, secure in the knowledge their opponent had been cowed. If you think the Left didn’t use this extraordinary and decades-long opportunity to stack the decks electorally then I’ve got a bridge to sell you. This helps explain why, on election day 2020 Democrat operatives ran rings around the GOP who, with no corporate culture or muscle memory, were mere novices trying to play their first polling day role for 36 years.

Such a biased playing field is unthinkable here, and even many Americans are unaware of the powerful institutional advantage the consent decree created – anything that’s been the law for 36 years fades into the background and out of people’s awareness.

Which is not to say that all elections are unfair in the US. There’s enormous state variation, with some, such as Pennsylvania, virtual synonyms for fraud (a PA elections judge pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2020) and others, such as Florida, spurred by the notorious Bush v. Gore hanging chads election of 2000, now seeming clean and efficient. But if any election involves some fraud, then US elections certainly involve a lot of fraud; some Third World elections are probably cleaner.

Trump is often credited with exposing the rot of US elites, and this includes elections. Grindingly slow efforts are now underway towards voter integrity. In January 2022 the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that 2.5 million ‘no-excuse’ mail-in votes – which cut four to one for Biden – were unconstitutional. Conservative film-maker Dinesh D’Souza’s new film 2000 Mules uses a voter integrity group’s deep dive into commercial geo-tracking cell phone data to follow 2,000 ‘mules’ stuffing bunches of ballots into multiple dropboxes in key states like Georgia. One ‘mule’ made 53 such trips, snapping photos each time to get paid. Arizona GOP Rep. Mark Finchem has introduced a resolution calling for the decertification of results in three counties, in one of which, Maricopa, some 740,000 votes reportedly have no chain of custody and cannot be authenticated. And there’s a raft of GOP initiatives to undo the Covid-linked electoral changes that allowed the trebling of fraud-prone mail-in and absentee ballots between the 2016 and 2020 elections. Nor are the Democrats standing still. A Democrat congressional push to federalise election laws which at present lie with the states failed in January, with two Democrats defecting.

It is a happy tell that reporters like Bartlett, operating from the security of a much better run Australia, cannot comprehend the degree of rot within the US, nor the bare-knuckle ferocity and winner-takes-all approach. But that doesn’t excuse his rude and patronising questions, nor evident assumption that he knows better than concerned locals.

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