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caption: An election worker moves a rack full of sorted ballots on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at King County Elections in Renton.
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An election worker moves a rack full of sorted ballots on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at King County Elections in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Election fraud claims continue to divide Washington State GOP

Nansen Malin, who has nearly half a million followers on Twitter, said she rose to prominence as a relatively radical Tea Party Republican in the 2000s. But these days she worries about political extremists to her right.

“I received many threats, many rants, ravings, knocks on my doors. People are mad,” she said.

Malin, who heads the Pacific County Republican Party out on the Washington Coast, said her insistence that people wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is part of what got her into trouble with fellow Conservatives last year. But she's also spent a lot of time trying to convince angry Republicans that the 2020 election was secure, at least in her county.

“I can with 100% confidence tell you our process was fair here in Pacific County, because I was involved on a daily basis,” she said.

Ex-President Trump is no longer on trial in the Senate, but many Republicans continue to cling to conspiracy theories spread by his campaign and his followers about the 2020 election. Here in Washington state, around 60% of Republicans have expressed doubts to pollsters that their own ballots were counted fairly, despite the absence of evidence for that view.

Bob Eberle, a prominent Skagit County Republican and former three-term lawmaker, said he’s no conspiracy theorist. But he does believe that Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman has failed to secure our state’s elections.

“I don't think she wants to see fraud, so she doesn't see fraud. If she wanted to find fraud, she could,” he said.

Eberle said, for example, that he believes non-residents can automatically register to vote here when they get a driver’s license.

"I got my driver's license this year, they say to you, 'do you want to vote?' Why wouldn't anybody want to vote? That does not mean everybody is qualified to vote," he said.

It’s a commonly held fear among Conservatives, including 2020 Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, who lost to Governor Jay Inslee by over half a million votes, but still claims the election was rigged against him.

“It doesn't matter where they're from, they go get a driver's license or an ID card of Washington state and they are automatically registered to vote,” Culp told KIRO Radio host Dori Monson.

That statement is false, according to the Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office. Only people with enhanced driver’s licenses or IDs are eligible for Automatic Voter Registration, and to get an enhanced ID you need to show proof of citizenship.

Even if you register the old-fashioned way, you’re still required to sign a statement that says you’re a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote. If you lie on the form you risk fines, incarceration and possibly deportation. Wyman said it could also "jeopardize a person’s ability to attain citizenship in the future.”

Defying the election skeptics in her own party, Wyman has steadfastly defended the Washington state’s system. But that’s come with consequences. Her office has received death threats, for example, and at one point her director of elections was forced to go into hiding.

Wyman said former President Trump is largely to blame for laying the groundwork for this.

"For months leading into the election, before a ballot was printed, before any election official even knew who was going to be on the ballot, the President of the United States was talking about rigged elections, and that it was the only explanation that was plausible for him losing," she said.

But Wyman remains optimistic that she and other election officials can restore people’s confidence, particularly at the local level. Wyman said that could mean inviting people in to see the process for themselves.

“Let me show you the physical security we have in place, let me show you the electronic security we have in place, let me show you the safeguards,” she said.

RELATED: Washington's Republican Secretary of State may quit the GOP

Wyman has a point, according to Cowlitz County Auditor Carlolyn Fundingsland, who had a lot firsthand experience speaking with people in her heavily Republican county who believe there was fraud in 2020.

“This, this was unlike any election, unlike any year, honestly, that we've ever experienced,” she said.

But Fundingsland is also hopeful that voter confidence can be restored. For one thing, she said very few Republicans she speaks with buy into QAnon-level conspiracy theories, which include claims like that Democrats eat children and helped fuel the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Fundingsland said most of Republicans she encounters are simply skeptical, and many have good questions about elections results and data. And she estimated that around 95% of people who come to her office with questions can be persuaded.

“We are very open and transparent here in Cowlitz County. If I'm given the opportunity, and if somebody is willing to listen, I will convince them,” she said.

That said, Fundingsland admits that what works in a small county like Cowlitz, may not be feasible in bigger places, or when the fraud is suspected in other counties and states as if often the case.

Even Nansen Malin, who assures fellow Republicans that there was no evidence of fraud in Pacific County said she thinks there may have been serious "irregularities" in some of the battleground states.

At some point the only practical solution would be for Americans to regain their trust in elections and elections officials.

But Fundingsland said based on her experience, after the doubts spread in 2020, that could take a very long time.