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caption: FILE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Wilmington, Ohio.
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FILE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Wilmington, Ohio.
Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WA state GOP remains divided over false 2020 election fraud claims

Former President Trump is no longer in office. But many Republicans still believe the election was stolen.

Their fear of election fraud — and the false claim that Trump actually won in November — continues to divide the GOP across the country and here in Washington state.

Nansen Malin heads the Republican Party in Pacific County, out at the coast. Think Long Beach: It's small, with a population of roughly 20,000 people.

Malin rose to prominence, with nearly half a million Twitter followers, as something of a radical Tea Party Republican. But these days, she worries about political extremists to her right.

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

Malin said she got into trouble, partly because she’s outspoken about wearing masks to stop the spread of Covid-19. But she’s also spent a lot of time trying to convince angry Republicans that the election in Pacific County was 100% secure. She said she knows that firsthand from working closely with county elections.

But that assurance isn't good enough for some members of her political party.

Bob Eberle is a prominent Skagit County Republican and former three-term lawmaker. In the wake of the 2020 election, he continues to make unsupported claims that the election was rigged.

He said that Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman has failed to secure Washington's elections. He claims Wyman doesn’t want to there to be fraud — so she doesn’t see it.

Eberle has also peddled claims that non-residents can automatically register to vote when they get a driver’s license — a pretty common fear. 2020 Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp has also promoted the claim, including during an interview of Culp by KIRO host Dori Monson.

"It doesn't matter where they're from, as long as they come to Washington state and rent an apartment, or a trailer, or get a homeless address," Culp told Monson. "They go get a driver's license or an ID card of Washington state and they are automatically registered to vote.”

That is not true.

Only people with enhanced driver’s licenses or IDs are eligible for Automatic Voter Registration. And to get an enhanced ID, you must 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. Anyone lying about that risks fines, incarceration, and even deportation. Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman said it could also "jeopardize a person’s ability to attain citizenship in the future.”

Wyman is a Republican who continues to defend the integrity of the state’s election system; that has come with consequences.

Her staff has received death threats. Her elections director was forced to go into hiding.

But Wyman said she thinks there’s hope that the right leaders can restore confidence in elections, including election officials at the local level.

Carolyn Fundingsland, an independent and the auditor in red Cowlitz County agrees.

Fundingsland said lots of Republican voters believe election fraud occurred. But she said they can be convinced of the truth: That there was no fraud.

For one thing, she said very few people buy into QAnon-level conspiracy theories: That Democrats eat children, or that Trump is still the president — a sort of second president, based on a prophesy.

Fundingsland said most Republicans are not into that stuff — they’re just skeptical. And many actually have good questions about the elections results and data.

“Even though we had a lot of concerns, we are very open and transparent here in Cowlitz County," she said. "And if I'm given the opportunity, if somebody is willing to listen, and potentially willing to come in and see the process, I will convince them.”

But that comes with some big caveats.

First: What works in a small county like Cowlitz may not work in bigger places. Second: It may not work when fraud is suspected in other counties and states.

Even Nansen Malin, the Republican chair in Pacific County, said she thinks there were elections shenanigans in battleground states, despite reassurances from Republican elections officials in nearly all of those states.

Fundingsland said the only practical solution would be for Americans to regain their trust. But based on her experience after 2020, that could take a very long time.