Editorial: The ‘Big Lie’ comes to California

A girl waits as her mother votes at Dodger Stadium.
Arabella Abarca, 4, waits as her mother Alexis Abarca votes at Dodger Stadium in November.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Election Integrity Project California touts itself as a nonpartisan elections watchdog whose mission is “to defend the integrity of the voting process that protects our freedoms and way of life.”

On the face of it, that sounds noble. Fair elections are the basis of a healthy democracy. But the reality, as a Los Angeles Times investigation documents, is quite different. The organization, founded by a former Santa Clarita tea party activist, in fact has strong ties to the Republican Party, and its efforts are based on the fantasy of mass voting fraud in California that conservatives can’t seem to quit.

Earlier this year, the group and 13 failed GOP congressional candidates sued the state of California, citing “mass irregularities and opportunities for fraud” — basically the same “Big Lie” that former President Trump and his supporters continue to flog without a whit of evidence. Last week, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit because there was just no there there. A better name for this group would be “the Elections Delusion Project.”

Baseless claims of voting fraud and improper registration are, sadly, nothing new in California. For decades, conservatives have retold apocryphal and often racist tales of noncitizens driven in buses or vans from poll to poll to cast multiple ballots. In some versions, they are farmworkers; in others, Mexican residents transported across the border to vote.


How else to explain the way the GOP was losing ground to Democrats year after year if not for voter fraud? Surely it wasn’t because the party of Ronald Reagan was — gulp — losing touch with the values of Californians. President Trump latched on to this myth in 2016 when he claimed that he lost the popular vote because millions of undocumented residents cast ballots for Hillary Clinton. He went so far as to create a commission to investigate the fake voter fraud claims.

Election Integrity Project California, however, is not going to wait until after the coming gubernatorial recall election to take action. The organization plans to recruit an “army” of 30,000 volunteers to police the polls — a prospect that is extremely concerning. The group says it trains regular citizens to observe elections and voting procedures as well as to comb through registration data for irregularities. But there have been a troubling number of reports of poll watchers veering into the dangerous territory of challenging legitimate votes and registrations and intimidating voters during the November election, according to official documents and court records. California cannot stand for that.

Furthermore, though poll watchers working with this group and others have made claims of millions of instances of improper registration or fraudulent voting, few truly serious cases have been found when election officials have investigated. In many instances, the scrutiny revealed that the complaints were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of election law. Yes, officials have uncovered a few cases of dead people whose names remained on the voter rolls and, in Riverside County, one case of double voting. But nothing on the scale that would move the needle on even a local election, let alone a statewide one.

Are voter rolls perfect? Of course not. Voter registration lists are fluid, as they must be. People move and die. Some voters choose to sit out elections, sometimes for years. But the rolls are not rife with fraud, and they never have been.

We can’t help but see the mustering of a volunteer force of “poll police” as preparation for what now seems the inevitable outcome of the recall election: Gov. Gavin Newsom will hold on to his seat because a healthy majority of voters lean Democratic in this state, and Republicans and their allies will claim massive fraud, refuse to recognize the results of the election and launch an all-out assault on the elections process. And faith in our elections will take another hit.

It’s sad that California Republicans are supporting the voting fraud myth and helping to sow uncertainty about the ability of our democracy to function. The party needs to face the fact that it is the architect of its own decline. Currently, only 24% of voters in California are registered Republican — assuming, of course, that all the numbers are legitimate and not inflated by the sort of improper registrations alleged by Election Integrity Project California. No amount of “poll policing” will change that fact.