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In this Aug. 30, 2021 file photo, Tim Rasmussen, left and Karl Vostrez, right deliver mail-in ballots for the Sept. 14th, recall election at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office in Sacramento, Calif. (AP) In this Aug. 30, 2021 file photo, Tim Rasmussen, left and Karl Vostrez, right deliver mail-in ballots for the Sept. 14th, recall election at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office in Sacramento, Calif. (AP)

In this Aug. 30, 2021 file photo, Tim Rasmussen, left and Karl Vostrez, right deliver mail-in ballots for the Sept. 14th, recall election at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office in Sacramento, Calif. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 13, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • Former President Donald Trump and his allies have suggested ahead of time that the Sept. 14 California recall election has been rigged. This echoes a similar tactic Trump has employed in his own past elections.

  • Larry Elder, the top GOP candidate in the California recall election, has a link to his website to encourage citizens to report fraud. ​

In the days leading up to the California recall election, former President Donald Trump alleged without evidence that the California recall election was rigged on behalf of Gov. Gavin Newsom, echoing falsehoods from the 2020 election.

About a week before the Sept. 14 election, Trump told Newsmax that the election was "probably rigged." He went further with a Sept. 13 statement from his Save America PAC:

"Does anybody really believe the California recall election isn’t rigged? Millions and millions of mail-in ballots will make this just another giant election scam, no different, but less blatant, than the 2020 Presidential Election Scam!"

Some of Trump’s allies had been laying the groundwork before Election Day to suggest that a rigged election is the only path for Newsom to win.

On Fox News’ "Outnumbered," Tomi Lahren said about a week before the election, "The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud." 

Larry Elder, the top GOP candidate in the California recall election, had a link on his website — days before the Sept. 14 election — inviting the public to report potential fraud and demand a legislative review of pro-Newsom results.

The website, stopcafraud.com, asks citizens to sign a petition demanding a special session of the California Legislature "to investigate and ameliorate the twisted results of this 2021 Recall Election of Governor Gavin Newsom."

The website makes a series of allegations suggesting voter fraud without providing any evidence. We emailed Elder’s campaign but did not receive a response. We also did not receive a response from Trump’s PAC about his renewed claims of election rigging.

Unlike Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election, these claims about the recall election ignore the political reality in California: Newsom could win because Democrats nearly outnumber Republicans two-to-one. The last Republican to win the governor’s seat was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was re-elected in 2006.

But even if we set aside that California is a blue state, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where it would be logistically possible to rig a statewide election in which more than 8 million have already cast ballots. 

"It’s very difficult to rig any election, really, especially in California but even nationwide," said Donna Johnston, Sutter County Registrar of Voters and president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. "We are all decentralized. Elections are run from local jurisdictions and information is fed to the state." 

Rigging an election would require convincing elections officials across the state — Democrats, Republicans, minor parties and those without a party preference — to team up to secretly break the law and risk landing in jail.

There are tens of thousands of election officials across the state who are involved in the various steps of the election, including mailing ballots, receiving ballots and working at in-person voting sites.

The day before the election, Johnston said, "We are not seeing any evidence that it's rigged."

The state sent all active voters a mail ballot. A minority of voters have chosen to vote in person.

As of Sept. 12, counties reported more than 8 million votes cast by mail and more than 143,000 votes cast in person.

"To date, we haven’t sent any recall-related potential voter fraud cases to the Attorney General's office," said Jenna Dresner, a spokesperson for the California Secretary of State. 

Experts have told us that voting by mail presents a higher risk of fraud than in person voting. But election after election shows that voter fraud is rare among the millions of ballots cast. A nationwide canvas of state election officials by Bloomberg news published in July about the November election found roughly 200 fraud prosecutions. The conservative Heritage Foundation says it has found 1,333 proven instances of voter fraud nationwide, over decades.

When it exists, voter fraud tends to happen on the local level. Earlier this year a judge ordered a new election for a position in a small Mississippi city after ruling that 78% of the 84 absentee ballots cast for that seat contained irregularities.

In California in August, police found a man passed out in a vehicle in the city of Torrance with 300 ballots, drugs and driver’s licenses and credit cards in other peoples’ names. Officials said replacement ballots would be sent to the voters. The police department wrote in a Facebook post that the incident was under investigation and that it was "not tied to any additional thefts of election ballots."

We found no evidence of a rigged election. But if the goal of those who make such allegations is to draw attention, they have had some success.

Zignal Labs analyzed trends across social media in relation to the California recall between June 1 and Sept. 10 and found that the word "fraud" garnered about 145,000 mentions, while "rigged" or "rigging" drove about 60,000 mentions. Other phrases or words that drew tens of thousands of mentions included "cheat," "cheating" or "stealing ballots."

The narratives captured all conversation surrounding the topic, which means that not all of the mentions were accusations about fraud. But Zignal Labs found that general narratives around voter fraud, a rigged election, ballot stealing and cheating spiked in the month before the election.

RELATED: PolitiFact California Guide To Misinformation About The Newsom Recall Election

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Our Sources

Larry Elder, stopcafraud.com

Tomi Lahren at Fox News, Sept. 7, 2021

Newsmax, Former President Donald Trump, Sept. 7, 2021

Heritage Foundation, Voter fraud database, Accessed Sept. 13, 2021

Torrance Police Department, Facebook post, Aug. 23, 2021

California Secretary of State, Voter registration, Aug. 30, 2021 

Sacramento Bee, Larry Elder prepares for California recall loss with lawyers, voter fraud website, Sept. 13, 2021

Politico, Trump is already claiming the California recall is rigged, Sept. 9, 2021

Email interview, Donna Johnston, Sutter County Registrar of Voters and president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, Sept. 23, 2021

Email interview, Jenna Dresner, California Secretary of State spokesperson, Sept. 13, 2021

Email interview, Tom Korolyshun, account supervisor, DKC, for Zignal Labs, Sept. 13, 2021

Bloomberg, Sparse Voter-Fraud Cases Undercut Claims of Widespread Abuses, July 21, 2021

PolitiFact, Donald Trump says Joe Biden can only win by a 'rigged election.' That's wrong in several ways, Aug 24, 2021

PolitiFact, Donald Trump's baseless claims about the election being 'rigged' Aug. 15, 2016

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