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An ill-advised plan for a GOP primary shows the power of election lies

A stack of blank Texas voter registration forms
A stack of voter registration forms at a pro-Trump roadside trailer in Amarillo in July 2020
AFP via Getty Images

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On Friday we published a scoop out of Amarillo, Texas, my ancestral homeland. The Potter County GOP chair, Dan Rogers, has decided to run his own Republican primary in March. He says he’ll use manual poll books and hand-marked ballots, and that election workers will count those ballots by hand. It’s a recipe for disaster, multiple election administrators and experts told me. They also told him that, but he doesn’t seem to care.

Manual poll books will make it impossible for the county to prevent those who have already cast ballots in the Democratic primary (which will be run by the county in the standard way) from also casting a ballot in the Republican primary. Rogers acknowledged this, but said he “trusts” people. He also says that “logic” tells him that all of the ballots will be counted in half an hour — despite multiple studies that show it would take much, much longer. “I don’t need studies, they are a waste of money,” he told me.

While parties are allowed to run their primaries however they see fit, they are not allowed to violate Texas election law. And Texas’s new voting bill, passed earlier this year, holds party chairs personally liable for any violations. In addition to being removed from his position, Rogers could face a $1,000 fine per individual violation. He, again, didn’t seem to care.

My conversation with Rogers was confusing. He rejected studies, gave short shrift to federal civil rights law, and ignored the problems with his plan the state and the county have pointed out to him. This, he said, is what his voters want. Why do they want this? Well, they received an “election integrity symposium” from Jeff Zink, a native of nearby Borger, Texas, and a congressional candidate for Arizona’s 7th District. Zink and his son were part of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, though he denies that they entered the building. That’s news to federal prosecutors, who have charged his son, Ryan, with several crimes. “We knocked down the gates! We’re storming the Capitol! You can’t stop us!” he said, facing his video camera. “We’re about to bum rush this shit!”

Jeff Zink is also a Cyber Ninjas truther who believes the company intentionally hid the 2020 fraud he is confident took place in Maricopa County. At the mid-October symposium, he expounded on the benefits of hand-counted ballots, and Rogers took the lessons to heart. He appears unwilling to back down from his half-baked plan and very willing to ignore facts.

The Jan. 6 insurrection continues to creep into actual policy and procedure, and this is a scary sign of things to come. While he’s so far received no buy-in from other county parties, Rogers has encouraged every GOP county chair in the state to follow suit. On Dec. 3, Rogers sent out an email saying, “We would like to see other County Committees follow our lead and we will help any County Chair interested in having real secret ballot elections,” he wrote.

The Texas secretary of state’s office (headed by John Scott, recently appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott) has told Rogers it’s a bad idea, and will do so again this week in a meeting on Tuesday. “This introduces a lot of potential mistakes and it also introduces opportunities for fraud,” said Christina Adkins, the legal director of the secretary of state’s elections division. “The candidates on this ballot really need to think about whether this is how they want their election run.”

Back Then

Amarillo is the largest city in Texas to use “cumulative voting,” which allows voters to cast as many votes as there are open seats in school board elections. If, for example, there are three open seats, voters can cast one ballot in each race or give all three votes to a single candidate. The city made the switch from at-large voting after being sued by civil rights groups in 1998. After the change, a Black school board member was elected for the first time, and a Latino candidate was elected for the first time since the 1970s.

In Other Voting News

  • Vice President Kamala Harris used this week’s Democracy Summit to call for the passage of two federal voting bills that have been stalled in Congress for months. “Today, as the world watches, the president and I reiterate our call for swift passage of these bills,” she said. “We know our work at home will make us stronger for the world. We also know that the strength of our democracy is tied to the strength of democracies worldwide.” This messaging strategy is – as our analysis showed in the last newsletter – a lot of talk and not a lot of measurable action.
  • The New York City Council has voted to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. There are around 800,000 eligible noncitizens living in the five boroughs, and advocacy groups have supported such a move for years. There is, understandably, concern over the NYC Board of Elections’ ability to handle the influx — the board has routinely botched basic election procedures in recent years. “They screw things up a lot,” said council speaker Corey Johnson.
  • Remember Texas’s wild list of “noncitizens” on the voter rolls from a couple of years ago? There’s another list. It still has citizens on it.
  • Republicans in Utah’s Legislature approved an audit of the state’s election administration this week on a partisan vote. Without mentioning the 2020 election, the committee behind the review asked auditors to check “the integrity and accuracy of voter rolls … The legitimacy and security of submitted ballots … [and] the integrity of the systems and processes of election offices.” Republican Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who is in charge of the state’s elections, has no problem with the audit itself but did say she’s concerned about false narratives that “sow seeds of doubt” and are “destructive to people’s public trust” in elections. “I certainly hope that legislators and others are careful about how they frame this, and do not try to score cheap political points with it.”
  • In Alaska, where the lieutenant governor likewise oversees elections, Republican Kevin Meyer defended his handling of the 2020 vote in the face of conservatives’ audit demands, and he discussed his proposals for new voting regulations with Alaska Public Media this week in a wide-ranging interview.
  • North Carolina’s Democratic governor has vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of private donations for elections. North Carolina counties received nearly $5 million ahead of the 2020 election, largely funded by Mark Zuckerberg. Republicans passed the bill to prevent, they said, undue influence on elections. Also in North Carolina: The state’s highest court moved candidate filing deadlines back for a second time, pending litigation over the state’s maps.
  • Meanwhile in Ohio, a similar law banning private donations has confused local activists and prosecutors who say the law could be interpreted to ban elections officials from performing basic voter outreach. They fear it will prevent counties from partnering with private groups for voter registration drives and other voter services, and have asked for clarity.

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