Concerns mount over media, government quashing election integrity efforts through intimidation

Fear of being ostracized as an "election denier" or investigated by state or federal authorities is deterring skeptics from pursuing anti-voter fraud initiatives in what critics say is a campaign to stop Republicans from challenging voting rule changes.

Published: December 12, 2022 8:37pm

Updated: December 12, 2022 11:19pm

Concerns are mounting among those supporting initiatives to thwart voter fraud and promote the integrity of future elections that their active participation will invite the fury of a Democrat-led campaign to ostracize, investigate, and potentially prosecute them for being so-called "election deniers."

This coordinated intimidation campaign is driven by media, progressive networks, and state and federal government, according to leaders of the election integrity movement who spoke to Just the News, and has led to many activists staying home and lawyers — particularly Republican lawyers — not wanting to take on legal challenges against controversial voting rule changes.

Such fear was evident in Michigan last week, when an apparent threat by Democrat Attorney General Dana Nessel to arrest and prosecute local activists promoting election integrity and anti-voter fraud initiatives caused many of them to steer clear of a contentious monitoring effort out of fear of being targeted by the government.

"Many of the volunteers were afraid to come because they're afraid of being investigated by the attorney general," said Daniel Hartman, an attorney in Michigan who's been working with election integrity advocates and closely monitoring the recount effort. "A lot of first-timers were especially scared."

Michigan residents may also come under scrutiny as part of an ongoing federal investigation.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, who's overseeing the Justice Department investigation into whether any individual attempted to interfere unlawfully in the transfer of presidential power following the 2020 election or the electoral certification process in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, sent subpoenas to local election officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona earlier this month. He's seeking all communications with Donald Trump, his 2020 campaign, and a list of his aides and allies.

Election integrity groups in these states are concerned about the probe, especially with more subpoenas now being issued, according to Erick Kaardal, an attorney and a special counsel for the Thomas More Society who's active in election integrity efforts.

"It's a concern and chills speech," Kaardal told Just the News. "People have a right to complain, question, ask for answers. We don't want that kind of speech to be chilled. People will lose even more confidence in our elections."

The Justice Department has called the Jan. 6 probe "the most wide-ranging investigation" in its history. So far the, department has arrested nearly 900 people for charges related to Jan. 6, imprisoning most without a trial. Most also weren't accused of carrying a weapon, assaulting law enforcement, or destroying property. Many didn't enter the Capitol building.

Legal experts and other critics have described the ongoing probe — which is also targeting those who questioned the 2020 presidential election, focusing particularly on Trump and his associates — as an intimidation campaign meant to instill fear in Trump supporters.

The Justice Department didn't respond to a request for comment.

Kaardal described a "four-legged stool" of "progressive billionaires" and their nonprofit organizations working in conjunction with the media, Big Tech, and government to obtain "system election advantages for progressive candidates."

Since the 2020 election cycle, Democrats have pushed initiatives at both the state and federal level to change a host of voting rules, such as instituting universal mail-in voting, with the apparent backing of influential nongovernmental forces.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, for example, funneled about $350 million in grants through the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life during the 2020 election to fund a variety of work and equipment. That included ballot drop boxes, voting equipment, additional manpower, protective gear for poll workers, and public education campaigns on new voting methods, among other expenses.

Democrats defended the money as necessary to conduct the election safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, while Republicans noted most of the grants were targeted to Democrat-leaning districts.

Zuckerberg was also one of the Big Tech leaders in October to receive a letter from an organization backed by liberal billionaire George Soros and other left-wing groups urging them "to curb the spread of voting disinformation in the midterms and future elections and to help prevent the undermining of our democracy," according to a report by the Media Research Center.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media has in recent months used and normalized the term "election denier" in its political coverage, reserving the disparaging phrase for those who questioned the results of the 2020 election.

Observers active in pursuing election integrity efforts have described this "four-legged stool" as a way to target Republican skeptics pushing to combat voter fraud, especially lawyers.

"It's frightening," said Victoria Toensing, a lawyer and former Justice Department official. "This is a threat from the media and the Justice Department against people who work for the GOP and even question our elections. Marc Elias can go out there and protest any election, but Republicans who do so come under investigation, and people request you be disbarred. There's a desire to intimidate and quash Republicans from mounting these election legal challenges."

Elias, the Democrats' top election lawyer, was a central figure in both the Russia collusion hoax, which cast doubt on Trump's election victory in 2016, and the more recent effort to upend the nation's voting laws in unprecedented ways, which fueled widespread questioning of Biden's election victory in 2020.

Toensing wasn't alone in describing an effort to intimidate Republican attorneys.

"Suffice to say that the Democrats have weaponized the government to make sure they take GOP election lawyers off the field," said Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who chairs the Election Integrity Network. "If the media was telling this story about what the DOJ is doing, there would be a massive backlash. This is totalitarianism by the Biden DOJ. We historically have not criminalized political opposition in America until Biden and [Attorney General] Merrick Garland came into office."

Just the News has previously reported on growing outcry among legal experts and civil libertarians over what they described as the Justice Department's strong-arm tactics targeting Trump allies and critics of the Biden administration. Many of the incidents under scrutiny were related to the Jan. 6 probe.

This scrutiny for alleged overreach against political opponents has raised concerns about the Justice Department's conduct in an array of areas. Last month, for example, election experts raised concerns that the department deploying federal agents to monitor polls nationwide during the midterm elections was unnecessary and counterproductive in large part due to its own actions since Biden took office.

At the local level, both Kaardal and Hartman argued the current political environment has made it difficult to find Republican and other lawyers willing to take on lawsuits in the name of election integrity.

"All this has had a chilling effect on lawyers representing the election integrity side," said Kaardal. "There are very few right-of-center attorneys available to bring election lawsuits against the government. Anyone who questions election officials is labeled an election denier, even a bigot."

Election integrity groups, he continued, are having difficulty finding lawyers at both large and small firms willing to take on these cases. As he put it: "Representing someone challenging election officials for violating election law is worse than representing an ax murderer,"

In contrast, Hartman described how in Michigan he's seen progressive groups combating his election integrity efforts maintaining a large supply of lawyers.

Referring to the disparity as "asymmetrical lawfare," Kaardal said Democrats and progressives pushing for certain voting rule changes and labeling election skeptics as so-called deniers have "a lot more resources" than election integrity advocates trying to sue election officials.

But lawyers aren't the only targets, according to Hartman, who explained he's been contacted by ordinary citizens who have suffered consequences as a result of their political activism.

"One lady told me her life was ruined for being involved in election integrity," said Hartman. "She hasn't shown up to work."

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