The Republican National Committee is working on an internal report that recognizes the electoral damage that lies about voter fraud have caused — but suggests doing nothing to call out those lies as a problem. Instead, the report’s proposed solution lies in an ever-increasing focus on “election integrity,” a term that is easier to sell than “voter suppression.”
The Washington Post, which was the first to report on the draft prepared by the RNC’s “National Election Integrity Team,” says the group’s recommendations are “based on unsubstantiated claims that Democrats have implemented election procedures that allow for rigged votes.” That includes the familiar refrain that the GOP’s push to tighten access to the ballot box is needed in the face of a “continuing onslaught of Democrat election manipulation.”
Rather than treat the disease, the RNC continues to focus only on the symptoms.
The draft report is an apparent update to the work of the RNC Committee on Election Integrity, which was first announced in February 2021. Six months later, the committee released a report asserting that “due to a lack of transparency during the 2020 elections, Americans are understandably skeptical about aspects of our voting process and will continue to be unless transparency improves.” The solution the committee offered was to take advantage of a lapsed court order that once barred the RNC from repeating past “ballot security” measures to launch a “year-round effort to recruit, train, and organize volunteers with whom the party can engage at every step of the election administration process” as part of an “Election Integrity Operations” initiative.
At no point in the committee’s earlier work or the reported pending update do the committee members acknowledge the source of Americans’ supposed skepticism: former President Donald Trump and his cadre of election deniers. More than two years later, Republicans continue to pretend that the concerns about voter fraud are organic rather than handcrafted and distributed from the top of the party and by allied media. Rather than treat the disease, the RNC continues to focus only on the symptoms.
Even then, the only reason this is seen as a problem is that Republican voters are now primed to distrust not only early voting methods but also elections themselves. We saw as much in the Senate runoffs in Georgia in January 2021, when Trump’s fearmongering about fraud was at its peak. That mistrust is why conservatives have become obsessed with ballot drop boxes and refuse to back the expanded access to the polls that Democrats have championed — which research shows doesn’t automatically benefit either party.
Instead, the new draft’s authors suggest a massive mobilization of “election integrity officers” and lawyers poised to “hold election officials accountable for violating the law,” which I have to again stress is not a thing that has been happening. “If there is corruption in the election infrastructure, then having Republicans in the system will expose many issues,” the Post quotes the report as saying. “Second, if Republicans see how the election process works up close, then they will be able to identify and fix problems, instead of boycotting elections entirely.”
These ideas would make a certain amount of sense if it weren’t for an abundance of evidence to the contrary. There are still people demanding audits of the 2020 election even in places where Trump won. One rural county in Pennsylvania conducted a hand recount of nearly 60,000 ballots last month. (Yes, “last month” as in “January 2023.”) The county found no evidence of fraud — but The New York Times reported that the far-right organizers who demanded the recount were still entirely unconvinced.
The RNC’s call for increased civic engagement with the election process, decoupled from Trump’s lies about voter fraud, could be a net gain for democracy.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s “election integrity units” created in states like Florida and Arizona haven’t had any success at rooting out examples of individual voter fraud, let alone the systemic shenanigans that would be needed to sway an election’s outcome. Nor did a mobilization of GOP poll watchers and observers during either the 2020 elections or the 2022 midterms uncover a web of election irregularities. That’s because voter fraud is, in fact, extremely rare in the U.S., despite Republicans’ insistence to the contrary.
There’s still time for the RNC to reverse course. In a statement to the Post, it said the document was “an early draft” that “reflects contributions from only a small number of RNC staff,” adding that the Election Integrity Committee’s official findings “will be released in the coming months.” But the report would need to be completely overhauled to be anything other than an enshrinement of voter fraud myths.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The RNC’s call for increased civic engagement with the election process, decoupled from Trump’s lies about voter fraud, could be a net gain for democracy. But it’s a particular gift of Republicans, this ability to consistently take what should be opportunities to improve the country and instead twist them into partisan hackery.