Time for voters to decide — unless you’re Molly Watkins and her fellow election skeptics, and you firmly believe powerful conspirators are rigging another election.
Watkins, 56, a Linden Republican, reached out to share her group’s determined and, they would say, patriotic efforts to uncover voter fraud locally and nationwide.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a selection, not an election,” said Watkins, a self-described “farm wife” whose husband Kenny is a farmer, cattle rancher, and fellow skeptic.
There are those who argue that the Watkinses in the MAGA branch of the Republican party do not deserve a platform. But millions of Americans share their view.
Election deniers are running in 48 states. All may not believe what they say. But they say it because 60% of Republicans believe former president Donald Trump’s big lie.
“Ever since the 2020 election, I was thinking Trump won, and then he lost,” Watkins said. “He lost? Why did he lose?”
The obvious answer, Because more people voted for Joe Biden, does not wash with Watkins. Here we come to the fork in the road where Watkins detoured from mainstream facts.
“I started reading everything I could find,” said Watkins. Her research led her to fellow skeptics including the registrar of Mesa County, Colorado, Tina Peters.
Peters, a proponent of Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories, published three reports purporting to find illegal and highly suspicious tampering with Mesa’s computerized voting machines.
“A group of scientists analyzed the equipment,” Watkins said. “They concluded that there were nefarious things that happened with the data.”
Galvanized, Watkins surfed to Patriot Force California, a supposedly nonpartisan grassroots group of election watchdogs.
“We have all been guilty of placing too much trust in elected officials,” reads the group’s website, “but now is the time to come together, regardless of political affiliation, and demand free and fair elections.”
Through Patriot Force California Watkins made the online acquaintance of a computer expert whose consultations over Telegram, an instant messaging service, deepened her suspicions.
“Think about this: when you fill out your ballot and shove it into the machine …we have no idea if the machine changed the ballot,” Watkins said.
On Facebook she found local election skeptics and a call to action. The group, which obtained San Joaquin County voter rolls, met for weeks in a Lodi parking lot at 8 a.m. Given lists of voters over age 90, they were dispatched to the elderly voters’ addresses to see if they existed.
Or, as the members suspected, had San Joaquin County become another Chicago, 1960, where it is widely believed the cemetery precincts went heavily for Kennedy?
The group recently concluded canvassing. A number of dead voters — bogus voters — were found, said Watkins, though personally she found none nor could she specify the number found by others.
The results of the investigation are documented by “affidavits” signed by address residents “under penalty of perjury.” The group’s leader, who declined to be named or interviewed, has them.
“We want to take it to the sheriff. Some other law enforcement agency needs to confirm what we found,” said Watkins.
Not the registrar? Do you think the registrar is …? “That’s a good question. I know the system is corrupt. I don’t know the players of the system,” said Watkins, unsure if the registrar is conspirator or unwitting pawn.
Olivia Hale, San Joaquin County’s Registrar of Voters, said Watkins’ concerns matter.
“I want all citizens of San Joaquin County to feel that we run their elections safe and secure,” Hale said. “The door to our office is always open. I want those that are especially concerned with election integrity to know I hear them and that we will look into any concerns they may bring forward. I highly encourage the community to start with this presentation…”
Hale has her work cut out for her. Watkins believes pervasive election corruption is nationwide and stretches back to the advent of computerized voting in the 1990s.
“I don’t think any election has been fair—all elections in the U.S., yes—and I’ve come to the conclusion that this has been going on for years.”
And Republicans and Democrats collude, Watkins said. “It’s the “Ds” and the “Rs”. I think they have just bonded together. Sometimes they get together and pick a candidate that you get to vote for.”
Why would rival parties do that? “Because then they have control.”
But how does a Democrat have control if a Republican with a different agenda is in office?
Political differences are no problem, “Not if you’re a RINO (Republican In Name Only). If you’re in the middle,” Watkins said.
She added she is certain.
“There are a lot of questions, a few answers, but certainty,” she said.
I have an instinctive respect and sympatico for folks like the Watkinses. But facts are facts. And in a democracy election losers must accept the results. That precept is too important to pretend both sides of this story have equal weight.
The Washington Post documented Trump telling 30,573 false or misleading claims during his White House tenure. To put it bluntly, Trump is a liar.
Trump’s claims of election fraud were investigated by his loyalist attorney general, William Barr, and found false; by numerous states attorneys general and found false; by scads of county registrars and found false.
They were vetted by the courts who found the claims so flatulent that judges rebuked Trump’s lawyers. Members of the Trump administration’s inner circle have since publicly stated they knew Trump lost.
To believe Trump, then, it is necessary to disbelieve the Department of Justice on the federal and state levels, scores of registrars, the United States courts, top Republican administration witnesses, as well as most national and local media, including Fox News, which has changed its tune since Dominion, the voting machine company, slapped the network with a $1.6 billion defamation suit.
Mesa County Registrar Tina Peters is a fanatic conspiracy theorist. She was indicted in 2021 for allegedly giving unauthorized persons access to election data.
She was barred from supervising local elections in 2021 and ’22. The state registrar’s association recently denounced her and accepted her resignation from their organization. Peters was arrested again in 2022 for violating the conditions of her bail. Her trial is scheduled for March 2023.
Short of writing the word “kook” on her forehead with one of Trump’s map-altering Sharpies, it’s hard to see how as a registrar she could be more discredited.
The computer expert whom Watkins met through Patriot Force California is a guy named Larry. She has never met Larry in person. Watkins does not know his last name, whether computers are his full-time occupation, or his computer credentials.
In order to believe Larry, you must believe online strangers are who they say they are, that Larry does not spend all day in his pajamas surfing QAnon, and that a member of Patriot Force California is objective about elections.
The affidavits collected by local election skeptics purporting to reveal voter fraud can be evaluated if and when they are submitted.
The mindset of “many questions, few answers, but certainty” gets the formula for truth-seeking backwards. Only after answers are ascertained — diligently researched, objectively evaluated, verified — is certainty permissible, and then only a humbly tentative certainty as facts may change.
George Orwell diagnosed how partisanship — tribalism — creates a truth-impaired mindset circa 1942 in an essay titled “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War.”
“What impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection,” he wrote. “Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence … there was hardly a case when the Left and Right believed the same story simultaneously.”
Watkins would say she follows the evidence. But rejecting far more evidence than one accepts is not following evidence. It is confirmation bias. Large numbers of people with this mindset make for a MAGA Confederacy, seceding from the union of fact.
Given Watkins’ belief that the voting system is merely a grotesque Kabuki, you might expect her to skip Tuesday’s election. Surprisingly, she says she will vote.
“Yes,” she said. “If we don’t participate then we can’t watch the corruption.”
Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.