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Column: Mike Lindell is helping a California county dump voting machines. You should worry


MyPillow man Mike Lindell, known both for his voter fraud conspiracy theories and his two-for-one deals on bedding, California has something to sell.

It’s a softer, softer — and more dangerous — version of the “Big Lie” that fraud stole Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential election, and we need it as much as his Giza Dreams Sheets.

Lindell is pushing for the US election to stop electronic voting and return to hand-counted paper ballots. And as my colleague Jessica Garrison reported this week, he has one California county ready to bite.

Lindell regularly talks about the dangers of electronic voting on his new social platform, Frank Speech, and wherever he can find people to listen to. That includes this week at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference, where he announced his latest venture, the Election Crime Bureau (donations accepted), not to be confused with an actual government-related bureau.

“This is about showing that we have a very broken system and we better fix it,” he told me on Thursday. “It’s just about the machines, about getting rid of the computers, so we have elections that we can trust. Whoever wins, wins.”

Why use a system that people doubt when doubt undermines our elections? It seems reasonable to just go back to the old-fashioned way.

Big problem, simple solution – as long as we’re okay with getting the truth out and allowing propaganda and lies and pillow sales to determine our government policy.

In case you want to hear it, here’s what UCLA professor Richard L. Hasen, an internationally recognized expert in suffrage, told me about voting systems:

“Counting ballots by hand is less accurate because people make more mistakes than machines,” Hasen said. “Scanned ballots are the gold standard.”

I called Lindell about a situation in Shasta County, a hotbed of extremism in Northern California that has emerged as a real-time example of how far-right electoral fraud propaganda is proving to be a threat to our democracy.

Shasta County, recently governed by a majority of hard-right elected officials, this week formalized its plans to scrap the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems, one of the largest suppliers of voting machines and software in the US, amid fears the machines could be or have been hacked by nefarious actors, maybe democrats, maybe the Chinese government. Who knows?

Within days, the county will be without a legal voting system a year before the presidential primaries.

Never mind that a host of genuine election and cybersecurity experts have repeatedly examined and found unfounded the claims of election deniers that Dominion’s machines are corrupt tools that threw votes from Trump to Biden, or that voting machines are insecure in general.

Dominion is, in effect, suing Fox News, accusing the conservative media giant of maliciously promoting false allegations about the company while harming its brand because it boosted ratings.

While that lawsuit has received a lot of attention, it’s less known that the company also sued Lindell in a separate defamation lawsuit with similar allegations.

Lindell – one of the Fox regulars who promoted these fraud theories – is adamant that his debunked claims about 2020 will be true. I’ll leave that to a judge to sort out.

What’s more concerning is what it means when Lindell’s shtick falls line by line from the mouth of a local government official who can influence the front lines of American voting.

At a meeting of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors this week, one of the far-right members, Kevin Crye, surprised the public and his colleagues by reading an email from Lindell, with whom he said he had communicated several times. In the email, Crye said, Lindell offered both help implementing a hand counting system and financial and legal assistance if the county were sued (for which it wasn’t clear).

Turns out Lindell just has the hand counting system for Shasta ready to go.

“There’s room for no mistakes, zero mistakes,” Lindell told me of his prodigious voting method, which was much like Trump. “It’s faster than anything you’ve ever seen. It’s just so efficient.”

Crye waved a thick stack of papers during the meeting, describing them as an overview of Lindell’s method of voting. He added that Lindell had promised to put money into an escrow account for the county so that taxpayers’ money would not be spent to implement it.

Crye didn’t say whether the plan included discount codes for those infamous pillows, but he was quick to say he disagreed with everything Lindell wrote to him, including that “everyone” knows we should do away with electronic voting machines. .

“I don’t agree,” Crye said. “I don’t think everyone is aware.”

Later, in a short phone interview, Crye told me that his motivation for ditching electronic voting was to increase trust in the system. If people don’t believe electronic voting is safe, why use it? We came from hand counts, to hand counts we come back.

Sounds familiar?

Mary Rickert, a conservative Shasta board member who has been attacked by her now more far-right colleagues, told me the meeting felt “chaotic” and “insane.”

“We are going to lose this province. It’s going to collapse,” she said of this new leadership that seems to be dismantling the government from within. “I am in a state of grief.”

Shasta is a warning.

The normalization of voter fraud propaganda is seeping across the country, a dangerous turn from the screech-based conspiracies of 2020 precisely because it has been toned down — and because it comes from local community leaders, part of an organized tactic to harness the energy of the to carry over lost presidential elections in city councils, school boards and boards of trustees.

“It certainly gives more credibility (to conspiracies) if your county officials believe the theories in such a way that they make decisions,” Kathryn Olmsted told me. She is a history professor at UC Davis and specializes in conspiracy theories.

“It’s really frightening that they’re making these important decisions without doing due diligence in checking the facts, that they’re making these election decisions based on these unsubstantiated conspiracy theories,” she said.

Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta County’s Registrar and Registrar of Voters, was overthrown when she outlined her reasoned objections to canceling Dominion. She found out about Lindell’s hand counting plan, just like everyone else, when Crye brought it up in the public meeting. She has run Shasta elections for 19 years and is respected throughout the state for her knowledge and integrity.

Since this county erupted into Big Lie mania after the 2020 election, Darling Allen has been the target of threats and harassment, including delivering documents to her office accusing her of treason, described as a crime punishable by death . She has a busy life outside of work — a husband who just had surgery, a 5-year-old granddaughter she’s raising, but she increasingly feels that she and her staff are the last line of defense for voters in Shasta.

It’s all the more difficult because there are quite a few people in Shasta who probably believe that Crye and his far-right colleagues are doing the right thing. After years of indoctrination by Fox, Lindell and a host of others, who can blame them?

“They hear news reports, and they hear from people they trust, that there’s a fundamental problem with the way those machines work. I know that’s not right, and I’m trying to get that across and explain how we can prove it’s not right,” said Darling Allen.

But she has come to see it as a losing battle.

On Tuesday, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted to spend the next 30 days exploring Lindell’s hand-count option, along with other ways to do away with machines. Darling Allen doesn’t know how Shasta voters will vote in 2024, a crushing worry for someone who has dedicated her life to free and fair elections.

“Frankly,” she said, “I’ll never be louder than a multinational media company or a former president.”

Or even a pillow man.

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