A box of Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election is delivered to be examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, on April 29, 2021. (Pool photo by Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic)
WASHINGTON — The chairs of two U.S. House committees said Thursday they are asking election officials from four states to detail what they are doing to “counter lies and conspiracy theories and protect the integrity of federal elections.”
California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House Administration Committee, and New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, sent letters to officials in Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Texas this week as part of their panels’ ongoing investigations.
“Local election officials are crucial to the functioning of our democracy and are the first line of defense in protecting election integrity,” they wrote. “An effective, coordinated strategy at the federal, state, and local levels is essential to counter false information that could undermine upcoming elections.”
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The letters were sent to President of the Election Officials of Arizona Lisa Marra, President of the Florida Supervisors of Elections Wesley Wilcox, President of the Ohio Association of Election Officials Brian Sleeth and President of the Texas Association of Election Administrators Remi Garza.
A committee aide said in a statement the four states selected “appear to have significant issues” related to election disinformation, even though it is a nationwide issue. The letters will not be the final step in the investigation, the aide added.
The two committees are part of an ongoing effort by U.S. lawmakers to look at how false claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters about the 2020 presidential election have reverberated throughout the country.
“The Committees are particularly concerned by reports over the past year that some state officials have relied on false, debunked election conspiracy theories to enact new laws and take other steps that could undermine future elections,” Lofgren and Maloney wrote.
“Several states have passed laws that unnecessarily involve partisan actors in election administration and could lead to the overturning of legitimate election results.”
The letters ask the state election officials to answer 10 questions before May 4.
The officials from Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Texas are asked to detail the types of misinformation and disinformation they’ve experienced since the 2020 election, including about the ballot tabulation and certification process and in connection with state or local legislative debates over election laws.
The two U.S. House Democrats asked for information on whether the state election officials have gotten any support, information, funding, or assistance to counter election misinformation and disinformation from non-governmental organizations, state agencies or federal agencies.
State officials are also asked to explain if they or their staff have experienced physical or verbal attacks as a result of conspiracy theories, disinformation, or misinformation following the 2020 election.
The letters to state officials come ahead of a speech former President Barack Obama is set to give at Stanford University on Thursday, “about changes in the way we create and consume information, and the very real threat it poses to democracy.”
In the Florida letter, the chairs expressed concerns about a state law enacted on March 6, 2021, that “restricts voters’ ability to cast their ballot by limiting ballot drop boxes, criminalizing some forms of ballot collection, adding new requirements to vote-by-mail applications, and limiting the number of elections those applications cover.”
The law, approved after being drafted as Senate Bill 90, was later struck down by a federal court that called the rationale for enacting it “nonsensical,” according to the letter.
“Advocates for S.B. 90 repeated false claims about election fraud in their push to enact the law,” the House chairs wrote. “State Senator Travis Hutson claimed without evidence that ‘across the nation’ there had been instances ‘where ballot boxes can be tampered with.’”
The two U.S. lawmakers’ letters also expressed concern about an Arizona law enacted in May 2021 that “contains wide-ranging provisions that limit election administrators’ ability to enact necessary change during emergencies, such as the coronavirus pandemic.”
And they said they are concerned about an Ohio law from June 2021 that “contains wide-ranging provisions that reduce the effectiveness of election administration by prohibiting election officials from collaborating with outside non-government organizations.”
Lofgren and Maloney wrote in the Ohio letter that it was troubling state lawmakers supporting the bill “repeated false narratives about election fraud in their push to enact new laws.”
“For example, through various social media posts, state representative Scott Wiggam claimed, without evidence, that the 2020 general election was illegitimate and meaningless due to fraud,” they wrote.
The letter cited a Nov. 9, 2020 article in the Ohio Capital Journal that described how “several House Republican lawmakers in Ohio took to their social media accounts to allege, without evidence, systemic voter fraud” as the election teetered toward Joe Biden. The lawmakers included Wiggam.
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