Grifters and rubes are still promoting election lies and election workers are dealing with the fury, Robert Gehrke writes.

In Utah County, poll workers reported a marked increase in “cranky” voters with bad attitudes showing up at polling locations.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

She showed up at Herriman City Hall with a chip on her shoulder, irate about a supposedly stolen election and insisting there was no way in hell she would vote by mail.

Amped up by a drumbeat of lies about election fraud, she demanded a paper ballot. The only problem: Paper ballots aren’t used in Salt Lake County, or in most of the state.

She wasn’t going to let that stop her. After all, she believed in election fraud that doesn’t exist, either. So she vented her frustration on poll workers who escalated the matter to the clerk’s office.

The staffer on the other line tried to explain her options — all unsatisfactory — before passing the irate voter directly to County Clerk Sherrie Swensen who explained that, if she wanted to cast a paper ballot, the only option was to fill out the mail-in ballot and drop it off at the polling place.

No way. “That would be fraud,” the woman said.

It wasn’t fraud, Swensen insisted and offered to let her come see how ballots are secured and counted, but the woman just got more and more upset.

“Honestly in the 31 years I’ve been here, I’ve never been talked to by anyone like that,” Swensen told me Wednesday. “She went on to tell me I had committed all this fraud and ‘They are going to get me.’ It was just unbelievable.”

Swensen should be voted out of office, the voter said, and when Swensen said she is retiring at the end of the year the woman repeated her warning several more times: “We are going to get you.”

“This was way beyond, ‘We don’t believe in your system,’” Swensen said. “It felt like it was a real threat.”

“It was just disturbing how crazy these people are,” Swensen said.

Swensen is forwarding the call to a U.S. Department of Justice task force created to investigate threats to election officials.

“A threat to any election official, worker, or volunteer,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said when launching the task force last year, “is a threat to democracy.”

It should tell you something that this task force is even needed.

The Herriman voter appears to have been operating on recommendations that circulated on conservative social media channels and door hangers that showed up at some Utah homes about how to avoid fraud. It advised keeping the mail-in ballot as “evidence” but going to a polling place and demanding they print a new ballot, then watching it be counted.

All of that is utter nonsense. The only printed ballot is your mail-in ballot. And while you can track your ballot online, you can’t actually watch your individual vote being counted.

But that doesn’t matter. In Sandy, a couple riled up about fraud demanded poll workers let them vote in person, even though they had already mailed in a ballot. They refused to leave until the poll worker let them cast a provisional ballot — one that will not be counted.

So in the process of trying to avert election fraud, they committed election fraud. The case is being sent to the county attorney.

The confrontational tone and hostility weren’t limited to Salt Lake County. In Utah County, poll workers reported a marked increase in “cranky” voters with bad attitudes showing up at polling locations, insisting “it’s all fraud anyway and everybody knows it,” said Josh Daniels, the county clerk.

On a Telegram group, supporters of 1st District challenger Andrew Badger were clamoring for a lawsuit, claiming Rep. Blake Moore couldn’t possibly have topped their candidate because Badger had beaten him at the Republican convention and Moore, in their view, ran a bad campaign.

But Moore didn’t just beat Badger. He demolished him. Moore got more than twice as many votes as his challenger and there are three possible explanations: 1. Convention delegates are out of touch with average GOP voters; 2. Incumbents usually win because they have more money and name recognition; 3. All the Fraudz!

Logic doesn’t matter. Proof doesn’t matter.

If it did, the lies should have ended with the recent testimony from those in former President Donald Trump’s inner circle that all of the fraud claims were thoroughly investigated and proven false — then repeated anyway to raise a quarter-billion dollars for an election fraud fund that did not exist.

Yet the lies still persist, perpetuated by people like Rep. Phil Lyman who claims to have a finely-tuned sense for detected “BS” and flies around the country to election fraud conferences and last week spread false claims that voting machines were changing votes to hurt Sen. Mike Lee.

Perhaps there’s a sliver of hope. Clerks I spoke with said that over the last several weeks legislative auditors have been extremely engaged in observing the election process in the run-up to the primary. I was not supportive of this audit initially, fearing it would only lend credibility to the lies. But perhaps for some — those on the fence, not the truly delusional — an independent accounting of the truth will put the issue to rest.

Until then, the white-hot rage persists, distributed among two groups of people: the grifters who know it’s a lie and repeat it anyway to gain power or profit and the gullible rubes.

Unfortunately, it’s the election workers doing their level best to nurture and facilitate our foundational democratic tradition who end up bearing the brunt of that fury.

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