The Washingtonians still fighting 2020 election results

A month after the election, some continue to float false theories about dead people’s votes, hacked computer systems and fraud.

A woman poses with a cardboard cutout of Trump

Betty Hodges poses with a cardboard Trump during a rally and car parade in Spokane, Washington Sunday, December 6, 2020. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Four times since the election, Wylin Tjoelker has driven more than three hours to reach Olympia from his home in Sumas on the U.S.-Canada border. The 56-year-old, who also attended more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies, made the long drive to the state capital to attend “Stop the Steal” protests with like-minded Washingtonians who believe fraud was rampant in the 2020 election.

Tjoelker brings his video camera to document the events, something he said liberal media will not do, and talks to attendees. To curb assumptions that he’s “left wing media and there to make them look bad, make them look like fools,” Tjoelker stuck a Trump/Pence sticker to the bottom of his camera lens.

One man told Tjoelker, “Everyone should be out here. This is the biggest fraud and most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in my life. I'm appalled at the lack of integrity our nation is displaying by allowing this complete stealing of our election."

On Dec. 1, Attorney General William Barr, historically a Trump ally, announced the U.S. Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the presidential election. Preceding that announcement, numerous experts and officials have said the same: no fraud occurred. 

That, however, is not enough for hardcore Trump supporters and ultra-conservative media organizations, who continue to avidly retweet and share numerous and unfounded claims from President Donald Trump and his staff. State, federal and local politicians, election staffers, journalists, professors, lawyers and judges have proclaimed the lack of evidence of election fraud, over and over, but they are not convincing to these iconoclasts. 

They see the neverending rebuttals to their long lists of grievances as more proof that the establishment is so corrupt that the only hope is with the far-right. 

These abundant conspiracy theories, traveling at the speed of light on social media, are increasingly hard to stamp out. 

In a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, taken the weekend after the election when multiple organizations had announced Biden the winner, 70% of Republicans said they didn’t believe the election was “free and fair.” Of those, almost 80% thought mail-in voting was to blame for election fraud and 72% thought that ballots were tampered with.

Vehicles in a parking lot with Trump flags

People came out to support and oppose a Trump vehicle parade throughout Spokane, Washington Sunday, December 6, 2020. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

People came out to support and oppose a Trump vehicle parade throughout Spokane, Washington Sunday, December 6, 2020. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Silent Republican politicians only add fuel to this fire. Publicly, less than 25% of Senate Republicans have acknowledged Biden's win. Others tip-toe around semantics when asked about the election.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming told Fox News that Trump had “every right to use all the appeals and recounts and legal measures he's using.” Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, when asked if Biden was president-elect, replied, “I'm going to stay out of that argument.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas wrote in a Dec. 1 press release, “Ordinarily, the U.S. Supreme Court would stay out of election disputes, especially concerning state law. But these are not ordinary times.” 

Tjoelker, who has been active in politics since the 1990s and served as the political director for the Whatcom County Republican Party in 2012, believes there has been “sizable” fraud in every election.

“There is a concerted effort on the part of the mainstream media to put out the impression in people’s minds that election fraud is a myth. And that simply is not true,” Tjoelker said. “It is practiced widely in large, Democrat-run cities, every election.”

Lots of fraud claims 

But this year, fraud was more rampant than any other election, he said, in both methods and volume. Another big difference in 2020? “We have a president who’s actually willing to fight.” 

Tjoelker pointed first to the number of participants at rallies and online campaign events, because for him, this kind of participation is indicative of popularity and therefore of future voting trends.

“There's no way Biden won that election based just on observations of regular citizen participation in events and in levels of enthusiasm and online views,” Tjoelker said, pointing to a popular social media post that claimed only 1,000 people watched Biden's Thanksgiving address, whereas some of Trump's online views number in the millions.

That post, shared by conservative media organization One America News Network on Twitter and ultimately retweeted by Trump, stemmed from a screenshot of Biden's address where 1,000 viewers were present on the video streaming platform used by the campaign. The speech was carried on other platforms as well and, in reality, the live video had over 500,000 views on Facebook and almost a million through Periscope as of Dec. 1.

People stand with Trump flags in parking lot

Dozens of people attend a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Dozens of people attend a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Trump has tweeted and retweeted many false claims, some of which have been paired with warning labels from Twitter, stating, “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”

One of Trump’s more spurious claims regarded Dominion Voting Systems, a widely used U.S. elections technology firm. In a tweet, the president stated that Dominion had deleted 2.7 million of his votes. In direct contrast, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, a federal agency that oversees election security, said that the Nov. 3 election was the “most secure in American history” and that there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.

Trump also referred in his tweet to a “report” that pointed fingers at Dominion. However, no such report exists, and that claim originated from an anonymous commenter on a pro-Trump blog. The commenter said the findings were supported by polling firm Edison Research. But the president of Edison Research denied that any such report or data exists and in an email to the Associated Press, said they had "no evidence of any voter fraud."

As with any election, mistakes have been found, but at a small scale and as the result of human error, OSET Institute voting technology expert Eddie Perez told the AP. The OSET Institute examined more than 1,000 reports of voting issues since Election Day. Perez said he found no errors due to Dominion software. 

A popular chart on social media appeared to show that more votes had been cast than there were registered voters in seven states, but that registration data hadn't been updated since August. Actual voter registration counts from election day debunk that claim, showing that every state had more registered voters than votes.

Trump and his legal team have taken many of these claims to court, where they have lost 29 of their 38 court cases so far, winning none. 

In one of those lawsuits, the affidavit from Trump's legal team confused towns in Michigan with Minnesotan towns of the same name. It was readily dismissed by the federal judge two days after filing, saying it came too late and lacked merit. A Philadelphia appeals court struck down another of his cases, stating that “voters, not lawyers, choose the president" and that “ballots, not briefs, decide elections.” 

Distrust in the media, the FBI, and local elections

Joe Schmitt, 36, who attends a pro-Trump rally every Sunday in Spokane or the Spokane Valley, believes illegal ballots for Democrats were stored ahead of the election, for both Biden and Inslee, with forged signatures. But, like Tjoelker, Schmitt doesn’t believe this was the first year corruption marred an election. 

“American people have suspected long before Trump even came into the picture that their vote never really mattered. And now that Trump made such a fuss about it, he’s making everybody realize now is the time to fight,” Schmitt said. “They’re tired of being sheep and they want some real change.”

Trump has planted the seeds on many of these unfounded claims of large “ballot dumps" for Biden in multiple states. While some states did report large voting drops for Biden overnight, they were largely from heavily Democratic cities and occured because election regulations in those states do not allow mail-in ballots to be counted until Election Day. Democrats are also more likely to vote by mail, and there were no surprises when mail-in ballots came in blue. While some errors occurred, such as one in Michigan, they were fixed quickly.

A man smiles outside with a flag behind him

Joe Schmitt chats with other participants during a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Joe Schmitt chats with other participants during a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Even if massive errors occurred, “the subsequent canvass, audit, and/or recount processes would have identified inconsistencies,” wrote Chris Krebs, the former director of Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security (whom Trump had recently fired), on Twitter.

When it comes to Barr's announcement that the Justice Department had found no evidence of fraud, Schmitt thinks “there’s more to it.” He doesn’t believe Barr has truly gotten to the bottom of things and may be missing details in his investigation.

Schmitt, who formerly worked in security before losing his job due to the pandemic, believes the fraud siphons down to the local level, as well. Culp should have won the governorship, he thinks, but it was “all planned” for Inslee to win.

“Because Washington has been a Democratic state for so long, they decided to keep Democrats in there,” he said.

While Schmitt doesn’t believe that all Democrats are corrupt, he does think those who didn’t “get what they wanted, tried to force the hand,” he said. “Now that all the corruption is coming to light is why a bunch of Americans step up to fight.”

Schmitt said he follows a wide variety of media sources, not just right-wing outlets, but ultimately, he said, the “Democrat side is not being transparent with the American people. They’re not being upfront and honest.”

Lynden Stewart, a 33-year-old caregiver in Cosmopolis, Wash., also thinks the mainstream media is not presenting election fraud in a factual light.

“I don’t think any of us really know what’s going on. But the people that have come forward, the evidence that has been presented, I think there has been fraud,” Stewart said. “I think they’re really trying to push, as far as the media, to cover that up. The people that are coming out, they’re not getting any coverage at all.”

A woman stands outside with an American flag

Donna O'Leary holds the flag during a prayer and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States before the group started a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Donna O'Leary holds the flag during a prayer and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States before the group started a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

He especially doesn’t trust computer-based systems, such as Dominion, because “any electrical device can be hacked — I mean, my 16-year-old son can tell you that.”

Mail-in ballots, machine counting, fraudulent signatures: Stewart thinks the fraud is “all across the board.” He said he’s seen whistleblowers coming forward, people signing affidavits, people testifying, and it all adds up to fraud for him.

He believes that has spread to Washington state, as well. His greatest fears were confirmed when he watched gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp and his attorney Stephen Pidgeon state that 800,000 ineligible voters had cast ballots in the state. Culp has a “tremendous following” here in Washington, Stewart said, and he believes that the state went red, not blue, but the true results were canceled by election fraud.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman has since countered Culp and Pidgeon, saying their statements were false and there has been no evidence of election fraud in Washington.

Stewart acknowledged he was surprised when Trump won in 2016, not because he didn’t think Trump had support, but because he thought fraud would have stymied Trump’s efforts then, as well. While he thinks that “characters can be rotten on either side,” Stewart said he hasn’t seen any proof of fraud on the Republican side. 

All of this has made him angry, and the people he talks to in Olympia are angry, too, he said. He has traveled to Olympia from where he lives in Cosmopolis, an hour away, for the past five weekends. He believes Americans should be out protesting fraud or do “whatever they can do to get the message out.” Stewart wants the election system fixed, because while “it's not a perfect system, it's the best system,” he said.

That anger has not been healthy for election officials across the country. In some instances, frustration has turned into accusations against election officials. Armed Trump supporters have gathered outside their personal homes, they have received death and violence threats including emails that look “bringing back firing squads.” Some have gone as far as harassing family members.

Tjoelker said that’s not the case with the protesters he’s met, that they are simply passionate and dedicated to the work, not violent or intimidating or harassing.

An American and a Trump flag fly outside of a van

Carol Snyder waves the American flag through the window of one of the lead cars, with Donna O'Leary driving, during a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Carol Snyder waves the American flag through the window of one of the lead cars, with Donna O'Leary driving, during a Trump vehicle parade. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

Much of his frustration stems from the media not reporting in what he sees as an accurate and fair manner. He relies mainly on ultra right-wing media organizations such as Breitbart, The Gateway Pundit, and Epoch Times. And Fox News? He does not trust them “at all.”

Tjoelker referred to one of his more trusted sources, The Gateway Pundit, which detailed in an article how former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell told Fox News that she identified at least 450,000 ballots with only Biden's name on them, and no other candidate, which Tjoelker pointed to as suspicious.

But election experts say that undervoting, casting a vote in only one race, is nothing new and happens in every election. Ballots marked only for Trump would likely be of a similar number, and these 450,000 make up only 2% of those seven states’ totals, which one political science professor said may even be an undercount

Other Republicans do not sway Tjoelker from his beliefs. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey certified his state’s ballots for Biden and said the state reviewed every signature by hand, in all 15 counties, on early ballots. But Tjoelker calls politicians like Ducey a “RINO” — Republican In Name Only, a phrase that has also been used to describe Washington secretary of state, Wyman.

“We’re coming to view them as Democrats masquerading as Republicans. So just because a Republican does something, doesn’t mean we believe it,” Tjoelker said. 

Barr did not convince him, either, because Tjoelker does not trust the FBI.

“We all understand the FBI is not an unbiased law enforcement agency. They are a Democrat cover-up agency,” Tjoelker said. “Why would Barr come out and say that [no election fraud was found]? I don't know. But he also said that Jeffrey Epstein hung himself, which none of us believe. Is Barr being blackmailed, or what? We don't know.”

Ultimately, Tjoelker wants to see a do-over of the election and would like new rules to be set into place: He wants fingerprinting instead of signatures, only paper ballots, and for the military to conduct the election. 

And he doesn’t want his beliefs to be cast aside, to be seen as part of a “Trump cult” who follows blindly.

“These are not the opinions held by some right-wing radical hillbillies out in the hills, who are easily led or something like that. It's not the case,” Tjoelker said. “Our people are not ignorant. Our people are people who read, who study history, are very connected to their fellow citizens.”

A truck drives down a street with Trump flags

People came out to support and oppose the Trump vehicle parade throughout Spokane. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

People came out to support and oppose the Trump vehicle parade throughout Spokane. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

About the Authors & Contributors

Emily McCarty

Emily McCarty

Emily McCarty is the former Central Washington Reporter for Crosscut.