A Few Republicans Express Doubt in Election Integrity: The Ongoing Battle to Rebuild Trust

by Joshua Brown
Trust in Elections

Kim Pytleski, a county clerk in rural Wisconsin, faced a restless night as she prepared to address her community about the election process. She wondered how they would react. Would they challenge the legitimacy of the previous presidential election? Would the discussion turn confrontational? Most importantly, would she be able to convey the facts effectively?

These were questions she never imagined she’d have to ponder when she first assumed her role in Oconto County over 14 years ago. However, since then, election conspiracy theories have firmly taken hold in this rural, predominantly Republican region of northeastern Wisconsin. It’s emblematic of the broader trend across the country, where skepticism about voting and ballot-counting, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of a stolen election, remains deeply entrenched.

Pytleski, a lifelong Republican and native of the county, encounters conspiracy theories wherever she goes. Assertions range from Democrats allegedly paying individuals to stuff ballot boxes with illegal votes to claims of rampant fraud through absentee voting and hacking of voting machines by foreign actors. She receives skeptical letters and emails, and her defense of the election process has even led to her being labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

In her words, “You know pretty much everyone,” describing the close-knit towns that constitute Oconto County. The region has consistently leaned Republican in presidential elections for the past two decades, except for a victory by former President Barack Obama in 2008. She emphasizes the warmth of being in such a place, but she adds that “election denialism has gotten its hold on it.”

For election officials and grassroots democracy groups in this pivotal swing state, the battle to combat doubts and those who perpetuate them has been an uphill struggle. They grapple with a persistent influence of conspiracy theories, disseminated primarily through online misinformation and far-right figures.

Nevertheless, they persist, addressing the issue one community event and one conversation at a time, hoping to make incremental progress.

Reid Ribble, a former Republican congressman representing the area until 2017 and an adviser to the non-profit organization Keep Our Republic, states, “This state is vital, and it’s ground zero in this fight to save our republic.” Keep Our Republic is organizing town hall-style forums across Wisconsin to restore faith in elections, with plans to do the same in Michigan and Pennsylvania, crucial states in the upcoming presidential race.

The organization’s efforts come at a time when distrust in elections has firmly taken root across the nation, particularly in rural areas. This has led to calls to replace voting machines with less accurate hand counts, threats against election workers, and the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

A poll conducted in the summer by The Big Big News-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research revealed that only 22% of Republicans have high confidence that votes in the 2024 presidential election will be accurately counted, compared to 71% of Democrats. Moreover, a significant majority of Republicans continue to believe that President Joe Biden’s election victory was illegitimate.

This deep partisan divide persists amid former President Trump’s relentless campaign of falsehoods, claiming that the 2020 election was stolen as he seeks a second term in the White House.

Wisconsin has been a focal point of efforts to undermine faith in elections. The state’s supreme court, then controlled by a conservative majority, nearly overturned the presidential results in 2020. Subsequently, Republicans in the Legislature launched a partisan investigation into alleged widespread fraud, which a judge later determined had uncovered “absolutely no evidence of election fraud.”

Multiple audits and recounts have consistently affirmed Biden’s 21,000-vote victory in the state. Yet, doubts persist.

In a community event in Suamico, Wisconsin, approximately 50 residents gathered to learn about the election process. A panel of local officials, brought together by Keep Our Republic, explained how voting equipment is tested and results are certified. The goal is to arm people with facts and help them understand the intricacies of elections.

Kathy Bernier, state director of the non-partisan nonprofit group and a former Republican state senator, acknowledged the challenges. She’s faced criticism and backlash for her efforts, but she remains steadfast in her commitment to disseminating accurate information.

The obstacles are substantial. Many citizens remain unaware of the complexities of elections, making them susceptible to misinformation. People tend to consume news that aligns with their beliefs and often move to areas where they are surrounded by like-minded individuals. When some see Trump and other election misinformation proponents as saviors, it becomes akin to a faith system.

The battle to provide a clear view of how elections work is juxtaposed with other groups spreading the narrative that elections are rigged, insecure, and plagued by fraud. Prominent figures in the election conspiracy movement, such as MyPillow founder Mike Lindell and Douglas Frank, have contributed to these narratives.

These narratives have fueled an ongoing dispute over an effort by legislative Republicans to remove Meagan Wolfe, the state’s nonpartisan elections commissioner, and potentially replace her with a GOP-favored candidate ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

During the Suamico town hall, residents raised questions about absentee voter vetting, the security of ballot drop boxes, and concerns about deceased individuals and undocumented immigrants voting. While the event engaged the audience, it did not sway some who remained deeply skeptical of the election process.

The challenge for election officials, particularly in rural areas, is clear. Building trust in local officials is possible in close-knit communities where residents rely on each other. However, convincing residents to trust the broader election system, especially in urban areas, remains a formidable task.

In conclusion, there is no perfect solution to this complex problem. In addition to more community events, Keep Our Republic plans to launch social media campaigns to combat online misinformation and to organize talks in high schools. Collaboration with voting machine companies to create explanatory materials for residents is also under consideration.

In the words of Suamico Village Clerk Michelle Bartoletti, “We just keep trying because that’s all you really can do. What other option is there? This is too important to just throw our hands up and give up.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Trust in Elections

What is the main challenge highlighted in this text?

The main challenge highlighted in this text is the struggle to rebuild trust in elections, particularly in rural areas like Wisconsin, where conspiracy theories and political divides have eroded confidence in the electoral process.

How are election officials and grassroots groups addressing these challenges?

Election officials and grassroots democracy groups are addressing these challenges by conducting community events and conversations to educate residents about the election process. They aim to provide factual information and counteract misinformation.

What is the significance of Wisconsin in this context?

Wisconsin is significant because it has been a focal point for efforts to undermine faith in elections. The state’s role in previous presidential elections and its political dynamics make it a critical battleground in the fight to restore trust in the electoral system.

Who are some of the key figures and organizations involved in this effort?

Key figures and organizations involved in this effort include Kim Pytleski, a county clerk in rural Wisconsin; Reid Ribble, a former Republican congressman; the nonprofit organization Keep Our Republic; and Meagan Wolfe, the state’s nonpartisan elections commissioner.

What are some of the specific challenges faced by election officials and community organizers in combatting election skepticism?

Some specific challenges include citizens’ lack of awareness about the intricacies of elections, the consumption of biased news sources, and the tendency for people to live in echo chambers with like-minded individuals. Additionally, certain influential figures propagate election misinformation, further complicating the situation.

Are there plans for future initiatives to address these challenges?

Yes, there are plans for future initiatives, including social media campaigns to combat online misinformation, talks in high schools, and potential collaborations with voting machine companies to create educational materials for residents. These initiatives aim to provide accurate information and build trust in the election process.

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CuriousCitizen October 16, 2023 - 1:46 pm

MyPillow guy in da mix? Crazy stuff goin’ on!

InfoHunter007 October 16, 2023 - 2:09 pm

2020 election still causin’ chaos? Dis is a wild ride, folks!

politicsGeek23 October 16, 2023 - 5:48 pm

kudos to the folks tryin’ to fix dis mess, ain’t easy tho

reader98 October 17, 2023 - 2:56 am

wow, this txt shows big problem we got, trust in elctions is down, real tough!

LocalPatriot22 October 17, 2023 - 3:18 am

we need more educate on how elctions work, ppl too confus’d


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