Right-Wing Disinformation Surges As California Recall Election Unfolds

As the recall election against California governor Gavin Newsom drew closer to a close, both the leading right-wing candidate and conspiracy theorists continued pushing disinformation painting the process as “rigged” before polls even opened.

As NBC News reported, Republican Larry Elder encouraged supporters to visit a website that claimed it had gathered evidence of fraud — using “statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran)” — that enabled Newsom to retain his office.


The only problem: On Monday when the link was live on Elder’s campaign site, the election hadn’t even happened yet. No results had been released. And Elder was still campaigning to replace Newsom as governor.

Elder drew more attention to the disinformation campaign when he repeatedly refused to say whether he would accept the results during an interview with the network. Instead he repeatedly said, “Let’s all work together to find out whether or not the election tomorrow is a fair election.”

The website — which received substantial funding from Elder’s campaign — urged visitors to sign a “petition” to amplify their false claims of voter fraud. KRON-TV added that in doing so, it lifted content from yet another conspiracy theorist:

The language in the initial paragraph and final sentence of the petition is identical to that on petitions circulated online by attorney Lin Wood backing his lawsuit to overturn Biden’s win in Georgia last year.

Wood, who was recently sanctioned by a federal judge for his role in a separate lawsuit challenging Biden’s win in Michigan last year, said those petitions were drafted by staff at his organization and that he had no role in the petition that Elder circulated. “I had no knowing involvement in the California petition,” Wood said.

Right Wing Watch reported that one of Wood’s fellow operatives, Sidney Powell, also pushed the fake narrative on the morning that the polls opened.

“In at least one county it’s been reported to me that approximately 70 percent of the people who showed up to vote have been told their votes had already been counted, that they had already voted,” she claimed, offering no evidence or even naming a location where the alleged fraud took place. “That wasn’t true at all. So the same thing is happening there that happened already. There’s no reason to think any of this is gonna get better until we go to paper ballots, real voter ID, and no machines whatsoever and get 2020 fixed.”

Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the policy think tank New America and a published author, told NBC News that the tactic of sowing doubt around elections is “really becoming the standard GOP playbook.”

“This is democracy 101,” he said. “If you don’t have elections that are accepted and decisive, then you don’t really have a democracy, because the alternative is violence or authoritarianism.”

But despite that, state officials have not publicly disclosed any plan to combat this type of disinformation. As Associated Press reported, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber rebuked a group of elections experts for calling for a “risk-limiting audit” of the election results.

“The implication that California’s elections cannot be conducted safely and securely without [the audit] is inaccurate, as California has the strictest voting system testing, procedures for use and security requirements in the nation,” she said in a letter to the eight experts, who called for the more strenuous audit after reports that software belonging to Dominion Voting System had been leaked during an August 2021 event hosted by conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, who — like Wood and Powell — has promoted the lie that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Donald Trump.

We contacted Newsom’s press office asking if, in the event that he retained his office, his administration had any plans to address this type of disinformation. We were referred to Weber’s press office, which sent us a statement:

The California Secretary of State is comprised of hardworking Californians who have dedicated their lives to the important work of protecting our elections. California leads the way in election security and work to infuse transparency into every step of the process by making our election processes open to the public, every step of the way. To counter baseless claims like these, our office and county elections officials work day in and day out to provide accessible, accurate information to the public to protect voters from misinformation and unsubstantiated allegations of “fraud” that might lead them to believe their vote doesn’t matter — when it does.