While many may be rightfully shocked by the mendacity of Donald Trump and his gaggle of tin-foil-hat-society quack attorneys making baseless claims of massive voter fraud in an effort to overturn a democratic election in his favor, I must admit, I am not. One could argue, the scream-voter-fraud-without-veracity playbook was written right here in Santa Barbara.
Back in 2008, now retired 3rd District county supervisor Doreen Farr won a close election to the Board of Supervisors, which was immediately contested by her opponent, Steve Pappas. Pappas, relying on his own set of feel-facts and enablers, felt he must have performed better among a third of the district’s voters, the young residents of Isla Vista and UCSB. He refused to accept the fact that he lost their vote by 90 percent in some precincts, which propelled Doreen to victory. He also refused to accept that voter turnout was record-breakingly high, especially among young voters, driven by a desire for generational change in a sharp rebuke to an outgoing presidential administration that was woefully unpopular with an emerging new American electorate. Sound familiar?
Not only did he never concede (to this day, seriously) to supervisor Farr, but he lawyered up and challenged his loss up the chain of multiple courts, losing each time. He had the temerity to ask a judge to toss out 9,700 student votes, and then simply declare him the victor. He made vague allegations that some students were improperly registered to vote so an entire community’s votes should entirely be wiped out — establishing a key strategy, if you don’t like the votes that are counted, try to change whose get tallied after-the-fact. Sound familiar?
Pappas’s main campaign henchwoman, Terry Baxter, sat on the witness stand, in a real court of law, with a homemade spreadsheet of alleged instances of voter fraud. After more than a day of incoherent testimony, the late Judge Bill McLafferty, exasperated by the spectacle, finally quite literally laughed them out of the court and tossed the case. In his ruling, he rightfully declared, “People want the right to vote. We have to do everything we can to make sure their vote counts.” The Santa Ynez Valley News referred to this case as “A legal farce.” Sound familiar?
Another key strategy was to keep trying to buy more time to produce evidence of these alleged voter irregularities, even after hand recounts, media attention, and time spent in the courts brought none to light. They literally never produced a shred of evidence of voter fraud despite years of making false claims. If this doesn’t sound familiar, listen to Rudy Giuliani’s doddering voicemail that was intended for Senator Tommy Tuberville, begging for him to stall for time in this week’s edition of the-Senate-flirts-with-sedition. This type of run-out-the-clock desperation feels like degenerate gamblers trying to buy time from a bookie. But instead, and much more consequently, it’s a cynical attempt to poison the well of our most sacred and important pillar of democracy: free and fair elections.
An important piece of this story is that Pappas was not deterred by the shame that anyone who isn’t a sociopath would have felt by his ruse. He was aided, abetted, and bankrolled by the largest private property owner in the county, Nancy Crawford-Hall. In fact, he ran in a rematch four years later, but thankfully, handily lost.
We are now witnessing the consequences of this dangerous and disingenuous charade at a national level, the recent riot, attempted coup, and sedition at our center of government is merely a tragic day in our democracy as incited by Donald Trump. The fact that he’s been able to scream lies with impunity to corrupt our trust in the voting process will have lasting adverse effects. Trump must be impeached so he can never hold public office again. His legal team should be disbarred. The big tech companies must permanently ban him from their platforms, depriving him of oxygen to spread such disinformation. And incoming President Biden and the Democratic Congress must immediately pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. Though I am probably preaching to the choir, we all have an obligation to call out cynical ploys that try to strip us of our right to free and fair elections at all levels of government.