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Larry Elder, Newsom's Main Opponent, Stoked Fears Of Election Fraud

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

As Gavin Newsom defeated the effort to unseat him as governor of California, last night, his main opponent in that race, Republican Larry Elder, did something that is no longer a given. He conceded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY ELDER: Let's be gracious in defeat. And by the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.

MARTINEZ: That is a very different tone from what Elder was saying leading up when he refused to promise to accept the election results. Here he is at a rally on September 8.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELDER: They're going to cheat. We know that. But I'll tell you what - so many people are angry, the number of people that are going to vote to recall this man is going to be so overwhelming so that even when they cheat, they're still going to lose.

(CHEERING)

MARTINEZ: Miles Parks covers voting for NPR. Miles, Elder said a lot of things in the last few weeks about the voting system in California. What did he say last night about whether this race was fair?

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: He actually really didn't touch on it, which to me was a surprise. You know, leading up to election day, he made it clear that there would be shenanigans, as he put it, in the election results. His campaign even set up a website where people could report suspicious election activity. And when that site was first published, it claimed there was fraud present in the election results before those results were even public or tallied. So this concession, you know, was not a sure thing. It is worth noting, though, A, that California has not elected a Republican in a statewide race in 15 years. Joe Biden won the state in 2020 by 5 million votes. So this recall effort was always going to be kind of a long shot, and it's a lot easier to blame the system, the voting system, when the final result is somewhat closer.

MARTINEZ: You mentioned Elder sort of planting the seeds of doubt in the state election results. I live in LA, so I've been hearing it on the radio and on TV for a few months now. Former President Trump also did the same thing leading up to Tuesday. When did all this start?

PARKS: You know, it's actually been an interesting cycle for Elder. A few months ago, in an interview, he initially said that Joe Biden did win the 2020 election fair and square. But as polls started to show that he would probably lose this recall effort, he started saying things like we heard a second ago - that there would be cheating, that there would be shenanigans. President Trump, on the other hand, has targeted California in his false voter fraud claims for years, going back to the 2016 election even.

The bottom line here is that this idea, this voter fraud idea, is no longer a fringe position in the Republican Party. So there's no real risk for candidates who want to shift the blame ahead of an election it looks like they're going to lose. Two-thirds of Republicans think that Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him, according to recent polls. So there's almost more political risk to not do this sort of behavior at this point.

MARTINEZ: So it sounds like just a new normal for elections everywhere. I mean, what do voting officials expect to see in 2022 and 2024, for instance?

PARKS: That's exactly right. They basically have to plan as if in elections that the losing candidate probably or may not concede. I talked to Brian Corley, who's a Republican election official in Pasco County, Fla., and he said it's really, really hard to get through to people who call his office convinced of conspiracy theories around the results.

BRIAN CORLEY: It's really frustrating because, you know, my staff collectively has probably 500 years of experience. And when you try and educate a voter, they don't want to listen to the experience of me and my staff. They want to listen to someone on the internet.

PARKS: He said he's heard from colleagues running local elections in the last couple of months, over the last year. These elections normally would have been kind of sleepy, low profile. And instead, they're seeing fraud claims even at the local level. So Corley says he just doesn't really see how this goes away quickly.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Miles Parks. Miles, thanks.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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