California recall election against Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is still open but the Republican ranks are already hearing whispers of election fraud even as the party leaders were persuading their voters to turn out on Tuesday.
Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate in the fray against Newsom, has said he believes "there might very well be shenanigans, as there were in the 2020 election."
Elder’s campaign website contains a link to a "Stop CA Fraud" website which encourages people to report suspicious voting activity or sign a petition demanding a special legislative session to investigate the election. The language of the petition is lifted from the one circulated to help former President Donald Trump's effort to overturn the presidential election results of 2020.
Trump also jumped on the bandwagon by issuing a statement saying, "Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn't rigged?," the Associated Press reported.
That message puts Republican Party officials in a problem as they encourage everyone to vote while also promoting a narrative that California's election security cannot be trusted.
Much of the GOP criticism of California's elections has focused on the wide use of mail-in ballots, which have been automatically sent to all active registered voters for state elections since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. An overwhelming majority of California voters cast ballots by mail even before the pandemic, and no widespread voter fraud issues have surfaced.
Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office, said voting by mail is "trusted, secure and safe."
"There are extensive protocols in place that ensure the security and verification of all returned vote by mail ballots. The claims made disregard and misrepresent those safeguards. As a result, their messaging could be confusing to voters and discourage participation," Sanchez said
The GOP's predicament is similar to the one from last year's presidential election, when many in the party feared that Trump's claims about widespread fraud from an expansion of mail-in voting during the pandemic would backfire. They were concerned his message would convince many Republicans to stay home.
In California, the GOP needs all the help it can get.
The party has just 24% of registered voters, compared with 46.5% for Democrats. People registered to vote without a political party are roughly equal to registered Republicans, but typically align their votes with Democrats. Republicans have not won a statewide office since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger won reelection to governor.