For the last two years, former President Donald Trump and his supporters have pushed the false conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen. Now, they have a plan on how to ‘stop’ that from happening again: overwhelm the system.
Far-right extremists, QAnon supporters, and MAGA fans are all preparing to get everyone to vote on Election Day because, they believe, that will disrupt a possible Democratic steal.
“Massive turnout on election day, as late in the day as possible, to catch the hacker off guard. Make him think he’s got the cheat in the bag and nobody will notice, then overwhelm him during the last hour with a turnout he can’t keep up with,“ Toni Shuppe, a QAnon-linked conspiracist and adviser to GOP candidate for Pennsylvania governor Doug Mastriano, wrote on her Substack in September.
And the edict to vote as late as possible has come from the very top. At a recent rally, Trump told the crowd that voting on Election Day was key because “it’s much harder for them to cheat that way.”
To be clear, just like there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, there is no evidence to suggest the 2022 midterms will be stolen.
The plan to overwhelm has been communicated directly with voters. In Eagle County, Colorado, unaffiliated voters were sent text messages urging them to vote only on Election Day. The messages claim to come from the Eagle County Republican Party and echo a message on the party’s website that states: “Vote in person November 8th by visiting your polling center before 7 pm. We must overwhelm the system and not stay home.”
It’s also taken hold on fringe message boards and election conspiracy channels on Telegram.
Last week, David Clements, one of the major stars of the election-denier movement, posted a meme that compared the battle to win the 2022 midterms to the famous battle scene from the film Braveheart.
One follower responded: “Hey GOPers, don’t vote early—don’t vote by mail or drop box, make it your duty to vote on election day, no other time. Don’t give the enemy an early number they need to get to, overwhelm the system on election day only.”
The “Election Fraud 2020” Telegram channel, which has coordinated campaigns to spread election disinformation over the course of the last two years, wrote that voting in person would “make them cheat harder, so that the fraud will be easy to spot.”
Jesse Littlewood, the vice president for campaigns with voting rights group Common Cause, told VICE News that while he has seen references to the plan to “overwhelm” the system pick up in recent weeks, he thinks that the idea is still relatively marginal.
There are, however, dangers posed by the spread of this message, particularly the idea that people should vote as late in the day as possible.
“The danger is that it could cause some of the voters who listen to this idea to miss their chance to vote,” Littlewood said. “If you believe that you need to vote late in the day on Election Day, if you have a family emergency, you could miss your opportunity to vote, so it could disenfranchise individuals who should have the right to participate in the election.”
Election officials already know about the plan to “overwhelm the system” come Nov. 8. “We are aware of efforts to disrupt Election Day operations and are working with our county and law enforcement partners to ensure that Election Day runs as smooth as possible,” Sophia Solis, the deputy communications director for Arizona secretary of state, told VICE News. Arizona has become ground zero for election conspiracists and voter intimidation in the lead-up to the vote.
Solis also said that her office has heard that certain groups are encouraging voters to write in their candidate because it would force a manual review. “Doing this would actually nullify the vote,” Solis said.
In Colorado, election officials are confident that the processes they have put in place will withstand any attempt to undermine the election.
“Whether a Colorado voter casts their ballot during early voting or in-person on Election Day, whether they choose to use their mail ballot or receive one at a voting center, their vote will be counted accurately and securely,” Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state, told VICE News. “Colorado county clerks and their dedicated staff have already processed nearly half a million ballots, including mail ballots. The Colorado Election Model withstands this election misinformation.”
Still, efforts to intimidate voters has become a significant problem even before Election Day, with widespread reports of harassment campaigns in states like Arizona and Texas in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote.
But for some Trump supporters, the lies about stolen elections have become so ingrained that they believe any efforts to fight back are already doomed to fail.
“The plan to ‘overwhelm the system’ is a joke,” wrote one user on a QAnon Telegram channel. “The machines and their counting assures that they have final say. Just look how it worked out for [Brazil’s Jair] Bolsonaro. There’s a reason [Microsoft founder Bill] Gates is predicting civil war after the elections: Because he knows they’re going to steal them in plain view and there is nothing else we can do about it.”