The right-wing radio personality took to Twitter not long after the polls had closed and it seemed the Democtratic candidate had prevailed in the excruciatingly close race for governor of Kentucky.
“Today #ELECTIONFRAUD and what is going on in #kentucky is REAL,” the host of “Tore Says,” streamed on the Red State Talk Radio website, tweeted on Nov. 8. “How do I know? I am actually have EVIDENCE because me and my family are VICTIMS of it.”
The personality, whose real name is Terpsichore Lindeman, alleged that somehow she and her husband had wound up as registered Democrats in Kentucky, which she saw as a sure sign that Andy Beshear, the Democratic attorney general ultimately declared the winner of the race for governor, had been manipulating the voter rolls.
Lindeman said that she is not a Democrat, and that she had her name removed from the rolls when she and her husband left the state years ago. Indeed, she said her husband is not a U.S. citizen and should not have been on any voting roll.
The claims gained no small degree of exposure. Lindeman’s dozens of tweets on the matter were retweeted hundreds of times. InfoWars, the conspiracy theory website, repeated her claims in multiple articles over a series of days. The website of the far-right activist Laura Loomer featured the story prominently. The Kentucky State Board of Elections received calls from alarmed voters, all while incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin — who’d lost the election — talked darkly, but without specifics, about “irregularities” on Election Day.
ProPublica decided to check out Lindeman’s claims, and none add up, falling apart in the face of routine checks of public records. Still, experts say the disinformation spread by Lindeman in Kentucky and the virality and confusion that ensued is a peek into what could befall voters in 2020, when similar techniques are expected to be part of the arsenal of both the right and the left.
Amy Cohen, the executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors, said that the spread of misinformation and disinformation are “serious concerns going into 2020 because they undermine confidence in the election process.” Her organization, which represents elections directors from across the country, works closely with Twitter and other social media platforms to report similar issues.
Debunking Lindeman’s claims starts with her and her husband’s voter registration information, which are public records. Their Kentucky registration forms show that both checked the box for Democrat when they registered to vote in Fayette County in 2008. Her husband, who Lindeman claims is not a citizen, also signed the form in 2008, which requires signers to attest they are a U.S. citizen. Lying on the form carries a penalty of fines or jail time of up to 12 months. The couple, records show, have never removed themselves from the rolls or changed their registration status until Nov. 8 of this year, which is when she began tweeting.
Neither Lindeman nor her husband appears to have voted in the last five years. Records also show that Lindeman was a registered Democrat in Florida, where her registration status is currently inactive.
Lindeman did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Her husband also did not respond to an emailed request.
Of her husband, Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins said: “If he’s really a noncitizen, he should be concerned. It’s a crime to register if you are a noncitizen; it says so right there above his signature.”
The claims by Lindeman were only one aspect of efforts to raise questions about the integrity of the vote in Kentucky this month.
Online, someone who routinely retweeted posts from the Democratic Socialists of America claimed to have shredded hundreds of ballots filed by mail by Republicans. State officials say there is no evidence that this took place. Twitter terminated the person’s account, but screenshots of the tweet went viral and became a talking point for conservative commentators.
In an emailed exchange with Jared Dearing, the executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections, and Cohen, Twitter declined to take down the screenshots. The company claimed they did not violate Twitter’s rules against misleading information.
Dearing said that Kentucky is ready to combat misinformation and disinformation. “We remain hopeful social media platforms will also take a responsible stance in taking these posts down as they are identified, and do so in a timely and meaningful manner,” he said.
Gideon Blocq, the co-founder and CEO of VineSight, a company that monitors the spread of misinformation online, said he watched as the tweet spread through thousands of bots. “This says something about what’s to come in the near future,” he said, saying that while Bevin did not specifically repeat the information in this tweet in any of his announcements or press conferences, the “similarity of the two storylines made this a more effective campaign.”
In the days after the election, Citizens for Election Integrity, a right-wing organization, held a news conference alleging mischief on the part of Democrats. Bevin publicly encouraged people and news organizations to attend.
At the news conference, Erika Calihan and Kristen Stuebs — both Bevin supporters — alleged, among other things, that a Louisville-area man had someone forge his signature and vote in his name at his precinct. The man was away at college at the time of the election, and his mother saw the signature and had filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. The pair played a video of the man complaining about the situation.
“We’re just two moms,” the pair told the local media, saying they had no expertise and were only concerned citizens offering “breadcrumbs” for reporters to follow up on.
The local media did follow up, but the crumbs led nowhere. The alleged forger was actually a legally registered voter with an identical name registered in the same district.
A person who works closely with the Republican Party said Bevin had been “on his own” when he alleged unspecified misconduct in the vote. The party, however, did nothing publicly to dispel the claims. A party spokesperson did not return calls for comment.
University of Kentucky election law professor Joshua Douglas wasn’t satisfied with that response, saying he’d called for the Republican Party to disavow Bevin’s statements.
“The way in which we handle these sorts of allegations from a losing candidate in 2019 will tell us if our democratic norms can sustain the same thing in 2020,” he said. “Not enough people were speaking out about this rhetoric.”
Update, Nov. 26, 2019: After publication of this story, Terpsichore Lindeman tweeted a denial that she and her husband had registered as Democrats in Kentucky, accusing the clerks of checking the boxes on the registration forms. “WE NEVER TICKED ANY BOXES EVER,” she tweeted. Don Blevins, the clerk in Fayette County, where the pair registered in 2008, said that clerks would not have ticked boxes related to party registration, as they are not required to complete the form. In a direct message on Twitter, Lindeman also said her husband had filled out the form in order to update his driver’s license address. In Fayette County, Blevins said, these are two separate forms. The form filled out by her husband states “FOR U.S. CITIZENS ONLY” along the top.
Correction, Nov. 26, 2019: This story originally misidentified Citizens for Election Integrity. It is not based in Minnesota.
Texas Republicans plan to use a disinformation campaign to help them win back a dozen state House races in 2020, buying up website domains that look like they belong to Democratic candidates and loading the sites with negative information, according to a leaked document from the party.
“Not sure why it’s news that we’re aggressively working to earn the support of all Texas voters for all our candidates,” said Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey, who confirmed the authenticity of the document. “This draft discusses just some of the many ways in which we are going to turn out not only our dedicated base, but we’re going to expand that base and attract independent voters as well.”
Buying up the domains was just one strategy outlined in the party’s leaked blueprint heading into the next election cycle. Other plans include finding a way to mitigate the “polarizing nature” of President Donald Trump and launching videos to showcase diversity within the GOP.
“Republicans have already fumbled the ball and we aren’t even in 2020 yet,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, which obtained the memo and shared it with media.
“They know they’re in deep trouble ‘given the polarizing nature of the President’ and expect ‘Republicans will refuse to turnout during the General Election because they don’t want to vote for him,’” he added, quoting from the memo.
Republicans are seeking to maintain control of the Texas House after a bruising 2018 election cycle. If Republicans lose nine seats in the 2020 elections, Democrats would take control of the chamber and have a leading role in drawing new congressional and legislative district boundaries after next year’s census.
Route to microsites
According to the leaked memo, the Republican Party of Texas plans to create “microsites for negative hits” against a dozen Democratic candidates who defeated Republican incumbents in the 2018 elections. The party would work to juice sites’ appearances on search engines and buy Democratic candidate website domain names still available and reroute clicks to those domains to the microsites.
“For example, we will purchase ZweinerforTexas.com, ZweinerforTx.com, and so on,” read the strategy memo, referring to state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood.
“We will attack these Democrat candidates with contrast hits which we will obtain from public votes from the 86th Legislative Session, their campaign websites, and any other means to gather negative material on them as we deem it unlikely Republican candidates will share their opposition research with us — we will ask, though,” the memo stated.
The strategy would prioritize Democrats who beat out sitting Republicans by 4 percentage points or fewer, including Rep. Gina Calanni, D-Katy, and Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston.
Calanni defeated an incumbent Republican by less than a single percentage point — 113 votes — in 2018. She called the Republicans’ plans to build the websites a “smear tactic” that distracts from issues such as education.
“Disingenuous efforts to trick voters by purchasing sham websites and putting out misinformation have no place in our state. It’s the kind of dirty politics that turns Texans off,” said Calanni, a finance director for an oil and gas valve company.
Rosenthal, a longtime engineer, said it is impossible for his campaign to buy all the possible domain names Republicans could use, and he won’t try to build a strategy to combat that.
“I don’t know that it would be fruitful or productive to spin my wheels to combat a disinformation campaign like that when there’s an infinite number of possibilities. I can’t buy them all,” he said. Instead of trying to fight what he called efforts to create “phony websites and sling mud,” Rosenthal said he plans to focus on physically reaching voters and not rely on reaching them online.