The mostly middle-aged audience cheered from half-empty church pews as U.S. Senate candidate Jackson Lahmeyer called for an audit of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
“Election integrity is the No. 1 issue that our country faces today because if you do not have fair and legal elections, you don’t have a free country,” Lahmeyer said at the Make Oklahoma Free rally last month at Crossroads Church in Oklahoma City. The event featured candidates for state and federal offices and other speakers who claimed the 2020 presidential election was rigged by faceless outside forces.
Lahmeyer, a Tulsa pastor who seeks to unseat U.S. Sen. James Lankford with the endorsement of a few prominent advisers of former President Donald Trump, has made election fraud one of his top campaign issues.
While Trump won all 77 counties in Oklahoma in 2020, some Republicans in the state continue to make allegations of widespread voter fraud to energize voters this election year. Many recent polls have found that the majority of Republican voters don’t believe Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election was legitimate. Two-thirds of Republican respondents in a recent NPR/Ipsos poll said they believed voter fraud helped Biden win.
The Oklahoma State Election Board has found allegations of outside voting manipulation are “entirely without merit,” but Republican state lawmakers have filed at least 22 bills in advance of the coming legislative session that seek to investigate the 2020 election or tighten voting laws.
Oklahoma GOP Chairman John Bennett, who did not respond to questions or interview requests, said in a recent Facebook video that the party has formed an election integrity committee after hearing that it was a top issue from voters. Bennett said in the video the party is partnering with a group called Oklahoma Liberty Watch that claims there is widespread voter fraud in the state.
Oklahoma Liberty Watch claims that 2020 election night results culled from a New York Times data set show evidence of outside manipulation. The data shows larger percentages of early voting returns for Biden in Oklahoma. The group claims these voting patterns echo election results in other states, pointing to fraud.
Kevin Quealy, an editor at the New York Times who works with election data, told The Frontier in an email that the voting patterns Oklahoma Liberty Watch points out are probably the result of “superficial similarities” across states, which could include the common practice of releasing results from early voting soon after polls closed on election night. Those early election returns skewed Democratic in some localities in 2020. In Oklahoma, most counties report results from early voting and absentee ballots shortly after polls close, the State Election Board confirmed.
Organizers for the group declined an interview request but told The Frontier that the Oklahoma Republican Party was going to help them find canvassers.
State Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, who is also challenging Lankford in the June Republican primary, has filed four election integrity bills in advance of the 2022 Oklahoma legislative session. He says a forensic audit of 2020 election results is one of the top issues he’s running on in his campaign for U.S. Senate. One of the bills Dahm filed this year at the Legislature calls for an audit of 2020 voting results.
Dahm told The Frontier he firmly believes Trump won the 2020 presidential election and that he’s not using the bills as a campaign ploy.
“I’ve stayed consistent this entire time, even before I was campaigning for this position,” he said.
Dahm said his bills seek to improve accountability and transparency in state elections and also include a proposal to make Oklahoma’s paper ballots available for public review online after the vote.
Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas in the Republican primary, has filed three bills at the Legislature this year tackling election security issues.
One of Roberts’ bills would require Oklahoma voters to re-register with their county election board by the end of 2023 with proof of U.S. citizenship and residency in order to vote in state and local elections.
Roberts, who did not respond to an interview request, also lists election integrity as one of his campaign issues on his congressional campaign website.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Oklahoma, State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said in a statement to The Frontier.
“Oklahoma already has some of the strongest election integrity laws in the entire country,” he said.
The state already verifies the identity of in-person and absentee voters, and requires bipartisan representation at every level of election administration, Ziriax said.
Oklahoma is one of 35 states that ask or require voters to show some form of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And the state is one of three that requires absentee ballots to be notarized.
“No one is more committed to the integrity and security of elections than Oklahoma’s election officials,” Ziriax said. “If credible evidence existed of these kinds of issues, it would have already been investigated.”
At an interim study at the Oklahoma Capitol in September, Ziriax said the state’s election process was “one of the most secure in the world” and urged state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to be cautious when making unfounded claims of voting fraud.
“When those kinds of allegations are made, it hurts the public’s confidence in our elections,” he said.