Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry’s baseless conspiracy theories have real consequences, election experts say
Midstate GOP Congressman Scott Perry comes under fire after it was revealed he texted a Trump White House official about ways to cancel the 2020 election .
Perry, who represents Dauphin and parts of York and Cumberland counties, texted former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, discussing Trump’s plans to promote Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark to the post of Attorney General. Clark planned to investigate Georgia’s election results, despite no evidence to justify an investigation, according to a US Senate report.
Perry pushed baseless conspiracy theories, urging Meadows to have direct Trump intelligence agencies investigate Dominion voting machines for signs of voter fraud or foreign interference. The claims are false, as state officials detected no evidence of fraud when auditing the Dominion machines and always said they were safe from interference.
Perry also told Meadows that the British and Italian governments manipulated the US elections, while alleging that CIA Director Gina Haspel conspired with them. There is no evidence to support Perry’s claims about foreign election interference or Haspel’s involvement in a conspiracy.
Perry has a track record of support conspiracy theories while working on Capitol Hill.
After the Las Vegas shooting, he said the shooter was both alive and a member of ISIS. This is false, because the shooter has been found death by authorities. They also said he was not affiliated with ISIS. During Hurricane Maria, Perry claimed that Puerto Rico was lying by saying it had no power or water. In reality, the storm destroyed the infrastructure of the island and killed three thousand people.
Grant Tudor, a policy advocate with the government watchdog group Protect Democracy, said he was not surprised to hear Perry helped overturn the 2020 election, citing the examples of Las Vegas and Puerto Rico.
“And, obviously, the last escalation that we know of is publicly lying about the election results, and… sort of playing a central role in an attempt to overthrow the government.”
Perry was the first sitting lawmaker to be asked to testify before the House Select Committee on Jan. 6, which wants to learn more about his involvement in the events leading up to the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
The deputy has refused to testify.
“I decline the request of this entity,” Perry wrote on Twitter. “I stand with immense respect for our Constitution, the rule of law, and the Americans I represent who know this entity is illegitimate…”
Perry was quoted more than 50 times in a Senate Judicial Report which detailed Trump’s efforts to undo his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
Election experts and officials from both political parties validated the results of the 2020 elections.
The lawmaker did not return a request for comment.
Perry’s strategy, Tudor said, is to keep his rhetoric consistent while repeatedly pushing his conspiracy theories to voters.
“If you hear enough lies, then lies become familiar and familiarity breeds truth,” Tudor said. “And, so, the extent to which we blame these voters makes me a little uneasy… [they] have been subjected to years and years of misinformation.
By casting doubt on the electoral process, experts say, Perry’s rhetoric endangers election officials and election security officials across the country.
A survey conducted last year by the Brennan Center for Justice found one-third of election officials nationwide do not feel safe at work. And about one in five described threats to their life as a “work-related concern”.
Al Schmidt, head of the government watchdog group the Committee of 70, was the only Republican on Philadelphia’s three-person Electoral Council in 2020. He was publicly harassed by former President Trump for certifying the city’s votes, and attacks by his supporters continue today.
“Comments like that have consequences,” Schmidt said. “Like the death threats and violent threats we’ve seen directed at election administrators across the country.”
Schmidt, his wife and young children received death threats and were assigned to 24-hour security for more than a year. The family eventually left their home.
Nearly half of county election officers in Pennsylvania have resigned since 2019, according to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
“They can throw these things out there and they can think it’s a harmless little lie,” Schmidt said. “But the consequences of these lies undermine trust in democracy and violently threaten those who run elections.”
Perry’s Meadows texts were revealed just weeks before the May 17 primary, where he is the the only republican running to represent Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district in the United States House.
Robin Kolodny, professor of political science at Temple University, doesn’t imagine this will affect him much.
“You assume that people can even nominate their congressman. And I don’t think most of them can,” Kolodny said. “We all already know that at least one-third of eligible voters will not record a vote under any circumstances. So they completely disconnected.
Perry will be re-elected in November, but since it will be a midterm election without the president on the ballot, Kolodny predicts that lower turnout in Pennsylvania than in 2020 will help Perry retain his seat.
Kolodny said Perry’s rhetoric has helped erode people’s faith in Pennsylvania’s election security.
A poll released earlier this year found that 40% of Pennsylvanians were “not confident” in the fairness of the 2020 election, and 26% felt “not at all confident” that it was being conducted fairly.
Al Schmidt called recent attempts by politicians to undermine state electoral systems a “critical moment in our history.”
“There’s a circular nature to a lot of things, where you have elected officials deceiving their voters, and then those deceived voters insist that election officials do something about it,” he said. “And I think that’s why you end up with these ridiculous, so called audits.”
Schmidt said he wants more Pennsylvanians to know that the Commonwealth already audited its elections last year, and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
“It’s a lot harder to commit voter fraud than people realize, and it’s very easy to spot it,” Schmidt said. “And when it is detected, it is investigated and prosecuted.”
Last year, 11 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties reported a total of 26 possible cases of electoral fraud. Until now, four people were convicted of voter fraud crimes related to the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, all of whom were Trump voters.