Lumpkin County is a bit of Northern Georgia that includes part of the Chattahoochee National Forest and is perhaps best known as the site of a 19th century gold rush. It’s a Republican stronghold that former President Trump won by nearly 60 points in the 2020 presidential race. The local GOP also backed Trump allies’ chaotic and conspiratorial efforts to overturn his loss in Georgia long after those votes were counted. Last August, over eighteen months after President Biden was inaugurated, the Lumpkin County Republicans spearheaded an effort to encourage other county party’s to donate to a group that was behind conspiracy-fueled and thoroughly discredited efforts to audit and challenge mail-in ballots.
Now, less than a year after leading that push to baselessly question mail-in ballots, the Lumpkin County Republican Party has become one of several GOP organizations engaged in an abrupt about-face embrace of early voting techniques.
As we have noted on TPM, last month, the Republican National Committee launched an initiative to encourage supporters to adopt voting practices that had been demonized by the various “Big Lie” conspiracy theories about Trump’s defeat. Local organizers should encourage “vote by mail or early in-person, and ballot harvest where permitted,” the RNC said. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who worked with the Trump campaign in 2020 to criticize some of these very same techniques and baselessly suggest they were connected to fraud, is now leading this pro-vote-by-mail effort. As the RNC has pitched Republicans on voting early and by mail, it has attempted to walk a delicate tightrope, arguing they are simply trying to beat Democrats at their own game and that using these voting techniques is now totally great thanks to the GOP’s “efforts to Protect Your Vote in 2022.”
The motivation for this shift is clear. Despite Trump’s conspiracy theory mongering, there is no evidence whatsoever of widespread fraud in the 2020 election or issues posed by early or mail-in voting. However, there are indications the right-wing misinformation campaign around voting and Trump’s loss encouraged Trump voters to believe the voting system hopelessly rigged, and suppressed turnout.
But while the incentives of re-embracing early and mail voting are clear, not everyone in the GOP is happy with the encouragement of early voting methods. The new initiative has sparked backlash from conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, and hasn’t exactly earned full support from Trump.
Major media outlets have begun to join TPM in reporting on the awkwardness, and some of this coverage has noted that the Lumpkin County Republican Party is one of the GOP organizations changing their tune on voting. Both the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal Constitution published stories earlier this month which noted the Lumpkin County Republican Party had recently launched a “Unite The Right” initiative to “encourage Republicans to vote early and by mail and to help ensure the ballots are counted by tracing and ‘curing’ them.” Of course, “Unite the Right” is the same name as the infamous neo-Nazi rally that led to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
The Lumpkin County Republican Party’s new voting initiative is an especially clear illustration of what a dramatic turnaround this has all been. Last August, the party made a $1,200 donation to a group called VoterGA and urged other county GOP organizations in Georgia to follow their lead. VoterGA was one of the leading organizations pushing false claims about the 2020 election in that state and filing lawsuits aimed at challenging the results. Much of VoterGA’s work has been focused on disputing mail-in ballots, insisting counterfeit ballots were injected into Georgia’s count, and calling for the sort of audits that proliferated after 2020 and that experts have dubbed “politically motivated fiascos.” While many of VoterGA’s claims have been thoroughly debunked, at least one of their lawsuits remains ongoing.
“Lumpkin County wants to lead the way in supporting VoterGA.org and challenges all other GA counties to provide their financial support to this great organization!” the party’s chairwoman, Katherine James, said in a statement announcing the donation.
VoterGA’s wild claims about the election made their way to Fox News and even to Trump himself. The group is led by Garland Favorito, who has also spread conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the JFK assassination.
Favorito praised the Lumpkin County Republican Party in a statement of his own as they made their donation last August.
“We are humbled and honored that the Lumpkin Co. GOP placed their trust in us more than any other organization to support their members,” Favorito said. “We are also deeply grateful that they are challenging other counties to do the same.”
Yet less than a year after following Favorito down his rabbit hole, the Lumpkin County Republican Party has gone from trying to get other local GOPs to challenge mail-in-votes to encouraging voters to cast them. James, Favorito, and the Lumpkin County Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment on this story. According to the Washington Post, after the initial launch, the party’s “Unite The Right” initiative was renamed to “avoid echoing the name” of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally. It is now called “United Saves America.”