It took a few weeks, but One America News Network is finally settled into a predictable reaction to the 2022 midterms: claiming more Democratic fraud. In OAN’s view, no state had it worse than Arizona, a state the network relentlessly targeted with election misinformation, and where voters rejected numerous Republican nominees favored by OAN.
In the immediate wake of the election, OAN figures appeared to urge caution despite voters reporting numerous difficulties on election day; continuing to support GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake but stopping short of declaring fraud. But after the race was called, the floodgates opened for OAN to once again wail about “the biggest experiment in election fraud ever perpetrated on the American public.”
Unlike the 2020 election, some OAN figures are exploring novel solutions to losing elections this time around, like mail-in voting and ballot collecting (also known as “harvesting,”) two concepts that expand voting access, but which OAN alleges allow Democrats to steal elections. The inherent incongruity suggests that OAN is not serious about growing democracy, but only in sniveling resentfully, still captured by a lie partly of its own making.
At first, OAN exercised some caution in its coverage of Arizona’s gubernatorial race, possibly not wanting to sow too much doubt in case the results led to Lake’s projected victory. The day after the election, In Focus host Addison Smith acknowledged Arizona voters’ complaints of long lines and bureaucratic confusion, but said that he’s “not blaming losses from Republicans on a lack of election integrity this time around. You know, all things considered -- we’ll see what happens in Arizona -- but all things considered, I think the races the Democrats won were won pretty fair and square, according to the evidence in front of us.”
As results began to suggest that Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs might win, hints of fraud crept into OAN’s coverage. Within a week of Smith’s apparent expression of trust in elections, In Focus hosted right-wing YouTuber Drew Berquist, who complained that “whether it’s cameras going down, or a pipe leak, or a this, or the machines, whatever the case might be,” there is always a problem on election day that “gives them ample time to do stuff, and then voila -- the lights come on, the cameras come back on, and we’ve lost the race.”
On November 14, major news networks projected Hobbs’ victory, the dam broke, and OAN began declaring fraud. Real America host Dan Ball said that he’s not calling the race (OAN doesn’t have a decision desk) until “we can confirm every single vote was a legitimate vote and not harvested from, oh I don’t know, people that aren’t registered in Arizona? Dead people? You know, the stuff that always happens in every election, but shhh, we don't talk about it.”
Lake “has not conceded” to “supposed Governor-elect'' Hobbs, Ball later said, “and I don’t think she should,” citing voters’ election day complaints as well as the razor-thin margin. “But that doesn’t matter” to the media, Ball lamented while discussing another close race, “because they’ve got to call [the election for] the Democrat. That’s what they do. That’s just how it goes.”
On November 17, OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp made the calls explicit; in his style reminiscent of a man in a truck, Sharp unequivocally declared that “the Democrats once again stole another election,” and Democratic victors like Arizona Governor-elect Hobbs “just carried out the biggest experiment in voter fraud ever perpetrated on the American public.” Sharp’s segment included video of random Arizonans using ballot drop boxes as he warned of “clearly illegal voting fraud.” (2000 Mules director Dinesh D’Souza is currently being sued for defamation over similar conduct.)
Echoing familiar themes to a far-right audience, Sharp pontificated that “the commiecrats used the pandemic as a backdoor to legalize all kinds of illegal voting practices, and now they can drag out an election for weeks, while they quietly fill in the votes wherever they need them.”
On November 19, soon after Sharp’s broadside, Attorney General Mark Brnovich -- a 2020 election denier and frequent OAN guest -- issued a letter demanding answers on reported voting issues from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. According to The Washington Post, the letter contains “no findings that would call the outcome into question,” but it did further fuel OAN’s newly revived desire to cry fraud.
OAN reporter Daniel Baldwin aired a segment featuring interview footage with Christina Bobb, the Trumpworld attorney who previously led OAN’s “election integrity” coverage, while also helping the Trump campaign’s fake elector scheme. On OAN, Bobb played up Brnovich’s letter as proof that Brnovich saw a “potential crime there, whether it was intentional conduct or criminal negligence, whatever it is … it was enough to actually publish the letter.”
In a different Baldwin interview, Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers called for a “new election for 2022 for Maricopa County, there are no two ways about it.” Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward told Baldwin that “once again” Maricopa County “will be certifying an uncertifiable election. They did it in 2020, I think they plan to do it in 2022.” Ward also promised that “we are going through every single legal channel that is available and we are pushing forward to represent we, the people.”
Fittingly, Real America’s Ball injected a touch of inappropriate self-victimization to the frenzy. Ball compared election day issues in Arizona to anti-Black segregation using a clip from Free State of Jones, a 2016 movie starring Matthew McConaughey as a Confederate deserter who leads a rebellion against Confederate Mississippi -- in other words, fighting Democrats who would not allow Republicans to vote.
“Now this all happened hundreds of years ago, right?” Ball cheekily asked, “There’s no way that something like that could still happen today,” as though an unprecedented flood of election-day voting shares any similarities to Jim Crow.
Interestingly, some OAN figures -- not all -- have mentioned a degree of openness to mail-in voting, thinking that Republicans could close future vote gaps. However, even this comes not from a place of humility or learning, but vengeance and paranoia. As Smith put it on November 30, either “we make ballot harvesting and mass mail-in voting illegal across-the-board … or we get so good at it ourselves that Democrats want to make it illegal.”
It was only a matter of time before OAN again reacted to a Republican defeat with allegations of election fraud: the network built its present identity out of such claims. OAN would have viewers believe that, in the same election where Democrats mastered the art of election theft, they also lost control of the House of Representatives, and therefore President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. But perhaps allowing Republicans to block Democratic power for two years is also part of the Democrats’ plan to seize power.