Lies, conspiracy theories prominent in many GOP races in Oklahoma
Several candidates in Oklahoma's upcoming congressional and legislative primaries continue to push the lie that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. With little pushback from GOP leadership, experts worry their lies will have lasting impacts.
PRYOR — Devon Garly spoke up about halfway through Jackson Lahmeyer’s speech.
“What about the election fraud?” the 69-year-old Pryor resident asked. “How do we know you’d even be elected if we don’t know our votes are being counted?”
Lahmeyer, a 30-year-old Tulsa pastor trying to unseat U.S. Sen. James Lankford in the June 28 GOP primary, paused for a moment and smiled.
“Oh, you want to open up that can of worms,” he said, earning laughs from the 40 or so potential voters who came to see him campaign this spring alongside former Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman John Bennett in rural Mayes County.
Lahmeyer proceeded to go on a lengthy rant full of debunked lies, half-truths and conspiracy theories regarding the 2020 election.
“The issue is the machines — and they’re all made with the same exact software from your favorite person, Bill Gates,” he said repeating a lie that has been debunked many times over. “These machines don’t count like 1, 2, 3, 4 — they count using an algorithm, they use projections, but who is the scientist who determined that algorithm?”
Lahmeyer is among the most vocal election deniers in the state. He is not alone in echoing and amplifying lies that have been disproven repeatedly — including in court.
An Oklahoma Watch review of statements, social media posts and campaign literature from legislative and congressional revealed more than a dozen candidates who have repeated lies that widespread voter fraud cost Donald Trump the 2020 election.
The former president and his allies’ refusal to accept the outcome spurred a deadly insurrection, a still brewing misinformation campaign and division within the GOP, where more than half of all Republicans still don’t accept Joe Biden as the legitimate president.
As Oklahoma and the nation prepares for the first major set of elections since 2020, experts are warning that having these lies go unchallenged could further undermine future election results and Americans’ confidence in democracy.
And as many Republicans are latching on in hopes of winning Trump’s endorsement — something that led to mixed results in early primary states like Pennsylvania and Georgia — the coming months could prove to be a test of whether voters accept or reject those pushing these lies.
“There are candidates literally campaigning on this issue,” said Matthew Motta, an assistant professor who studies misinformation and politics at Oklahoma State University. “That’s consequential because it keeps the big lie in the news and on voters’ minds and it kind of reinforces the big lie by being a metric by which they choose their preferred candidate.”
Election Deniers Well Represented on the Ballot
It doesn’t take long to find election-denying candidates. Many are already in the Legislature.
After the 2020 election, 37 Oklahoma lawmakers — nearly 20% of the Legislature — signed letters asking Congress to overturn the election results prior to the Jan. 6 electoral college certification vote.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma Watch asked all 15 state senators and 23 House members, all Republicans, who supported that move if they still support their request and whether they will now say that Biden rightfully won the election.
Of those who responded, all repeated unfounded claims that widespread election fraud cost Trump the election. Many are seeking higher office.
This includes Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, who is running for labor commissioner.
In 2021, Roberts sought a forensic and independent audit of 2020 general election results in three counties including Oklahoma County, making unfounded claims that fraud occurred in other states. That request was denied.
He repeated those lies during a House Election and Ethics Committee in March when he unsuccessfully tried to advance a bill he authored that would have required all Oklahomans to re-register to vote in federal elections.
“I was very clear that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump,” Roberts said during the hearing.
His unfounded claims went unchallenged by fellow Republicans and Oklahoma’s election chief, who was in the room for the hearing. Gov. Kevin Stitt recently endorsed Roberts, calling him a “conservative leader who has fought to protect our freedoms and constitutional liberties.”
State Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat, has claimed election fraud, even defending the Jan. 6 insurrection that left at least seven dead.
In a press release sent by the taxpayer-funded Oklahoma State Senate Communication Division, Dahm wrote “Jan. 6 was not an insurrection no matter how much the media mouthpieces try to gaslight us by saying it was.”
That statement runs counter to hours of testimony, video and other evidence gathered by investigators in the wake of the insurrection.
Former high-ranking GOP lawmakers are using lies about the election to make their case for returning to elected office. This includes former Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, who is also running for the open U.S. Senate race.
During last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, held weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Shannon seemingly defended the insurrectionists, saying people who stormed the Capitol “felt hopeless because of a rigged election.”
John Bennett, another former state lawmaker who stepped down this year as the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman to run for the open Second Congressional District seat, has made the 2020 election a key part of his stump speech.
While campaigning with Lahmeyer in Pryor, Bennett called for the release of those charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“For what, trespassing? That’s a misdemeanor,” he said. “This is your government sending a message to each and every one of you.”
Bennett said those who have prosecuted the insurrection should be put in “handcuffs.”
Political newcomers also are campaigning on charges that the election was rigged.
- Brian Jackson, running for House District 13 (Muskogee), who compared the Jan. 6 insurrection to the the 1933 Reichstag fire in Nazi Germany. He posted on Facebook that, “the party that encourages the Abortion Holocaust will have no compunction about stealing an election.”
- Michael Huggans, running for House District 42 (Pauls Valley), whose campaign website states, “Our votes were made irrelevant by 6 counties throughout America which high-jacked the ballot box. Our elections cannot be determined by 6 counties riddled with fraud! The results of this fraudulent election are literally destroying not only these United States of America, but also Oklahoma.”
- Dave Spaulding, running for House District 45 (Norman), who posted on Facebook the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection: “I dont understand my conservative Christian friends who say violence is unacceptable. What the crap do you think the American revolution was? A game of friggin pattycake?”
- Clay Staires, running for House District 66 (Skiatook), who posted on Facebook: “If they accept Biden in the midst of all the evidence of a fixed election, 72,000,000 people are going to feel compelled to take action.”
- Jarrin Jackson, running for Senate District 2 (Mayes, Rogers and Wagoner counties), who posted on Telegram on the Jan. 6 anniversary: “We’re now one year after a government false flag event, a deceitfully certified fraudulent election, & the reason why 400+ citizens are unjustly imprisoned.”
- Emily DeLozier, running for Senate District 10 (Sand Springs), who posted on Facebook in April: “We saw for ourselves that (Black Lives Matter) and Antifa were in charge of the disruption on January 6.”
- David Dambroso, running for Senate District 36 (Broken Arrow), whose campaign website states, “Dambroso will ensure radical voter integrity to prevent the widespread fraud of the 2020 elections from happening again.”
No one has introduce more outside voices spreading misinformation into this campaign season than Lahmeyer.
The U.S. Senate hopeful has received endorsements and in-state visits from former or current Trump allies such as conservative political operative Roger Stone, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
During a meandering, conspiracy-theory fueled speech Wednesday during a Lahmeyer campaign rally in Tulsa, Guilliani discussed just how close Trump came to holding power despite losing by millions of votes.
"I know it as his lawyer, we would have success in overturning that election if we weren't double crossed by RINO (Republican in Name Only) Republicans," he said.
He went on to cast doubts on upcoming elections by pushing unfounded claims about drop boxes, vote counting and other conspiracies.
"We got to be prepared,” he said while talking about the next round of elections. “For example, we need to be surveilling and making sure they don't get to do what they did. We are going to invest a lot of money in law enforcement and I think they'll be a little more fear this time as well."
Fostering Distrust of Elections
In an interview with Oklahoma Watch earlier this year, State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said the level of distrust in the country’s electoral process is the shakiest since he took office in 2009.
“I really fear that we are headed down a path where no matter which side wins, the losing side is going to claim either fraud or suppression based on which candidate wins the election,” Ziriax said.
Misinformation about the 2020 election has spread to Oklahoma’s presidential results. Though Trump won a majority of votes in all 77 counties, some say they believe vote manipulation occured here.
Roberts and other lawmakers requested election audits. Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who was captured on camera holding notes suggesting Trump declare martial law in 2021, has even raised unfounded concerns about Oklahoma’s results.
Ziriax said even though the claims weren’t credible, he requested an independent investigation by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services’ Oklahoma Cyber Command. That review found Lindell’s claims were “entirely without merit,” Ziriax wrote in a letter to Oklahoma lawmakers.
Motts, the OSU professor who studies misinformation, said he worries these claims will further lead to more distrust in the institutions at the heart of democracy and fuel future problems.
“What keeps me up at night is knowing that some folks will cast their ballots on the basis of the big lie,” he said. “They will vote for candidates who support the big lie. And then those people inherit the halls of the U.S. Senate or the House.
“But what really worries me is when these local candidates start inhabiting secretary of state offices, when they start inhabiting state houses and then start making moves to make elections more partisan. Most likely we will see these partisans rewarding themselves at the ballot box, making laws and regulations that enable their own party to win more frequently.”
Silence From Oklahoma's Highest Profile Republicans
Many of Oklahoma’s highest profile Republican leaders have gone on record, in one way or the other, affirming that Biden is the legitimate president.
This includes all five of the state’s U.S. House lawmakers — Reps. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City; Tom Cole, R-Moore; Kevin Hern, R-Tulsa; Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville — who voted in support of throwing out millions of votes in the state-certified elections in Arizona and Pennsylvania, but have not publicly pushed claims that Trump is the rightful president in the months that followed.
None of the five have, however, have stated regret for those votes. The group has largely been silent on the insurrection that rocked the U.S. Capitol hours before.
Stitt, shortly after the 2020 presidential election was called in favor of Biden, was among the early prominent Republicans who publicly acknowledged President Trump's election defeat. He has been largely silent on the issue since and has not criticized Oklahoma Republicans who continue to push the election misinformation.
Stitt continues to seek ties to Trump. His campaign in April announced the former president will hold a fundraiser for Stitt at Mar-a-Lago.
Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.