I get lots of email about crazed plots to undermine the integrity of our electoral system.
In any given week, people wearing tinfoil hats and stockpiling cryptocurrencies are eager to inform me about sinister forces seeking to thwart democracy by using lasers from spy satellites to alter ballots or tunneling under polling places to switch voting machines or allowing Hillary Clinton to run for president again.
Normally, I give these messages the attention they deserve, which is none.
But now, I find myself on the verge of believing there really is an effort underway to alter the outcome of Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial election through a sordid scheme, the ethics of which are every bit as questionable as its credibility.
Independent candidates Terry Hayes and Alan Caron appear to be getting some unexpected help with their campaigns – from conservative Republicans.
Why would members of the GOP’s right wing want to boost the chances of these moderate former Democrats to become the state’s next governor? Because every vote Hayes and Caron gain will come at the expense of Democratic nominee Janet Mills.
I first got a hint of this conspiracy a couple of weeks ago when I received a call from an alleged pollster. He wanted to know who I was supporting in the governor’s race. I said I was probably going to vote for Mills because the Republican candidate, Shawn Moody, knows about as much about governing as I do about anamorphosis.
(Anamorphosis is some kind of art thingy that has to do with viewing typefaces at peculiar angles, and the only reason I even know that much is because it might be the method Gov. Paul LePage uses to determine which bills he’s going to veto.)
In short, I won’t so much be casting a ballot for Mills in November, as voting against Moody. I could hear the delight in the pollster’s voice, and I soon discovered he thought I was a prime target for a bit of push polling.
He immediately launched into a glowing description of Caron, mentioning how he had turned his life around after an early criminal conviction, attended the Kennedy School at Harvard and become at expert in reforming state government. Then he asked if that information made me more likely to vote for him.
“No,” I said. “I think Caron is a smart guy, even if his TV spots make him look like a badly constructed Muppet. But a vote for Caron is a vote for Moody.”
Undeterred, the pollster turned to Hayes, explaining how she had earned praise as state treasurer for her collaborative approach. Wasn’t I now more inclined to cast my ballot for her?
“No,” I said. “Hayes might restore some semblance of order to the governor’s office, but what’s with all this collaboration stuff? Are the Russians going to be running state government? Anyway, a vote for Hayes is a vote for Moody.”
Disappointed, the pollster hung up, no doubt to seek more pliable subjects.
Curious about the motivation behind whatever entity was promoting two competing candidates at the same time, I called some political operatives. Here’s what I learned.
“I don’t know anything about that,” a GOP activist told me, “and even if I did, I couldn’t talk about it.”
Translation: I know some stuff, but if I talk, I’m afraid the people behind this will come down on me, because hardly anybody else knows about this.
“To my knowledge, nothing like that is going on,” a usually tuned-in Republican said. “Nope, nothing like that, at all.”
Translation: Something like that is definitely going on. But it would be worth my career to tell you who’s behind it.
“What I hear,” said a Democratic source with all the credibility of a Donald Trump news conference, “is this group of Republicans did some polling that showed the two independents aren’t doing very well. Combined, they’re at less than 10 percent right now. For Moody to win, they need Caron and Hayes to do about twice that. So, they’re trying some push polling, and they might even run some ads on TV.”
It’s not clear who this “group of Republicans” is (suggested name for their PAC: GOP For Hayes Or Caron – But Not Really), although at some point, campaign finance reports may give us a clue. Or the Mueller investigation could unmask them as Russian hackers.
Based on my research, it’s not clear if there really are devious forces at work trying to influence the outcome of this election. But just to be on the safe side, I’m buying some tinfoil and Bitcoins.
Conspire with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.