An Iowa County Just Stopped An Election Denier from Overseeing 2024 Election
Voters ousted a conspiracy theorist on Tuesday, in the first test for Trumpian conspiracies since the former president was indicted for trying to steal the 2020 election.
Daniel Nichanian | August 30, 2023
David Whipple took to Facebook days after the 2020 election. His home state of Iowa had voted for Donald Trump, but Whipple kept sharing posts that made false claims about the results in other states, an early sign of the conspiracies that have overtaken GOP politics ever since Joe Biden beat Trump. “Joe admits MASSIVE VOTER FRAUD during brain fart,” Whipple wrote on Nov. 9.
Three years later, in June of 2023, Whipple clinched a goal that many election deniers have pursued: He took over the local office that runs elections. When the longtime Democratic auditor of Iowa’s Warren County retired before finishing her term, Whipple, a businessman, applied for the job and the all-GOP board of supervisors appointed him. In this role, Whipple was set to oversee voter registration, handle ballots, and process results during next year’s presidential race.
Intent on stopping that from happening, local Democrats collected thousands of signatures in a brief two-week window and forced a special election for auditor. (In Iowa, local vacancies only trigger a special election if there’s such a petition drive.) Although the county located south of Des Moines has zoomed to the right over the last decade—from backing Barack Obama in 2008 to supporting Trump by 17 percentage points in 2020—Democrats still bet that Whipple was out-of-step with most voters there.
“We’re living in this constant fear that we’re losing our democracy, and here was an actionable thing that you could respond to,” Jim Culbert, head of the local Democratic Party, told Bolts.
This organizing paid off, and voters on Tuesday resoundingly ousted Whipple.
Democrat Kimberly Sheets, who already worked for the office as a deputy auditor, defeated him 67 to 33 percent. The special election’s margin marks a big turnaround from the county’s recent red lean. “The people of Warren County stood up for our democracy and said with one voice: we trust competence over conspiracies,” Sheets said in a statement after her win.
Kedron Bardwell, a professor who teaches about conspiracy theories at Simpson College, in Warren County, found and helped expose Whipple’s social media posts after he was appointed in June. “I thought by posting those I was doing my part to inform voters and hopefully motivating some of them to do something about it,” he told Bolts. “I think the pushback was stronger than even I had thought.”
“I’m excited to see that Warren County voters were not willing to abide by these types of views that cast doubt on elections, that spread unfounded conspiracies about them, particularly when the responsibility of that role is so directly related to election security,” he added. “I’m hopeful that this is indicative of a trend that people will continue to push back against folks that try to lie about the last election.”
Whipple’s defeat is the latest in a string of losses for election deniers seeking to have a hand in election administration. They fell short in many secretary of state races in swing states in 2022, and voters in May recalled a local clerk in Michigan in June. But election deniers have also scored some important wins, including four secretary of state offices in red states last year. This spring, Republicans in Pennsylvania doubled down on election deniers running for re-election as county commissionners; a fake Trump elector is now coasting to a new term in the county that includes Pittsburgh.
Whipple’s ouster in Iowa concludes a month that began with a somewhat similar election in Snohomish County, one of Washington state’s most populous counties. Robert Sutherland, a former Republican lawmaker, was running to take over local election administration. “Prepare for war,” he’d urged his followers on Facebook in late 2020, and even encouraged Trump to use military force to hold onto the presidency. He then used his position in the legislature to sponsor restrictive bills, network with election deniers nationwide, and demand an audit of state results.
Unlike Iowa’s Warren County, Washington’s Snohomish County is reliably Democratic, and the odds of Sutherland winning the auditor’s election were low. Still, local observers told Bolts that they thought the conservative vote may be enough to carry Sutherland to the November general election, enabling him to spread his conspiracist message for three more months.
But Sutherland was eliminated by coming in third in the Aug. 1 nonpartisan primary.
One day after this Snohomish County primary, Trump was indicted by federal prosecutors for trying to overturn the 2020 election. Two weeks later, he was indicted as part of a separate investigation in Georgia for trying to overturn that state’s results.
Warren County’s special election on Tuesday was the first test for Trump’s Big Lie conspiracies since these new criminal charges.
Republicans still closed ranks around Whipple. The head of the local GOP said of Whipple that “he’s just got questions about the 2020 election.” U.S. Representative Marianette Miller-Meeks, who represents the county in Congress, went door-to-door to convince voters to support him.
Whipple himself responded to the local furor by deleting past social media posts. He walked back some of his false claims and called the attention to his 2020 statements a “fear tactic.” But the BBC also reported this month that he was continuing to fan rumors of suspicious activity by local poll workers. “It makes me think there’s smoke here,” he said. “So let me go investigate the fire.” (Bolts has extensively reported about the threats faced by local poll workers due to lies about their behavior.)
But the GOP did not succeed at activating the county’s recently reliable partisanship in favor of their candidates, and Democrats registered a rare win in this area.
According to Bleeding Heartland, a website that covers Iowa politics, the turnout rate was three times higher than the previous record for a special election in Warren County. Preliminary evidence suggests that Democrats were especially energized to vote in the auditor race.
Culbert says the publicity around Whipple’s conspiracist statements mobilized his party’s base and also worried many independents.
“There’s been a perception that Democrats can’t win in this county, period, and that led to an arrogance and laziness on the board of supervisors’ part to think that everything they did was fine because there could be no challenge to them,” he added, vowing that his party would work to build on Tuesday’s results next year when the board of supervisors will be on the ballot.
A much bigger test for the Big Lie is already looming, also in Iowa: In five months, Republicans in the state will launch the GOP’s presidential nomination fight, and Trump (who has never even conceded his loss in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, saying without evidence that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz “stole it”) is widely leading in the polls. A win in the caucuses would reinforce his status as the favorite to secure the Republican nomination to take on Biden in 2024.
In Warren County at least, Whipple won’t be the one overseeing that potential rematch.
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