Weeks after President-elect Joe Biden was declared winner of November’s election, there remains a deep mistrust of the electoral process among many ardent supporters of Donald Trump. It reflects a broader sentiment among conservatives, one that has profound implications for the nation and its institutions.
Standing on Main Street, Dillard Ungeheuer, 73, was scraping cow manure off his shoes, left over from a visit to a feed lot, and seemed testy. When it came to the ballots, he was emphatic – many were fake.
“I’m not going to argue with nobody about it,” he says, voice rising. “I believe what I’m saying is factual.”
His indignation over the presidential election, and the government writ large, was palpable, and his feelings were shared by many in town.
“No, I don’t have much faith in government at all,” he says.
US President Donald Trump lost the election to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, and his efforts to have that result overturned in the courts have failed. On 6 January, the electoral votes from each state will be counted by Congress.
Although some Republicans have said they would challenge this final step in the process of certifying the winner of the election, it will only delay, rather than change, the outcome.
Interviews with some two dozen Republican voters in the Midwestern state of Kansas reveal a picture of how they see the world. Most felt they had been cheated out of a victory, and that democratic institutions, particularly the electoral process, were broken.
Most Republican voters, in Kansas and elsewhere, either believe Trump won the election or they are not certain of the victor, polls like this one from Northeastern University suggest.
Jackie Taylor, 59, publisher of the Linn County News in Pleasanton, says the election was stolen: “The whole thing is dirty. You’ve got a guy who got elected under dirty circumstances, and now he’s president.”
When asked why they thought the election was rigged, many said they got their news from Newsmax, One America News and other outlets that have broadcast stories about alleged voter fraud. These media companies were relatively obscure until Trump took office.
He frequently mentions them and has raised their profile.
Others say they did not know anyone who supported Biden, and have seen only Trump yard signs.
For them, it was inconceivable that Biden could win. They hold an unshakeable belief, despite the lack of any evidence, that liberals stole the election. Their views are reflected in the programmes they watch, and are discussed in coffeehouses, at gas stations and other places in town.
They called for an overhaul of the system, saying stricter controls should be imposed on voters. They said they were afraid that Biden would demolish what remained of American democracy, turning the country into a socialist state.
Tyler Johnson, 35, spoke about election fraud while standing next to his Chevy, one outfitted with a feed box.
‘America is in a very fragile position’
Earlier, outside town, a pickup truck had kicked up dust plumes, rising as high as a barn, and a sign, just off route 69, said: “Vote – remove every Democrat.”
Johnson does not think Democrats should be in charge: “With there being questions in the election, it makes me question everything they stand for.”
He raises calves like his father did – and the way he hopes his two-year-old son, Monroe, will someday – and fears Democrats will sabotage the cattle industry.
“With all the rules that the Biden presidency wants to enforce on us, it makes me wonder – is my lifestyle going to be a viable one for my son, as it was for my dad, and to me?” he says.
Their wariness of the electoral process could lead to a deeper divide in the US, with some believing in the Biden White House and others rejecting it.
“America is in a very fragile position,” says Edward Foley, an election law scholar at Ohio State University in Columbus. He describes mistrust of the electoral process as “a real challenge to the very premise of the system”.
Foley recalls another moment in history when a battle broke out over an election. In 2000, the Republican candidate, George W Bush, won Florida, and its electoral votes, by a narrow 537 votes, clinching the election. Supporters of his Democratic rival, Al Gore, were distraught.
“There was this fear that officials would use political power to manipulate the ballots,” he says, although there was no serious effort to undermine the process. The Democrats brought the matter before the Supreme Court, but the justices halted their efforts. It fizzled out.
Today, however, Trump and his allies have cast serious doubt on Biden’s victory.
Roger Marshall, a newly elected US Senator from Kansas, is planning to raise objections about Biden’s victory on Wednesday as members of Congress meet for a joint session to certify the election results. Marshall and about a dozen other conservative senators will challenge votes in some states – a doomed, last-ditch effort to stop Biden.
When asked whether contesting the election erodes confidence in the process, Marshall says he is pressing the issue because “I want to give people confidence in future elections, so I couldn’t possibly undermine people’s confidence any more than it is right now”.
His concerns are shared by many in the area, a deeply conservative region. Here, fears of socialism and dread about a Biden presidency are intense.
“I feel that we’re going to see the first signs of socialism,” says Mike Avery, 53, the owner of a lumberyard on Main Street, located in Linn County, where 80% of eligible voters cast ballots for Trump.
Ungeheuer, who makes corral fences, says of Biden’s policies: “You can’t start giving everybody something, and have me work my butt off and run a business, and expect me to give it away. Venezuela didn’t do very good, following a socialistic agenda.”
There are now also calls in Kansas and elsewhere to tighten restrictions on voting.
“I think the election was rigged, with the mail-in ballots. I think there were just people who are no longer with us that voted,” says Julia Smith, 65, who is retired.
“I think we’re going to have to go back to voting in person, with ID.”
For her, Trump’s defeat was proof the Democrats had pulled a fast one, and she says their efforts should be stopped. Then she pulled her coat tight against an icy wind and headed up the road.