The other day out in the Tri-Cities, in Central Washington, an unusual bulletin appeared from a local chapter of the Republican Party.

“Don’t vote early!!!” read an alert, from the Benton County GOP in Richland.

Encouragement not to vote, if just at certain times, is a risky move for a political party when it comes to its own members. So what was the vital reason given that voting early for the Aug. 2 primary would be a problem?

“This allows bad actors to know how many phantom ballots they need to print,” a graphic along with the message explained.

In other words, they think elections officials are monitoring the early vote so they can decide just how many fake ballots they need to add to ensure the other side wins.

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Welcome to the conspiracy theory flavor of the day, GOP-style. This is a party now so marinated in manufactured paranoia about voting that they’re also organizing stakeouts of ballot drop boxes.

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“Every dropbox in the state is being surveilled,” said a message from DropBoxWatch.com to The Seattle Times (which, if true, would be an impressive level of obsession to the cause, as there are hundreds of these boxes in the state open 24 hours a day).

Except in real life there is no printing of phantom ballots, and drop boxes have been used for years without incident, here and in other states (The Associated Press just surveyed all 50 states and found that “none reported any instances in which the boxes were connected to voter fraud or stolen ballots”).

“The hysteria around ballot drop boxes I think is just a made-up thing to create doubt and fear,” said one election official, in Arizona.

Which brings us to what’s really going on.

Did you read the news from our Seattle Times WA Poll that a third of Republican voters in this state still believe Donald Trump won the last election? That nearly three-fourths say there was vote fraud including major amounts of it? And that only 1 in 5, 22%, acknowledge that Joe Biden actually prevailed?

Mission accomplished: This poll number was the end goal all along.

The entire purpose of the Republican Party’s now nearly two-year mania about mythical election fraud was simply to get its own members to believe in it.

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It was to manufacture a crisis. And then point to that fake crisis and say: “See? Americans are freaked about election cheating. We better do something about it.”

You may be asking yourself: How could that many people buy into conspiracies with zero evidence? In most every state, including this one, ballots were painstakingly recounted after the last election, by hand, in either spot audits or recounts of entire districts (in Georgia, they recounted the entire state three times). No problems or discrepancies were found, let alone any systemic vote-rigging or “phantom ballots.”

Yet the WA Poll found that many Republicans have been vaccinated against these facts. Of those who believe Trump won, 7 of 10 still insist “fraudulent ballots were added to Joe Biden’s totals.” Sixty-three percent say voting machines were reprogrammed to steal votes from Trump.

Why do regular Republican voters believe these things? Because their party asked them to.

It started at the top, with Trump, who is still trying to overturn the 2020 election for his own narcissistic purposes. But as it was urged on by Trump’s enablers at the national level, eventually full-on election fraud mania became a local GOP staple.

Take, say, the Skagit County Republican Party. It declares, as a statement of fact, that the last election was pocked by “corruption, election tampering and blatant voter and election fraud.” None of which is true.

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The Spokane County GOP passed a resolution charging that Washington is “the testing ground” for voting irregularities and fraud.

The King County Republican Party is finally dissolving its bogus “Election Integrity Committee,” formed to exploit these phony concerns. But all its addled material is still up on the party’s Facebook page. Including an ill-fated petition drive to end vote-by-mail, and a right wing fever dream “report” that charges antifa has come here to register, and that the state’s electronic vote-counting systems “were developed for the purpose of manipulating results to cheat elections.”

Is it any wonder, then, that the WA Poll found there’s widespread distrust among Republicans? People in the article seemed concerned about it, like it’s a societal problem we all need to work on. But this was by design. It’s a self-fulfilling crisis — fabricated, implemented and now decried by Republicans.

As a result this election we have GOP candidates going around routinely saying things like this, from U.S. Senate hopeful Tiffany Smiley, of Pasco: “The 2020 elections raised serious questions about the integrity of our elections and caused millions of Americans to question their confidence in our electoral process.”

See how that works? The party spreads straight-up lies for two years, and is actively still doing so today. On cue, millions of Americans have serious concerns — so serious they’re staking out their local drop boxes. See how troubled they are? You better donate and vote like this next election’s about to be stolen from you, too.

But don’t vote early!!! Or they’ll definitely steal it this time but good.

What a scam. What’s most striking about it though isn’t how it’s totally made up. Nor that it’s maddeningly circular. It isn’t even that it’s undermining of democracy, though that is a red warning light flashing.

What’s most brazen about this scam? As the poll clearly shows, it’s that it’s working.