2020 Election Lies Keep Unraveling as Courts Push for Evidence

More than three years after a swirl of conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the originators of many of the false allegations are now being forced to admit — some under oath — that there is no evidence to back up their outlandish claims.

On Wednesday, lawyers from the conservative group True the Vote admitted to a state judge in Georgia that they did not have evidence to back up their allegation about illegal “ballot trafficking” in the state during the 2020 election and the 2021 Senate runoffs.

And earlier this month, James O’Keefe, the former leader of Project Veritas, issued a statement after one of its sources recanted his story about fraud in Erie, Pa. “I am aware of no evidence or other allegation that election fraud occurred in the Erie Post Office during the 2020 Presidential Election,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

The admissions are familiar. The conspirators of many other false theories about the 2020 election, when forced to provide evidence that would hold up in court, similarly could not.

In the days immediately after the 2020 election, Rudolph W. Giuliani, then a lawyer for Mr. Trump, claimed that the election was “an absolute fraud.” Days later, under questioning by a Pennsylvania judge, he conceded, “This is not a fraud case.” Last year, Mr. Giuliani admitted that public comments he made saying that two Georgia election workers committed ballot fraud were false.

The falsehoods have come with consequences. Former President Donald J. Trump and 19 of his allies were indicted on multiple charges for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle defamation claims over the network’s promotion of misinformation about Dominion election machines during the 2020 election. Mr. Giuliani was ordered to pay $148 million in damages to the two election workers.

Mr. Giuliani was among some election deniers who, in private, admitted that evidence was lacking.

“We’ve got lots of theories,” he told the leader of the Arizona Legislature after the 2020 election, according to testimony from the Jan. 6 committee. “We just don’t have the evidence.”

The admission by True the Vote that it did not have any evidence of ballot trafficking further undermined the claims that formed the basis for the debunked voter fraud film “2,000 Mules.” The movie, despite its false claims, reached a wide audience.

And even though the false conspiracy theories are continually repudiated, Mr. Trump carries on perpetuating the election lies in his campaign speeches and public appearances.

The mess of conspiracy theories about stolen and rigged elections has become dogma to a large faction of the conservative base, irreparably damaging their trust in the nation’s electoral system and spawning an election denialism movement that has overwhelmed large parts of the Republican Party apparatus.

As of August, nearly 70 percent of Republican voters did not believe President Biden’s victory in 2020 was legitimate, according to a poll conducted by CNN. In June, a poll from Monmouth University found that 30 percent of Americans believe Mr. Biden won in 2020 only because of voter fraud.

The two polls were conducted after numerous conspiracy theories about the 2020 election were proven false in courts, making it unlikely that the further repudiation of 2020 falsehoods will have much of an effect on the 2024 election.

That may be partly because voters in the current hyper-polarized climate are drawn to excuses for losses, such as cheating, said Matthew Germer, the governance director at R Street Institute, a conservative organization. Another factor: These lies make money for the liars.

“Conspiracy theories are great for fund-raising, and terrible for democracy,” Mr. Germer said. “And that, again, is preying on our tendencies to want to be on a winning side.”

He added, “I’m optimistic that the more of these conspiracies that crumble, that it undermines the credibility of those who are promulgating them.”

“People can really only put up with so much,” he said. “But I guess it remains to be seen where those limits lie and how long it can last.”