The new nominee to head the ATF has a history of employing heated rhetoric to question the integrity of elections.
Steve Dettelbach, who was recently nominated to run the agency by President Joe Biden (D.), railed against Ohio’s election laws when he was the Democratic nominee for Attorney General. He repeatedly described Ohio’s elections as “rigged” and accused his Republican opponent Dave Yost of “rigging” them.
“Don’t let Yost distract you. He is part of this mess. ECOT. Secret meetings. Rigged elections,” Dettelbach tweeted on April 11th, 2018.
A review of Dettelbach’s social media by The Reload found he sent at least 17 different tweets declaring elections in Ohio were “rigged” in multiple ways. He repeated the election rigging claim in a local media interview. In November 2017, he penned an op-ed accusing Yost of defending a voter registration policy he called “insidious” and tantamount to cheating in the election.
“It’s about whether elected officials can rig the political system to get a partisan edge,” Dettelbach said.
Dettelbach’s comments are strikingly similar to those of former president Donald Trump (R.) who has continually complained his 2020 loss was due to the election being “rigged,” including as recently as this month. President Biden and his party have repeatedly condemned Trump’s rhetoric, especially in the wake of the January 6th Capitol Riot. The House Committee assigned to investigate the effort has concluded Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged were a catalyst for the violence that day and is even considering recommending charges against him.
Attacking election integrity is a bipartisan pursuit, as other Democratic campaigns have shown in recent years. Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, accepted the election results but refused to concede after losing in 2018, citing similar claims about voter suppression to those made by Dettelbach.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Dettelbach’s statements.
Dettelbach’s use of heated rhetoric about “rigged” elections could make his confirmation in an evenly divided Senate more difficult, especially since many on Capitol Hill have personally experienced the potentially violent effects of casting doubt on American elections. He is already facing a tough fight ahead due to his public support for new gun restrictions, including an “assault weapons” ban, and previous endorsements from gun-control groups. President Biden’s previous pick for the job, David Chipman, failed to secure 50 votes over concerns about his rhetoric, support for strict new gun laws, and accusations of racial bias.
Dettelbach’s accusations of election rigging were centered around two separate policies within Ohio. The first was the way the state draws district maps which, as in many states, has been an ongoing political struggle. Dettelbach accused Yost of secretly helping draw the districts to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters.
“The political system is broken, and my opponent can’t fix it, because he helped break it,” Dettelbach tweeted. “In 2011, he hid in a secret hotel room with partisans to rig Ohio election maps.”
He also attacked Ohio’s voter registration system as corrupt. Dettelbach said the system, which attempts to remove voters from the rolls if the state believes they’ve moved out of the district they’re registered in, was another example of how Republicans had fixed elections in the state.
“Ohio’s Voter Purge is about rigging the political system,” he said. “Ohioans should hold career pols who attack their rights accountable.”
He argued Republicans designed the system “to undermine the very democratic process that holds government in check.” At various points, he claimed a “truly independent judicial branch” was needed to block the voting law, and “a balanced [Supreme Court]” would not allow it to go into effect.
However, the Supreme Court sided with Yost and the state of Ohio in a decision on clearing voter rolls. It found the state’s practice of removing voters from the rolls was not in violation of federal law.
“The notice in question here warns recipients that unless they take the simple and easy step of mailing back the preaddressed, postage prepaid card—or take the equally easy step of updating their information online—their names may be removed from the voting rolls if they do not vote during the next four years,” the Court ruled. “It was Congress’s judgment that a reasonable person with an interest in voting is not likely to ignore notice of this sort.”
Attorney General Yost’s office declined to comment on Dettelbach’s claims.
The ATF director nominee will likely head to the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings within a few weeks.