The New York Times - Sunday Read: Attack of the Voting Conspiracists

This glimpse is based on an article written by the NYT Magazine’s staff writer, Susan Dominus, and featured on October 10th, 2021 in the NYT Magazine’s Sunday Read under the headline: He was the ‘Perfect Villain’ for Voting Conspiracists [55 min read]

Abhishek Sambatur
First Glimpse
Published in
5 min readOct 15, 2021


It’s been a year since the 2020 election and while stories about it don’t make the headlines anymore, this one is an absolute gem from Susan Dominus. The long-term ramifications of last year’s voting conspiracies are depressing. This is a brief commentary on some intriguing storylines from the article which is coincidentally written by an author whose last name is Dominus.

Otto — who would eventually reveal himself to be Joe Oltmann, a Colorado entrepreneur — claimed that he had found a smoking gun that proved fraud at Dominion: “We 100 percent know that the election was rigged.” ¹

The premise of the article is set by a tantalizing detail from the first time Eric Coomer received a hostile message and a controversial video accusing him of committing election fraud. The author’s choice of using Coomer’s personal experience and anxious thoughts to begin this story is a masterstroke and perfectly conveys the tense mood of the nation following the heightened partisan rhetoric of a tight election. The portrayal of Oltmann’s attitude reminded me of some of the insecure and desperate signalings I saw on the news and social media at the time from those steeped in blind denialism, unwilling to accept defeat.

“Voter Fraud” Rally in Washington D.C. | Bob Korn/

At a time when well-funded efforts to sow mistrust in the election were already underway, Coomer had given conspiracy theorists a valuable resource, a grain of sand they could transform into something that had the feel — the false promise — of proof.¹

This quote epitomizes the essence of “malinformation”, a term discussed in the article that perfectly captures Eric Coomer’s predicament. “Fake news” and “alternative facts” became a thing in media while I was still in college and now this article’s discussion (and elaborate example) of malinformation strikes me as an evolution, a superior method of sowing political mistrust in the media. The difference is that in the past Trump used such weapons² to influence his base but now they’re seeping further into political foundations and threatening the bedrock of American democracy.

The confusion reached social media, where, in the hands of partisan messaging networks, the charge quickly became: Republicans were being given Sharpies in Maricopa County in an effort to invalidate their votes ¹

The “Sharpiegate” storyline is the most interesting subplot in this week’s long Sunday read. It’s such specific and interesting details in articles that usually last longer in my head and add significant value to my intellect on certain subjects. I went down a mini-rabbit hole after learning about why using a sharpie on a paper ballot is so controversial.

Facebook post by Donald Trump (Prior to the social media ban) | Ascannio/

The way many people felt watching the insurrection on Jan. 6, Poulos told me, was how he felt during that news conference. “It was an assault on democracy,” he says.¹

The 2020 US election was a messy, nervy, and chaotic affair. I still remember staying up at night and waking up early in the morning to listen to John King on CNN, running on no sleep for multiple days himself perhaps, reassuring voters and projecting election results tirelessly. Though the capital insurrection of January 6th had a debilitating effect on America’s democratic ideals, I suspect the consequences of the thoroughly debunked “stolen election” theory will be longer-lasting.

The Times recently reported that 25 percent of the directors or deputy auditors of elections in 14 counties in Ohio have left their jobs. The loss of so much institutional knowledge and expertise, the sheer shortage of workers, is another challenge facing an already frail election system ¹

The 2020 election seems to have caused an avalanche of negative externalities on election officials and workers who possess rare expertise that doesn’t come by easily. The climax of the article did leave me with a chilly feeling that what happened last year is not a one-time occurrence but the beginning of a deeper erosion within the American election system. Despite the widespread backing, even across partisan lines, of the 2020 election’s integrity, the baseless claims of election fraud seem to have had a permanent psychological (and perhaps intellectual) impact on a significant portion of the population. An attractive prospect for politicians similar to Trump that are willing to game the system and manipulate mass mentality to assume power.

Final Thoughts —

This week’s long article on The Sunday Read was an emotional one for me. Though the election didn’t impact me directly in any tangible manner, I knew from experience and intuition that another 4 years of Trump at the helm could severely, if not permanently, ruin the hopes and dreams of any immigrant that is willing to grind their way through a system that works against them to pursue a life promised by the American dream. Though this nagging matter of election integrity will persist and propagate, I am glad, that hardworking and ambitious immigrants have won another mental battle against the endless torture of chronic estrangement. The election result was an escape from a prison in which we were guiltlessly held for 4 long years

Bottom line: Spare an hour and read further if you don’t mind being emotionally triggered by last year’s drama and wish to learn more intricate details about how voting conspiracists have caused havoc in the wake of an unprecedented election.


(1) The New York Times | He Was the ‘Perfect Villain’ for Voting Conspiracists | Susan Dominus | Updated on Sept. 21, 2021

(2) BBC | ‘Stop the steal’: The deep roots of Trump’s ‘voter fraud’ strategy | Marianna Spring | Updated on Nov. 23, 2020

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Abhishek Sambatur
First Glimpse

An avid reader & learner 📚 Writing for posterity in case the robots take over 🤖 Trying to find an outlet for my constant stream of thoughts and ideas 💡