FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — One by one, presenters inside the hotel’s crowded ballroom shared their computer screens and vowed to show how easy it is to hack voting systems in the United States
Drawing gasps from the crowd, they highlighted vulnerabilities and theoretical problems of past elections. But instead of tailoring their efforts to improve election security, they argued that all voting machines should be phased out, a message wrapped up in election-rigged conspiracies to favor certain candidates.
“We are at war. The only thing that’s not flying right now is bullets,” said Mark Finchem, a Republican candidate for secretary of state in Arizona last year, who continues to contest his defeat and was the last speaker of the one day conference.
Finchem was among a group of Republican candidates running for governor, secretary of state or state attorney who contested the outcome of the 2020 election and lost in a clean sweep last November in key political battleground states, including including Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Yet a deep distrust of the US election persists among Republicans, skepticism stoked by the false claims of former President Donald Trump and allies who have traveled the country meeting with community groups and holding forums such as the one recently just outside Nashville, in which was attended by about 250 people.
As the nation heads into its next presidential election, the electoral conspiracy movement that has mushroomed since the last one shows no signs of slowing down. Millions of people have been convinced that any election in which their favorite candidate loses has somehow been rigged against them, a belief that has fueled efforts among Conservatives to abandon voting machines and stop or delay certification of election results.
“Voters who know the truth about our election trust them,” said Liz Iacobucci, election security program manager with voter advocacy group Common Cause. “But people who have been led to disbelief — those people can be led to other things, like January 6th.”
Trump, a third-time candidate for the White House, has signaled that the 2020 election will remain an integral part of his 2024 presidential bid. In a recent call with reporters about a new book, Trump pointed to polls showing that a sizable number of people believe the 2020 election was stolen, even though there is no such evidence.
“I’m an election denier,” Trump said. “There are a lot of election deniers in this country and they are not happy with what happened.”
There was no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines in the United States, and multiple reviews in battleground states where Trump contested his loss confirmed that the election results were accurate. State and local election officials spent more than two years explaining the many layers of protections surrounding voting systems, and last year’s midterm elections were largely uneventful.
Trump allies like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn remain prominent voices calling for a ban on voting machines. They want hand-marked paper ballots to be counted individually without the aid of machines by pollsters at nearly 180,000 polling stations across the country.
“We all have the same agenda, to get our elections fair and transparent and where they can’t be violated,” said Lindell, who recently announced plans to form what he calls an “election crime bureau” to bring his myriad of legal and cyber security issues and legislative efforts under one organization.
In an interview, Lindell said he has spent $40 million since the 2020 election investigating claims of fraud and supporting efforts to ban voting machines. She said she is taking out loans to continue to finance the work.
During an “America First Forum” last month in South Carolina, Flynn told those gathered at a Charleston hotel that they were battling not only Democrats but also fellow Republicans who ignore their election concerns. of 2020.
“Our Republican Party wants to move forward,” Flynn said via video conference call. “And quite frankly, the American people are not going to move forward.”
An investigation by the AP and PBS series “Frontline” last year looked into how Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was traveling the country spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and vaccines while building a movement based on Christian nationalist ideas. He relies in part on bands like The America Project and America’s Future.
The America Project was launched in 2021 by Patrick Byrne, founder of Overstock.com. Byrne said elections remain a top priority for the group, although he will also focus on border issues. When asked how much he plans to spend before the 2024 election, Byrne told the AP, “There’s no budget.”
“I have no children, no wife,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to keep it at all.”
Recently filed tax forms don’t detail where the group’s $7.7 million in revenue from that year came from, but Byrne and Michael Flynn’s brother, Joseph Flynn, told the AP that most it came from Byrne himself. The group reportedly donated $2.75 million to Cyber Ninjas for a partisan and much-criticized review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix.
Michael Flynn is now focused on the non-profit group he leads, America’s Future and other projects, according to his brother. That group reportedly raised $2.3 million in 2021 and paid $1.2 million in grants, including just under $1 million to Cyber Ninjas.
Others who have been central to the effort to raise questions about the accuracy of the election have also been active this year. Among them is Douglas Frank, an Ohio math and science educator, who said on his social media account that he met with various groups in six states in January, seven states in February, and planned to be in eight states in March.
At the Tennessee forum, Kathy Harms, one of the event’s organizers, took to the stage to talk about why she’s fighting to get rid of voting machines.
“I don’t do it for me. I’d rather just be a grandmother at home,” said Harms, who lives in the county where the conference was held. “I have granddaughters that I do this for because I want them to have what I have. I don’t want a banana republic.
Presentations from people working in information technology said election officials have little knowledge or experience in security matters.
One of them, Mark Cook, walked attendees through the voting process, pointing out potential threats and playing a video he claimed was of an “Iranian whistleblower” accessing US voter registration data to fraudulently request and send military ballots. .
Cook said the video had some “real components” and “could be legit”. You failed to mention that an influx of duplicate military votes would be immediately apparent because polling workers record every person who votes, meaning that a second vote that appears to be cast by the same person would be captured.
“There are thousands of ways to exploit these systems,” Cook said, dismissing the security measures adopted by election officials as a “game of cards” and “smoke and mirrors to distract us.”
Election officials acknowledge that vulnerabilities exist, but say there are multiple defenses to thwart manipulation attempts or detect malicious activity.
“Election officials and their partners understand that the goal is not to create a perfect electoral system, but one that ensures that any attack on the electoral system does not exceed the ability to detect and fix it.” said David Levine, a former local election official who is now a member of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
Among those hearing the presentations at the Tennessee conference was Luann Adler, a retired educator and school administrator who said she lost faith in the election after reading articles and watching online videos about voting machines. She has advocated in her community to ban voting machines and limit voting to just one day.
Serving as a pollster last year, Adler said, he observed no problems. However, her experience hasn’t changed her mind.
“As we saw today, a machine can be manipulated,” Adler said. “I’m not pointing the finger at any individual or community as nefarious, but I don’t trust the machine.”
Associated Press writers Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island; Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.