Election conspiracy movement advances as 2024 approaches

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FRANKLIN, Tenn. — One by one, the presenters inside the packed hotel ballroom shared their computer screens and vowed to show how easy it is to hack voting systems in the US.

Drawing jaws from the crowd, they highlighted the theoretical vulnerabilities and problems of past elections. But rather than tailor their efforts to improve election security, they argued that all voting machines should be removed, a message that was cloaked in conspiracies about rigged elections to favor certain candidates.

“We are in war. The only thing that isn’t flying right now is the bullets,” said Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Arizona last year, who continues to contest his defeat and was the final speaker at 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 who lost landslides last November in major political battleground states, including Michigan, Nevada , Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Yet deep mistrust of the US election persists among Republicans, skepticism fueled by false claims by former President Donald Trump and by allies who have been traveling the country meeting with community groups and hosting forums like the one recently held in the outside of Nashville, attended by about 250 people.

As the nation moves toward the next presidential election, the electoral cabal movement that has proliferated since the last one shows no signs of slowing down. Millions are convinced that any election their preferred candidate loses has been rigged against them in some way, a belief that has fueled efforts by Conservatives to get rid of voting machines and stop or delay certification of results. electoral.

“Voters who know the truth about our elections have faith in them,” said Liz Iacobucci, election security program manager for voter advocacy group Common Cause. “But people who have been led into disbelief, those people can be led into other things, like January 6.”

Trump, who is running for the White House for the third time, 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 A considerable number of people believe that the 2020 election was stolen, although no such evidence exists.

“I am an election denier,” Trump said. “There are a lot of election deniers in this country and they are not happy with what happened.”

There has been no evidence of widespread fraud or rigging of voting machines in the US, and multiple reviews in battleground states where Trump disputed his defeat confirmed that the election results were accurate. State and local election officials have spent more than two years explaining the many layers of protection surrounding voting systems, and last year’s midterm election was largely uneventful.

Trump allies such as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn remain prominent voices calling for a ban on voting machines. They want hand-marked paper ballots to be counted individually without the help of machines by poll workers at nearly 180,000 polling places across the country.

“We all have the same agenda, to make our elections fair and transparent and where they can’t be hacked,” said Lindell, who recently announced plans to form what he calls an “election crime bureau” to bring his myriad legal, security cyber and legislative efforts under one organization.

In an interview, Lindell said he has spent $40 million since the 2020 election investigating fraud claims and supporting efforts to ban voting machines. She said that she is taking loans to continue financing the work.

During an “America First Forum” last month in South Carolina, Flynn told those gathered at a Charleston hotel that they were fighting not just Democrats but their fellow Republicans who dismiss his concerns about the 2020.

“Our Republican Party wants to move on,” Flynn said via video conference. “And frankly, the American people are not going to move on.”

An investigation by the AP and PBS series “Frontline” last year examined how Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, traveled the country spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and vaccines while building a movement based on nationalist ideas. christians. He relies in part on groups 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 priority for the group, though it will also focus on border issues. When asked how much he plans to spend before the 2024 election, Byrne told the AP: “There is no budget.”

“I have no children, no wife,” he said. “There’s no point in me saving it for nothing.”

Recently filed tax forms don’t detail where the group’s $7.7 million in income that year came from, but Byrne and Michael Flynn’s brother, Joseph Flynn, told the AP that most of it came from Byrne himself. The group reported giving $2.75 million to Cyber ​​Ninjas for a highly criticized and partisan review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix.

Michael Flynn is now focused on the nonprofit group he runs, America’s Future, and other projects, according to his brother. That group reported raising $2.3 million in 2021 and paying out $1.2 million in grants, including just under $1 million for Cyber ​​Ninjas.

Others who have been central to the effort to cast doubt on the accuracy of the election have also been active this year. Among them is Douglas Frank, a math and science educator from Ohio, who said on his social media account that he met with various groups in six states in January, seven states in February and plans to be in eight states in March. .

At the Tennessee forum, Kathy Harms, one of the event organizers, took the stage to talk about why she is fighting to get rid of voting machines.

“I don’t do this for me. I would rather 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.”

Submissions from people who work in information technology claimed that election officials have little knowledge or experience in security.

One of them, Mark Cook, walked attendees through the voting process, flagging potential threats and playing a video he said was of an “Iranian informant” accessing US voter registration data. to fraudulently request and submit military ballots.

Cook said the video had some “real components” and “could be legitimate.” He didn’t mention that an influx of duplicate military ballots would be evident because poll workers record each person who casts a ballot, meaning a second ballot that appears to have been cast by the same person would be caught.

“There are thousands of ways to exploit these systems,” Cook said, dismissing the security measures taken by election officials as a “sleight of hand game” and “smoke and mirrors to distract us.”

Election officials acknowledge that there are vulnerabilities, but say there are multiple defenses in place to thwart tampering attempts or detect malicious activity.

“Elections 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 recover from it.” said David Levine, a former local election official who is now a member of the Alliance to Secure Democracy.

Among those who heard the presentations at the Tennessee conference was Luann Adler, a retired educator and school administrator who said she lost confidence in the election after reading articles and watching videos online about voting machines. She has been advocating in her community to ban voting machines and limit voting to one day.

Working as a poll worker last year, Adler said, she didn’t see any problems. Even so, her experience did not change her mind.

“As we have seen today, a machine can be manipulated,” Adler said. “I’m not pointing fingers at any individual or community for being nefarious, but I don’t trust the machine.”


Associated Press writers Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island; Nicolas Riccardi in Denver; and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

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