The electoral conspiracy movement grinds on as 2024 approaches

The electoral conspiracy movement grinds on as 2024 approaches

  • US News
  • March 18, 2023
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FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) – One by one, presenters in the hotel’s crowded ballroom shared their computer screens and promised to show how easy it is to hack into U.S. electoral systems

They gasped the crowd and highlighted theoretical weaknesses and problems of past elections. But instead of focusing their efforts on improving election security, they argued that all voting machines should be abolished – a message cloaked in conspiracies about electoral fraud in favor of specific candidates.

“We are at war. The only thing not flying right now is bullets,” said Mark Finchem, a GOP candidate for Arizona State Secretary last year who continues to deny his loss and was the last speaker at the all-day conference.

Finchem was among a group of Republican candidates running for governor, secretary of state or attorney general who disputed the outcome of the 2020 election and lost outright in key political battleground states last November, including Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin . .

A participant wearing a shirt mocking President Joe Biden is seen outside an election conspiracy forum in Franklin, Tenn., on Saturday, March 11, 2023 (AP Photo/Wade Payne)A participant wearing a shirt mocking President Joe Biden is seen outside an election conspiracy forum in Franklin, Tenn., on Saturday, March 11, 2023 (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Yet deep distrust of the US election remains among Republicans, skepticism fueled by former President Donald Trump’s bogus claims and by allies who have traveled across the country to meet with community groups and hold forums, like the recent one outside of Nashville, which was attended by about 250 people.

As the nation heads into the next presidential election, the electoral conspiracy movement that has mushroomed after the last one shows no signs of slowing down.

Millions are convinced that every election in which their preferred candidate loses has somehow been rigged against them, a belief that feeds Conservative efforts to abolish voting machines and halt or delay the certification of election results.

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

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 a significant number of people believe the 2020 election was stolen despite no such evidence.

“I’m an election denier,” Trump said. “There are many refusers in this country and they are not happy about what happened.”

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

Trump allies like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn remain prominent voices calling for a ban on voting machines. They want handwritten paper ballots to be counted one by one, without the help of machines, by poll workers in nearly 180,000 electoral districts across the country.

“We all have the same agenda of making our elections fair and transparent and where they can’t be hacked,” said Lindell, who recently announced plans to form an “electoral crime agency” to protect his myriad legal safeguards online and Legislative efforts among an organization.

In an interview, Lindell said he has spent $40 million since the 2020 election investigating fraud and supporting efforts to ban voting machines. He said he is taking out loans to continue to fund the work.

During an America First Forum held in South Carolina last month, Flynn told those gathered at a Charleston hotel that they were fighting not only Democrats but also Republicans who are dismissing their concerns about the 2020 election.

“Our Republican Party, they want to move on,” Flynn said via videoconference. “And frankly, the American people are not going to move on.”

An investigation into 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 leading a Christian- of nationalistic ideas. He draws in part on groups like The America Project and America’s Future.

The Americas Project was started in 2021 by founder Patrick Byrne. Byrne said the election will remain a top priority for the group but will also focus on border issues. When asked how much he plans to spend ahead of the 2024 election, Byrne told the AP, “There’s no budget.”

“I have no children, no wife,” he said. “There’s no point in me saving it for anything.”

Recently filed tax forms don’t specify where the group’s $7.7 million in revenue 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 Cyber ​​Ninjas $2.75 million for a partisan and much-criticized review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, including Phoenix.

According to his brother, Michael Flynn is now focused on the nonprofit group America’s Future, which he runs, and other projects. This group reported raising $2.3 million and disbursing $1.2 million in grants in 2021, including nearly $1 million to cyber ninjas.

Others who have been central to efforts to voice doubts about the accuracy of the elections 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 and seven states in February and planned to go in March to be eight states.

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

“I’m not doing this for myself. I’d rather just have 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 by people working in information technology claimed election officials had little security knowledge or experience.

One of them, Mark Cook, guided the participants through the voting process, pointing out potential threats and playing a video he said showed an “Iranian whistleblower” accessing US voter registration data to fraudulently engage in military activities Request and submit ballots.

Cook said the video has some “genuine components” and “might be legitimate.” He did not mention that an influx of duplicate military ballots would be easily detectable because poll workers log each person casting a ballot, meaning a second ballot apparently cast by the same person would be caught.

“There are thousands of ways these systems can be exploited,” Cook said, dismissing poll officials’ security measures as “shell games” and “smoke and mirrors to distract us.”

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

“Election officials and their partners understand that the goal is not to create a perfect electoral system, but one that will ensure 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 for Securing Democracy.

Among those listening to the presentations at the Tennessee conference was Luann Adler, a retired educator and school administrator, who said she lost faith in elections after reading articles and watching videos online about voting machines. She has campaigned in her community to ban voting machines and limit voting to a single day.

When she served as a poll worker last year, Adler said she saw no problems. Still, the experience didn’t change her mind.

“As we saw today, a machine can be manipulated,” Adler said. “I don’t point the finger at any person 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.

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