Election conspiracy movement continues as 2024 approaches

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — One by one, the presenters inside the crowded hotel ballroom shared their computer screens and promised to show how easy voting systems can be hacked through United States.

Drawing gasps from the crowd, they highlighted theoretical vulnerabilities and problems with past elections. But instead of adapting their efforts to improve election security, they argued that all voting machines should be eliminated – a message shrouded in conspiracies about rigged elections to favor certain candidates.

“We are at war. The only thing that’s not flying right now is bullets,” said Mark Finchem, the GOP candidate for secretary of state in Arizona last year, who continues to contest his loss and was the last one-day conference speaker.

Finchem was among a group of Republican candidates vying for governor, secretary of state, or state attorney who challenged the 2020 election result and lost outright last November in important political battleground states, including Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, .

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

Yet a deep mistrust of the U.S. election persists among Republicans, a skepticism fueled by former President Donald Trump’s misrepresentations and by allies who have traveled the country to meet with community groups and hold forums like the one recently just outside Nashville, attended by some 250 people.

As the country heads towards the next presidential election, the electoral conspiracy movement that swelled after the last shows no signs of abating.

Millions of people are convinced that any election in which their favorite candidate loses has been somehow rigged against them, a belief that has fueled efforts by conservatives to ditch voting machines and to stop or delay the certification of election results. .

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

Trump, a third-time White House candidate, 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 that show a significant number of people believe the 2020 election was stolen, even though there is no such evidence.

“I’m an election denier,” Trump said. “You have a lot of Holocaust deniers in this country and they are not happy with what happened.”

There has been no evidence of fraud or widespread 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 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 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 individually counted without the aid of machines by poll workers at the roughly 180,000 polling stations across the country.

“We all have the same agenda, to make sure our elections are fair and transparent and can’t be hacked,” said Lindell, who recently announced plans to form what he calls an “election crime bureau.” to bring its myriad of legal cybersecurity. and legislative efforts within a single organization.

In an interview, Lindell said he has spent $40 million since the 2020 election to investigate allegations of fraud and support efforts to ban voting machines. He said he was taking out loans to continue financing the work.

At an “America First Forum” last month in South Carolina, Flynn told those gathered at a Charleston hotel that they not only fight Democrats, but also fellow Republicans who scorn their concerns about the 2020 elections.

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

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 the vaccines as he built a movement based on Christian nationalist ideas. It draws in part on groups such as 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 it 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. “There’s no point in me keeping it for anything.”

Recently filed tax forms do not specify where the group’s $7.7 million in income came from that year, but Byrne and Michael Flynn’s brother, Joseph Flynn, told the AP that most came from Byrne himself. The group said it gave Cyber ​​Ninjas $2.75 million 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 nonprofit group he leads, America’s Future, and other projects, according to his brother. This group said it raised $2.3 million in 2021 and paid out $1.2 million in grants, including just under $1 million to Cyber ​​Ninjas.

Others who played central roles in the effort to raise doubts about the accuracy of the elections were also active this year. Among them is Douglas Frank, a math and science teacher 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 planned to be in eight states in March.

At the Tennessee forum, Kathy Harms, one of the event’s organizers, took the stage to explain why she’s fighting to get rid of voting machines.

“I’m not doing this for me. I’d rather just be a stay-at-home grandma,” 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 claimed that election officials had little knowledge or experience of security.

One of them, Mark Cook, guided participants through the voting process, highlighting potential threats and showing a video he said was of an ‘Iranian whistleblower’ accessing the data U.S. voter registration to fraudulently request and submit military ballots.

Cook said the video had “real components” and “could be legit.” He did not mention that an influx of duplicate military ballots would be easily apparent because election workers record each person who votes, which means that a second ballot that appears to be cast by the same person would be capture.

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

Election officials acknowledge that vulnerabilities exist, but say several defenses are in place to thwart attempts at manipulation 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 recover from it. ” said David Levine, a former local elections official who is now a member of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Among those listening to 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 videos in line on the voting machines. She advocated in her community to ban voting machines and limit voting to one day.

As a scrutineer last year, Adler said, she observed no problems. However, the experience did not change his mind.

“As we saw today, a machine can be manipulated,” Adler said. “I’m not pointing the finger at any individual or community as evil, 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.

The Huffington Gt

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