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FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — One after the other, the presenters contained in the crowded lodge ballroom shared their laptop screens and promised to indicate how simple it’s to hack into voting methods throughout the U.S.
Drawing gasps from the gang, they highlighted theoretical vulnerabilities and issues from previous elections. However as an alternative of tailoring their efforts to enhance election safety, they argued that every one voting machines needs to be eradicated — a message that was wrapped in conspiracies about elections being rigged to favor sure candidates.
“We’re at battle. The one factor that’s not flying proper now could be bullets,” mentioned Mark Finchem, a Republican candidate for secretary of state in Arizona final 12 months who continues to contest his loss and was the ultimate speaker of the daylong convention.
Finchem was amongst a gaggle of Republican candidates working for governor, secretary of state or state lawyer who disputed the result of the 2020 election and who misplaced in a clear sweep final November in essential political battleground states, together with Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
But deep mistrust about U.S. elections persists amongst Republicans, skepticism fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims and by allies who’ve been touring the nation assembly with neighborhood teams and holding boards just like the one just lately simply outdoors Nashville, attended by some 250 folks.
Because the nation barrels towards the subsequent presidential election, the election conspiracy motion that mushroomed after the final one reveals no indicators of slowing down. Tens of millions have been satisfied that any election through which their most well-liked candidate loses has been by some means rigged towards them, a perception that has fed efforts amongst conservatives to ditch voting machines and to halt or delay certification of election outcomes.
“Voters who know the reality about our elections place confidence in them,” mentioned Liz Iacobucci, election safety program supervisor with the voter advocacy group Widespread Trigger. “However the individuals who have been led into disbelief — these folks might be led into different issues, like Jan. 6.”
Trump, working for the White Home for the third time, has signaled that the 2020 election will stay an integral a part of his 2024 presidential bid. In a current name with reporters a few new e-book, Trump pointed to polls that present a large variety of folks consider the 2020 election was stolen, despite the fact that there is no such thing as a such proof.
“I’m an election denier,” Trump mentioned. “You’ve acquired plenty of election deniers on this nation and so they’re not glad about what’s occurred.”
There was no proof of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines within the U.S., and a number of opinions within the battleground states the place Trump disputed his loss confirmed the election outcomes have been correct. State and native election officers have spent greater than two years explaining the numerous layers of safety that encompass voting methods, and final 12 months’s midterm election was largely uneventful.
Trump allies similar to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and former Trump nationwide safety adviser Michael Flynn stay distinguished voices calling for a ban on voting machines. They need hand-marked paper ballots counted individually with out assistance from machines by ballot employees within the almost 180,000 voting precincts throughout the nation.
“All of us have the identical agenda, to get our elections honest and clear and the place they will’t be hacked,” mentioned Lindell, who just lately introduced plans to kind what he calls an “election crime bureau” to convey his myriad authorized, cybersecurity and legislative efforts below one group.
In an interview, Lindell mentioned he has spent $40 million because the 2020 election investigating fraud claims and supporting efforts to ban voting machines. He mentioned he’s taking out loans to proceed to fund the work.
Throughout an “America First Discussion board” held final month in South Carolina, Flynn advised these gathered at a Charleston lodge that they have been combating not solely Democrats however fellow Republicans who’re dismissive of their issues concerning the 2020 election.
“Our Republican Occasion, they wish to transfer on,” Flynn mentioned through video convention. “And albeit, the American individuals are not going to maneuver on.”
An investigation by the AP and the PBS collection “Frontline” final 12 months examined how Flynn, a retired Military lieutenant normal, was touring the nation spreading conspiracy theories concerning the 2020 election and vaccines as he builds a motion primarily based on Christian nationalist concepts. He depends partly on teams similar to The America Undertaking and America’s Future.
The America Undertaking was launched in 2021 by Patrick Byrne, founding father of Overstock.com. Byrne mentioned elections stay a high precedence for the group, although it additionally will deal with border points. Requested how a lot he’s planning to spend forward of the 2024 election, Byrne advised the AP, “There isn’t any funds.”
“I’ve no youngsters, no spouse,” he mentioned. “There’s no level in me saving it for something.”
Just lately filed tax varieties don’t element the place the group’s $7.7 million in income got here from that 12 months, however Byrne and Michael Flynn’s brother, Joseph Flynn, advised the AP that the majority of it got here from Byrne himself. The group reported giving $2.75 million to Cyber Ninjas for a partisan and much-criticized evaluation of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, which incorporates Phoenix.
Michael Flynn is now centered on the nonprofit group he leads, America’s Future, and different initiatives, in line with his brother. That group reported elevating $2.3 million in 2021 and paying out $1.2 million in grants, together with slightly below $1 million to Cyber Ninjas.
Others who’ve been central within the effort to lift doubts concerning the accuracy of elections even have been lively this 12 months. Amongst them is Douglas Frank, an Ohio math and science educator, who mentioned on his social media account that he met with varied teams in six states in January, seven states in February and deliberate to be in eight states in March.
On the Tennessee discussion board, Kathy Harms, one of many occasion organizers, took the stage to speak about why she is combating to eliminate voting machines.
“I don’t do that for me. I’d fairly simply be a grandmother at house,” mentioned Harms, who lives within the county the place the convention was held. “I’ve granddaughters I do that for as a result of I would like them to have what I’ve. I don’t desire a banana republic.”
Shows by individuals who work in data expertise claimed election officers have little safety information or expertise.
One among them, Mark Prepare dinner, walked attendees by way of the voting course of, declaring potential threats and enjoying a video he mentioned was of an “Iranian whistleblower” accessing U.S. voter registration knowledge to fraudulently request and submit army ballots.
Prepare dinner mentioned the video had some “actual elements to it” and “might be authentic.” He didn’t point out that an inflow of duplicate army ballots could be readily obvious as a result of election employees log every one that casts a poll, that means a second poll that seems to be forged by the identical individual could be caught.
“There are millions of methods to take advantage of these methods,” Prepare dinner mentioned, dismissing safety steps taken by election officers as a “shell recreation” and “smoke and mirrors to distract us.”
Election officers acknowledge that vulnerabilities exist, however say a number of defenses are in place to thwart tried manipulation or detect malicious exercise.
“Election officers and their companions perceive that the purpose isn’t to create an ideal election system, however one which ensures that any assault on the election system doesn’t exceed the flexibility to detect and recuperate from it.” mentioned David Levine, a former native election official who’s now a fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
Amongst these listening to the shows on the Tennessee convention was Luann Adler, a retired educator and college administrator who mentioned she has misplaced confidence in elections after studying articles and watching movies on-line about voting machines. She has been advocating in her neighborhood to ban voting machines and restrict voting to a single day.
Serving as a ballot employee final 12 months, Adler mentioned, she didn’t observe any issues. Nonetheless, the expertise didn’t change her thoughts.
“As we’ve got seen right this moment, a machine might be manipulated,” Adler mentioned. “I’m not pointing the finger at any particular person or any neighborhood as being nefarious, however I don’t belief the machine.”
Related Press writers Michelle R. Smith in Windfall, Rhode Island; Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.
Christina A. Cassidy, The Related Press
Election conspiracy movement grinds on as 2024 approaches
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