The Voter Purge Project Identifies Major Issues, Key Trends in Battleground States
New Orleans, LA — On October 18, the Voter Purge Project (VPP) released its second major report identifying significant issues and key trends in battleground states prior to the November 2022 General Election. Following their 2020 report, Unnecessary Disenfranchisement, the VPP team tasked their unique database management system to compare year-over changes in voter registration data for the report The Voter Purge Project: A Look at Trends in Battleground States.
As the November General Election nears the question of wrongful voter purges maintains urgency. Looking at eight battleground states, the Voter Purge Project finds that states are still quick to purge voters, the number of new undeclared voters is growing at a faster rate than new registrations with either party, growth in the number of young voters lags behind the growth in the 18-24 y.o. population, and known voter suppression efforts appear to be effective in some states.
Since its convening, the Voter Purge Project has been analyzing changes in voter lists from nearly 30 states with an increasing understanding of how voters get removed from state voter rolls. “Our unique knowledge of the way voter files are kept and maintained by states allows a level of precision in comparing change in voter rolls over time,” says Wade Rathke. “This analysis helped identify over 60,000 newly registered ‘inactive’ voters in battleground states that are in jeopardy of being unfairly removed from the rolls.”
Given the availability of data from different states, the new VPP report highlights trends in the types of voters experiencing unnecessary disenfranchisement and the continued need for state election authorities to address issues with their voter rolls.
The Voter Purge Project protects eligible voters against disenfranchisement by monitoring, reporting on, and organizing against wrongful voter purging.
What Mark Meadows said about mail-in voter fraud in 2020
“I don’t want my vote or anyone else’s to be disenfranchised. … Do you realize how inaccurate the voter rolls are, with people just moving around? … Anytime you move, you’ll change your driver’s license, but you don’t call up and say, ‘Hey, by the way, I’m re-registering.’”
After Donald Trump lost the presidential election, falsely claiming election fraud, Meadows became senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), which promotes “election integrity” efforts. The organization’s “citizen’s guide” urges activists to determine that the registrations of their neighbors are legal by checking on “whether voters have moved, or if the registrations are PO Boxes, commercial addresses or vacant lots” and then “obtaining evidence: photos of commercial buildings? Vacant lots?” and “securing affidavits from current residents that a registered voter has moved.”Advertisement
Voter-list maintenance is one of the dividing lines in American politics. Republicans argue that if voter-registration records are not regularly purged and updated, election fraud can take place. Democrats push back that too many voter-list purges are conducted haphazardly, removing eligible voters who don’t learn they are no longer listed until they show up to vote.
Now it turns out that until last week, Meadows was simultaneously registered to vote in three different states — North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina — according to state records obtained by The Fact Checker.
The overlap lasted about three weeks, and it might have continued if revelations about Meadows’s voting record had not attracted scrutiny in North Carolina. Meadows is still registered in Virginia and South Carolina.Advertisement
This is the latest in a series of revelations about election-related behavior by Meadows that appear to contradict his and his party’s rhetoric on election integrity.
Meadows, in fact, was the keynote speaker at a CPI Election Integrity Summit in Atlanta on Feb. 19. “What you’re doing is investing in the future of our country and making sure only legal votes count,” Meadows told attendees. He said he had just gotten off the phone with Trump, who he said had told him: “We cannot give up on election integrity.”
About three weeks after that speech, the New Yorker reported that Meadows had registered to vote at a home where he did not reside. Meadows and his wife, Debra, had submitted voter registration forms that listed as their residential address a 14-by-62-foot mobile home in Macon County, N.C., with a rusted metal roof that sold for $105,000 in 2021, even though they did not actually own it or live there. He then voted in the 2020 election via absentee ballot.Advertisement
North Carolina officials announced last month that, as a result, Mark Meadows is under investigation for potential voter fraud. On April 11, his voter registration was removed by Macon County officials, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said last week.
The state cited the fact that Meadows had voted in Virginia during the 2021 gubernatorial election that elected a Republican, Glenn Youngkin. Meadows and his wife had registered to vote in the state in September, his and her voter registration applications show, even though they were still registered in North Carolina.
It is not unusual for some overlap in voter rolls as people move across state lines, and many people do not bother to terminate their voting registration when they move. In contrast to Meadows, however, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo canceled his voter registration in Kansas just a few months after selling his home in Wichita and moving to McLean when he became CIA director.
South Carolina and Virginia are members of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit that provides member states with reports on voters. If Meadows had listed his Virginia voter registration while registering in South Carolina, the state would have notified Virginia. Angie Maniglia Turner, Alexandria’s general registrar and director of elections, said Thursday that there has been no change in the voter registration status in Virginia of either Mark or Debra Meadows.
Ben Williamson, a spokesman for Mark Meadows, declined to comment.Advertisement
At the time Meadows registered to vote in North Carolina in 2020, using the mobile home address, he no longer owned a home in the state. In March 2020, Meadows sold, for $370,000, a house in Sapphire, N.C., that his mother had lived in. Meadows’s mother, Mary Gail Garwood, had lived at and voted from the Sapphire property in 2012, 2014 and 2016. She then registered to vote in Georgia on Sept. 12, 2018. Meadows listed the property for sale the next day. Garwood did not respond to a message left for her at the retirement community where she now resides.
Meadows, as of 2018, had been registered to vote from the Sapphire property.
Gerry Cohen, a North Carolina election official, said that under state law, it was okay for Meadows to use his mother’s property for his voter registration if he stayed there at least one or two nights a year. In fact, he said that under a little-known provision of state law, Meadows could have continued to use the Sapphire address for voting even after he had sold the property because he was engaged in “government service” in D.C. The law says the last address in the state “at the time of that person’s removal [from North Carolina] shall be considered and held to be the place of residence.”Advertisement
Thus, Meadows would not have needed to register to vote six months later using the address of the mobile home. The same courtesy, however, would not have been extended to his wife because she was not in government service. Voter registration records show Debra Meadows was also registered in three states at the same time.
North Carolina initially did not take action to remove Debra Meadows from the voting rolls at the same time as her husband. But state records now show her voter registration was ended by Macon County officials as well. “The Macon County Board of Elections administratively removed the N.C. voter registration of Debra Meadows under N.C.G.S. § 163-57(6) on April 21, upon receipt of documentation that shows she registered to vote and voted in Virginia during the 2021 election,” said Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
The Mesa County clerk, Tina Peters, is charged with 10 counts related to tampering with voting equipment. A Republican running for secretary of state, she has promoted false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
A restrictive new voting law in Texas has sown confusion and erected hurdles for those casting ballots in the state’s March 1 primary, with election administrators rejecting early batches ofmail ballots at historic rates and voters uncertain about whether they will be able to participate.
In recent days,thousands ofballots have been rejected because voters did not meet a new requirement to provide an identification number inside the return envelope.
In Harris County, the state’s most populous county and home to Houston, election officials said Friday that 40 percent of roughly 3,600returned ballots so far have lacked the identification number required under Senate Bill 1, as the new law is known. In Williamson County, a populous northern suburb of Austin, the rejection rate has been about 25 percent in the first few days that ballots have come in, the top election official there said.
“Twenty-five percent of mail ballots from the starting blocks is a big deal for our county,” said Chris Davis, Williamson County’s elections chief. “We’ve never seen it before. And yes, our hope is that we can get these voters to correct the defects in a timely fashion. But what if they don’t, because three months ago they didn’t have to? There’s a learning curve. There are going to be possibly painful lessons that their vote doesn’t count because they weren’t aware.”
All the officials said that the sample size is small at this early stage and that the rate of rejected ballotscould improve as more arrive. Jennifer Anderson, the elections chief in Hays County, southwest of Austin, said her staff had rejected 25 percent of the first small batch of returned ballots — but by Friday morning, the rate had dropped to 4 percent.
“It seems like our outreach is working,” she said.
Still, the defect rate so far is alarming election administrators, voting advocates and some voters as primary day quickly approaches and many thousands more ballots are still to be returned. The rejection rates provide an early opportunity to assess the impact of Senate Bill 1, one of dozens of restrictive voting laws enacted by Republicans across the country last year amid an avalanche of false claims, many from former president Donald Trump, that the 2020 presidential race was tainted by widespread fraud.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R), a leading proponent of Senate Bill 1, said in a text message that “Texans deserve to have confidence in the electoral system.” The new law ensures that, Cain said, by creating uniform voting hours across the state, expanding access for those who need assistance and enhancing transparency with provisions that protect the rights of partisan poll watchers.
“I’m confident that local election officials will prioritize assisting voters through the process instead of gaslighting to gin up fear and confusion,” Cain said.
In addition to adding identification requirements, the wide-reaching law imposes new penalties for anyone who registers to vote or casts a ballot but is not eligible to do so. It also empowers partisan poll watchers by imposing penalties on poll workers who impede their ability to observe the voting process, among other changes.
A federal judge delivered a narrow defeat to one part of the law on Friday. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled that in Harris County and in the Austin area, the state can’t enforce a provision forbidding public officials to encourage voters to vote by mail, the Associated Press reported. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a message.
The rejection of mail ballots is not the first challenge that Senate Bill 1 has presented, and election officials — who are nonpartisan in Texas — fear it won’t be the last. In January, counties also began rejecting a high percentage of mail ballot applications, which now require the same identification numbers as the ballots themselves. The law requires voters to provide either a Texas state identification number, typically from their driver’s license, or the last four digits of their Social Security number. The number they provide must match the identification number on file with their registration record.
Many counties are experiencing significant application rejection rates; in Harris, the figure is 35 percent to date, officials said.
In Texas, mail-in voting is open only to those who are over 65, will be away from home on Election Day or have a disability that prevents them from voting in person. Mail voting has for decades been the province of Republicans, who developed robust outreach programs and in many states championed legislation allowing the practice. In 2020, however, when Trump criticized mail balloting as an opportunity for fraud, many GOP voters began shunning the practice.
“It feels like people were just sitting up late at night thinking up ways to discourage people from voting,” said Jo Nell Yarbrough, a 76-year-old retired educator from Katy, Tex., west of Houston, who received a letter early this week from her local election office informing her that she had neglected to include an identification number on her application for a mail ballot.
Yarbrough sent out the application a second time and said she is optimistic that she’ll get the ballot in time to vote and mail it back again — and she is also willing to vote in person if necessary, once early voting begins Monday. But Yarbrough, a Democrat, said she fears that others might not be so persistent.
“It’s just making another hurdle for people,” she said. “And many people are going to give up and say, ‘I don’t feel like doing this or that.’ Not that it’s not worth it, but when you get older, you don’t want hassles.”
The GOP-controlled Texas legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) enacted Senate Bill 1 in early September after Democrats tried unsuccessfullyto halt the bill bydenying Republicans a quorum in the House for months.The law went into effect in December despite entreaties from county election officials to give them more time to educate their staffs and voters. Lawmakers also denied local officials’ requests to push back the primary date.
As a result, election administrators have been scrambling to understand the new rules, procure new materials such as ballot requests and voter registration forms required under the law — and teach the public how it will affect them. They have relied on guidance from the secretary of state’s office, which in some cases has taken months to develop.
That fueled the confusion about how to process mail-in ballot applications, said Remi Garza, the elections chief in Cameron County, at the state’s southern tip.
“There was a lot of information that had not been distributed to all the 254 counties in Texas, so different administrators had different levels of information with respect to how you could process these applications,” said Garza, who leads the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.
That delay also contributed to a shortage of voter-registration cards as organizers with groups such as the League of Women Voters were unsure whether they could use their stockpiles of old cards or would have to wait to receive new forms from the state. The new form explains Senate Bill 1′s increased penalties for anyone providing false information on their voter registration application.
State officials told League organizers that they would not be able to provide the tens of thousands of registration cards they normally supply because of a nationwide paper shortage and rising costs.
Nancy Kral, an officer with the Houston chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the state’s top election official, Keith Ingram, told her during a telephone call that the state was not going to continue “subsidizing” the League’s registration efforts. The League provides voter registration cards to every participant in naturalization ceremonies in Houston — about 45,000 applications since June 2020.
A spokesman for the office of the secretary of state did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that exchange. But the spokesman, Sam Taylor, said the office has tried to inform election officials about all the changes. “Our office has been working as quickly and diligently as possible within a compressed time frame to provide guidance to both election officials and voters on changes to the voting process in Texas,” he said in an email. “Our goal from day one has always been to make sure that all eligible Texas voters can successfully cast a ballot, and that remains our goal going forward.”
Officials finally gave guidance — in either late December or early January, according to Taylor — that the old registration cards would be accepted this year. The deadline to register in time to vote in the primary was Jan. 31.Officials also provided more forms after the League threatened to sue under the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to provide voter registration forms to third-party groups.
Kral has been disheartened by the hurdles Senate Bill 1 has erected — as well as the tone it seems to have set, she said. “It’s just so complicated and confusing,” she said. “There’s a perception that the confusion is not only in the name of election integrity but also about influencing who feels comfortable voting. I don’t think they’d admit to that, but that’s the message I’m receiving. They’re bullying.”
The late guidance from the state, as well as the paper crunch, has created stress for election officials, too. Garza, in Cameron County, described having to wait for instructions on the new mail-ballot envelope requirements before he could place his order. The new identification requirements necessitated an envelope redesign that includes a large privacy flap to cover the box where voters must provide their identification number.
Garza said his envelopes had still not arrived last week, when counties were supposed to begin mailing ballots to eligible voters. So on Saturday, he sent three of his staff members on a four-hour road trip to San Antonio, where a local printer had the envelopes in stock.
“We put them in the mail on Monday, and through the cooperation of our local postmaster, the voters began to receive them in their mailboxes today,” Garza said Wednesday. “That’s at least a week and a half later than we would have liked.” And it gives voters that much less time to fix any errors or omissions on their ballots, he added.
Several election administrators said they are optimistic that the rejection rate for both ballots and ballot applications will continue to decline as more come in — and as they get the word out to the public about the new rules.
But they are braced for another source of confusion, which is Senate Bill 1′s new penalty for poll workers who impede the ability of partisan poll watchers to observe voting locations on Election Day.
Davis, the top elections official in Williamson County, said the law has had a chilling effect on his ability to recruit poll workers, who have told him they worry that any effort to maintain order or protect voter privacy could be construed as a violation. But he also said he is optimistic that new mandatory training for poll watchers and poll workers will clarify what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
“Poll watchers are not our enemy — at least they’re not supposed to be our enemy,” Davis said. “The problem up until now is that in a poll watcher’s quest to see irregularities, they may not have had a terribly firm grasp on the ‘regular’ — how things are supposed to run in a polling place.” The training should improve that, he said.
Cain, the Republican lawmaker, said the new law “has ample protections for partisan election judges in dealing with disruptive election observers.”
Several election administrators said clashes between watchers and workers will be less likely on March 1, because it is a primary election. The real test of the new poll watcher rules will come in the general election in November, they said.
That’s just fine with Garza, who believes that voters — and election administrators — have enough to get used to right now.
“Elections are robust,” Garza said. “But they’re also very delicate. People need to mindful of how much things have changed since the last election. That’s what’s keeping me up at night.”
A coalition of civil rights groups is suing the Secretary of State’s Office for withholding documents concerning a voter purge program targeting immigrants that was mandated by the new Republican-backed election law.
The law, passed after a heated partisan battle last summer, requires that the office conduct regular sweeps of the voter rolls to verify citizenship status by cross-checking data provided by the Texas Department of Public of Safety.
Without the data requested, the groups say they can’t confirm that the state is complying with a 2019 settlement agreement that came as a result of a botched voter purge effort that year. Early reports from county officials that the lists have included people who registered at their naturalization ceremonies have further raised attorneys’ suspicions.
Hearst Newspapers has requested similar information regarding the people who are at risk of having their voter registrations revoked and has also been told the records are exempt from public records laws. The secretary of state has asked the Attorney General’s Office to rule on the matter.
How many voters has the secretary of state flagged in the state’s largest counties?
The state has questioned the citizenship status of the following amounts of voters:
3,063 Harris County
1,385 Dallas County
708 Tarrant County
327 Collin County
Source: Texas Secretary of State
The Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment on the suit.
So far, 11,737 registered voters had been flagged as potential noncitizens, including about 2,900 Harris County residents. As of Dec. 31, 2,552 voter registration records had been canceled through the process, though the process is now on hold because of a federal law pausing any removals within 90 days of an election.
The majority of the removed voters never responded to a notice giving them 30 days to verify their citizenship, and 382 were confirmed to be noncitizens and removed from the rolls.
Harris County has so far been able to confirm the citizenship status of two voters. Most of the rest were sent notices in November, and of those, 263 have responded with proof of citizenship and will not be removed.
The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Austin, alleges that the office is violating the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law that requires public disclosure of records pertaining to the maintenance of voter rolls.
The civil rights groups — including the ACLU, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and DĒMOS — had requested records showing every individual identified under the program as a potential noncitizen as well as the information the secretary of state used to determine a voter’s suspected citizenship status.
“Texas can’t shirk its obligations under federal law to release information about its new voter purge program,” said Ashley Harris, attorney at the ACLU of Texas, one of the plaintiff organizations. “The public deserves to know why Texas continues to falsely flag U.S. citizens for removal from the voter rolls.”
Removals are now on hold until at least after the March 1 primary election, if not the May 24 runoff, because of the freeze mandated by federal law within 90 days of an election. Anyone who received a notice within that time period will have that extra time to send their proof of citizenship.
‘They felt insulted’
State law allows voters whose registration was canceled under this process because they missed the deadline to later send proof of U.S. citizenship so they can be reinstated, including at the polling place.
Remi Garza, the president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators, said county officials often don’t have the data necessary to verify voters’ citizenship status on their own.
“We’re not generally set up as an investigative office,” Garza, who serves as election administrator for Cameron County. Aside from asking the voter for documentation, “we don’t have a whole lot of authority to request information.”
Some counties, like Bexar and Travis, happen to keep data on voters who register at naturalization ceremonies, but it’s not required by law. At the end of last year, the counties respectively found 15 and 17 percent of the flagged possible noncitizens filled out their registration applications at a ceremony, the Texas Tribune reported.
Travis County has not sent any letters to voters while it works to verify citizenship. For example, about 175 of the remaining 295 voters whose citizenship the county has not yet confirmed have Social Security numbers on file, which suggests they are citizens.
Multiple county officials said they had received calls from concerned and upset voters, many of whom had voted for years without issue, who didn’t understand why they were being asked to prove themselves.
“They felt insulted,” Garza said. “They were very emotional about having to provide this.”
Sloppy data in ’19 purge
In 2019, the state questioned the citizenship status of almost 100,000 voters. Later, state officials admitted in court that they did not try to weed out the immigrants who had been naturalized before sending lists of potential illegal voters to county elections officials. In fiscal year 2019, more than 97,000 individuals became naturalized U.S. citizens in Texas, according to the suit.
Several Latino civil rights groups sued, alleging it was discriminatory, and the state entered into a settlement agreement that put an end to that program and limited future reviews to only those who signed up to vote before they presented documents to DPS indicating that they were not citizens.
The debacle led then-Secretary of State David Whitley to apologize to state lawmakers, saying the lists should have been reviewed more carefully, and the Texas Senate ultimately forced him out of office.
Republican lawmakers who supported the bill said the state has learned valuable lessons from that last attempt and insist the latest effort is better thought-out.
The plaintiff attorneys aren’t taking their word for it.
“The Secretary of State’s voter purge program once again surgically targets naturalized U.S. citizens for investigation and removal from the voter rolls,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation. “Naturalized U.S. citizens have the same right to vote as all other citizens, and this new lawsuit seeks to ensure that Texas treats its voters fairly.”
For those who spend their days operating within the constraints of empirical reality, the long-running voter-fraud scam peddled by right-wing con artists poses a dilemma: Respond to their claims and give them the veneer of legitimacy they crave. Ignore them, and risk letting transparent lies spread unchecked.
I used to err on the side of responding as often as possible, in the belief that persistent fact-checking and debunking was the best way to inoculate the American public against a virulent campaign of deception. But it became clear to me, probably later than it should have, that this was always a fool’s game. The professional vote-fraud crusaders are not in the fact business. While they pretend to care about real election crimes, their purpose is not to identify whether voters are actually committing such crimes; it is to concoct a world in which the votes of certain people (and it always seems to be the same people) are presumptively invalid. That’s why they are not chastened by data demonstrating — again and again and again and again — that there is essentially no voter fraud anywhere in this country.
Thanks to their efforts, about three quarters of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen, and they won’t be convinced by evidence to the contrary.
That evidence continues to grow. Earlier this week The Associated Press released an impressively thorough report examining every potential case of voter fraud in six decisive battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where Donald Trump and his allies challenged the result in 2020. Voters in these six states cast a combined 25.5 million votes for president last year, and chose Joe Biden over Mr. Trump by 311,257 votes. The total number of possible cases of fraud the A.P. found? Fewer than 475, or 0.15 percent of Mr. Biden’s margin of victory in those states.Many of those cases the A.P. identified turned out not to be fraud at all. Some involved a poll worker’s error or a voter’s innocent confusion, such as the Trump supporter in Wisconsin who mistakenly thought he could vote while on parole. (“The guy upstairs knows what I did,” the man said after a court appearance. “I didn’t have any intention to commit election fraud.”)
In the few instances of clear fraud — for example, a Pennsylvania man who cast two ballots, one for himself and, later in disguise, one for his son — local authorities were quick to act. In Arizona, officials investigated 198 cases of potential fraud, most involving double-voting. They invalidated virtually all of the second votes and have so far charged nine people with voting fraud crimes.
That’s the thing about voter fraud: Not only is it rare, it’s generally easy to catch, especially if it happens on a larger scale. In 2019, North Carolina officials ordered a do-over of a congressional election after the winning candidate’s campaign was found to have financed an illegal voter-turnout effort. That candidate was a Republican, as were two of three residents of the Villages, a Florida retirement community, who were arrested and charged with double voting in the 2020 election earlier this month. (The third had no party affiliation.)
Given how much Republicans bang on about the dangers of voter fraud, a little schadenfreude is in order here. But it misses the bigger point: To the extent there is any fraud, it is almost entirely an individual phenomenon. The A.P. report confirmed this, finding no evidence anywhere of a coordinated effort to commit voter fraud. That’s no surprise. Committing a single case of fraud is hard enough; doing so as part of a conspiracy is essentially impossible, once you consider how many people would need to be in on the scheme. “It’s a staggeringly inefficient way to affect an outcome,” said David Daley, the author of “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.” “It simply doesn’t work.”
To sum up once more for the folks in the cheap seats: Voter fraud is vanishingly rare. It is virtually never coordinated. And when it does happen, it is often easily discovered and prosecuted by authorities.
I hold no illusions that any of these truths will matter to those who have invested themselves in tales of widespread fraud. After all, they weren’t moved when both Republican and Democratic officials in states around the country reaffirmed, in some cases multiple times, the accuracy and integrity of their vote counts. Even Bill Barr, the former attorney general and one of Mr. Trump’s most reliable bootlickers, could not bring himself to repeat the lie that there was any meaningful fraud in 2020.
Alas, Republican voters don’t listen to Bill Barr. They listen to Donald Trump, who dismissed the A.P.’s report by doing his standard Mafia don impression. “I just don’t think you should make a fool out of yourself by saying 400 votes,” the former president told the news organization, insisting that the true number of fraudulent votes in 2020 was in the “hundreds of thousands.” His evidence? An unreleased report by a source he refused to name.
This is how it goes with the vote-fraud fraudsters. The damning evidence is always right around the next corner, or the one after that. Recall that Mr. Trump established a voter-fraud commission soon after he entered office, with the goal of rooting out the supposedly massive fraud that led him to lose the popular vote by nearly three million votes. (Like everyone else, he knew that true democratic legitimacy comes not from the Electoral College, but from a majority of the American people.) The commission was led by Kris Kobach, the indefatigable vote-fraud warrior whom Mr. Daley once called “an Inspector Clouseau who gazes into his mirror and sees Sherlock Holmes.” In Mr. Kobach’s previous job as Kansas’s secretary of state, he spent years hunting for widespread vote fraud and won only nine convictions, most of them of older Republican men who had double voted. Under Mr. Kobach’s leadership, the Trump voter-fraud commission disbanded after less than a year of chaos and controversy, without having made any findings.
That’s because, as the A.P. report affirms once again, there was nothing to find. American voters aren’t cheating, and certainly not in any coordinated way.
And here lies the deepest irony of this strange, fragile moment we are living in. A very real threat is, in fact, looming over America’s electoral integrity. But it’s not coming from voters; it’s coming from the people braying the loudest about the importance of election integrity.
Donald Trump turned fact-free charges of voter fraud into an art form, but the exploitation of the predictable public fear generated by that sort of rhetoric has been a central feature of the Republican playbook for years. Back in 2013, the then-North Carolina lawmaker Thom Tillis explained why Republicans in the Legislature were passing their strict voter-ID law. “There is some evidence of voter fraud, but that’s not the primary reason for doing this,” said Mr. Tillis, now a U.S. senator. “There are a lot of people who are just concerned with the potential risk of fraud.” Why are they so concerned? Because their leaders have been feeding them a steady diet of lies.
That diet became an all-you-can-eat buffet in the Trump years, culminating in the “Stop the Steal” rallies after the 2020 election and then, horrifically, in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Now the same people who subscribed to the lies about election fraud are running for, and often winning, jobs overseeing the running of elections across the country. They are representative of a new generation of Republicans, raised in the fever swamps of Fox News and other purveyors of disinformation, who believe elections are valid only when their candidate wins.
The goal of the voter-fraud brigade, it turns out, was never to identify fraud that might have happened in the past; it was to indoctrinate voters with the terror of stolen elections, and to pave the way for a hostile takeover of American democracy in the future.
Federal and state investigators are examining an attempt to breach an Ohio county’s election network that bears striking similarities to an incident in Colorado earlier this year, when government officials helped an outsider gain access to the county voting system in an effort to find fraud.
Data obtained in both instances were distributed at an August “cyber symposium” on election fraud hosted by MyPillow executive Mike Lindell, an ally of former president Donald Trump who has spent millions of dollars promoting false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.
The attempted breach in Ohio occurred on May 4 inside the county office of John Hamercheck (R), chairman of the Lake County Board of Commissioners, according to two individuals with knowledge of the incident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigations. State and county officials said no sensitive data were obtained, but they determined that a private laptop was plugged into the county network in Hamercheck’s office, and that the routine network traffic captured by the computer was circulated at the same Lindell conference as the data from the Colorado breach.
Together, the incidents in Ohio and Colorado point to an escalation in attacks on the nation’s voting systems by those who have embraced Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was riddled with fraud. Now, some Trump loyalists pushing for legal challenges and partisan audits are also targeting local officials in a bid to gain access to election systems — moves that themselves could undermine election security.
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that the bureau is investigating the incident in Lake County but declined to comment further. Investigators are trying to determine whether someone on the fifth floor of the Lake County government building improperly accessed the computer network and whether any laws were violated.
Investigators with the office of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) believe a government official appears to have facilitated the attempted breach of the election network in Lake County, a spokesman for LaRose said.
Asked in a telephone interview whether he knew of the attempted breach or participated in it, Hamercheck said he was advised not to discuss the investigation. “I’m aware of no criminal activity,” Hamercheck said, and added: “I have absolute confidence in our board of elections and our IT people.”
Ahead of the incidents in Ohio and Colorado, county officials in both places — including Hamercheck — discussed claims of election fraud with Douglas Frank, an Ohio-based scientist who has done work for Lindell, according to people familiar with Frank’s role, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
Frank, who has claimed to have discovered secret algorithms used to rig the 2020 election, has been traveling the country trying to convince election officials that the vote was riddled with fraud — and that they should join the effort to uncover it, he told The Washington Post in a series of interviews.
Frank has told The Post in recent months that he has visited “over 30 states” and has met with about 100 election administrators. He would not say how many local election administrators he has persuaded to join his cause. “I deliberately protect my clerks. I don’t want anybody to know who they are,” Frank said.
In an interview Friday with The Post, Lindell said that although he has hired Frank for some projects, he does not fund Frank’s speaking engagements across the country and knew nothing about what happened in the election offices in Mesa County or Lake County. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
In April, Frank traveled to Grand Junction, Colo., where he made his pitch during a public talk and also privately to Tina Peters, the clerk in Mesa County, and several of her colleagues. He told The Post that his presentation persuDouglas Frank greets Donald Trump supporters before the former president arrives to speak at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds on June 26 in Wellington, Ohio. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)aded Peters of the need to examine whether fraud occurred, and that he subsequently connected her with someone in Lindell’s circle who he believed could help.
Colorado election officials have since accused Peters of sneaking an outsider into Mesa County election offices to copy the hard drives of machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, a company cited in conspiracy theories by Trump and his supporters.
In October, a state judge prohibited Peters from supervising the upcoming local elections, citing her efforts to copy the hard drives. On Wednesday, FBI agents searched her home and that of several of her associates as part of an investigation into possible wire fraud and computer crimes.
Peters has previously claimed that she has been targeted by powerful forces trying to block her from finding the truth. In a statement to The Post this week, a spokesperson for Peters’s legal defense fund said the searches constituted “a level of weaponization of the Justice Department we haven’t seen since the McCarthy era.”
Frank also took part in a discussion earlier this year with Hamercheck, the Lake County, Ohio, commissioner, according to an individual familiar with the incident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiries.
In an interview with The Post on Thursday, Frank said he did not remember speaking to Hamercheck or have any record of the call. He said he has met so many people in the past six months that he cannot recall them all. But Frank said the version of events described in Lake County sounded “plausible” because it was “exactly the model that we did with Tina.”
“Do I remember that call? No,” he said of the Hamercheck conversation. “Does it sound like me? Yes.”
County records obtained by The Post through a public-records request show that Hamercheck, an engineer and retired police officer, used his security badge to swipe into the fifth floor offices multiple times during the roughly six-hour period when, according to the leaked data, the laptop was intermittently connected to the county network on May 4, the date of Ohio’s spring primaries.
Ohio election officials said they first learned of the attempted Lake County breach after Lindell’s August symposium, where he promised to unveil evidence of widespread fraud across the country.
Copies of the Mesa County hard drive were presented publicly there, and cyber experts in attendance said they also received copies of network data obtained from Lake, Mesa and Clark County, Nev. Lindell told The Post on Friday that the network data were distributed by a rogue attendee without his knowledge or permission.
Officials in all three states, as well as independent cyber experts interviewed by The Post, determined that the network data — known as packet captures, or PCAPs — contained no sensitive information from a protected network.
The data from Clark County — home of Las Vegas — was captured via the county’s guest wireless network, according to county officials. Rob Graham, a cybersecurity expert who attended the Lindell symposium and examined the data, said it was recorded on Dec. 1, 2020, with a laptop that was set up to capture only its own actions, not county network traffic.
Ohio state officials said the attempted breach in Lake County also yielded limited data, a possible sign that the person or people responsible may not have had technical expertise.
Ohio officials examined the data captured in Lake County and quickly determined that multiple layers of security prevented the compromise of election information or equipment. The network cable in Hamercheck’s office is connected to the county government network, but the county’s Board of Elections operates a separate network behind its own firewall that recognizes only authorized devices.
“We are thrilled that our infrastructure stayed strong,” said Ross McDonald, director of the Lake County Board of Elections, who added that the county is awaiting the results of the state and federal investigations.
After his office assessed the attempted breach, LaRose, who oversees election administration across Ohio’s 88 counties, referred the matter to federal, state and local investigators.
“It’s concerning that somebody would — especially somebody in a government office, somebody who is an elected official, or somebody who’s part of county government — would not realize all of those safeguards exist and would try to engage in some sort of a vigilante investigation,” LaRose said in an interview with The Post. “The good news is that our system of cyber security in Ohio is among the best in the nation.”
Officials with the Lake County prosecuting attorney and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation did not respond to requests for comment.
Much like in Lake County, the Mesa County network data were captured in multiple sessions over the course of about four hours in May, nearly three weeks after the attempted breach in Ohio and on the same day a Mesa County voting machine hard drive was copied.
Local, state and federal authorities began investigating the alleged breach in Mesa shortly after Lindell’s symposium in August, when copies of hard drives from county voting machines were presented.
That same month, officials obtained search warrants to examine Peters’s cellphone data, take DNA swabs from election machines, remove Dominion equipment from Mesa County’s offices and obtain records to determine who obtained access to the secure tabulation room following Frank’s visit in April, as The Post previously reported.
This week, the FBI searched the homes of Peters and several of her associates, including Sherronna Bishop, a conservative activist and former campaign manager for Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) who introduced Frank at his public talk in Grand Junction.
Lindell described the searches during an interview Tuesday on “War Room,” the podcast of former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon. In a statement to The Post, Bishop accused the FBI of using “brute force” in executing the search warrant at her home, including using a battering ram to open her door and handcuffing her in front of her children. She said she had been “available and transparent to any organization that wanted to speak with me” and accused the Justice Department of “terrorizing parents.”
In a statement, the Colorado attorney general’s office disputed those descriptions, saying that “this judicially authorized search was executed in a professional and lawful manner.” A spokeswoman for the FBI confirmed that the bureau “conducted authorized law enforcement actions . . . in support of an ongoing investigation” and declined to comment further.
The search warrants left at Bishop’s home indicate that the FBI is investigating potential crimes including intentional damage to a protected computer, wire fraud, conspiracy to cause intentional damage to a protected computer and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to details she shared in an interview with right-wing media personality Brannon Howse.
Frank argues that the 2020 election was tainted by an elaborate conspiracy involving inflated voter rolls, fraudulent ballots and a “sixth-order polynomial” — claims that have been repeatedly debunked.
One associate of Frank and Lindell is Conan James Hayes, a former pro surfer whom Frank described in an interview with The Post as a “white hat hacker” who has done projects for Lindell and has been responsible for obtaining and analyzing cyber evidence of fraud. Lindell told The Post that he has hired Hayes for several “piecework” jobs this year related to investigating election fraud, but none involved helping local officials obtain data from their networks or machines.
Asked whether he knew if Hayes was involved in gathering data from Lake and Mesa counties, Frank said: “I should probably not say. That’s just me being, I think, prudent.”
Hayes’s name also came up at the Lindell symposium, where Ron Watkins, the former administrator of the 8kun message board, where the QAnon conspiracy theory has been promoted, announced that Hayes may have stolen the hard drives from Mesa County.
A few moments later, Watkins said Hayes “did have permission to take the hard drive, but did not have permission to upload it.”
Watkins’s lawyer told the news outlet Vice that Hayes was Watkins’s source for the hard drives — but declined to discuss the matter in an interview with The Post.
Hayes could not be reached by phone and did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Metadata from the copied Mesa County hard drives show that the copies were made by someone using the identifier “cjh,” according to Graham and Harri Hursti, cybersecurity specialists who attended the Lindell symposium and reviewed the hard-drive copies. Those initials match those of Hayes.
Similarly, the Clark County data was captured by a computer called “cjh’s MacBook Pro (2),” according to Graham.
In both Lake and Mesa counties, the data were captured by the same type of gaming laptop, using the same software and same Windows operating system, metadata shows.
Hayes was one of seven people named in court documents who copied Dominion hard drives as part of a lawsuit filed by a local real estate agent who claimed election fraud in rural Antrim County, Mich., last fall. The hard drives, copied with permission of the court, allegedly showed that Dominion machines were rigged, according to a report submitted by the plaintiff in that case last December.
That central claim of the report was immediately debunked by experts, including by the Department of Homeland Security, but it was cited by Trump and his allies as they sought to overturn President Biden’s legitimate victory. A state judge dismissed the suit in May.
The circuslike review of the 2020 vote commissioned by Arizona Republicans took another wild turn on Friday when veteran election experts charged that the very foundation of its findings — the results of a hand count of 2.1 million ballots — was based on numbers so unreliable that they appear to be guesswork rather than tabulations.
The experts, a data analyst for the Arizona Republican Party and two retired executives of an election consulting firm in Boston, said in their report that workers for the investigators failed to count thousands of ballots in a pallet of 40 ballot-filled boxes delivered to them in the spring.
The final report by the Republican investigators concluded that President Biden actually won 99 more votes than were reported, and that former President Donald J. Trump tallied 261 fewer votes.
But given the large undercount found in just a sliver of the 2.1 million ballots, it would effectively be impossible for the Republican investigators to arrive at such precise numbers, the experts said.
Rod Thomson, a spokesman for Cyber Ninjas, the company hired to conduct the inquiry in Arizona, rejected the experts’ claim. “We stand by our methodology and complete final report,” he said.
Investigators went through more than 1,600 ballot-filled boxes this summer to conduct their hand recount of the election in Maricopa County, the most populous county in the state. Both they and the Republican-controlled State Senate, which ordered the election inquiry, have refused to disclose the details of that hand count.
But a worksheet containing the results of the hand count of 40 of those boxes was included in a final report on the election inquiry released a week ago by Cyber Ninjas.
The three election experts said the hand count could have missed thousands or even hundreds of thousands of ballots if all 1,600 boxes of ballots were similarly undercounted. Their findings were earlier reported in The Arizona Republic.
For months, the Cyber Ninjas effort had been the lodestar of the conservative movement, the foundational investigation that would uncover a litany of abuses and verify countless conspiracies, proving a stolen election. But the review was criticized from the start for unprofessional and unorthodox methods and partisan influence.
Now, the experts’ findings on the vote review compound withering analyses debunking a wide range of questions raised in the review about the counting of votes and conduct of the election. Nonetheless, the review has been embraced by Mr. Trump and his followers even as its findings have been overwhelmingly refuted.
Noting that the leaders of the Arizona review had “zero experience in election audits,” the experts concluded, “We believe the Ninjas’ announcement that they had confirmed, to a high degree of accuracy, the election results” of one of the largest U.S. counties “is laughable.”
Laughable or not, none of it changed the fact that Mr. Biden won the state by about 10,500 votes and Maricopa County by roughly 45,000 in several official tallies of the vote.
Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state in Arizona, said the report’s findings vindicated criticisms about the Cyber Ninjas process.
“It was clear from the start that the Cyber Ninjas were just making it up as they went,” Ms. Hobbs said in a statement. “I’ve been saying all along that no one should trust any ‘results’ they produce, so it’s no surprise their findings are being called into question. What can be trusted are actual election officials and experts, along with the official canvass of results.”
The inquiry into the election has been repeatedly condemned as a sham by election experts and denounced by the Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which oversaw the 2020 vote.
Critics note that the chief executive of Cyber Ninjas had spread false allegations that Arizona voting machines were rigged to ensure Mr. Trump’s defeat. The summer-long investigation was financed almost entirely by nearly $7 million in donations from Trump supporters.
The experts based their conclusion on a worksheet containing a slice of the hand-count results that the Republican investigators published in the report on their inquiry. The worksheet shows that investigators counted 32,674 ballots in 40 of the 1,634 boxes of ballots they were reviewing.
But official records show — and the investigators’ own machine count of the 2.1 million ballots effectively confirmed — that those 40 boxes actually contained 48,371 ballots, or 15,692 more than were counted.
The worksheet indicated that nine of the boxes had not been counted at all. But even if those boxes were excluded from the tally, the count of the remaining boxes fell 4,852 ballots short of the correct total, the experts said.
The charge of a ballot undercount comes atop the debunking by experts and Maricopa officials of virtually all of 22 implications of voting irregularities, involving more than 50,000 voters, in the Cyber Ninjas report.
Among them: A claim that 23,434 mail-in ballots may have come from addresses that voters no longer occupied was based on research using a commercial address database that itself did not include 86,391 of the county’s registered voters and, like most lists, relied on sources that are often inaccurate. It also ignored the fact that voters may legally cast ballots and then move. And moving is common: More than 280,000 Maricopa County households moved in 2019 alone.
Another claim that thousands of voters returned more ballots than they received misconstrued a data file that makes a new entry every time a damaged or incomplete ballot is corrected.
Yet another claim that precincts counted 836 more votes than were recorded ignored the fact that the records of some 3,600 voters, such as abused spouses and police officers, are not made public for security reasons. And an insinuation that 5,295 Maricopa County voters may have double-voted because residents of other counties had the same names and birth years was spot-checked by county officials and found baseless; the outsiders were in fact other people.
With similar reviews now set for Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, it is increasingly clear that Arizona’s partisan review succeeded while it failed — by amplifying baseless talking points while failing in any factual way to back up Mr. Trump’s claims of a rigged election.
The Arizona-style reviews in other states seem likely to follow the same script with the blessing of the Republican political leaders who are promoting them, said Nate Persily, a Stanford University law professor, elections expert and scholar of democracy.
“For those who are pushing the fraud narrative, the actual truth is beside the point,” he said. “The idea that the election was stolen is becoming a tribe-defining belief. It’s not about proving something at this point. It’s about showing fealty to a particular description of reality.”
Indeed, in the wake of the initial Cyber Ninjas report, Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate only furthered their resolve to press ahead with a review of the election, one that includes a request for drivers’ license numbers and partial Social Security numbers of all seven million Pennsylvania voters.
“The historic audit in Maricopa County is complete and significant findings have been brought to light,” State Senator Doug Mastriano, a Republican and leading proponent of the election review, said in a statement last week. “If these types of issues were uncovered in Maricopa County, imagine what could be brought to light from a full forensic audit in other counties around the U.S. who processed mass amounts of mail-in ballots.”
On Friday, Robin Vos, the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, signed multiple subpoenas issued to the head of the elections commission in Milwaukee, the biggest city in the state and home to the largest concentration of Democratic voters, with a substantive request for documents, including communication between the city and state elections boards.
Mr. Vos, in an interview this week, reiterated his commitment to investigating the 2020 election, with a presumption that there were mistakes in the administration.
“I think we kind of have to accept that certain things were done wrongly — figure out how to correct them, or else we’re never going to have public confidence,” Mr. Vos said.
Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.
Michael Wines writes about voting and other election-related issues. Since joining The Times in 1988, he has covered the Justice Department, the White House, Congress, Russia, southern Africa, China and various other topics. @miwine