The Dallas Morning News

Election deniers stoke conspiraci­es

Movement grinds on despite failure to prove widespread fraud


FRANKLIN, Tenn. — One by one, the presenters inside the crowded hotel ballroom shared their computer screens and promised to show how easy it is to hack into voting systems across the U.S.

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

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

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

Yet deep distrust about U.S. elections persists among Republican­s, skepticism fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims and by allies who have been traveling the country meeting with community groups and holding forums like the one recently just outside Nashville, attended by some 250 people.

Doubts persist

As the nation barrels toward the next presidenti­al election, the election conspiracy movement that mushroomed after the last one shows no signs of slowing down. Millions have been convinced that any election in which their preferred candidate loses has been somehow rigged against them, a belief that has fed efforts among conservati­ves to ditch voting machines and to halt or delay certificat­ion of election results.

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

Trump, 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 that show a sizable number of people believe the 2020 election was stolen, even though there is no such evidence.

“I’m an election denier,” Trump said. “You’ve got a lot of election deniers in this country and they’re not happy about what’s happened.”

Lack of evidence

There has been no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulati­on of voting machines in the U.S., and multiple reviews in the battlegrou­nd states where Trump disputed 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 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 counted individual­ly without the aid of machines by poll workers in the nearly 180,000 voting precincts across the country.

“We all have the same agenda, to get 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, cybersecur­ity and legislativ­e efforts under one organizati­on.

An investigat­ion by the AP and the PBS series Frontline last year examined how Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was traveling the country spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and vaccines as he builds a movement based on Christian nationalis­t ideas.

Flynn is now focused on the nonprofit group he leads, 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.

Election officials acknowledg­e that vulnerabil­ities exist, but say multiple defenses are in place to thwart attempted manipulati­on or detect malicious activity.

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