Election deniers concoct new plan that could sow distrust in 2022 midterms in critical states
Georgia starts hand recount of presidential race (AFP)

With the 2022 midterms less than 60 days out, a national coalition of prominent election deniers is rolling out a campaign pressuring local election directors to commit to hand recounts after Nov. 8, as one tactic in an arsenal of efforts to undermine trust in the system.

Toni Shuppe, CEO of the nonprofit Audit the Vote PA, announced the initiative during a public video conference on Sept. 6 that included a handful of prominent election deniers from across the country. They included Stefanie Lambert, a lawyer who was sanctioned by a federal judge alongside Sidney Powell for filing a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election in Michigan; Doug Logan, whose company Cyber Ninjas carried out the so-called “Arizona audit”; and Joe Flynn, CEO of The America Project and brother of retired Lt. General Michael Flynn. Mark Forton, the former chair of the Macomb County Republican Party who attempted to seat a rogue county delegation at the Michigan GOP convention, also joined the videoconference.

Shuppe said during the meeting that Lambert came up with the idea of mobilizing “moms that have kids back in school” that “might have some extra time on their hands,” adding that “we want to mobilize you guys to meet with your election clerks.” Shuppe suggested that the best way to avoid “the controversy and chaos” that plagued the 2020 election — which was created by Donald Trump’s baseless predictions of fraud, and a barrage of false claims by legions of his supporters — is “by convincing the election clerks to do a hand recount of paper ballots the week after the election.”

The push for hand recounts is part of a nationwide coordinated campaign to mobilize voter turnout for MAGA candidates while bird-dogging local election officials with public information requests and demands for additional safeguards in key races where election deniers are on the ballot.

“Let’s just verify and make sure that what the machines are spitting out is, in fact, what the machines are saying as well,” Shuppe said. “And if there’s no problems, election integrity is instantly restored. And everybody was right. And the 2020 election was totally legit, and we’re all good. If it’s not, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

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Logan endorsed the plan, calling it “an amazing and great strategy,” while Flynn said he was “encouraged” by what he sees Shuppe’s group “doing in Pennsylvania,” and noting that Trump had recently visited the state to galvanize support. Flynn named Pennsylvania and Michigan as “key places,” along with Arizona, where he name-checked election denier candidates Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, who are the Republican nominees for governor and secretary of state, respectively.

Flynn’s organization hosted a so-called “election integrity” summit in West Palm Beach on Sept. 10 that attracted an array of election denier candidates from across the country, including Finchem, along with Kristina Karamo and Jim Marchant, who are running for secretary of state in Michigan and Nevada, respectively. The secretary of state oversees elections, including the vital function of certifying winners.

“The goal is to get America First, like-minded, conservative MAGA candidates in office in the secretaries of state around the country,” Marchant told former White House strategist Steve Bannon on the “War Room” podcast this past weekend. “And when we do that. we then can guarantee the people of the country and each one of our states that they will have a fair and transparent election.”

In Pennsylvania, the secretary of state position is appointed by the governor rather than elected. That decision could potentially go to Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee. A retired Army colonel and state lawmaker, Mastriano led efforts in the state Senate to overturn the 2020 election, organized charter buses to transport Trump supporters to Washington, DC on Jan. 6, and crossed the police line at the Capitol.

Mastriano has hinted that he’s eying Shuppe, who co-founded Audit the Vote PA, for the position, telling voters during a candidate forum earlier this year: “I get to appoint the secretary of state, who on my behalf will have oversight of the election. I already have one of the leading figures in the nation on voting integrity — that person's agreed. I have a team around her as well that’s going to include several people who are very knowledgeable in Pennsylvania.”

Shuppe, in turn, suggested to the Cannabis Conservative podcast: “What if we get a Republican governor who has me work on election integrity, perhaps as secretary of the commonwealth?”

Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., told Raw Story that positions with responsibility for overseeing elections typically attract “election nerds and geeks that care about getting it right.” He added, “If you’re an election denier, given what we know about 2020 — that it was the safest and most secure election — if you don’t believe it, then I’m not sure why you want to take the job.”

Audit the Vote PA has emphasized that its supporters should remain peaceful while addressing election officials, and Lambert and Logan underscored that sentiment during the Sept. 6 videoconference. But rhetoric on Audit the Vote PA’s Telegram channel has already crossed the line into condoning death threats and calling for sabotage in response to setbacks in a related campaign to discontinue electronic voting systems and replace them with manual counts.

On Monday, when Audit the Vote PA shared a story on Telegram about the election board in Lycoming County reversing a decision to put a referendum on the ballot for the upcoming Nov. 8 election to discontinue electronic voting machines, one user responded: “And they wonder why they get death threats.”

Another user reacted by declaring that the “November fix is in” while predicting “we will have another ballot-stuffed win” for Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman, respectively the Democratic nominees for governor and US Senate. (The commenter appears to have overlooked the fact that the changes, if approved by voters, wouldn’t go into effect until after the upcoming 2022 general election.)

Another user commented on Audit the Vote PA’s Telegram channel: “Enough of this legal footsie bs, just go in with bats and smash the damn machines on election day.”

Discussion on the Audit the Vote PA Telegram channel on Sunday and Monday.Screengrab

The Pennsylvania Department of State has advised county election officials that the proposed referenda are illegal.

Citing a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, Deputy Secretary of Elections and Commissions Jonathan Marks wrote in an email to county officials on Monday that the court “held that conditioning use of electronic voting systems on the result of a referendum was barred by the federal Help America Vote Act, which specifically requires the adoption of electronic voting systems. Specifically, the court determined that holding such a referendum ‘would directly impede the goals of the HAVA legislation, including accessibility for disabled voters.’”

It is unclear whether the related initiative to call for hand recounts has gotten off the ground. During the Sept. 6 conference call, Lambert announced that Clarice Schillinger, a former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania, would serve as a “point of contact” for the volunteers and maintain a website as a clearinghouse for information about the campaign. But as of Thursday, the only content posted on the website was the Sept. 6 videoconference and a video of Logan critiquing Dominion Voting Systems’ election technology in Williamson County, Tenn. Schillinger could not be reached for comment for this story.

Lambert promoted the effort in an email to Raw Story as a measure to improve transparency and voter confidence.

“Accurate elections are important, and the process should not be political,” Lambert said. “Clerks can hand-count the ballots prior to certifying the election to provide transparency and confidence in accurate election results to the community they serve.”

Gronke told Raw Story he questions the purpose of a hand recount.

“From a scientific standpoint, it’s not necessary and not advisable,” he said. “In order to understand whether you have COVID, we don’t pull out all of your blood; all we do is sample. The science behind auditing samples of ballots is decades old. You do not need a hand count of ballots. All you need is a risk-limiting post-election audit following the election.

“What they’re suggesting is not necessary, and also more error-prone,” Gronke continued. “To say a hand count is more accurate than a machine count is wrong. What’s the purpose of that? There’s nothing to be gained by that. Guess what? Humans make errors.”

Local election boards in Pennsylvania are already required by law to hand-count a random sample of 2 percent of ballots cast or 2,000 ballots, whichever number is fewer.

Local election officials across the country are currently in the midst of verifying eligibility for military service members and other citizens who live abroad — and preparing to meet a deadline to send out absentee ballots to them at least 45 days before the election. Meanwhile, election officials are attempting to respond to a flood of public records requests from groups like Audit the Vote PA.

“We’ve heard from officials who tell us about the requests that it’s a constant barrage,” Gronke said. “It’s ongoing. Officials are obligated to respond, and they simply can’t keep up.”

During the Sept. 6 videoconference, Shuppe credited Lambert and Thomas J. Carroll, a lawyer based in southeast Pennsylvania, with “working on some litigation for us” in Alleghany County, which encompasses Pittsburgh, “to try to get the cast vote records from our state that we’ve been denied over and over again from filling out right-to-knows and FOIAs.”

Later in the meeting, Shuppe suggested that volunteers pitch hand recounts to election officials as a way to avoid cumbersome public records requests.

“This is going to eliminate you from getting inundated with FOIA requests the week after the election from people wanting to look into it themselves,” Shuppe said, modeling what a volunteer should say to a local election director. “If you are willing to just take the gloves off, say, ‘We’re willing to get transparent.’ Let’s verify and make sure the machines aren’t messing with our votes. ‘We’ll agree to do a hand count paper ballot.’ Even pick two or three different races. It doesn’t have to be the same race. Pick two or three different races. We’ll put this whole thing to bed once and for all. It will make your life easier, county clerk, at the end of the day.”

Lambert and Logan are both facing legal challenges related to their efforts to press claims about fraud following the 2020 presidential election.

Last December, US District Court Judge Linda Parker ordered Lambert and eight other attorneys to pay sanctions totaling $175,250 to the city of Detroit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. In an earlier ruling, Parker wrote that a lawsuit filed by the attorneys attempting to overturn the 2020 election “represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process,” adding that the lawsuit amounted to “deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed.”

Parker went on to say that the attorneys made “claims not backed by evidence (but instead, speculation, conjecture, and unwarranted suspicion)” and made factual allegations without taking care to ascertain that they were true.

Lambert and Logan are both under scrutiny by a special prosecutor in Michigan, who was appointed to investigate whether they should be criminally charged for their attempts to gain access to voting machines in three counties after the 2020 election, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The Detroit News reported last month that a petition filed by Attorney General Dana Nessel alleges that Lambert, Matthew DePerno and Daire Rendon “orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access to voting tabulators” in Roscommon, Barry and Missaukee counties. DePerno is the Republican nominee for attorney general in Michigan, and Rendon is a state lawmaker.

The petition alleges that five tabulators were taken from the counties to hotels or Airbnb rentals outside of Detroit, where Logan and three other individuals — Jim Penrose, Ben Cotton and Jeff Lenberg — “broke into the tabulators and performed ‘tests’ on the equipment,” according to the Detroit News.

Penrose and Logan were part of a team that worked under Powell, Michael Flynn and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne to overturn the 2020 election, according to Lin Wood, who provided space for them at his South Carolina estate in late 2020. During the same period, Penrose oversaw an investigation into allegations of illegal ballot trafficking, which proved to be unfounded, on behalf of Powell. Penrose also consulted with a team assigned by Flynn to provide security to Staci Burk, an Arizona woman who became entangled with conspiracy theories surrounding the ballot allegations. Following a phone call to Penrose on Christmas day, 2020, a member of the security stole Burk’s phone. Days after the Jan. 6 attack, she fled her home in terror.

Logan is also the target of a criminal investigation in Georgia that similarly involves allegations about improperly accessing voting equipment, according to his lawyer.

In a motion filed in the Middle District of Florida to enforce a subpoena against Logan, the Coalition for Good Governance alleges that Logan was involved in planning a breach of voting data at the Coffee County election office in Georgia on Jan. 7, 2021. The motion alleges that Logan downloaded forensic data from the county’s election file that was obtained on Jan. 7 by an Atlanta data preservation company named SullivanStrickler, and that he spent several hours at the county election office on Jan. 18 and 19.

The motion includes an email from Dave Hardy, Logan’s attorney.

“I’m told Georgia has commenced a manner of criminal investigation into his trip down there, which means we’re going to have some 5th Amendment issues,” Hardy wrote to Bruce Brown, a lawyer for the Coalition for Good Governance on Aug. 23.

Two days later, Hardy reported to Brown: “I pressed inquiries — and was this morning informed that the client was looking for a new attorney. So, I am not even sure whether I am still handling this. If that sounds chaotic, it certainly is. Some things I have given up seeking explanations on.”

Logan could not be reached for this story.

During the Sept. 6 videoconference, Logan suggested that local election officials could overcome staffing shortages by drawing volunteers from among those demanding hand recounts.

“From the conversations that I’ve had with clerks, one of the things that scares them the most about hand counts is having enough people to do it because they have a hard time finding volunteers in the first place,” Logan said. “So, when you reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, we want to do a hand count, and I’ll help you get the volunteers. In fact, I have this signed petition here that has two hundred people that care about this and also say they’ll show up and help count.’”

Gronke said state election laws typically require that recounts be conducted either by trained staff or by local election boards that ensure representation by the two major political parties.

“You can’t go to an outside organization,” Gronke said. “The folks doing this should understand this. You can’t just have an outside organization advocating for a particular outcome do a recount. That’s like having a football game, and saying, ‘Hey, you got a ref? We’re short-handed. Let’s just pull someone out of the stands.’ You can’t go in that direction.”

Given the history of the individuals calling for hand recounts following the 2022 election, Gronke said he questions whether they’re acting in good faith.

“If they do it, there will be a lot of time and effort without much gain,” he said. “I think the risk here is that the groups that are demanding these are the same group that is promoting disinformation about the 2020 election. It feels like an ongoing campaign to sow distrust.”

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