It’s clearer than ever that Fox News stars lied about 2020 while local election officials told the truth

After a truly spicy filing this week by Dominion’s attorneys in its ongoing multi-million-dollar defamation lawsuit against Fox News, we know exactly how full-of-it the hosts and executives for that network were while they hurled nonsense about the 2020 election.

It’s a weird thing to know for an absolute fact that the people lying to you knew they were lying to you at the time they did the lying.

But there it is, the proof, in black and white. Still, it’s not particularly surprising, is it? Surely it makes more sense that Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham simply lied, rather than that they really did believe that stuff. Right?

And it’s not surprising specifically because while these people popped off on cable there was a group of hundreds of people telling us the truth about the election in real time: Local and state election officials. Even under wave after wave of scrutiny, their reassurances about the security and integrity of the 2020 election have been supported by the facts.

They don’t have the powerful reach of Fox News, but they have done some attention-grabbing stuff! Recall, for instance, Wisconsin Election Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe refusing to step down after politicians baselessly demanded her resignation. Or Gabe Sterling, with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, who loudly rejected Dominion conspiracies in the state and forcefully told reporters “someone is going to get killed.” Former Philadelphia Commissioner Al Schmidt vouched for the city’s election amid Twitter attacks from Trump and ultimately death threats — now he’s Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Still, a tower of explicit evidence like Dominion’s filing drives the point home: Lying to viewers gave Fox News the power to outscream the truth coming from officials whose honest message doesn’t carry as far.

It’s startling to think about the amount of money that incentivizes such behavior. Tucker Carlson — who demanded a Trump-debunking reporter be fired because “it’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down.” — makes $10 million a year for the pleasure of standing before a camera and lying about the election to his viewers so they keep tuning in. Election administrators, who do not have the luxury of lying to their constituents in return for loyalty, could only dream of such resources.

Tucker Carlson’s annual salary would cover the salary of the Brewster County, Texas election administrator nearly 300 times over. Or, perhaps, the hourly salary of an elections worker in Buncombe County, N.C., for 171 years, accounting for 40 hour work weeks with holidays. While these are typical salary bands for elections administrators, we can also do the math on an administrator in a huge city with lots of experience requirements, just for fun. How about Washington, D.C.? Tucker Carlson’s salary for a year would pay for 83 registrars of voters at the highest end of the offered salary range.

Whatever punishment the court doles out will not come in the form of Fox News giving $10 million to county election officials so that they can work overtime to undo the damage Carlson and his co-workers have done. Perhaps that the court stands to do anything at all should be enough — it is rare that powerful media organizations that exaggerate and lie are held to account at all.

I know that journalists are usually unwilling to speculate about motivation, but in this very unique situation, we don’t have to speculate at all.

Nearly all of the major Fox News personalities who would routinely make absolutely bananas claims about Dominion privately admitted, at the same time, that they knew the claims to be false. Maria Bartiromo, who invited Sydney Powell onto her show to spout off conspiracy theories unchallenged (she rarely challenged anyone on this topic, in fact), privately called Powell’s claims “kooky” in the days after the 2020 election. Sean Hannity loved to say things on the air like “everyone agreed” that Dominion “sucked.” Apparently, everyone did not agree: He privately called Powell a “f**king lunatic” around the same time.

Ah, the legal process of discovery. It even provides us with a “why,” in this case, even if it’s gross: The people who make millions of dollars annually were concerned about ratings dipping as a result of Trump’s loss.

Even the individuals sending the texts in question openly commented on the irony of this public/private incongruence. In the days after Jan. 6, Rupert Murdoch texted Suzanne Scott — the CEO of Fox News, “All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump but what did he tell his viewers?” The pair exchanged multiple texts over multiple weeks after the election about how “damaging” and “terrible” the claims from Trump’s team were — and by extension from their network hosts. Murdoch said that if Trump became a “sore loser,” they should make sure their hosts don’t follow suit.

Then, the reality of Fox News calling Arizona for Joe Biden set in. As the filings show, producers and hosts started fervently texting about dropping ratings and lost viewership as a result of the call. Scott openly complained about the damage done to “the brand” of Fox News. Scott, texting with Lachlan Murdoch, another Fox executive, said that Fox’s viewers were going through the “5 stages of grief” and had lost trust in the network. “The AZ [call] was damaging but we will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we see them and hear them,” Scott wrote.

And so that motivation won out, even as other Murdoch properties — like the New York Post — ran editorials condemning the stolen election narrative. Dominion’s attorneys point out as much in their whopper of a filing, which asks the judge to rule in their favor immediately given how undisputed the facts are, as a whole. That’s unprecedented in a case like this, but legal experts think they might have the goods to pull it off.

It sounds sanctimonious out of context from the filing, but Dominion’s attorneys write, “Broadcasters make choices about what to air. While that platform comes with tremendous power, it also carries an obligation to tell the truth.”

They have a point, and plenty of journalists, including we at Votebeat, manage to walk that pretty thick line just fine every single day of the week. Telling the truth is much easier than learning the steps to the dance Sean Hannity has been choreographing in real time for the last two and a half years. I am tired just from watching him perform.

And, if journalists need some role models for truth telling, there are literally hundreds of county and state election officials to choose from.

As the residents of his Georgia hometown and beyond keep vigil for former President Jimmy Carter, it seems fitting to use this section to recall his careful attention to voting rights during his time in office but also (perhaps even more impactfully) after he left it.

The founding of the Carter Center in 1982 has made observing and promoting democratic processes a priority — essentially pioneering election observation in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Now, four decades after its founding, the organization has established and is expanding to domestic nonpartisan observation of elections for the first time. The organization has also released extensive study on U.S.-based democracy concerns, including big tech’s impact on misinformation, keeping partisanship out of election administration, and lessons learned from election reform. During President Carter’s final days, it’s important to recognize that the work he began isn’t finished. Other defenders of U.S. democracy will have to carry on the task.

From Votebeat Pennsylvania: Unequal election policies disenfranchised some Pennsylvania voters in 2022. Explore what each county did.

From Votebeat Arizona: Election Integrity Unit’s latest pivot has both sides in Arizona questioning whether it should exist at all

From Votebeat Texas: Texas bill would make illegal voting a felony again, even if someone doesn’t know they’re ineligible to vote

Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S. A version of this post was originally distributed in Votebeat’s weekly newsletter.

The midterms ended in optimism — but threats to elections could affect voting in 2023 and beyond

2023 is upon us and, per page 10 of the Rulebook for Newsletters, we shall now reflect on 2022. It was a year that concluded on a high note after a peaceful election: Nearly all of the most ardent election conspiracy theorists on the ballot were rejected by voters, and will not take office in the new year. And Congress passed Electoral Count Act reform that would help prevent a future Jan. 6–style attempt at presidential election subversion.

That, in turn, has led to a cluster of cautiously optimistic think pieces wondering whether it may all have just been a passing threat. In fact, one friend at a recent holiday party asked me if I was “worried” about Votebeat’s fundraising prospects, given how emphatically all the people who wanted to undermine elections had lost their races.

At the risk of sounding like a self-serving contrarian, I’m not.

The 2022 midterm dealt a blow to the larger strategy pursued by former President Donald Trump and his followers. It may well have threatened whatever prospects he had to regain his party’s nomination for the presidency. But — as I’ve written and said repeatedly — the threat to local election offices posed by misinformation and entirely fabricated claims of fraudulent activity predated Trump. Those forces remain and have only grown in both their convictions and their financial resources.

In both Maricopa County, Ariz., and Harris County, Texas, solvable but highly visible election administration stumbles have led to extreme local controversy. Bright red counties continue to make strange choices that stand to disenfranchise their own party’s voters, like they did in Cochise County, Ariz. and in Otero County N.M. and are doing now in Lycoming County, Penn..

I said this to the Atlantic last month, when Elaine Godfrey asked me where Votebeat goes from here: “What I’ll be doing over the next two years is looking at these counties that have gone really hard to the right, because there’s no one to push back.”

A recent study by the Voter Study Group found two things: 1) The more rural the voter’s community was, the more likely they were to believe Trump won the 2020 election; 2) The redder their congressional district, the more likely they were to believe Trump won the 2020 election.

Essentially, many voters live in local, ideological echo chambers, where they don’t encounter the powerful facts that would challenge their views.

Votebeat is in a unique position to be able to actually cover that phenomenon and its implications. We didn’t vest all of the authority to cover “Democracy” in a single reporter based in D.C. or New York — we have reporters living and working in the states they cover, talking to local election officials every day and keeping tabs on extremely local policy changes. And because we value local coverage, we’re perfectly positioned to report on the potential interference and threats to elections this year.

Chad Lorenz, our editor in chief, has always said that 2022 was a scrimmage for Votebeat — not the championship. Our reporters covered 2022 with an eye towards the future, because we have known since we opened our (metaphorical) doors that this was a coverage area of durable importance. I think you’ll see our reporters’ depth of local understanding reflected in their 2023 outlooks below. Each is a preview of what they’re watching for and thinking about in their state, some of the big questions they’ll be exploring.

If you think we’ve missed something, or want to be helpful as we do this coverage, I hope you’ll reach out to me (or any of us).

Jen Fifield, Arizona

Arizona’s election system enters 2023 on more solid ground after surviving a year of challenges. But don’t expect tranquility.

Voters rejected Republican candidates for statewide office who made questioning the security and accuracy of our elections a central theme of their campaigns, placing Democrats in the three offices wielding the most power over elections. Governor-elect Katie Hobbs, Secretary of State-elect Adrian Fontes, and Attorney General-elect Kris Mayes (pending recount results) will be sworn in in January.

But the election results were close, and the electorate — along with its representatives — is as divided as ever. Republicans still control the state Legislature and the vast majority of counties, meaning the gulf between state and local leaders has grown.

Hobbs, Fontes, and Mayes will serve as a backstop against any attempts by county officials to disrupt elections and any effort from state lawmakers to dismantle the election system. With far-right Republican lawmakers in powerful positions in the Legislature, expect to see the most extreme proposals from 2022 revived this year, such as getting rid of early voting and eliminating machines used to count votes (especially after Maricopa County’s Election Day printer problems). Hobbs’ veto power is sure to come into play. And Fontes may find himself taking over for Hobbs in responding to challenges from Republican-led counties that tested the waters in 2022.

The question is whether there will be efforts to find a middle ground to introduce common-sense solutions to make elections better. Your guess is as good as ours, but I’ll be reporting on all of it.

Jen’s favorite story she wrote in 2022: Drop box watchers in Arizona connected to national effort from “2000 Mules” creators

Jen’s favorite non-Votebeat story of 2022: The election official who tried to prove “Stop the Steal”

Oralandar Brand-Williams, Michigan

Michigan has been among a handful of swing states whose elections have been under fire by conspiracy theorists. But in November’s election, Michigan residents voted in favor of Proposal 2, a series of measures aimed at adding ballot access guarantees to the state’s constitution.

In 2023, I’ll turn my attention to the ways Prop 2 will usher in changes for Michigan voters. For example, it provides nine days of early in-person voting, allowing voters to insert ballots into tabulators instead of the current option of submitting an absentee ballot at a clerk’s office. Prop 2 also constitutionally solidifies practices that have been around for years, such as being able to cast a ballot without identification.

Prop 2 passed by an overwhelming majority, closing off the possibility of restrictive measures pushed by Republican lawmakers. Now, state legislators and election officials must decide how best to put the changes in place and how to pay for them.

Oralandar’s favorite story she wrote in 2022: After tabulator breaches, here’s how Michigan is trying to ensure security of its voting systems

Oralandar’s favorite non-Votebeat story of 2022: “Prime instigator”: Michigan investigator links Trump-backed GOP AG candidate to voting breach

Carter Walker, Pennsylvania

Now that the midterms are over, I’m wondering what’s next for the movement in Pennsylvania that loudly promoted conspiracy theories about elections. These activists were so vocal throughout the year, but virtually fell off the map once votes were counted and their candidates lost. Their only substantial effort after Election Day, filing requests for recounts in precincts across the state, slowed down certification of the election but otherwise largely failed to achieve its aims.

So where does the movement go from here, if anywhere? I’ll be taking a look at how it all got started, where it is going, and why some extremists are now leaning more heavily into appeals to Christian nationalism — the idea that American identity is inextricably linked to Christianity.

Also, in the new legislative session, I will be watching for any bills that would reshape election laws here, keeping everyone updated on any significant changes ahead of the 2024 presidential election, while also reporting on how municipal and judicial elections are run in 2023.

Carter’s favorite story he wrote in 2022: Rejecting improperly dated ballots disproportionately impacts communities of color in Pennsylvania, data shows

Carter’s favorite non-Votebeat story of 2022: Philly elections officials adopted a last-minute change that will slow down the counting of votes

Natalia Contreras, Texas

This year, I watched election officials in Texas struggle to use limited resources while coping with new legal mandates and increased demands on their labor. It’s already clear 2023 will only bring more of that.

We’re already seeing election-related bills pre-filed ahead of the legislative session. Some of these want more election oversight. One bill prefiled in November would enable candidates, local political party leaders, polling place election workers, and “certain people supporting or opposing ballot measures to trigger investigations, audits, and civil penalties of election officials.” This would require election officials to provide a response to requestors seeking information for an investigation within 20 days. Officials would also have to respond to follow up requests within 10 days. Another pre-filed bill would assign law enforcement officers to investigate election violations and crimes.

But none of these bills yet include more money to help local election departments carry out the new requirements. If the Legislature won’t take steps to help fund elections, will Texas county commissioners —the people who decide how much money the county spends per year — take steps to prioritize funding election departments as much as public safety and first responders?

Election officials are already near their limits, under pressure from two years of questions and allegations from a burgeoning number of election fraud activist groups and some lawmakers who question the security of elections in our state. Local election offices are flooded with public records requests from election skeptics. Some county election departments have had to create new, full-time positions to meet the demand.

SB 1 — a 2021 statute that overhauled voting in Texas by adding new requirements — went into effect this past election year. Among other things, it required counties with more than 100,000 residents to have law enforcement present on election night and to livestream the counting of votes.

Requirements like that cost counties money, and so far, no one is paying the bill. Will it be different in 2023?

Natalia’s favorite story she wrote in 2022: What brought down one Texas county’s entire elections department? It was something in the water.

Natalia’s favorite non-Votebeat story of 2022: Magazona

Carrie Levine, story editor

Since 2020, judge after judge has rejected unfounded election conspiracy theories. Then, in November, it was voters’ turn. Media coverage and watchdogs made it clear democracy was on the ballot, and voters cast most high-profile promoters of baseless accusations to the curb in an election that was thankfully free of violence.

So what am I watching? Where conspiracy theorists’ attempts to manipulate elections goes next, because it almost certainly isn’t over.

Polls show Democrats and independents have more faith in elections after the midterms, but there’s still a significant partisan gap. Candidates who promoted baseless untruths about elections, like gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake in Arizona and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, lost, but millions of people voted for them. And Americans with doubts about the integrity of their elections are still following a carefully crafted playbook, besieging local election officials with requests meant to supercharge research efforts designed to fuel doubts and delays. Where will this movement go between now and the 2024 election? It’s impossible to say for sure, but I’ll be monitoring whether local officials in red counties continue to test the limits of their authority over elections, for one thing.

Chad Lorenz, editor-in-chief, and Lauren Aguirre, engagement editor

As you can see from our staffers’ outlooks, Votebeat’s coverage didn’t end on Election Day. In some ways, that’s when our most important work started.

The most alarming threats to voting may have been averted in 2022, but that doesn’t mean America has resolved its election crisis. The next attacks on elections appear to be more subtle and local — if the last two months of post-election disputes have shown us anything — and will continue to erode trust through baseless criticisms and misinformation. We’ll be monitoring the power and sustainability of those attacks between now and Nov. 5, 2024 (and probably beyond).

We also know the year between federal elections is an important transitional phase for policy. It’s a quiet time for elections only if you think elections just spontaneously happen every other November. All across the country, this year’s debates and decisions about election laws and funding will affect voters and administrators next year. Votebeat will keep pursuing our mission of producing journalism that strengthens elections by identifying problems and driving the conversations toward solutions. Even in an America where elections are not under partisan and extremist attacks, there’s a need for constant reporting about making voting fairer and more accessible.

That work involves you, too. We want to know: What election journalism is most valuable to you now? What questions do you have about voting and election administration? What else would you like Votebeat to cover or focus on this year?

Please reply to this email with your thoughts and feedback — whether you think there’s something else we should pay attention to or you’re very excited about one topic in particular.

Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessia at

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Arizona recount uncovers several ballot-counting errors in Pinal County

The final recount results released Thursday in the Arizona attorney general’s race — which shrank to a razor-thin margin of 280 votes and confirmed Democrat Kris Mayes’ victory — show that ballot-counting errors in Pinal County were largely responsible for the shift.

Pinal County, which has been plagued with election problems for the past year, included 507 more votes in its recount total than in its original canvass. Of those, 392 were cast for Republican Abe Hamadeh and 115 were cast for Mayes. Nearly all inconsistencies were the result of mistakes made by election officials: misfiled provisional ballots, poorly trained poll workers, and improper tabulation were to blame, according to a report from the county.

Charles Stewart, a professor of political science at MIT who studies elections, said that while it is normal for counties to see small changes in the results (“ones and twos”) because “people make different judgements than machines,” Pinal’s results suggest a larger problem. “When you get numbers in the dozens or hundreds, that tells me there was something wrong with the management of the original election, for sure.”

Pinal County has experienced tremendous turnover of its election staff in the past year. This summer, the elections director was fired after only a few months on the job for botching the county’s primary. As a result, the county hired outgoing Recorder Virginia Ross, who’d previously managed elections in the county, to oversee the general election. They paid her $200,000 for the job, which ended in early December, after the original canvass but before the start of the recount.

The office is now run by Geraldine Roll, previously deputy county attorney in Pinal, who has not responded to requests for an interview. Roll worked closely with the state during the recount process, realizing early on that there were multiple and varied errors in precincts across the county. All errors, as described in an eight-page summary released by the county, appear to be related to insufficient poll worker and employee training and management.

“We conclude that human error was the cause of our election day miscounts,” the report said, offering multiple examples of poll workers failing to follow correct procedures during both voting and tabulation, leading to uncounted or miscounted votes. For instance, “It seems clear that a stack of ballots from Precinct 68 was not scanned. Again, human error.”

In another, the report explains that 63 Election Day ballots with unclear markings by voters were overlooked. Because of an incorrect tabulator setting, they were scanned but not set aside to be adjudicated — examined to determine the voter’s intent. When officials discovered the ballots during the recount, a bipartisan board adjudicated them, copied votes onto new ballots, and correctly counted them. “The result was that even in precincts where there were no differences in Election Day ballots cast and recount ballots cast, candidates did pick up votes,” the report explained.

Pinal’s recount results come at a time when counties across the country, and especially Arizona, are facing pressure from conservative activists calling for officials to reject election results due to vague — and often false — claims of malfeasance. Election offices across Arizona have been bombarded with public records requests by hundreds of activists, overrunning their staff with tedious and often pointless work.

In Pinal County, voters have pelted local officials with a slew of conspiracy-laden accusations. The county’s sheriff, Mark Lamb, has been among the nation’s most vocal proponents of law enforcement officers involving themselves in election administration. And, of course, Pinal County was operating with brand-new staff and a director who’d publicly said she would not remain in office past early December.

A similar situation played out in 2020 in Coffee County, Georgia, which stumbled through a recount process while management faltered. Ultimately, the Georgia Secretary of State opened an investigation into the county and the director resigned to avoid being fired.

Tammy Patrick, CEO for programs of the Election Center at the National Association of Election Officials, formerly ran elections in Maricopa County. In counties that experience such election management problems, poll workers and tabulators may “create their own solution to a problem, election professionals might be rushed in their work, contingency plans might not be followed,” she said. “These concerns might impact the margin of victory, but rarely impact the outcome of the election and ultimate victor.”

In the last two decades, recounts have overturned results from only three races out of 6,000 statewide elections, though the margin between Hamadeh and Mayes is among the closest races in the state’s history.

Recount results in two other counties — Apache and La Paz — also contributed to the shrinking margin, though both counties found far smaller changes in vote totals than Pinal did. Of the 72 votes added to Apache’s total, 13 went to Hamadeh and 59 went to Mayes. Of 18 votes added to the total in La Paz, 13 went for Hamadeh and 5 to Mayes.

Deb Otis, research director at FairVote — a nonprofit that advocates for electoral reforms — said that it is normal for counties to have around a 0.1% vote increase from the original tally during the recount. Using county-level data released by the state, Votebeat determined Pinal’s increase in the attorney general’s race was 0.36%, La Paz’s was 0.33%, and Apache’s was 0.27%.

The discrepancies in all other Arizona counties, as a percentage of their total votes, were nearly zero percent. Maricopa County, with its 1.5 million votes cast in the race, found a discrepancy of five votes for each candidate, for a net change of zero in the margin.

FairVote’s research shows that around only 14 percent of statewide recounts performed nationally vary by 0.27% or more.

Neither La Paz nor Apache county responded to interview requests, though all counties submitted variance reports to the secretary of state explaining the inconsistencies between the recount and the original canvas.

In an interview with Votebeat, State Elections Director Kori Lorick said La Paz County’s 17-vote disparity was a result of the failure to save the results of a batch of ballots counted during the initial tabulation. In Apache County, 72 ballots across two batches were not scanned. As in Pinal, all were human errors, though both represented less extensive failures of election administration than the list of missteps described in Pinal County’s report.

This is Lorick’s last week in her position before the new secretary of state, Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, arrives with his own staff. She said her recommendation will be to better train officials around the state in how to perform reconciliation, a process that checks each precinct’s results to ensure that all ballots are accounted for properly. While state guidelines recommend the practice, it is not required in Arizona. Large counties, like Maricopa, perform reconciliation as a matter of course, while smaller counties have inconsistent procedures, resulting in the types of errors uncovered by the recount.

“That’s the learning lesson. We need to make certain that reconciliation procedures are solidified across all of the counties,” Lorick said. While the state provides training on reconciliation best practices, the secretary of state’s office does not have the authority to require counties to take it.

Regardless, Lorick said, Arizona’s heavy turnover of election workers makes it clear that the state needs to “beef up” its current one-day training session. “La Paz’s director was new. Pinal’s entire team is new. We have a lot of turnover, and the smartest move going forward is to make sure they have those procedures in place.”

Pinal County was the last county to submit recount results to the state, forcing the secretary of state’s office to delay presenting final numbers by a week as the county toiled through reconciliation procedures to complete the recount under a brand-new elections director.

Before the recount, Roll was publicly optimistic, predicting the recount would take only “a couple of days” and that little was likely to change. One early December headline that didn’t hold up: “Pinal officials say recount should be quick and smooth.”

Votebeat Arizona reporter Jen Fifield and story editor Carrie Levine contributed to this report.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Mystery person remains unidentified as Federal appeals court releases 'True the Vote' leaders from jail

After spending nearly a week in jail, Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips — leaders of Texas-based right-wing voting activist group True the Vote — have been released. They’d been held for contempt of court since Halloween, having repeatedly refused to release the name of a man they called a “confidential FBI informant” who is a person of interest in a defamation and hacking case against them.

The person remains unidentified.

Their release came after True the Vote’s lawyers appealed the contempt order by federal district Judge Kenneth Hoyt to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, arguing the finding of contempt was in error and the pair should be released from jail. The appeals court granted their release but kept the remainder of Hoyt’s order in place.

It’s the newest surprise in an unusual case. Konnech, a small election software company based in Michigan, filed a federal lawsuit in September alleging that True the Vote, and Engelbrecht and Phillips, led a social media campaign of allegations involving a Chinese election-meddling conspiracy that damaged its business and prompted threats to its founder, Eugene Yu.

Yu was arrested shortly afterward, and briefly confined to house arrest, after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said Yu and Konnech violated the company’s contract with Los Angeles County by illegally giving contractors in China access to data that was supposed to be stored only in the United States. That case is still pending, and Yu has filed for dismissal of the charges.

In the week since Engelbrecht and Phillips were escorted to federal detention, they have turned their plight into a national public relations and fundraising blitz. Former President Trump, speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania last week, defended Engelbrecht, calling her “incredible” and a “patriot.”

“And she’s now in a Houston prison along with another great patriot. And you know what they did? They went out and they saw illegal ballot stuffing,” he told the crowd, conflating the Konnech debacle with the “2000 Mules” documentary, a separate True the Vote project. “Can you imagine? They put her in prison. She’s in jail. What a disgrace. Our country’s going to hell in so many different ways.”

Engelbrecht and Phillips were not held in “prison” but rather the Joe Corley Federal Detention Facility, which is a temporary lock-up facility used by the U.S. Marshals and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and is not run by the Bureau of Prisons. Still, they repeatedly claimed to be in “prison” in their many fundraising efforts of the past week.

The day after their arrest, a True the Vote staff member sent a message to supporters, saying Engelbrecht was in “federal prison.”

“She wanted me to share something with you that is so profound: while she was waiting in line one of the other inmates looked at her and said: ‘your life is not your own here,’” read the message.

They have been selling merchandise (including hoodies, hats, mugs and mouse pads) reading “FREEDOM!” along with several verses from the Book of Isaiah.

On Friday, a True the Vote representative appeared on Tucker Carlson to talk about the jailing of the group’s leaders.

Carlson decried the treatment of Engelbrecht, who he called “not a wacko at all.” He lamented that the court would ask them to give up an informant. “Which they are entitled to keep secret,” he said, “because they are confidential sources, and what they are doing is journalism.” Neither Phillips nor Engelbrecht nor their attorneys have asserted that True the Vote representatives were acting as journalists.

On Sunday, supporters held a prayer gathering at the detention facility in Conroe where Engelbrecht and Phillips were being held. “They are being jailed for protecting the name of their whistleblower,” read an advertisement for the event spread on right-wing social media.

Reached by text on Monday after her release, Engelbrecht said she was “hours from home” (Conroe is a 90 minute drive from Engelbrecht’s hometown of Cat Spring) and was not available for an interview.

“Those who thought that imprisoning Gregg and I would weaken our resolve have gravely miscalculated. It is stronger than ever,” Engelbrecht said in a statement. “We are profoundly grateful for that. We will continue to protect and defend those who do the vital work of election integrity, and we will make sure that their findings become a matter of public record.”

Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Election-denying True the Vote leaders found in contempt during chaotic court hearing

After a chaotic day of testimony on Thursday, a federal judge in Texas found Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips — known as leaders of the group True the Vote — in contempt of court. They are facing accusations of defamation and computer crimes from a company at the center of a viral right-wing social media campaign engineered by the conservative voting organization.

The judge informed the pair they would face jail time if they do not comply with the terms of a court order by Monday at 9 a.m.

“I expect both defendants to be present,” said U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, a Ronald Reagan appointee, looking at their table. Marshals, he said, would be ready to arrest them.

Thursday’s finding of contempt was the latest in a string of twists in the civil suit filed in September by Konnech, a Michigan-based company that provides poll worker management software to elections offices.

In filings and testimony, the basic facts and plot lines have shifted from week to week, often producing unexplained contradictions. True the Vote’s telling involves a lengthy middle-of-the-night hotel rendezvous, double-crossing federal agents, confidential informants, and security threats on two continents.

Konnech’s lawsuit, on the other hand, alleges that True the Vote’s baseless and racist accusations against the company’s CEO, Eugene Yu, forced him and his family to flee their home in fear for their lives and damaged the company’s business. Meanwhile, Yu was arrested and charged by the Los Angeles district attorney on allegations of storing government data in China, in breach of its contract, that appear similar to at least some of the allegations True the Vote has made, and Los Angeles officials have said they received an initial tip from Phillips.

For years, Engelbrecht and Phillips have come under fire for promoting election conspiracy theories while offering scant evidence to support them. But their current campaign against Konnech is forcing them to back up what they’ve said since August on far-right social networks and platforms in the more skeptical setting of a federal courtroom.

Thursday’s hearing, which took place on the 11th floor of the federal court building in downtown Houston, was the first time either Engelbrecht or Phillips have appeared in court in the matter. Engelbrecht and Phillips testified only after the judge demanded they do so — Hoyt needed their testimony so he could rule on whether the pair should be held in contempt of court for refusing, for weeks, to hand over information he’d ordered they produce to the plaintiffs.

At issue is the name and contact information of individuals Phillips and Engelbrecht have alleged were present at a Dallas hotel meeting in January 2021, when True the Vote was allegedly given proof Konnech was improperly storing the personal data of “millions” of U.S. poll workers on a server in China. True the Vote then used that information to fuel months of vaguely defined accusations about the company and Yu in podcasts and appearances.

Phillips and Engelbrecht repeatedly claimed Yu was an agent of the Communist Party of China. China, they said, had used the poll worker data to influence the 2020 election. The claims have powered weeks of fundraising for True the Vote, and Phillips and Engelbrecht have enlisted their followers to do additional research on Konnech. It’s an undertaking they’ve named “The Tiger Project.”

True the Vote’s legal team had already, in a court hearing earlier this month, produced one name: Mike Hasson.

Not that they wanted to.

“On behalf of my clients we don’t want to release the name of this individual,” True the Vote attorney Brock Akers told Judge Hoyt in an Oct. 6 hearing. The “analyst” was, he said, in “danger from forces of the Chinese Communist party.” Hoyt didn’t buy it, and demanded Akers hand over the name, which Akers wrote on a yellow legal pad and read aloud for the record.

True the Vote would only provide Hasson’s name, though. Asked Thursday for contact information or more detailed information about Hasson’s identity, Phillips told the court he had no way of contacting Hasson and had only communicated with him through unspecified messaging “apps.” He had not seen Hasson, he said, since the night at the hotel in January 2021.

Shown a photo of a man who Konnech’s attorneys believed to be Hasson, Phillips said he didn’t recognize him. Shown the same photo, Engelbrecht also demurred. “My general recollection is that he was younger than I, and Caucasian. But beyond that I really couldn’t tell you,” said Engelbrecht.

On Friday, True the Vote’s attorney’s moved to seal the photo, which Konnech’s attorneys had entered as an exhibit, “to safeguard the privacy of” the man depicted, in the event he is not indeed Mike Hasson.

Konnech’s attorneys — Dean Pamphilis and Nathan Richardson of the Houston office of Kasowitz Benson Torres — were convinced Hasson hadn’t worked alone, given True the Vote’s insistence over weeks of broadcasts that the work had been done by “analysts” and “guys” in the plural.

The attorneys pressed the pair for more names.

Phillips, who took the stand first, said one other “analyst” had been present, though he said he didn’t believe this man had been involved in Hasson’s research. Phillips refused to name the man or describe the reason for his presence — as did Engelbrecht, who took the stand next.

“Every name I give you gets doxxed and harassed,” Engelbrecht said to Richardson. “I know what happened to Mike after his name was released and he’s in hiding.”

At that, the judge interjected. “Excuse me,” Hoyt said. “How do you know he’s in hiding?”

“I’ve been … it’s been rumored. In fairness, it’s been rumored,” she responded.

She and Phillips told the court the second unnamed person was a “confidential informant” for the FBI. Phillips told the court the man would be at risk of harm from drug cartels on the border if identified, refusing to elaborate. Despite prompting from the judge, who expressed disbelief at the need for such discretion, both Phillips and Engelbrecht refused to name the person.

Hoyt has now given True the Vote’s attorneys until a Monday morning hearing to disclose the man’s name to Konnech’s attorneys, or Engelbrecht and Phillips will be held in jail until it is released.

Shortly after the hearing, Phillips announced Hoyt’s decision on Truth Social. “Doing the right thing isn’t always easy but it’s always right,” he posted. “We were held in contempt of court because we refused to burn a confidential informant or our researchers. We go to jail Monday unless we comply.”

The post is thematically consistent with the image Engelbrecht and Phillips attempted to craft in the courtroom: That they are the victims of a smear campaign and have attempted in good faith to address election vulnerabilities, even at the expense of their own physical safety.

In addition to multiple lawyers, a paralegal, and a small handful of True the Vote associates, Engelbrecht and Phillips were accompanied on Thursday by two security guards. Dressed in suits with matching American flag lapel pins, the pair stood at attention on either side of an alcove in the hallway, where Engelbrecht, Phillips and a few others had gathered before the hearing.

Staring straight ahead, the two men pretended not to hear the group’s conversation, loud enough to be audible throughout most of the hallway.

“I’m the sacrificial lamb,” Phillips said, before being comforted by his attorney, who told Phillips he would seek to take the case “as incrementally as possible.” Later a staffer offered her reassurance to others: “She’ll get her revenge,” she told them, apparently referring to Engelbrecht. “They always do.”

The bodyguards would then spend much of the day accompanying the small swarm of True the Vote associates in and out — and in and out — of the courtroom. The group’s attorneys, who were routinely admonished by Hoyt for flouting basic courtroom procedure, repeatedly requested breaks to consult with Engelbrecht and Phillips in whispers as they determined next moves.

On one break, Engelbrecht and her attorneys were gathered at a table in the courthouse cafeteria. I approached to ask Engelbrecht for a comment — Votebeat was publishing an unrelated story about True the Vote’s backing of an effort to monitor Arizona drop boxes that afternoon, and that morning the group had been sued for defamation in Georgia — only to be blocked by the second security guard, a tall, thin man wearing black running shoes with his suit.

“I’m sorry, I can’t let you go any further,” he said, stopping me a few feet from where they sat, citing unspecified “security concerns.”

Later, Engelbrecht would sit next to me in the courtroom gallery, unattended by security, having recognized me from prior coverage. “There is so much more to this,” she said, promising to say more when True the Vote’s present legal situation cleared. “It’s not what it seems.”

Neither she nor her team took additional questions from the press.

Engelbrecht and Phillips’ Thursday testimony offered the most insight into the tangled relationship between True the Vote, Konnech, and the district attorney of Los Angeles than any development so far. But the latest hearing highlighted how some aspects of True the Vote’s story have shifted from initial court filings, and how some of their answers in court conflict with their prior public descriptions of events.

In an event called “The Pit” held in Phoenix in mid-August and live-streamed on Right Side Broadcasting, Phillips and Engelbrecht told participants they’d “stumbled upon” hard evidence of a Chinese communist plot to influence the 2020 election. It revolved, they said, around a company called Konnech.

The allegations hit right-wing social media like a bomb, sparking calls to county offices that had contracted with Konnech. Over several weeks in August and September, Engelbrecht and Phillips repeatedly called attention to their fight against Konnech in podcasts and interviews.

In an Aug. 23 episode of the Elijah Streams Podcast (which tells listeners its “mission is to encourage you in your faith through a unique blend of patriotism and prophecy”),

Phillips describes a meeting with some of his paid consultants. “My guys invited me to Dallas on a Friday night. We met in a hotel room, towels under the doors,” he said, nonchalantly.

“Really?” interviewer Steve Shultz asked, impressed at the spectacle. “Wow.”

“It was pretty weird,” Phillips offered in response. “It was like some kind of a James Bond kind of thing or some sort of weirdness like that.”

He told Shultz he arrived at the hotel close to midnight. One of the analysts plugged his laptop into the hotel TV, and the group looked at “rows and rows” of data for hours.

“I’m looking at this live. By 4:30 in the morning I was pretty well scared this was bad,” he said, expressing absolute confidence in the skills of those who’d helped him get the information. “Man, those are the best analysts in the country. In the world, maybe.”

As he tells the story in interviews, events, and podcasts, Phillips often describes aspects of the night differently. Occasionally, his versions contradict. In one, for example, he said he and the others in the hotel room that night were able to crack into Konnech’s data because they guessed the password, which had been “password.” In others, he insists there was no password at all, and “no hacking.”

Central to many of the claims made by Engelbrecht and Phillips is a mounting tension with the FBI — an increasingly popular positioning in far right circles, where calls to “Defund the FBI” have seen a swell in popularity given former President Trump’s recent tangle with the agency. In one podcast, Phillips said the group “engaged with [the FBI] as an operational asset in a counterintelligence operation” against Konnech over a period of more than a year and a half before things changed. In another, Phillips claimed the FBI turned on him, accusing him of “stealing the Chinese internet” and threatening to investigate True the Vote. Though the specifics vary, the pair make clear they feel the FBI has not appropriately addressed the extent of their complaints.

“The media, and now possibly even the FBI and other agencies in the federal government are supporting this nonsense. This is crazy,” Phillips said in a Sept. 2 podcast, looking to Engelbrecht for a response. “I agree,” she said.

As the defamation suit got under way, the larger plot points appeared similar in sequence to the facts True the Vote’s lawyers represented to the court, conveyed in dry legal language that was considerably less dramatic.

In late September, the group’s attorney — Brock Akers, an attorney in Houston who’d initially represented True the Vote in the matter — said in a court filing that True the Vote had “turned over data and information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation which had been given to them.” He offered few details as to who had provided the data or by what means.

Then, details began to shift.

In a hearing two weeks later, the same attorney told Judge Hoyt that True the Vote had never been in possession of the data. Mike Hasson, not Phillips or Engelbrecht, Akers said, “actually has the data who then turned it over to the FBI.”

In Phillips’ testimony on Thursday, he said again that he’d spent more than four hours in a Dallas hotel with Hasson and an unnamed third party. From there, his explanations also begin to diverge from the previously established timeline.

When Pamphilis asked Phillips about previous claims that he and “his guys” had broken into Konnech’s data by guessing a simple password, Phillips said he had not personally accessed any information and did not know how the data Hasson showed him had been obtained. Asked if he was told about the existence of a password by someone else, Phillips said he didn’t remember.

“I don’t have recollection,” said Phillips.

Phillips said Hasson did not directly access any Konnech data that night in January 2021. Instead, Phillips said Hasson simply showed him files and screenshots that had been previously gathered. They could not have possibly downloaded the files — which Phillips said totaled “somewhere in the 350-terabyte range” — on hotel internet, Phillips said confidently. Lawyers for Konnech did not remark on the enormousness of the file size. (It takes about 2 billion document pages to amount to 350 terabytes, an amount of data that would fill nearly 1,500 standard laptops.)

Phillips and Engelbrecht told the court that True the Vote and its supporters continued to research Konnech after Hasson revealed what he’d found, relying on “open source” research tools and public records requests sent to Konnech’s government customers. The fruits of this additional probe were shared with the FBI and LA County, they said.

It was the unclear status of these ongoing investigations and acute concern for the safety of confidential FBI informants that prevented them from offering more extensive information as part of their Thursday testimony, both Engelbrecht and Phillips told the court.

Hoyt asked Phillips and Engelbrecht additional questions when attorneys turned over the witnesses. While the judge attempted to clarify whether Phillips and his “analysts” were or were not claiming to have broken through a password, confusion arose as to the provenance of a Truth Social post written by a supporter and “re-Truthed” by Phillips. The poster claimed Phillips and his analysts used a default password to access Konnech’s data, mimicking Phillips’ earlier language. One of True the Vote’s attorneys — John Kiyonaga, who had already been instructed by the judge not to interrupt proceedings — jumped to his feet to object.

“Excuse me, take your seat and don’t get up again,” Hoyt said to Kiyonaga, who continued to protest.

“You are mischaracterizing her testimony, and that is unfair,” Kiyonaga barked.

“Take your seat,” Hoyt said again.

Engelbrecht, as Phillips had before her, ultimately provided no clarity on the existence of a password.

By the end of the hearing, which had lasted for nearly five hours, Hoyt had lost all patience with True the Vote and its team. “I’ve been asked to make a finding of contempt, and that is my finding,” he said. “They are both in contempt of court.”

The ruling came so swiftly that many of those seated at the defense table did not immediately register a reaction. Then, Engelbrecht took a slow breath. A paralegal, seated at the end of the table, stared at the judge. Kiyonaga looked as though he might erupt. True the Vote’s cohort of 12 then quietly left the courtroom, gathering their binders and bags and regrouping to whisper in the hallway.

The next day, Friday, True the Vote attorney Michael Wynn submitted nearly 30 pages of evidence to the court, which he indicated was an effort by his clients to “purge contempt in advance of the hearing” on Monday. None of the documents identify the unnamed person present in the Dallas hotel room, nor do they more specifically identify Mike Hasson.

Among the documents, however, are screenshots of text messages between Engelbrecht and several people True the Vote claims are FBI agents. Few messages sent by the identified agents mention Konnech, though Engelbrecht repeatedly and directly asks for updates on the company. As a whole, the screenshots do little to bolster True the Vote’s version of events.

One set of text messages are between Engelbrecht and a person the documents identify as a San Antonio-based FBI agent named “Kristina,” though the screenshots list her name as “Kaykay.” They show several largely unsuccessful attempts by Engelbrecht to contact the agent in late September and early October.

On Oct. 12 — exactly one month after Konnech filed suit against True the Vote — Engelbrecht wrote her lengthiest correspondence to Kakyay. “We have been drug into a vicious lawsuit filed against us by Konnech,” she wrote in part, before claiming that she, Phillips and Hasson were “all in danger.”

“We have all been doxxed. It is all over the press,” she said. “Lastly, there is the possibility that I have been poisoned.”

Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at

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