Over the weekend, the Arizona Republican Party elected Gina Swoboda as its new chair just days after a scandal forced the previous chair to resign. Both former President Donald Trump and far-right Senate candidate Kari Lake endorsed Swoboda.
Swoboda is a former organizer of Trump’s 2020 campaign in Arizona and the executive director of the Voter Reference Foundation, which runs an online project called VoteRef.com designed to be a resource for voter-fraud activists who want to inspect voter rolls. The database has been one of several systems used or promoted by conservative activists following several states’ decisions to leave the nonpartisan Electronic Registration Information Center in response to a right-wing, conspiracy-theory-driven pressure campaign.
Voting-rights and privacy advocates have voiced concerns VoteRef could be used to compromise individual privacy, intimidate voters, cause mass cancellations of voting registrations, and inundate local election offices with burdensome, time-consuming, and inaccurate challenges.
Records obtained by American Oversight and detailed in our recent in-depth report “The Campaign to Dismantle ERIC” show that information gleaned from VoteRef has fueled numerous voter challenges and fraud allegations, and people have voiced concerns about their personal information appearing on the platform.
In February 2023, Ian Camacho — the research director of a group that supported defendants facing charges for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection — contacted a Texas Senate staffer asking about the status of dozens of challenges submitted by an “anonymous tipster” calling themselves Totes Legit Votes. According to an email from the staffer to the Texas secretary of state’s office, the tipster had flagged “approximately 75” alleged double voters. The secretary’s office responded that its Elections Division had received multiple emails from Totes Legit Votes, but that because of the high volume, the office was not sending acknowledgments in response to each message.
Records of similar complaints lodged by Camacho and Totes Legit Votes with the Missouri secretary of state’s office in March 2023 suggest that they had used the VoteRef database. Camacho also cited VoteRef data in a May 2023 email to election officials in Wake County, N.C., alleging instances of double voting.
The records from Missouri indicate that officials quickly debunked several of the allegations, even cautioning staff not to click on links shared by Totes Legit Votes. Other documents reveal several requests from the Voter Reference Foundation for data from the Wyoming, West Virginia, and Rhode Island secretaries of state.
Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer and longtime proponent of voting restrictions, appears to have facilitated connections between Swoboda and election officials. Records we obtained show that Mitchell introduced Swoboda to Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray in January 2023 and that they corresponded over text about voter identification records and Gray’s statements in support of auditing ballot counts by hand. Emails indicate Swoboda had contacted Gray and his office multiple times throughout the year.
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