In the two years since the 2020 election, Trump-allied conspiracy theorists and voter-fraud alarmists across the country have led efforts to sow distrust in U.S. elections, pushing government officials to embrace false claims of widespread fraud, coordinating with other election deniers, and encouraging a parade of sham election audits and partisan investigations.
Through public records requests, American Oversight has obtained documents that provide snapshots of this nationwide network’s ongoing fight to keep baseless skepticism of the 2020 election — and of future elections — alive. Many of those efforts took cues from the Arizona Senate’s sham “audit” of Maricopa County’s election, or relied on the same conspiracy theories and unsupported claims underpinning that effort.
For example, in March 2021, a conservative activist attempted to recruit prominent election deniers Phil Waldron and Russ Ramsland to conduct an election audit in a small town in New Hampshire. Other records suggest that a group of activists in Nevada spoke with lawyers involved in the Arizona “audit” when looking to plan their own election review. And in New Mexico, American Oversight obtained documents about an audit pushed by conspiracy theorists and a Jan. 6 insurrectionist.
In Arizona, lies about a stolen election led to an expensive, blatantly partisan, and conspiracy-fueled “audit” of ballots cast in Maricopa County. Our investigation revealed that from the beginning, the elected officials behind the review, as well as the firms and conspiracy theorists hired to conduct it, undertook the operation with predetermined outcomes they were hoping it would lead to — namely, any findings that could cast doubt on the election’s results.
These partisan goals are further supported by records obtained by American Oversight that illustrate the review’s links to activists who were involved in election-undermining efforts in other states. Moreover, the Arizona “audit” was frequently cited by election deniers pursuing similar reviews across the country.
“Other states … are breathlessly awaiting the findings [of the Arizona audit], as well as watching what they can as to how this is all being arranged and run,” wrote Lyle Rapacki — a right-wing activist who helped recruit ballot counters for the Maricopa County “audit” — in an April 1, 2021, email. “I have received communications from Michigan Legislative leader wanting to know how they might proceed and I will pass along to [Cyber Ninjas CEO] Doug [Logan] said request, as well as to [state] Senator [Sonny] Borrelli.”
Another email from that month shows Doug Logan, whose firm Cyber Ninjas was hired by the Senate to lead the “audit,” responding to an offer of assistance from John Droz, a North Carolina activist, who said that months before he had “put together a team of independent experts to analyze 2020 election data.” In one email, Droz copied Eric Quinnell, who after the 2020 election had helped push voter fraud claims in Fulton County, Ga., and Antrim County, Mich.
Quinnell’s response mentioned Russ Ramsland, the head of Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG), a firm that was almost hired by the Arizona Senate to conduct the Maricopa “audit”: “In all the actual audits that occurred, we’ve yet to be wrong. Antrim included, feel free to ask Ramsland himself.” Following the 2020 election, ASOG had claimed there were election irregularities in Antrim County, Mich., in a report that was debunked by numerous experts.
Cyber Ninjas also appears to have brought in Andre McCoy and Bill Bachenberg, two Pennsylvania conservatives, to assist in the review. According to documents we received from Cyber Ninjas, Bachenberg was copied on a July 2021 email thread that included Logan, Chris Witt of “audit” subcontractor Wake TSI, and others about contract and payment disputes, suggesting that he played a significant role in the operation. Both McCoy and Bachenberg had signed their name to the fake Pennsylvania electoral vote certificate submitted to Congress in the multi-state scheme to overturn former President Trump’s election defeat; Bachenberg, who was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, chaired that effort in Pennsylvania.
Despite its blatantly biased origins and the inexperience of those involved, the Arizona “audit” continued to serve as a model for similar reviews and inquiries across the country, including the Wisconsin Assembly’s partisan election review. During the early months of the review, Michael Gableman, the lawyer hired to lead the investigation, had emailed Senate President Karen Fann asking to speak with her “about the process implemented in Arizona.”
In November 2020, as the Trump campaign launched a series of ill-fated lawsuits aimed at overturning his loss, lies about voter fraud and a stolen election descended on a local race for the state House in Windham, N.H.
A recount that had been requested by the losing candidate confirmed the outcome of the election, but resulted in significantly different vote margins. The discrepancy was revealed to be an anomaly, but, as New Hampshire Public Radio later reported, it became the focus of “conspiracy theorists trying to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election … despite a lack of evidence that the issue in Windham is in any way systemic.”
In April 2021, the controversy led state lawmakers to pass S.B. 43, a bill to conduct an official audit of votes in Windham. Upon its conclusion in July, the completed audit found that the vote discrepancies were the result of a “unique set of circumstances … and are not likely to reoccur.”
Through public records requests, American Oversight obtained emails illustrating how election conspiracy theorists — including those who had been active in the Arizona “audit” — sought to export their politicized fraud-hunting to Windham.
Before and after the audit bill was passed, Ken Eyring, a Trump-supporting “Big Lie” activist from Windham who after the 2020 election had written blog posts replete with misinformation about election fraud, sent a number of emails to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who led audit planning in his capacity as the head of state elections. In the emails, Eyring attempted to connect Gardner with people who could provide “first-hand insights” from the Arizona “audit.”
During a public hearing about S.B. 43 on March 5, 2021, Eyring proposed a forensic analysis of four voting machines in Windham. Gardner voiced support for the plan, while noting that inadvertent human error may have caused the discrepancies in vote totals.
A few days later, Eyring emailed state Rep. Wayne MacDonald, the vice-chair of the Election Law Committee, and wrote that he had spoken with Gardner, who had “reaffirmed his support” for the plan Eyring had presented at the hearing. Eyring asked MacDonald to support an amendment to S.B. 43 to incorporate the plan, adding that Gardner “fully supports the processes that are described in the amendment, including a full and complete independent forensic audit of Windham’s voting machines and ballots.”
In the following days, Eyring connected Gardner with Russ Ramsland and Phil Waldron, who had both been active in helping to plan the Arizona “audit.” Waldron, a retired Army colonel who had also participated in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, had worked with Ramsland’s ASOG.
“Secretary Gardner is tied up for the rest of this week, but would like to have a conference call between the three of us sometime next week,” Eyring wrote in a March 10 email to Gardner, Ramsland, Waldron, and ASOG lawyer Charles Bundren. Eyring attached a copy of ASOG’s debunked report on voter fraud in Antrim County, Mich., “so that Secretary Gardner can have a better understanding of the in-depth services you can provide.” The email also included Eyring’s answers to a list of questions from Ramsland about the ballot recount. The next week, in a text message, Eyring followed up with Gardner about scheduling the meeting with the “forensic experts.”
ASOG was not selected to conduct the Windham audit. The firm ultimately had not been hired in Arizona either, but a communications log released through American Oversight’s litigation for records from the Arizona review revealed that Waldron stayed in touch with Senate President Karen Fann for months into the “audit.”
Another election denier that local Trump supporters pushed to conduct the Windham audit was Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, who also had the support of one member of the Windham Board of Selectmen. Pulitzer had also been involved in the Arizona review, including signing a $210,000 contract with Cyber Ninjas, and was the apparent source of the outlandish lie that bamboo-laced ballots had been smuggled in from Asia.
S.B. 43 adopted the plan outlined in the amendment backed by Eyring and Gardner. It authorized a “forensic election audit” to be conducted by a three-member team, with two of the members — one selected by the town of Windham and one by the secretary of state and attorney general — selecting the third. Windham’s Board of Selectmen chose Mark Lindeman of the nonprofit Verified Voting (which had condemned the Arizona “audit” as a partisan sham). Gardner and the attorney general chose cybersecurity expert Harri Hursti, who, together with Lindeman, tapped data scientist Philip Stark as the third team member.
Following the bill’s passage, Eyring also sought to connect Gardner with Ken Bennett — Arizona’s former secretary of state who served as the liaison between the state Senate and “audit” contractors — through Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem, a vocal supporter of Trump’s election lies. On April 28, as the Arizona operation was in full swing, Eyring sent Finchem an email titled “IMPORTANT: PLEASE Help Connect NH Secretary of State Bill Gardner with Fmr SOS Ken Bennett.” Eyring said that Gardner had “been trying to contact” Bennett and asked Finchem to reach out to Bennett on Gardner’s behalf. Finchem responded, “I will get the message to him.”
A few days later, Eyring sent another email to Finchem indicating that Gardner and Bennett had talked “last Wednesday night around 6p” but that the call was cut short because of a conflict in Bennett’s schedule. Eyring asked for another follow-up: “Secretary Gardner has a few time critical questions that he would like to ask Mr. Bennett regarding his first-hand insights related to the current audit in AZ,” he wrote. “This is time critical because Secretary Gardner needs to make decisions regarding the pending forensic audit of the machines and ballots in Windham, NH.”
The day before, Eyring had also sent Gardner a link to the live video feed of the Maricopa County review, writing, “I had envisioned that the live stream cameras for the public would be setup closer to the audit process in NH for the Windham audit.”
In May of this year, Eyring — who has claimed without actual evidence that China had interfered in the election using voting machines — was appointed to a “voter confidence” commission by current New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan.
American Oversight also obtained emails suggesting that attorneys involved in the Arizona “audit” had met with a group in Nevada to discuss a similar effort there, and that the state’s former attorney general Adam Laxalt encouraged an audit of ballot signatures in Douglas County.
In June 2021, Doug Johnson, who appears to be the former chair of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, sent an email to Marshall Goldy, who appears to be involved with an organization called the Good Governance Group of Douglas County, with the subject line “Audit the 2020 Nevada Election.” In the email, Johnson said he had been speaking with Dave Nelson, a former Republican county commissioner, about “the 2020 election audit initiatives sweeping the nation.”
Johnson wrote that he had come across a group based in southern Nevada called TS New Nevada Team that was active on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. According to Johnson, members of that group had met with “the Arizona attorneys overseeing the Arizona Forensic Audit,” who helped the group write an “Affidavit of Maladministration similar to what Arizona had used to initiate their Forensic Audit.”
Johnson asked that interested members of the Good Governance Group read through the attached materials, but “hold off on filing” the affidavit against state officials because organizers with TS New Nevada Team were still “working on ways to streamline the process … and inspire the reactions we expect from our rulers.”
Johnson’s email included an attached FAQ sheet that heavily leaned on conspiracy-fueled language. One section directed supporters to claim that “there is no official ‘group or affiliation’” responsible for the audit push, and to say “I am one of the People” if asked by a government official who was behind the effort.
The county’s deputy district attorney forwarded the affidavit and documents to Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Amy Burgans, who wrote in a June 28 email to the county’s deputy district attorney, “I honestly doubt it will get any traction.”
Another set of emails obtained by American Oversight and reported on by the Nevada Independent show that a few months later, Laxalt, a U.S. Senate candidate, urged Burgans to conduct an audit of ballot signatures. On Sept. 28, 2021, Burgans emailed Mark Wlaschin, Nevada’s deputy secretary of state for elections, writing that Laxalt had approached her “with an odd request.” She wrote, “He felt that Douglas County should take the lead by allowing an ‘audit’ of our signatures from the ballots.” Burgans told Laxalt that because signatures are part of official ballots, the law prohibits the county from releasing them. According to Burgans’ email, Laxalt argued and claimed he had never heard of such a law.
“I was baffled as to why he wouldn’t want me to educate him on election laws, especially since he was the former Attorney General!!!,” Burgans wrote to Wlaschin. “I believe next year ALL candidates will be running on ‘election integrity’ as a platform without a basic understanding of what the law requires.”
In January, New Mexico’s Otero County, which Trump won by more than 60 percent, launched an audit of its 2020 election results, pushed by prominent conspiracy theorists. For the audit, the county commission — which included Couy Griffin, who this summer was convicted of having entered restricted Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021, and was removed and disqualified from public office — unanimously approved a nearly $50,000 contract with EchoMail, a technology company run by Shiva Ayyadurai.
Ayyadurai, a vocal proponent of stolen-election and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, had also worked with Cyber Ninjas on the Arizona “audit.” Conducting the Otero review with a group of volunteers called the New Mexico Audit Force were conspiracy theorists David and Erin Clements, who have toured the country with stolen-election lies. A Jan. 25, 2022, copy of EchoMail’s contract with the county commission included a provision for the volunteer group to perform a “door-to-door canvass of Otero County voter registration database,” under “guidance from EchoMail.”
At a Jan. 13 commission meeting, after Otero County attorney R.B. Nichols expressed concern that the canvass could be seen as voter intimidation, Erin Clements reportedly said that volunteers wouldn’t mention the county when talking to voters. Text messages exchanged in late February, obtained by American Oversight, show Clements and Nichols discussing language canvassers could use when introducing themselves. Still, after receiving complaints of canvassers claiming to represent the county commission, the New Mexico attorney general and secretary of state’s offices warned Otero residents in March that they did not have to participate or give out personal information to the volunteers. On March 16, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform launched an investigation of the audit.
In response to requests from the committee to hand over related records, Ayyadurai denied working with the Audit Force on canvassing. EchoMail pulled out of the Otero review that month, partially refunded the county, and reported having found no evidence of election fraud. The Audit Force continued the effort after EchoMail’s departure, and in August released a report that the New Mexico secretary of state’s office said contained no credible evidence of widespread fraud.
After the state’s June primary election, the Otero County Commission refused to certify the county’s results, prompting the state Supreme Court to order the commission to comply with state law and certify the results. American Oversight sought records of any materials commissioners had relied on to justify their refusal, but a county employee said that there were no responsive records, suggesting that the Otero County commissioners consulted no substantial reports or evidence when making their decision.
The right-wing activists, government officials, and conspiracy theorists pushing the stolen-election myth form a wide-reaching network, led by Trump and his allies, that has sown a dangerous distrust of the electoral process. The false threat of voter fraud is a real threat to democracy, and has been used to justify voter suppression and intimidation in multiple states. You can read more about American Oversight’s voting rights work here.
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