With 10 weeks until midterms, election deniers are hampering some election preparations

Some election deniers have "weaponized" against us, one election official says.

August 30, 2022, 4:04 AM

In Colorado, supporters of Donald Trump seeking evidence of 2020 election fraud have flooded some county offices with so many records requests that officials say they have been unable to perform their primary duties.

In Nevada, some election workers have been followed to their cars and harassed with threats.

And in Philadelphia, concerns about the potential for violence around Election Day have prompted officials to install bulletproof glass at their ballot-processing center.

With ten weeks to go until the 2022 midterms, dozens of state and local officials across the country tell ABC News that preparations for the election are being hampered by onerous public information requests, ongoing threats against election workers, and dangerous misinformation campaigns being waged by activists still intent on contesting the 2020 presidential election.

The efforts, many of which are being coordinated at both the national and local level, range from confronting election officials at local government meetings to training volunteers to challenge the vote-counting process on Election Day, according to election officials.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told ABC News he's concerned that the efforts are a reflection of the prevailing attitude among 2020 election deniers that "the folks running elections in this county or this city are up to no good."

'A weaponized tool'

Election officials said that records requests, which are designed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to make the vote-tallying process transparent to the public, have increasingly been used by election deniers to disrupt the system.

At the "Moment of Truth Summit," a two-day meeting of election deniers hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell last week in Springfield, Missouri, activists instructed attendees on how to request election-related records, and pointed them to templates to make it easier to submit the forms.

"Save your county! Get your cast vote records now!" was one of the calls to action, urging supporters to request ballot logs containing information on each ballot cast. One speaker boasted about his efforts, saying, "I have one of the best groups of followers in the world ... and I basically set them out to start making public records requests everywhere for this information. And lo and behold, over time and working together, they managed to get hundreds and hundreds of these records."

In Wisconsin, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell told ABC News that just days after the summit, a Wisconsin activist filed one of those very requests -- a lengthy inquiry that not only sought specific and detailed information, but offered guidance on how local officials should retrieve the data. McDonell said he's received as many as 50 of these kinds of requests over a two-day period.

Elizabeth Howard, senior counsel in the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks election rules, said it smacks of a coordinated effort.

"Election officials are clearly getting, like, a copy-and paste-job of a FOIA request from some centralized entity," she said. "They can see in the FOIA request because it'll be bracket, insert county here, close bracket -- and the requestor doesn't insert the name of the county."

PHOTO: Voters cast their ballots in the Republican primary election pitting Rep. Liz Cheney against Harriet Hageman in Cheyenne, Wyo., Aug. 16, 2022.
Voters cast their ballots in the Republican primary election pitting Rep. Liz Cheney against Harriet Hageman in Cheyenne, Wyo., Aug. 16, 2022.
Thomas Peipert/AP

Election officials said many of the onerous requests seek ballot records, information on voting machines, and even the personal information of election workers -- which election offices will not provide.

"They have become a weaponized tool against us to keep us from being able to do our job," said Trudy Hancock, president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

Marc Early, the supervisor of elections in the state of Florida, said that all the requests are making it harder to prepare the state for the upcoming midterms.

"We are under obligation to respond to these records requests in a very proactive way -- but the volume and the nature of these requests are such that it's difficult to just keep track of it all," Early said. "And it's become a big problem, because we have elections to conduct but we also have our obligations ... to take these requests seriously. And we are, but it's a difficult environment to live under."

In Michigan, election officials have found themselves facing accusations from a one-time state officeholder. The clerk for Michigan's Canton Township told ABC News that former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck has inundated the township with so many records requests that the clerk invited Colbeck to his office to let him see the township's election management system in action, in the hope that Colbeck's concerns about voter fraud would be assuaged.

"We have spent hours with him," clerk Michael Siegrist said of Colbeck.

But the visit didn't satisfy Colbeck, who Siegrist said is now asking the Michigan township to release the election management system's programming files -- something officials say they can't do.

Such files are "not subject to public disclosure under the FOIA laws in Michigan, because they are both proprietary and a blueprint for election programming, and if they were distributed could result in individuals having a resource to hack future elections," said Siegrist.

Colbeck, however, told ABC News the information he is seeking is not programming data, but timestamp information associated with cast vote records already provided by the township.

"This timestamp data would be very useful in an analysis of cast vote data," he said, adding that "the election results database and associated log files created by the Dominion Election Management System software are not examples of source code any more than a MS Word document created by the MS Word application is source code."

Colbeck called the disagreement "but one example of concerted statewide obstruction regarding FOIA requests."

The township said it was still working through its backlog of records requests -- eight of which have come from Colbeck alone.

'Let your voices be heard'

Officials in Washoe County, Nevada, have also been flooded with records and information requests that they describe as "numerous" and "onerous." But their election workers have also been the targets of threats and harassment.

Election workers have been followed to their cars and threatened with rhetoric like "Traitors are dealt with," county spokesperson Bethany Drysdale told ABC News.

By mid-June, shortly after the Nevada primaries, Drysdale says the harassment had become so severe that the Washoe County voter registrar resigned their position, prompting the Washoe County Commission to propose a support plan to help county employees that "are unfairly publicly attacked, harassed, or disparaged by members of the public or by political organizations."

That effort was assailed by members of the Republican Women of Reno, who in an online post asked, "Is it 1984 in Washoe County?" The organization, which has been leading local election challenge efforts and training poll watchers, urged others to "show up and let your voices be heard" at county commission meetings.

PHOTO: Philadelphia election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the general election, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Nov. 3, 2020, in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the general election, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Nov. 3, 2020, in Philadelphia.
Matt Slocum/AP, FILE

In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia officials are so concerned that they have installed bulletproof glass at their ballot-processing center ahead of the midterm elections.

In Otero County, New Mexico, David Clements, a former college professor who gained national prominence for pushing baseless claims of voter fraud, has been attending town hall meetings and confronting officials about the 2020 election.

"We want to let you know that this issue isn't going to go away," Clements said at a county commissioner meeting last week. "In fact, I'll be here every two weeks, no matter how futile you think this exercise is."

Clements, who was suspended last year from New Mexico State University, has traveled across the country to advocate for audits of the 2020 election. A week after speaking at Lindell's "Moment of Truth Summit," he was back in New Mexico, where he was escorted out of a Doña Ana County commission meeting after pressing the commissioners to investigate election-related claims.

"This has been brought up multiple times and there's just no fact to it," a commissioner told Clements.

At the Doña Ana meeting, Clements also publicly asked for the resignation of county clerk Amanda Lopez Askin.

"It was almost a joke to me," Askin told ABC News. "I'm serving my community, and then you have 50,000 people that voted for me. All he does is feed my determination."

Askin has had to report several death threats to the FBI, and she said the vitriol she's receiving from election denial groups is becoming the new normal.

"It's disheartening, and the thing that they don't realize is, I'm a fellow New Mexican," she said. "I was born and raised here, and I'm more against voter fraud than anyone."

"It's unfortunate he's harassing public forums and public officials with baseless lies," Alex Curtas, director of communications for the New Mexico secretary of state, said of Clements.

Contacted by ABC News for comment, Clements replied with a list of poll results from the conservative polling company Rasmussen Reports showing the percentage of likely voters who believe cheating affected the results of the 2020 election, and other related statistics.

'A different level of intensity'

Back in Washoe County, Nevada, officials say election deniers have also spread dangerous misinformation -- such as when one activist posted a clip from the election office's livestream and questioned what an election worker was doing with their computer.

"When they posted the video, they said, 'What is he doing? Look at him, he looks shifty. Look at him, he must be up to something,'" said Drysdale, the county spokesperson. "And that kind of caught fire."

The employee was actually just shutting down a computer at the end of the day, Drysdale said.

"Misinformation yields threats against election officials that make it a lot more difficult to do our job, whether those threats be violent in form or whether they be harassment," said Michigan Secretary of State Joselyn Benson.

PHOTO: In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, election workers work on counting absentee ballots for the 2020 general election at TCF Center, on Nov. 4, 2020, in Detroit.
In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, election workers work on counting absentee ballots for the 2020 general election at TCF Center, on Nov. 4, 2020, in Detroit.
Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

In Maine, a local election denier transformed a former movie theater into a "Constitutional Hall" to hold so-called "election integrity" events and poll watcher trainings. The events have resulted in an increase in "requests for information about things that don't exist," according to the Maine secretary of state.

"To the election deniers who are hosting phony training, filling our citizenry with misinformation and disinformation, I would say our elections are free, fair, and secure," Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows told ABC News.

Officials in other states, including Missouri, Indiana, Colorado and Kansas, told ABC News they were concerned about election deniers being trained as poll workers.

"This is a different level of intensity that I was not expecting," said a Johnson County, Kansas, election commissioner.

A report released two weeks ago by the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee said election officials are facing unprecedented challenges.

"These new pressures on election officials make their core job of running elections far more difficult by draining already scarce resources and undermining public confidence in election processes," the report said.

ABC News' Sara Avery, Ali Dukakis, Alexandra Myers, and Lucien Bruggeman contributed to this report.

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