Pro-Trump group gathers intel for its war on voting machines


In June, a person and a lady turned up unannounced on the workplace of Catherine Roeske, town clerk in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. They wished to ask Roeske detailed questions on how native elections had been run.

“We’re pretty much these grassroots people,” the person mentioned, in response to an audio recording of the encounter. “We’re nonpartisan,” the lady added. All they wished, she mentioned, was to coach residents concerning the electoral course of.

Roeske dutifully answered their questions. Only later did she study from a Reuters reporter that the couple had been a part of a nationwide effort to assemble intelligence for distinguished allies of former U.S. President Donald Trump who promote stolen-election conspiracy theories. And that intelligence could be used primarily to marketing campaign for radical adjustments within the U.S. voting system that election officers overwhelmingly oppose.

Roeske received one other shock when she reviewed a abstract of her interview posted on-line by the surveyors: It was riddled with errors, doubtlessly fuelling the misinformation that many voting directors are struggling to fight.

The Oak Creek survey was one in every of greater than 260 performed with county and metropolis election officers throughout eight battleground states and sponsored by the America Project. The influential right-wing group was co-founded by Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s nationwide safety advisor, and rich businessman Patrick Byrne. The group informed Reuters it’s utilizing the knowledge to gasoline a multi-state marketing campaign to advertise the Trump-backed agenda of eliminating digital voting machines and returning to hand-counted paper ballots.

The America Project funds litigation searching for to overturn the 2020 election and public campaigns difficult the integrity of U.S. voting programs. It additionally donates closely to teams backing pro-Trump election deniers who’re campaigning for high state places of work. Weeks after the 2020 election, each Flynn and Byrne visited the White House to induce Trump to make use of the navy to grab voting machines in an effort to overturn the election end result, in response to the congressional investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Byrne and Flynn did not reply to requests for remark.

Many surveyors working with the America Project informed election officers that they had been politically impartial and engaged in voter schooling. Chris Quackenbush, a Republican who interviewed officers in Florida, informed Reuters the surveyors solely “pretended” to be nonpartisan. The actual goal was to assemble technical data on voting machines to assist wage a marketing campaign towards them, mentioned Quackenbush, a former software program government who wore a “NO VOTING MACHINES” badge throughout an interview.

Information from the surveys, she mentioned, might assist establish “problem areas” in how native officers run elections. “It could possibly be used to assault them. It could possibly be used to enhance them.” She added: “It could possibly be used to sue them.”

Reuters interviewed 45 election officers who had been approached for the survey. Only two of them had been conscious of the America Project’s involvement. Thirteen mentioned their responses had been misrepresented or misreported within the surveyors’ summaries of their discussions. The errors usually concerned the directors’ views on voting machines or different hot-button points.

Reporters for this story additionally filed public information requests to acquire emails and messages exchanged between election officers and surveyors, and reviewed hours of interview recordings that the surveyors posted on-line.

Asked why surveyors did not clarify the America Project’s involvement, the group mentioned that it partnered with state-level teams and wished them to be “front and centre.” The America Project denied hiding its involvement. “We are proud of it, and refer to it as a concrete example of how we are promoting election integrity in our fundraising efforts,” mentioned America Project spokesperson Kristin Davis in a written assertion.

Davis mentioned the group wrote the surveys and educated the surveyors to reassure the officers they interviewed that the hassle was nonpartisan. She mentioned the surveyors’ failure to reveal their political loyalties did not undermine that declare. “In a democracy, people are allowed to support political parties,” Davis mentioned, including that it will be “unfortunate” if any surveyors had been solely “pretending to be nonpartisan.”

Davis mentioned the knowledge from the surveys would assist promote an “election reform agenda” in every state, together with the elimination of voting machines. She mentioned not one of the data will probably be used to assault or sue election officers.

Election officers and specialists overwhelmingly say that eliminating voting machines would make elections extra weak to fraud and error; officers who took the surveys persistently rejected the concept of hand-counted paper ballots. Davis mentioned understanding the explanations for their opposition could be “extremely useful” to the America Project because it crafts a technique to persuade these officers that hand-counting “might be cheaper, simpler and sooner.”

Asked why some surveyors informed officers they had been engaged in voter schooling, Davis mentioned the hassle might assist the America Project “better encourage participation in election reform.” She mentioned some surveyors could have interpreted that purpose as voter schooling. Addressing errors in reviews on the surveys, Davis mentioned some interviewers may need misinterpreted officers’ statements or didn’t seize “conversational nuance.”

The surveyors wrote up the election officers’ solutions and posted accounts of their interviews on-line. While the questions differed barely from state to state, all sought particulars on how election places of work use and handle voting machines and poll drop-boxes.

Most election officers who took the survey mentioned they’d have responded even had they identified of the America Project’s involvement. They wished to be clear, they mentioned, and valued alternatives to tell voters.

Still, some fearful that their solutions could possibly be twisted to undermine public confidence in elections. Five officers expressed alarm that errors within the surveys might unfold misinformation – a cost the America Project denied. One official mentioned she wouldn’t meet with the surveyors once more with out the county’s legal professional current.


The interviewers who visited Roeske’s workplace in Oak Creek recognized themselves as Chuck Maier and Virginia Pratt. Oak Creek is a part of Milwaukee County, one in every of two large city counties that in 2020 helped Democrat Joe Biden defeat Trump in Wisconsin.

Maier and Pratt requested greater than 30 questions. At least half the solutions, as reported by the surveyors, contained assumptions or inaccuracies, Roeske mentioned.

For instance, the survey report famous that Roeske “probably skews Dem” in her selection of election inspectors. Roeske informed Reuters that she accepts all certified inspectors, no matter political affiliations. The surveyors famous that inspectors had been educated “by a contractor or NGO.” In the group’s audio recording, Roeske mentioned she does the recruiting and coaching herself.

Roeske’s assist for Oak Creek’s single drop-box appeared to immediate the closing comment on the surveyors’ account of the dialog: “I think she’s a Dem. She was pro-drop box.”

Roeske, an elected official, mentioned she’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican; she’s formally nonpartisan.

Maier and Pratt could not be reached for remark.

In different states, too, surveyors questioned election officers with out disclosing the America Project’s involvement, in response to audio recordings and Reuters interviews with officers.

In Virginia, a surveyor informed Mecklenburg County’s registrar: “We’re nonpartisan – just to help students and citizens.” In Wisconsin, interviewers identified themselves as “concerned citizens” in Junction City and as “just a couple of girlfriends” within the city of Lanark.

Some surveyors appeared reluctant or unable to offer even fundamental data. Asked by an election official in Rockingham, Virginia, the place their residence base was positioned, one member of the group mentioned he didn’t know. “Richmond comes to mind,” one other mentioned.

The America Project mentioned that the state-level teams organizing the surveys disclose their America Project partnerships on their web sites. Those state teams use “America First” – Trump’s political slogan – of their names. Some embrace conspiratorial partisan rants on their web sites, falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen.

But Reuters discovered that surveyors hardly ever talked about their affiliations with the America First teams. Oak Creek’s Roeske mentioned the surveyors who visited her offered a enterprise card that learn, “We The People.” Others recognized themselves as representatives of native organizations with much less partisan-sounding names, corresponding to “election transparency” teams in Texas and Florida.

Margetta Hill, the election administrator for Victoria County in Texas, mentioned she would have rejected an interview request had she identified the America Project was behind the surveys. Hill agreed to sit down down with Maria Miller, who mentioned she was a coordinator from Texas for Election Transparency, on July 27.

“The only reason I met with them was because they described themselves as nonpartisan,” she informed Reuters.

At the county election workplace, Miller and three associates quizzed Hill on a variety of matters, together with the upkeep and safety of voting machines.

Hill was shocked when Reuters informed her that Miller’s group was backed by the America Project. In 2020, Miller was the nationwide coordinator for Latinos for Trump, a Florida-based coalition. Miller additionally labored this yr on the marketing campaign of Bianca Gracia, a pro-Trump Republican candidate for the Texas legislature. Gracia – who mentioned God had “appointed and assigned” her for the place – misplaced badly. She is now a “chief strategist” on the America Project.

In an interview, Miller described herself as a Christian conservative. Asked how the surveyors can name themselves nonpartisan given the America Project’s political actions, she responded that the group calls itself nonpartisan. “As far as I know, they’re nonpartisan,” she mentioned.

The surveyors who turned up within the Village of Amherst, Wisconsin, informed Jodi Patoka, the clerk and treasurer, that they had been “simply residents” with “no agenda,” in response to an audio recording. Asked how she felt after studying from Reuters concerning the America Project’s involvement, Patoka replied: “Like we had been lied to.”

The surveyors couldn’t be reached for remark. Asked concerning the Village of Amherst interview, the America Project’s Davis mentioned: “Perhaps this volunteer did not understand the nuances of the relationship” between the state group and the America Project, “but nothing has ever been done that is misleading.”


The America Project surveyors usually informed election officers that they aimed to enhance election transparency. But the funds of the group behind the surveys are opaque.

The America Project was included in Delaware as a non-profit in April 2021 and characterizes itself as a “nonpartisan social welfare organization.” Its preliminary non-profit federal tax submitting – a public disclosure of its officers, income and spending – was due final spring. The group obtained a six-month extension that successfully shrouds its monetary exercise till simply after the November elections.

The America Project says on its web site that its “primary goal is to unite coalitions” round its core values. These lengthen past the conduct of elections to incorporate border safety, gun rights, parental rights, opposition to coronavirus vaccine and masks mandates, and promotion of Judeo-Christian traditions, in response to its web site and public statements.

While the group describes itself as nonpartisan, the America Project’s federal tax-exempt standing doesn’t require that designation. But partisan political work can’t be its “primary” exercise or account for greater than half its spending.

An examination of the America Project’s social media accounts, public occasions and the political actions of its officers exhibits that the group is a robust power in a nationwide motion to contest Trump’s 2020 loss and query the integrity of U.S. elections. The surveys are a part of its “Operation Eagles Wings,” which broadly goals to arrange native teams in battleground states to watch the 2022 elections. The surveys had been reported earlier by the election-affairs web site Votebeat.

Byrne has blamed Trump’s 2020 loss on a non-existent worldwide plot to show America right into a Chinese colony. He faces a $1.6 billion lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems over false claims about its machines. He has denied any wrongdoing and is contesting the swimsuit.

Byrne made a fortune as founder and chief government of web retailer He mentioned at an America Project information convention in February that he had given the group about $8 million and could be protecting all of the group’s 2022 prices, amounting to “several million dollars.”

The group’s chief evangelist is co-founder Michael Flynn, a former U.S. Army lieutenant common and briefly Trump’s nationwide safety advisor, who was pardoned by Trump after pleading responsible in 2017 to misleading to federal investigators about his contacts with a Russian official. In frequent appearances across the nation, Flynn has falsely claimed that Trump was robbed of re-election in 2020 by widespread voter fraud. He usually speaks at occasions that includes adherents of QAnon, the sprawling conspiracy principle that casts Trump as a saviour determine battling a Democratic cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles and cannibals.

Davis, the America Project spokesperson, mentioned Flynn had “no managerial role” within the group. “He is an outside strategic advisor and is not involved in any decision making,” she mentioned. Flynn’s brother Joe is the America Project’s third co-founder and oversees its day-to-day operations. Joe Flynn didn’t reply to requests for remark.

The America Project offered greater than $3 million to finance an audit of the 2020 election leads to Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, in response to the corporate that performed the overview, Cyber Ninjas. The audit was commissioned by Republican state legislators and backed by different pro-Trump organizations. The effort backfired: It discovered no proof of election fraud and confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory.

The America Project has given $155,000 to a political motion committee that promotes pro-Trump election deniers working for high state places of work, in response to marketing campaign finance information. In Colorado, it donated $100,000 to a group that opposed a candidate working towards an election conspiracy theorist searching for the Republican nomination for Secretary of State. And in Michigan, it gave one other $100,000 to a Republican-run group pushing to rewrite state voting legal guidelines.

The America Project can also be pursuing litigation difficult election outcomes and insurance policies. In Michigan, it has sponsored a brand new lawsuit introduced by Republican candidates and officers searching for to void the state’s 2020 election outcomes. In Georgia, it has funded VoterGA, a group that has filed a number of authorized challenges to the state’s voting procedures and its dealing with of the 2020 election. Voter GA additionally has filed petitions with county election places of work contesting the legitimacy of tens of hundreds of voter registrations.


In Florida, the election-official surveys had been coordinated by Michael Thompson, who mentioned he was paid by the America Project. Thompson is the state director of its affiliate, Florida for America First. The state group, nevertheless, performed the surveys below a distinct title: Floridians for Election Transparency, of which Thompson can also be the state director.

Asked by Reuters if he thought it was essential to tell election officers that the America Project was behind the surveys, Thompson replied: “I do not see why, actually.”

Quackenbush, who labored on Thompson’s group, mentioned election supervisors would not have talked had they identified she was working with the America Project. “We weren’t purported to be speaking to the supervisor and saying: ‘I’m a Republican, I’m right here to look over your shoulder,'” she mentioned. “They have been educated that we individuals making questions are breeding misinformation and malcontent within the voters.”

Quackenbush mentioned she got here away dissatisfied as a result of the election officers she interviewed wished to maintain utilizing voting machines. “That’s their security blanket,” she mentioned.

Thompson briefly outlined the findings of the Florida surveys throughout a September presentation at a West Palm Beach convention that additionally featured right-wing election deniers campaigning for secretary-of-state positions.

He mentioned his group had interviewed supervisors in about 30 of Florida’s 67 counties. “Unfortunately, about 10 of them wouldn’t even meet with us,” he mentioned. “Why the hell wouldn’t they sit down and have a conversation with us? I mean, all we’re doing is asking questions.”


Many surveyors’ accounts of their interviews had been riddled with errors. At Reuters’ request, 30 election officers reviewed their surveys; almost half mentioned the interviewers had distorted their views or simply received them plain unsuitable. This was doubtlessly damaging, they mentioned, as a result of the surveys are spreading misinformation about delicate points corresponding to voting machines and about election officers themselves, who’re already enduring an unprecedented wave of threats and strain.

One instance is a survey that reported a June 24 interview with an election official in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, named Sue Milliard. County directors had been confused: There’s no Sue Milliard in Crawford’s election workplace. And no Crawford election official participated within the survey, mentioned Gina Chatfield, the county’s chief clerk.

The printed survey additionally mentioned the county used voting machines made by Election Systems & Software and monitored poll drop containers with a safety digicam. But Crawford County doesn’t use ES&S voting machines and doesn’t have drop containers, Chatfield mentioned.

There is, nevertheless, an election official named Sue Milliard in Pennsylvania’s Elk County, about 100 miles to the east. She does not recall speaking to the group, mentioned her supervisor, Kimberly Frey.

In Pennsylvania’s Northumberland County, Reuters requested two officers to overview the group’s printed survey. They discovered errors in 9 of their responses to 33 questions. “You try to be transparent and open so that you can bring faith back to the process,” mentioned the county’s chief clerk, Nathan Savidge. “But sometimes that turns around and bites you because then they use something against you.”

In Lycoming, additionally in Pennsylvania, elections director Forrest Lehman mentioned the surveyors by no means disclosed their America Project backing. Had he identified, Lehman mentioned he would have been extra guarded in his solutions due to uncertainty over the group’s agenda.

The surveyors additionally made errors in its printed report of Lehman’s solutions. It mentioned, for instance, {that a} sheriff monitored video of the county’s drop field. No sheriff does this, Lehman defined, for a easy motive: “We don’t have any drop boxes.”

(Reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall, Peter Eisler and Jason Szep; modifying by Brian Thevenot)


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