Proponents of the “Big Lie” Continue Push for Illegal Access to Voting Machines

While the Janu­ary 6 commit­tee has rightly focused on the crim­inal conspir­acy to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion, it is crit­ical to remem­ber that this threat is ongo­ing, and many of the people implic­ated continue to work to under­mine future elec­tions. One of the most troub­ling connec­tions can be found in the persist­ent effort to illeg­ally access elec­tion systems that could be used in 2022 and 2024. Increased secur­ity fund­ing is needed to protect upcom­ing elec­tions, espe­cially from insider threats.

Among others, wealthy Repub­lican busi­ness­men like Mike Lindell, founder and CEO of MyPil­low Inc., and Patrick Byrne, former CEO of Over­stock.com, have been active in the effort to over­turn the 2020 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion and are also support­ing those work­ing to gain unau­thor­ized access to elec­tion systems. While the attempts to access these systems are most imme­di­ately a concern because false claims about them have been used to spread disin­form­a­tion about the 2020 race, the efforts also pose a secur­ity risk to future elec­tions.

Secur­ity experts have long warned that giving mali­cious actors direct access to elec­tion system hard­ware is partic­u­larly danger­ous and could risk the integ­rity of elec­tions. That’s why after improp­erly accessed voting equip­ment was discovered in three states — Color­ado, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — offi­cials either seized or decer­ti­fied the equip­ment so that it could not be used in future elec­tions. When such activ­ity was recently discovered in a fourth state — Geor­gia — the secret­ary of state announced an invest­ig­a­tion and said he had already replaced key elec­tion soft­ware used in the relev­ant county.

Who is behind the effort to gain this unau­thor­ized access? In many cases, the very same people involved in the effort to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion. Perhaps most prom­in­ently, Lindell, who has been a voci­fer­ous advoc­ate for over­turn­ing the 2020 elec­tion, is also closely connec­ted to many of the people who have accessed county voting systems around the coun­try. Earlier this year, Politico repor­ted that the Janu­ary 6 commit­tee subpoenaed his phone records. He was seen at the White House after the Janu­ary 6 attack with a paper with the words “Insur­rec­tion Act” and “martial law if neces­sary” on it.

He is also linked with key play­ers seek­ing to access voting machines in Color­ado and else­where. Last August, Color­ado state offi­cials announced that a local county clerk allowed an unau­thor­ized indi­vidual into a secure facil­ity, which enabled that person to copy the hard drives of the voting equip­ment and share copies publicly. At the time the state announced it had discovered the intru­sion, the clerk, Tina Peters, was at a “cyber symposium” hosted by Lindell. Peters has since been indicted for her actions. The state decer­ti­fied all systems that were accessed and ordered the county to replace them.

Lindell has provided finan­cial back­ing to groups and indi­vidu­als involved in similar efforts around the coun­try. In partic­u­lar, he hired four top members of a group called U.S. Elec­tion Integ­rity Plan, co-foun­ded by Shawn Smith, an elec­tion denier. The group received Lindell’s support about three months after Smith advised the Elbert County, Color­ado, clerk’s effort to copy and leak his county’s voting system data.

Lindell told Reuters he has spent about $30 million and hired up to 70 people, includ­ing lawyers and “cyber people,” partly in support of Cause of Amer­ica, an “elec­tion integ­rity” group also asso­ci­ated with Smith. Accord­ing to Color­ado News­line, Smith himself “appears in a video from the Jan. 6 insur­rec­tion among a viol­ent group of rioters engaged in a clash with police outside the U.S. Capitol.”

Patrick Byrne is another prom­in­ent figure caught up in the Janu­ary 6 commit­tee invest­ig­a­tion who has also been connec­ted to those seek­ing to access voting equip­ment. The commit­tee obtained a Decem­ber 2020 memo sent by Byrne, Lindell, and attor­ney Sidney Powell to a group of Repub­lican senat­ors that called on Pres­id­ent Trump to use the National Secur­ity Agency and Defense Depart­ment in an attempt to show that foreign powers had inter­vened in the 2020 elec­tion.

Byrne has “funded inde­pend­ent efforts to send teams of ‘hack­ers and cyber­sleuths’ to access voting computer systems across the coun­try,” accord­ing to the Daily Beast. He is connec­ted to another instance of unau­thor­ized access to elec­tion systems, this one in Geor­gia. The secur­ity breach appar­ently involves Scott Hall, a Geor­gia busi­ness­man and elec­tion denier whom Byrne has described as a “node in the network” of people invest­ig­at­ing the 2020 elec­tion.

Hall’s alleged efforts became known as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Coali­tion for Good Governance that chal­lenges the use of Geor­gi­a’s voting machines. In a court docu­ment related to the suit, the group’s exec­ut­ive director submit­ted evid­ence from a recor­ded phone call with a man who iden­ti­fies himself as Hall and states that he accom­pan­ied a group of people who “imaged every hard drive and every piece of equip­ment” in the county. Misty Hamp­ton, the county elec­tions super­visor at the time, has acknow­ledged that she provided access to county elec­tion systems.

In court filings, the Geor­gia secret­ary of state’s office has stated that it is in the midst of an invest­ig­a­tion into what occurred in Coffee County and that it replaced the county’s elec­tion manage­ment system in June 2021.

The good news in the story of elec­tion sabot­age activ­ists seek­ing access to elec­tion equip­ment is that they appear to have had very limited success in recruit­ing sympath­etic elec­tion offi­cials to support their cause. That could certainly change going forward as these same activ­ists seek to fill posi­tions that would put them in charge of running 2024 elec­tions — or support candid­ates who would do so.

This increased risk of both external and insider threats is why it’s so import­ant we take steps now to protect future elec­tions. That includes paying for and imple­ment­ing meas­ures to protect against unau­thor­ized access to crit­ical elec­tion systems.