Billionaire-Backed Group Enlists Trump Supporters to Hunt for Voter Fraud

At a wedding hall in rural northwest Wisconsin, an evangelist hollered a question to an eager crowd of conferencegoers: “Who thinks Wisconsin can be saved?”

He was answered by enthusiastic cheers and whistles. He said that the truth would be revealed. “We need transparency!”

The subject: the nation’s election systems. The preacher was among a group of conservative speakers, including politicians, data gurus and former military officers, who theorized on the mechanics of voter fraud in general — and specifically distrust in the voter rolls, the official lists of eligible voters.

“Voter rolls are very, very important to the process,” Florida software and database engineer Jeff O’Donnell told the gathering of 300 in late January in Chippewa Falls, deeming the rolls “the ground zero” of what he called Democratic plots to steal elections. The only way former President Donald Trump could have lost his reelection campaign in 2020, O’Donnell said in an interview, was if voter rolls had been inflated with people who shouldn’t have been able to cast ballots.

Since Trump failed to convince the entire world that he lost 2020 due to fraud, likeminded people across the country have taken up this rallying cry, revisiting the vote with an eye to what will happen in 2022.

A new group is now playing a larger role in the world of election irregularities. They provide easy-to-use tools for people in Wisconsin and other Midwest battleground states, as well as for the entire country.

The Voter Reference Foundation calls its work unique and is currently analysing state voter rolls to find discrepancies in the number of ballots cast versus the number of voters credited with participating in the Nov. 3,2020 election.

The foundation, which was founded less than one year ago by a former Trump campaign official, has rejected objections from election officials that its methodology may be flawed and its actions may not be legal. ProPublica found. VoteRef has, as it is called, increased the volume of the echo chamber with its inquisitions and insinuations.

Its instrument, the voter rolls, is available for all to view, line by line.

The foundation published the names, birthdates, and voting histories of 2 million Nevada voters on its website in August. This information is normally public, but only available to those who pay a fee. It claimed to have found a significant discrepancy between the number of voters and the number of ballots cast, despite being warned by state election officials that its findings were “fundamentally incorrect.”

VoteRef has reported similar discrepancies on rolls for 18 states in the months since. This includes the 2020 election battlegrounds of Michigan (Georgia), Ohio, Ohio, and Wisconsin. It recently added Texas. It intends to post the rolls of all 50 states by year’s end.

“Voter File Transparency site adds Michigan; large discrepancy found,” read a headline on a Dec. 6 press release put out by the organization, which is led by Gina Swoboda, a high-ranking officer of the Republican Party of Arizona.

The project is still very infancy. VoteRef was not mentioned by the Chippewa Falls attendees.

VoteRef is a good example of how influential and well-funded Republicans across America plan to encourage crowdsourcing voter rolls to identify errors and anomalies and then challenge voter registrations of individuals. The VoteRef website allows users to browse data on more than 106,000,000 people in an easy-to-use format. VoteRef data includes personal information about every voter as well as the years they voted. However, it does not include how they voted.

VoteRef’s methods have already led to pushback from state officials. The New Mexico Secretary Of State believes that posting voter data online is not permitted under state law. He has referred the matter for criminal investigation to the state attorney general.

In January, a Pennsylvania Department of State attorney notified VoteRef that state law prohibited the publication of voter rolls online and requested that the data be deleted. VoteRef accepted.

ProPublicaWe reached out to the election officials of twelve states where VoteRef examined voter rolls. Each time we spoke with them, they stated that the methodology used for identifying discrepancies was flawed or that the data was incomplete or incorrect. The officials were a mixture of Republicans and Democrats. They were located in Colorado and Connecticut, Georgia and Michigan.

“The accuracy and integrity of Michigan’s election has been confirmed by hundreds of audits, numerous courts and a GOP-led Oversight Committee analysis,” said Tracy Wimmer, director of media relations for Michigan’s secretary of state.

“This is simply another meritless example of election misinformation being disseminated to undermine well-founded faith in Michigan’s election system, and from an organization led by at least one former member of the Trump campaign,” Wimmer said.

VoteRef, records show, is an initiative of the conservative nonprofit group Restoration Action and its related political action committee, both led by Doug Truax, an Illinois insurance broker and podcaster who ran unsuccessfully in the state’s GOP primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

A ProPublica review found that VoteRef’s origins and funders are closely linked to a super PAC predominantly funded by billionaire Richard Uihlein, founder of the mammoth Wisconsin-based packaging supply company Uline. Uihlein, a descendant of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company founders, is a strong Trump supporter and key player in Wisconsin politics and Illinois politics. His political donations include $800,000.00 in September 2020 to Tea Party Patriots’ political action committee. This group was responsible for organizing the Jan. 6 rally which led to the Capitol Insurrection.

Uihlein and Elizabeth Uihlein have contributed more than $30 million to Republican candidates at the state and local levels, especially in Illinois and Wisconsin. This is according to OpenSecrets which is a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign donors information. The total includes money that was given to candidates’ advocacy groups as well as direct donations.

Voter rolls can be used to target messages, identify potential supporters, and persuade people into voting. Sometimes, the rolls are used by journalists or businesses for newsgathering or other commercial purposes.

VoteRef stated that its goal is to increase transparency in elections. This echos the language used to justify door to door address checks, meticulous ballot audits, and other efforts that Trump supporters continue to use to interpret the 2020 election. To make public the results of its analysis, VoteRef created press releases. These press releases were then reprinted on sites that claim to be legitimate news outlets but were connected to a media group that received large amounts from VoteRef.

“VoteRef is the beginning of a new era of American election transparency,” Swoboda, VoteRef’s executive director, said in its Nevada press release. “We have an absolute right to see everything behind the curtain.”

Until a few months before the 2020 election, Swoboda, a resident of Scottsdale, a Phoenix suburb, was a professional in Arizona’s election system, working as the campaign finance and lobbying supervisor in the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Swoboda then served as Election Day operations director for the Trump campaign in Arizona, according to a sworn court affidavit she gave in Arizona in November 2020 as part of Trump’s legal challenge to election results there. She described how she took complaints from people who thought poll workers allowed defective ballots to be submitted, in what later became known as “SharpieGate.” (Votes made with a Sharpie do countThe state said that.

She and others associated to VoteRef declined to interview for this story. But Swoboda did respond via email.

“In each of the states we’ve researched to date, the election data math simply doesn’t add up,” she wrote. “That requires reform. We seek to spur this reform through the sustained spotlighting of inaccuracies or wrongdoing.”

Flawed Methodology

VoteRef reported that there were 431,173 additional ballots cast as of February 31st than the number of people who are credited by voter lists with having participated at the 2020 election.

To those unschooled in the mechanics of elections, VoteRef’s approach could seem reasonable: Compare the total number of ballots cast in the Nov. 3, 2020 election with the number of current voters on the rolls who have recorded histories of having participated in the vote.

Based on history data in February 2021, the VoteRef table shows that Nevada has 8,952 more ballots than individuals credited to voting.

“Theoretically, these numbers should match,” VoteRef claimed in an August press release.

There are valid reasons that the numbers don’t match.

Nevada election officials explained it this way in a press release: “If ‘John Doe’ votes and has his ballot counted in Lander County, then moves to Mineral County, once he is registered in Mineral County, he will show no vote history because he has no vote history in Mineral County. The farther away from the election the data is acquired, the more it will have changed.”

In Connecticut, there were 1,839,714 ballots cast in 2020, according to VoteRef, but the group’s examination of voter histories in October, 2021, showed 1,802,458 people voting. VoteRef’s conclusion is that there was a discrepancy of 37,256 ballots.

But state election officials said that the registration database is “live,” and voting histories of those who moved out of state or died in the months after the election would have been removed from the rolls, accounting for the discrepancy.

“The list is not a static list,” said Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill. “It changes all the time.”

In Michigan, where VoteRef found a difference of more than 74,000 votes, an elections official said that state’s qualified voter file also constantly changes as it’s updated, making the data the foundation relied on in late May 2021 — more than six months after the election — out of date.

In a recent email ProPublicaSwoboda agreed to this.

“It’s up to election officials who run election offices to reconcile their data, not the Voter Reference Foundation, which merely publishes their information in a consumer-friendly format,” she said. “Of course, our election experts are well aware of the time lag between certification and data pulls — we posted the documents online for all to see!”

Federal lawWhile the law requires election supervisors to make reasonable efforts in updating voter lists, it allows states some flexibility in how they do so. Administrators cannot remove voters for simply not voting in multiple elections unless notices go unanswered, and officials wait until two federal election cycles to put the voters on an active list.

Counties haven’t always done a good job, however, in maintaining the voter rolls, leading some people to distrust the system. One of VoteRef’s key aims is to task ordinary people with the chore of finding anomalies.

Analyzing Voter Rolls & Neighbors

In announcing the launch of its website, the Voter Reference Foundation touted it as a “first of its kind” searchable tool for all 50 states “that will finally give American citizens a way to examine crucial voting records.”

“Citizens will be able to check their voting status, voting history, and those of their neighbors, friends and others. They will be able to ‘crowd-source’ any errors,” the press release stated.

The group’s backers have encouraged scrutiny outside of one’s own household.

“With you can find out who voted and who didn’t. Did your aunt who died 10 years ago ‘vote’ after she died? Did your ‘neighbor’ who moved to another state vote? Did 55 votes emerge from a five-unit apartment complex?” Jeffrey Carter, a partner in a venture capital group who earlier had appeared on Truax’s podcast, wrote on the newsletter site SubstackDecember

Matt Batzel, whose organization American Majority recently highlighted VoteRef’s efforts in Wisconsin, said in an interview with ProPublica that VoteRef’s vision is for citizens to detect and then report potential problems with the voter rolls, such as people who are registered to vote at vacant lots or unusually high numbers of votes coming from nursing homes.

Election experts say the type of work being done by VoteRef risks leading to further misinformation or being weaponized by people trying to undermine the legitimacy of the past election or give the sense that voter fraud is a more encompassing problem than it’s proven to be. It could also be used to harass and intimidate valid voters in the name of challenging their legitimacy.

Even though there isn’t any evidence of fraud during the 2020 elections, the vast, decentralized system for voting still draws scrutiny from those who believe the system can easily be manipulated. At the daylong voter integrity conference in Chippewa Falls, speakers invoked war imagery, spoke of coverups, and urged people to “expose the tactics” of the political left. The group — saluted via video by Trump acolyte and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — is seeking to put like-minded individuals in vote-certifying secretary of state offices nationwide.

The voter rolls have been targeted, too, by others in Wisconsin, including special counsel Michael J. Gableman, a former state Supreme Court justice and Trump supporter who the state’s Republican Assembly speaker appointed in June to conduct a review of Wisconsin’s administration of the 2020 election. Gableman was released on March 1. a report blasting what he called “opaque, confusing, and often botched election processes.”

Gableman asked the Legislature to look into legal options to allow citizens or civil rights groups to maintain election databases.

“As it stands, there is no clear method for individuals with facial evidence of inaccurate voter rolls to enter state court and seek to fix that problem,” he wrote. He envisioned a system that “could even provide nominal rewards for successful voter roll challenges.”

Although information about voters is readily available in most states, it comes with a cost and restrictions on how it can best be distributed. This is to ensure that no private information is made easily accessible.

In January, an official with the Pennsylvania Department of State wrote to Truax warning that it appeared that the Voter Reference Foundation had “unlawfully posted Pennsylvania-voter information on its website” and demanding that the organization “take immediate action” to remove the information.

Soon, Pennsylvania data was deleted from the website. Swoboda declined to answer any questions. Truax was not reached.

Secretary Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s Secretary of State, stated that the undertaking was not allowed to use voter data. She stated that the rolls cannot be used for political or governmental purposes under state law.

“Having voter registration data ‘blasted out across the internet’ violates state law limiting use of the voter rolls solely for campaign or government activities,” she said. In December, Toulouse Oliver’s office referred the matter to the state attorney general for investigation and possible prosecution.

These privacy concerns are dismissed by Associates of the Voter Refer Foundation

“You are joking, right?” said Bill Wilson, chairman of the conservative-leaning Market Research Foundation of Fairfax, VirginiaThe state of Virginia paid over $11,000 for voter roll data in March 2021. It shared the data with the Voter Reference Foundation.

“Big tech, both political parties and big media have no interest or concern for privacy and have mountains of data on individuals that is shared and sold on an hourly basis. You called me at my home, after all.’’

Support in GOP Circles

Restoration Action/PAC describes itself on its website as an “effective dynamo against those trying to destroy our country.” It produces ads on behalf of state and national candidates, castigates Planned Parenthood, “biased liberal media” and “Big Tech” and advocates for fair elections.

Truax, the group’s head, frequently assumes the role of news anchor to host the First Right video podcast, interviewing far-right conservatives. In early June last year, he introduced his audience to VoteRef, telling them: “We helped create the organization, and we’ll have much more to say about it in the coming weeks.”

Richard Uihlein’s quiet role was essential. He’s been the primary funder of Restoration PAC since its inception in 2015, contributing at least $44 million, according to the data from OpenSecrets. Federal Election Commission records show that Uihlein donated $1.5million in May 2021 to Restoration PAC. The Voter Reference Fund was also formed in Ohio that month.

Two weeks after Uihlein’s donation money started flowing from Restoration PAC towards a media network that did some data acquisition and analysis for VoteRef. These payments totalled more $955,000 at the end 2021, according to the FEC records.

According to records of a Texas state corporation, Bradley Cameron is the network’s operator. Brian TimponePipeline Media lists him as a manager. He was the face of Pipeline Media 10 years ago, when his firm, Journatic at the time, made headlines. came under fireTo outsource hyperlocal news offshore using fake bylines

VoteRef released press releases in recent months about its activities. These have been transformed into stories on sites owned and managed by Metric Media, Cameron’s company. his online profile. These sites look like legitimate news outlets, but they don’t print press releases and shun bylines. They rely on automated data and rely heavily on automated data. “New website to publish which Arlington residents voted, did not vote in gubernatorial election,” read an Oct. 28 headline in the Central Nova NewsMetric Media site in Virginia.

Uihlein did NOT respond to emails or calls. ProPublicaWe are seeking comment. Cameron and Timpone did not respond to messages requesting an interview.

VoteRef’s efforts have been promoted by politicians with Trump connections.

One of them is Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia Attorney General and an immigration hard-liner who was appointed by Trump as acting head U.S. Immigration Services. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Cuccinelli heads the Election Transparency Initiative (a Virginia organization opposed easing registration requirements or expanding early voting). The initiative, a project of the conservative group Susan B. Anthony List, says it partners with The Heritage Foundation’s political arm.

Cuccinelli spoke September to around 100 party loyalists at an event at a Milwaukee hotel about how they can use the VoteRef tools, and how they can get involved in securing the election process.

Similar to this, J. Hogan Gidley (ex-national press secretary for the 2020 Trump campaign) promoted VoteRef’s work on Philadelphia conservative talk radio prior to Christmas.

“We’re doing some work with them, too. We know the folks over there really well,” said Gidley, who is now with the America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit packed with Trump administration alums.

Truax invited Swoboda to his podcast last summer. They discussed the Arizona ballot audit and briefly mentioned her work with Voter Reference Foundation.

“It always feels like to me that the states, in general, have gotten a little sloppy in different areas and just you know nobody’s really paying a lot of attention to it,” Truax said.

He added: “Now I think as conservatives we’re in a place we really got to pay a lot more attention. There’s a lot of energy now on this.”