At a public meeting last week in Cheboygan County, Mich., a lawyer from Detroit told county commissioners that the voting machines they used in 2020 could “flip” votes and throw an election. She offered to send in a “forensic team,” at no charge to the county, to inspect ballots and scanners.
In Windham, N.H., supporters of former president Donald Trump showed up to a town meeting this month chanting "Stop the Steal!" and demanding that officials choose their preferred auditor to scrutinize a 400-vote discrepancy in a state representative race.
And at a board of supervisors meeting May 4 in San Luis Obispo County, on California’s Central Coast, scores of residents questioned whether election machines had properly counted their votes, with many demanding a "forensic audit."
The ramifications of Trump’s ceaseless attacks on the 2020 election are increasingly visible throughout the country: In emails, phone calls, and public meetings, his supporters are questioning how their elections are administered and pressing public officials to revisit the vote count — wrongly insisting that Trump won the presidential race.
The most prominent example is playing out in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where Republican state lawmakers have forced a widely pilloried audit of the 2020 vote. That recount is being touted as an inspiration by small but vocal cohorts of angry residents in communities in multiple states.
"I think there is clearly a justification to do that type of audit that they’re doing in Maricopa County. That’s what I wanted to see done here," said Ken Eyring, a local activist in Windham who recently appeared at a rally with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Eyring said his only goal is to make sure Windham’s machines are accurate.
Behind the scenes, a loose network of lawyers, self-styled election experts, and political groups is bolstering community efforts by demanding audits, filing lawsuits, and pushing unsubstantiated claims that residents are echoing in public meetings. Much of it is playing out in largely Republican communities, where Trump supporters hope to find officials willing to support their inquiries.
The increasingly vocal protests seven months after Trump lost the White House show how deeply the former president has undermined confidence in the nation’s elections, an attack he began early in the 2020 campaign as state and local officials expanded mail voting in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even as national Republican leaders say they want to move on from the last election — a rationale they used to expel Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, a Trump critic, from her leadership post last week — the widespread echoes of Trump’s lie that the election was stolen show how his supporters are keeping that narrative alive.
Cheering them on is Trump himself, who has been issuing near-daily statements from his private Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, claiming that a cascade of findings that the election was rigged will appear any day.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if they found thousands and thousands and thousands of votes," Trump recently told a crowd attending a party at Mar-a-Lago, according to a video posted online by an attendee. "So we’re going to watch that very closely. And after that, you’ll watch Pennsylvania and you’ll watch Georgia and you’re going to watch Michigan and Wisconsin. You’re watching New Hampshire. Because this was a rigged election. Everybody knows it."
So far, other than in Maricopa County, no major post-election audits are underway. But the clamor for them by Trump supporters has renewed pressure on beleaguered local officials — and led many to fear these fights will be a permanent feature of future elections.
"This will continue on for years," said Gerrid Uzarski, the elections director in Kent County, Mich., whose office has been inundated with angry phone calls from residents accusing his office of allowing fraud to taint the 2020 results. "I’ve left my office in fear a little bit, had to look around and make sure no one was near me, because of the nature of the phone calls. They are so angry, they just come at you, very hateful, not looking for answers but hating you, like you are the problem."
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday that the push for audits in her state and across the country is nothing short of an assault on democracy.
"It’s a continuation of the same forces that sought to overturn the 2020 election, undermine the counting process, and interfere on Jan. 6 with the electoral college certification," she said. "These forces have now turned to local outreach. And because there has not yet been any real accountability for these bad actors trying to undermine our democracy, we are going to continue to see this activity, particularly in swing states, through 2024."
Election officials said the possibility of more audits also raises concerns about the security of their equipment in future elections if they are turned over to private companies without federal accreditation, as has happened in Arizona.
This week, officials in Maricopa County had had enough: In a public meeting and follow-up letter, the Republican-majority board of supervisors decried the ongoing audit as a "sham" and a "spectacle that is harming all of us." At the meeting, the board chairman, Republican Jack Sellers, called the recount — for which Trump supporters are raising money — a "grift disguised as an audit."
Election observers have sharply criticized Cyber Ninjas, the private company hired by the GOP-led state Senate, saying that its methods are haphazard and that it has failed to take basic security steps. The company’s chief executive has echoed baseless claims that fraud tainted the 2020 vote, and he has ties to Trump-allied lawyers who filed suits challenging the election results last year.
"The result is that the Arizona Senate is held up to ridicule in every corner of the globe and our democracy is imperiled," county officials wrote.
Undaunted, state Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, said Tuesday that the audit would move forward.
Now, similar endeavors are emerging in other communities.