Category Archives: election administration

My New Draft Paper: “Identifying and Minimizing the Risk of Election Subversion and Stolen Elections in the Contemporary United States”

I have written this new academic draft, in connection with the virtual Election Subversion conference that we are holding at UCI Law’s Fair Elections and Free Speech Center, this Friday, September 24. Here is the paper’s abstract:

The United States faces a serious risk that the 2024 presidential election, and other future U.S. elections, will not be conducted fairly, and that the candidates taking office will not reflect the free choices made by eligible voters under previously announced election rules. The potential mechanisms by which election losers may be declared election winners are: usurpation of voter choices for President by state legislatures purporting to exercise constitutional authority to do so, possibly blessed by a partisan-divided Supreme Court and acquiesced to by Republicans in Congress; fraudulent or suppressive election administration or vote counting by law- or norm-breaking election officials; and violent or disruptive private action that prevents voting, interferes with the counting of votes, or interrupts the assumption of power by the actual winning candidate.

Until recently, it would have been absurd to raise the possibility of such election subversion or a stolen election in the United States. Few cases have emerged in at least the last 50 years in the United States of actual election subversion by election officials, leading to an election loser being declared the election winner, despite other unique pathologies of American election administration.

Ironically, the conduct of former President Donald J. Trump in repeatedly and falsely claiming that the 2020 election was stolen has markedly raised the potential for an actual stolen election in the United States. Millions of Trump’s Republican supporters now believe the false claim of a stolen election, and some Republican elected officials have pursued bogus sham “audits” and taken other steps that undermine voter confidence in the fairness of the election process. Threats of violence and intimidation have led to unprecedented attrition among election administrators, and some exiting officials are being replaced by those who may not have allegiance to the integrity of the election system. Those Republican election officials who stood up to Trump in 2020 and saved the United States from a potential constitutional and political crisis have been censured, stripped of power, and challenged for office by those embracing the “Big Lie.” Together, these actions serve both to delegitimate the election of Democrats including President Joe Biden in 2020 and to open the door to election manipulation in future elections. Elected officials, election officials, and others believing or purporting to believe the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen may seek to justify subverting future election results in response to earlier purported fraud.

The solutions to these problems are both legal and political. Legal changes should include: (1) paper ballot, chain-of-custody, and transparency requirements, including risk-limiting audits of election results; (2) rules limiting the discretion of those who certify the votes, including Congress through reform of the Electoral Count Act; (3) rules limiting the over-politicization of election administration, especially by state legislatures; (4) increased criminal penalties imposed on those who tamper with federal elections or commit violence or intimidation of voters, elected officials, or elected candidates; and (5) rules countering disinformation about elections, particularly disinformation about when, where, and how people vote. In addition, it will be necessary to organize for political action to reenforce rule-of-law norms in elections. This means advocating for laws that deter election subversion and against laws making stolen elections easier; politically opposing would-be election administrators who embrace false claims about stolen elections; and preparing for mass, peaceful protests in the event of attempts to subvert fair election outcomes.

Part I of this Essay describes the path to this unexpected moment of democratic peril in the United States. Part II explains the five potential mechanisms by which American elections may be subverted in the future. Part III recommends steps that can and should be taken to minimize this risk. Preserving and protecting American democracy from the risk of election subversion should be at the top of everyone’s agenda. The time to act is now, before American democracy disappears.

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“Harassed and Harangued, Poll Workers Now Have a New Form of Defense”

Michael Wines for the NYT:

It is perhaps a metaphor for the times that even the volunteer who checked you into the polls in November now has a legal defense committee.

The Election Official Legal Defense Network, which made its public debut on Sept. 7, offers to represent more than just poll workers, of course. Formed to counter the waves of political pressure and public bullying that election workers have faced in the last year, the organization pledges free legal services to anyone involved in the voting process, from secretaries of state to local election officials and volunteers.

The group already has received inquiries from several election officials, said David J. Becker, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, which oversees the project. Without getting into details, Mr. Becker said their queries were “related to issues like harassment and intimidation.”

The network is the creation of two powerhouses in Republican and Democratic legal circles, Benjamin L. Ginsberg and Bob Bauer. In a Washington Post opinion piece this month, the two — Mr. Ginsberg was a premier G.O.P. lawyer for 38 years and Mr. Bauer was both a Democratic Party lawyer and White House counsel in the Obama administration — wrote that such attacks on people “overseeing the counting and casting of ballots on an independent, nonpartisan basis are destructive to our democracy.”

“If such attacks go unaddressed, our system of self-governance will suffer long-term damage,” they said.

Mr. Ginsberg, who has broken with his party and become a scathing critic of former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims the 2020 election was stolen from him, and Mr. Bauer are themselves election experts. The two men together chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration established by former President Barack Obama in 2013, which called — with limited success — for modernizing election procedures and equipment to make voting easier and more secure.

In an interview, Mr. Bauer said he and Mr. Ginsberg were recruiting lawyers for the Legal Defense Network, hoping to build out an organization “so in any state where this happens, we’re in a position to provide election officials who are under siege with legal support.” Dozens already have signed on to the effort, with many more anticipated to join them soon, Mr. Becker said.

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“Election Officials on Radar of Rich Donors, Thanks to Trump”

Bloomberg:

The once-obscure state-level job of overseeing elections has emerged as a prime target for wealthy donors and national organizers from both parties seeking an edge in the 2022 midterms that could shift control of Congress away from Democrats.

Republicans are backing secretary of state contenders who echo Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through voter fraud, with donors including Richard Uihlen. 

Democrats have also seen an exponential increase in the amount of money they’re raising for the role, which is often sought as a stepping stone to higher statewide office.

Secretaries of state, the officials who control voter registration, ballot counting and election equipment in many states, including some key presidential battlegrounds, were thrust into the center of Trump’s campaign to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory last November. Trump accused some of them of allowing cheating, particularly Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger, who took his dispute with Trump public.

The heavy political focus on what is designed as a bureaucratic job administering elections could undermine the credibility of the electoral system, said Martha Kropf, a professor of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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More Disputes Over Fulton County, GA Election Administration and a Possible State Takeover

AJC’s The Jolt:

The Fulton County Commission could tap former Atlanta City Council president Cathy Woolard as the next chairwoman of the troubled elections board. And Republicans are up in arms. 

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued some of the most forceful comments, saying he’d seek to remove the entire county’s election board under the new elections law that narrowly passed the Legislature. 

He and other critics noted that she has lobbied for Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams after her election defeat. 

“Appointing such a blatantly partisan and conflicted individual, who is literally on Stacey Abrams’s payroll, will do incredible damage to the already terrible reputation Fulton has for running elections,” said Raffensperger in a statement. 

While Woolard hasn’t commented, her allies have defended the potential appointment. 

State Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, mocked Raffensperger for arguing she’s conflicted because of her lobbying work by drawing a line between Brian Kemp’s refusal to step down as secretary of state during his run for governor. 

“How does that compare to Kemp overseeing his own election in 2018, my dude??” he tweeted.

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“California has a secure voting system — but more transparency wouldn’t hurt. Here’s why”

Kim Alexander and Mike Alvarez oped in the SacBee:

In light of the alarming and unsubstantiated claims that have been made, California’s Secretary of State and local election officials need to be transparent about how we verify election results, and should work to raise awareness of the state’s long-standing election verification laws and security procedures. They also need to improve how the results of post-election audits are reported to the public.

California’s elections are complex and can be confusing for people to understand. That doesn’t mean our state’s election process is insecure. But it does mean that election officials need to continue to be transparent about how our state’s elections work.

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Bauer and Ginsberg: “Election officials need our legal help against repressive laws and personal threats”

WaPo oped:

Election officials are coming under unprecedented attack for doing their jobs. Some states are attempting to criminalize the exercise of these officials’ trained professional judgments; some officials have been the target of threats to themselves and their families. Any American — whether Republican, Democrat or independent — must know that systematic efforts to undermine the ability of those overseeing the counting and casting of ballots on an independent, nonpartisan basis are destructive to our democracy.

The two of us have been partisan opponents in the past, representing opposing political parties to the best of our abilities. But at this moment in time, we share a grave concern about attacks on those public servants who successfully oversaw what was arguably the most secure and transparent election in our country’s history, with record turnout, during a global pandemic. If such attacks go unaddressed, our system of self-governance will suffer long-term damage.

So, in partnership with the nonprofit and nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, we are launching the Election Official Legal Defense Network (EOLDN), which will connect licensed, qualified, pro bono attorneys with election administrators who need advice or assistance. State and local election workers anywhere in the country can go to EOLDN.org, or call the toll-free number (877) 313-5210, at any time, 24/7, to request to be connected with a lawyer who can help them, at no cost.

This service will be available regardless of the officials’ political affiliation or where they work — that is, whether they are in a blue or red state or county. We already have lawyers committed to provide this volunteer support, and we are recruiting more. As co-chairs, we will be supported by a bipartisan advisory board of experienced state and local election officials of both parties, from across the nation. The response from these officials has been extraordinary and gratifying.

When we co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2013-2014, we saw how essential it is for election officials to have the space, resources and respect to perform their critical jobs. We both came away extremely impressed with their dedication and performance.

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“Special Report: Terrorized U.S. election workers get little help from law enforcement”

Reuters:

The case illustrates the glaring gaps in the protection that U.S. law enforcement provides the administrators of American democracy amid a sustained campaign of intimidation against election officials and staff. The unprecedented torrent of terroristic threats began in the weeks before the November election, as Trump was predicting widespread voter fraud, and continues today as the former president carries on with false claims that he was cheated out of victory.

In an investigation that identified hundreds of incidents of intimidation and harassment of election workers and officials nationwide, Reuters found only a handful of arrests.

Local police agencies said in interviews that they have struggled to identify suspects who conceal their identities and to determine which threats are credible enough to prosecute. The U.S. Justice Department has acknowledged that law enforcement has not responded well to the surge in threats to election officials.Report ad

“The response has been inadequate,” John Keller, a senior attorney in the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, told a meeting of secretaries of state in Iowa on Aug. 14. Keller heads a task force created in July to investigate threats of violence to election workers and to coordinate with local and state authorities that receive most initial reports of intimidation.

After this story was published, Justice Department spokesman Joshua Stueve issued a statement to Reuters about the wave of threats. “The Justice Department is committed to aggressively addressing threats of violence directed toward state and local election workers and will work tirelessly with our federal, state, and local partners to strengthen our collective efforts to combat this recent and entirely unacceptable phenomenon,” Stueve wrote.

The Reuters investigation revealed a breakdown in coordination and accountability among various levels of law enforcement. Some election officials fumed that police investigators or federal agents didn’t appear to take the threats seriously and that it was unclear which agency, if any, was investigating. Some said they never heard from investigators again after reporting threats of violence. When pressed about the status of some cases, several police officials said they had no involvement and pointed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Federal officials, by contrast, bemoaned a lack of information-sharing by local authorities.

Through public records and interviews, Reuters documented 102 threats of death or violence received by more than 40 election officials, workers and their relatives in eight of the most contested battleground states in the 2020 presidential contest. Each was explicit enough to put a reasonable person in fear of bodily harm or death, the typical legal threshold for prosecution.

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“Civil Rights Organizations and an Election Official File Challenge to Texas Anti-Voter Legislation”

Release:

A voting bill that will make it harder for Texans, particularly voters of color, to cast their ballots is unconstitutional and violates federal voting rights law because it diminishes access to the ballot box, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, and the law firms of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in​ New York and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Dallas filed a challenge in U.S. District Court in San Antonio to Senate Bill 1. The lawsuit – filed on behalf of 10 membership and community-based organizations, an election official, an election judge, and voters – claims that S.B. 1’s provisions violate the federal Voting Rights Act, the Supremacy Clause, and the First, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Texas House and Senate passed the bill Tuesday….

Among the S.B. 1 provisions that could make it harder for voters to cast a ballot are restrictions that limit the assistance that individuals can provide to voters who require help.

S.B. 1 will also make it harder for election workers to maintain safety and security in the polling place. The legislation will curtail election workers’ authority to remove partisan poll watchers who are harassing voters and S.B. 1 may subject election workers to prosecution if they try to limit poll watchers’ behavior.

Under S.B. 1, employees of nonprofit organizations who help people vote by mail will risk felony charges and up to two years in jail, which creates a barrier for elderly voters and voters with disabilities. For example, the legislation will make it a crime to pay someone for providing such assistance to voters or for offering, receiving, or soliciting such payment. These provisions will also restrict civic engagement activities by community-based organizations. Further, S.B. 1 will roll back voting initiatives that increased access to the ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as drive-thru voting and expanded early voting hours….

In addition, S.B. 1 will limit the ability of election officials to do their job. For example, the complaint argues that Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria’s First Amendment speech would be restricted under the bill’s anti-solicitation provision, which makes it a crime for her to encourage individuals who are eligible or may be eligible to apply to vote by mail.

The complaint and more information about the lawsuit can be found here.

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“Experts call for rigorous audit to protect California recall”

AP:

A group of election security experts on Thursday called for a rigorous audit of the upcoming recall election for California’s governor after copies of systems used to run elections across the country were released publicly.

Their letter sent to the secretary of state’s office urges the state to conduct a type of post-election audit that can help detect malicious attempts to interfere.

The statewide recall targeting Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, set for Sept. 14, is the first election since copies of Dominion Voting Systems’ election management system were distributed last month at an event organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ally of former President Donald Trump who has made unsubstantiated claims about last year’s election. Election offices across 30 states use the Dominion system, including 40 counties in California.

Election security experts have said the breaches, from a county in Colorado and another in Michigan, pose a heightened risk to elections because the system is used for a number of administrative functions — from designing ballots and configuring voting machines to tallying results. In the letter, the experts said they do not have evidence that anyone plans to attempt a hack of the systems used in California and are not casting blame on Dominion.

“However, it is critical to recognize that the release of the Dominion software into the wild has increased the risk to the security of California elections to the point that emergency action is warranted,” the experts wrote in their letter, which was shared with The Associated Press.

The eight experts signing the letter include computer scientists, election technology experts and cybersecurity researchers.

Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Shirley Weber, said the 40 counties in California using Dominion employ a different version of the election management system that meets various state-specific requirements. She outlined numerous security measures in place to protect voting systems across the state. That includes regular testing for vulnerabilities, strict controls on who has access, physical security rules and pre-election testing to ensure that no part of the system has been modified.

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“The Experiences of Municipal Clerks and the Electorate in the November 2020 General Election in Wisconsin”

New report from Barry Burden. From the Executive Summary:

Despite the many challenges that election officials and voters faced as a result of the pandemic and the spread of misinformation, surveys of both groups show that the 2020 general election in Wisconsin was a tremendous success.

The share of people voting by mail jumped to a record high, particularly among individuals concerned about the spread of the virus at polling places. The vast majority of municipal clerks procured adequate resources and sufficient numbers of poll workers to conduct the election, and they found ways to manage, albeit imperfectly, much higher volumes of absentee ballots.

New resources such as grants to fund operations and National Guard members who served as poll workers helped to compensate for the greater demands on election officials managing massive increases in mail ballots and restrictions on polling place locations due to the pandemic. The vast majority of voters were served extremely well, although pockets of difficulty were experienced by some populations such as young people and voters with disabilities.

Perhaps reflecting their different experiences in 2020 and even before the pandemic, clerks disagree on some important policy proposals being considered in the wake of the election. They report sharply divergent views on whether it should be permissible to process absentee ballots before election day and whether drop boxes for collecting absentee ballots should be allowed.

These opinions are strongly correlated with the sizes of the municipal populations that clerks serve. Among other differences, clerks from larger cities were much more likely to believe that misinformation about absentee voting was a serious problem and to favor some processing of absentee ballots before election day.

Despite the disruptions it caused, the 2020 experience did not alter the opinions of clerks about some election practices. Although most clerks support the right of people to vote by mail for any reason, a significant share believe, even after the pandemic experience, that absentee voting should be limited to a small group of voters who provide evidence that they cannot appear at their assigned polling places on election day.

Despite some pointed differences between clerks from the largest and smallest municipalities, clerks are largely in agreement on other policy proposals. Examples of consensus include not making the deadline for requesting absentee ballots to be any later than it is already, requiring photo IDs for most voters, and retaining traditional neighborhood polling places even if absentee voting continues to be common.

The 2020 election took its toll on election officials. After a long and trying election season, clerks report high levels of occupational burnout on several measures. In addition, a significant number of clerks report receiving more threatening or hostile messages than in previous presidential election cycles, especially in larger cities.

The survey shows more evidence of “status quo bias,” the tendency of officials is to keep practices as they are. Even after the tumult of the 2020 election cycles, a sizable share of clerks continue to oppose the opportunity to process absentee ballots before election day, resist handing over responsibilities to county clerks, and do not wish to do more public education.

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Texas enacted SB 598, which includes a paper audit requirement and a risk-limiting audit

Earlier today, I lamented that SB 1 in Texas omitted the paper audit or paper ballot requirement that was in its original SB 7. Since that post, I was informed that the Texas legislature did enact, with near unanimity, SB 598, which includes the paper ballot requirement, as a standalone bill. As another component, it included a requirement of risk-limiting audits beginning in 2026, with a pilot program beginning in 2022.

I’m glad to see the developments and that they were not simply chopped out of SB 7, and I’m sorry I didn’t see them before my post, which misled readers. I’ll update that post as well.

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The disappearance of a paper ballot requirement in Texas’s SB 1

IMPORTANT UPDATE AND CORRECTION: Texas did enact a version of this requirement in a separate bill, SB 598. See my update here.

Texas’s SB 1, in my judgment, is a hodgepodge of sensible and strange rules that will add a bit more complexity and uniformity, sow a bit more confusion (especially among elderly absentee voters), and likely increase no one’s confidence in elections. Many of the critiques are right (including concerns of overcriminalizing innocuous behavior). Others are oddly misplaced. (For instance, it’s strange, to me, at least, to see critiques that the bill “without justification” creates a “two-tiered and arbitrary system.” The present law has tiers of rules, without much consternation–and, I think, it makes sense to require bigger counties provide more early in-person voting opportunities, and allow smaller counties to hold it only upon sufficient request, among other distinctions.)

With that mealy-mouthed wind-up, here’s my lament. The most disappointing thing in SB 1 is what it omits. It’s a change made after the original conference committee bill, SB 7, the one that prompted a legislative walk-out.

The old SB 7 (“tempered” by Democrats by the time it got to the conference committee report) included a phase out of direct recording electronic voting machines by 2026 and required use of paper ballots or a paper audit trail. (It’s Section 4.14 of the conference committee report, introduced in the Senate but not the House, but included in the conference report. There are details, too, about the potential fiscal impact on counties.)

That provision is gone from SB 1.

It’s disappointing, as there has been, in theory, bipartisan consensus over paper trails. “Kraken” lawsuits baselessly discussed “flipping” votes in electronic voting systems, which is impossible in essentially every jurisdiction under scrutiny as there was always a paper trail. Georgia’s excellent statewide audit in 2020 found a few mistakes–but few, and nothing so digitally-pernicious.

Eliminating direct response electronic voting systems costs money, and there are fights over who pays and when and how. There was some agreement in SB 7 to do it. And that vanished in SB 1 as enacted.

It’s a strange, sad tale of what might have been. If Democrats had stuck around for the first bill (given that it inevitably passed), would that provision from the conference report (in theory, what each chamber agreed to) make it into law? Did Republicans pull it out of some vindictive reaction, or becomes some balked at the cost on a subsequent go-around?

I’ve asked around but haven’t received a good response. So I end with the words attributable to another Muller: it might have been.

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“Heeding Steve Bannon’s Call, Election Deniers Organize to Seize Control of the GOP — and Reshape America’s Elections”

ProPublica:

One of the loudest voices urging Donald Trump’s supporters to push for overturning the presidential election results was Steve Bannon. “We’re on the point of attack,” Bannon, a former Trump adviser and far-right nationalist, pledged on his popular podcast on Jan. 5. “All hell will break loose tomorrow.” The next morning, as thousands massed on the National Mall for a rally that turned into an attack on the Capitol, Bannon fired up his listeners: “It’s them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side?”

When the insurrection failed, Bannon continued his campaign for his former boss by other means. On his “War Room” podcast, which has tens of millions of downloads, Bannon said President Trump lost because the Republican Party sold him out. “This is your call to action,” Bannon said in February, a few weeks after Trump had pardoned him of federal fraud charges.

The solution, Bannon announced, was to seize control of the GOP from the bottom up. Listeners should flood into the lowest rung of the party structure: the precincts. “It’s going to be a fight, but this is a fight that must be won, we don’t have an option,” Bannon said on his show in May. “We’re going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct.”

Precinct officers are the worker bees of political parties, typically responsible for routine tasks like making phone calls or knocking on doors. But collectively, they can influence how elections are run. In some states, they have a say in choosing poll workers, and in others they help pick members of boards that oversee elections.

After Bannon’s endorsement, the “precinct strategy” rocketed across far-right media. Viral posts promoting the plan racked up millions of views on pro-Trump websites, talk radio, fringe social networks and message boards, and programs aligned with the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local GOP headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers. They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.

In Wisconsin, for instance, new GOP recruits are becoming poll workers. County clerks who run elections in the state are required to hire parties’ nominees. The parties once passed on suggesting names, but now hardline Republican county chairs are moving to use those powers.

“We’re signing up election inspectors like crazy right now,” said Outagamie County party chair Matt Albert, using the state’s formal term for poll workers. Albert, who held a “Stop the Steal” rally during Wisconsin’s November recount, said Bannon’s podcast had played a role in the burst of enthusiasm.

ProPublica contacted GOP leaders in 65 key counties, and 41 reported an unusual increase in signups since Bannon’s campaign began. At least 8,500 new Republican precinct officers (or equivalent lowest-level officials) joined those county parties. We also looked at equivalent Democratic posts and found no similar surge.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, people are coming out of the woodwork,” said J.C. Martin, the GOP chairman in Polk County, Florida, who has added 50 new committee members since January. Martin had wanted congressional Republicans to overturn the election on Jan. 6, and he welcomed this wave of like-minded newcomers. “The most recent time we saw this type of thing was the tea party, and this is way beyond it.”

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“The election gambit that’s sending Georgia Democrats into a frenzy”

Politico:

Georgia Republicans say it’s merely an attempt to improve a chronically mismanaged elections administration.

But a newly-formed election review panel in Atlanta’s Fulton County is nevertheless sparking outrage — and paranoia — from Democrats who believe it’s the GOP’s first step toward commandeering the levers of election administration in the counties that powered Democratic gains last year.

The belief is not entirely unfounded. Under Georgia’s restrictive new voting law, if an election review panel finds evidence of unresolved errors or a breach of election law in a county’s election oversight since 2018, the state can disband the local board and replace it with a state-appointed superintendent. That figure would assume key decisions like voting locations, precinct staffing and vote certification.

In the GOP’s action in Fulton County, Democrats see the makings of a grand design to take control of local election offices in the metro Atlanta region, which would give Republicans the power to challenge election results, hold up certification and announce investigations in the counties that produce the most Democratic votes. In other words, it would enable them to execute the pieces of the Trump playbook that failed in 2020.

While the law only allows election boards in four counties at a time to be disbanded, that would be more than enough to swing a statewide election if those counties happened to be Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb — the state’s four most populous counties — where the bulk of Georgia’s Democratic votes are concentrated.

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“G.O.P. Election Reviews Create a New Kind of Security Threat”

NYT:

Late one night in May, after surveillance cameras had inexplicably been turned off, three people entered the secure area of a warehouse in Mesa County, Colo., where crucial election equipment was stored. They copied hard drives and election-management software from voting machines, the authorities said, and then fled.

The identity of one of the people dismayed state election officials: It was Tina Peters, the Republican county clerk responsible for overseeing Mesa County’s elections.

How the incident came to public light was stranger still. Last month in South Dakota, Ms. Peters spoke at a disinformation-drenched gathering of people determined to show that the 2020 election had been stolen from Donald J. Trump. And another of the presenters, a leading proponent of QAnon conspiracy theories, projected a portion of the Colorado software — a tool meant to be restricted to election officials only — onto a big screen for all the attendees to see.

The security of American elections has been the focus of enormous concern and scrutiny for several years, first over possible interference or mischief-making by foreign adversaries like Russia or Iran, and later, as Mr. Trump stoked baseless fears of fraud in last year’s election, over possible domestic attempts to tamper with the democratic process.

But as Republican state and county officials and their allies mount a relentless effort to discredit the result of the 2020 contest, the torrent of election falsehoods has led to unusual episodes like the one in Mesa County, as well as to a wave of G.O.P.-driven reviews of the vote count conducted by uncredentialed and partisan companies or people. Roughly half a dozen reviews are underway or completed, and more are being proposed.

These reviews — carried out under the banner of making elections more secure, and misleadingly labeled audits to lend an air of official sanction — have given rise to their own new set of threats to the integrity of the voting machines, software and other equipment that make up the nation’s election infrastructure….

Security experts say that election hardware and software should be subjected to transparency and rigorous testing, but only by credentialed professionals. Yet nearly all of the partisan reviews have flouted such protocols and focused on the 2020 results rather than hunting for security flaws….

Christopher Krebs, the former head of the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said such reviews could easily compromise voting machines. “The main concern is having someone unqualified come in and introduce risk, introduce something or some malware into a system,” he said. “You have someone that accesses these things, has no idea what to do, and once you’ve reached that point, it’s incredibly difficult to kind of roll back the certification of the machine.”…

Pulling compromised machines out of service and replacing them is not a foolproof solution, however.

The equipment could have as-yet-undiscovered security weaknesses, Mr. Halderman said. “And this is what really keeps me up at night,” he said. “That the knowledge that comes from direct access to it could be misused to attack the same equipment wherever else it’s used.”

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