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They came for the My Pillow guy, they stayed for conspiracy theories about voter fraud

On the eve of Tuesday’s primary, Surry County Commissioners welcomed a packed house of citizens in Dobson, worried about the next election.

My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, a Trump loyalist known for spreading false election-related conspiracy theories, was listed prominently on the agenda as a speaker who would address “election integrity.”

My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

But Lindell was a no-show.

Instead, commissioners heard from David Clements, a former New Mexico State University college professor. Clements is no stranger to misinformation either. He lost his job at the university last fall after he refused to wear a mask on campus or get vaccinated against COVID-19. He has also publicly stated that he “stands with” Lin Wood — the controversial QAnon-linked, conspiracy theorist attorney.

“November 3, 2020 just didn’t make sense, and I want to plant the seed because the question you have to have for yourselves is, ‘What authority do we have to do anything?'” Clements began.

Clements told commissioners they had the authority to inspect and decline the adoption of  voting machines.

“The other question you’re going to have to wrestle with is your jurisdiction. The state election board, the county election board, and you all have concurrent jurisdiction. Y’all have different powers to check and balance one another, but at the end of the day, it’s the county that issues the certificate for those local elections,” said Clements.

The State Board of Elections has frequently decried (and taken multiple steps to debunk) unsubstantiated conspiracy theories concerning elections in North Carolina. A page on the board’s website is entitled “Combating Misinformation”; it reads in part:

Misinformation can lead to confusion and erode the public’s trust in elections. We aim to educate and serve as a trusted source of election information through our social media posts. View all of our “Mythbuster Monday” series posts at the Mythbuster Archive.

For trusted election information, follow the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To stay in the loop on recent press releases, election news, upcoming election dates, and deadlines, subscribe to our e-newsletter, Election Connection.

Mark Cook, a self-described “cybersecurity IT expert,” was the next to weigh in at Monday’s meeting. He told commissioners hackers and malware are making voting systems increasingly vulnerable.

“What happens if you have a bad actor and they are actually a developer that works at one of these companies that writes the software, someone on the inside?” Cook asked. “They could get away with anything they wanted, and no one would know the difference.”

Cook said election officials were not equipped to read millions of lines of computer code.

“Someone that happened to be malicious could easily embed something in anything. It could be a vendor of one of these companies that inserts something it,” Cooke warned without offering further evidence.

Cook questioned the trustworthiness of  computerized voter registration databases, electronic poll books, and tech companies with a hand in the electoral process.

He urged commissioners to be skeptical and return the count to citizens, making every ballot publicly available.

“Here’s what I want to do. I want to see Mrs. Smith’s sixth-grade class get a lesson in civics, and I want them to have a little class project, count your precincts ballots,” Cook went on to suggest.

“So if we have our elementary school kids now learning to count their own ballots, and then they do it in high school. All of a sudden, they’ll learn a little bit about how our government works. And by the time they are voting they will have already done this four or five times over, so there’s no question about training anyone.”

Next in line was John Bowes, who maintained that he and other unofficial canvassers had uncovered 170 election issues among 525 homes in Surry County over the last six weeks.

“We go up to the door and introduce ourselves to the resident and we say that we would like to offer them a flier that tells them how to check their 2020 vote,” he said.

Bowes said those informal interviews turned up ineligible ballots and ‘ghost’ registrations.

“People move out of the state or the county prior to Election Day, but they are still registered in Surry County with their old address.”

Bowes said more than a dozen cases of incorrect voting methods were discovered.

“The voter history record showed the people voted by mail, but when interviewing the people, they say they voted in person.”

Clements, the professor from New Mexico, said he hoped commissioners would feel the “righteous pressure” of their constituents to take the canvassing results to heart, and use their authority to inspect the voting machines.

Chairman Bill Goins

Chairman Bill Goins told the audience any credible complaints about where people lived or didn’t live in 2020, and questions about duplicate registrations should be shared with the local board of elections and the state board for further review.

As far as how much authority the commission was willing to exercise regarding voting machines, Goins pivoted.

“As we have referenced on several occasions, the North Carolina General Statutes [section] 163 guides us on what we can and cannot do in regard to elections. It is the law that governs elections of this state, and until it is changed, it is the law we go by.

“I have asked people in this room, ‘Have you read statute 163?’ and they will say, ‘No, but you can do this.’ How do you know if you haven’t read it?

There’s much more that could be said, but I’ll end with this, Surry County Commissioners upholds the right of all citizens to participate in fair elections, and we want all of our citizens to participate in their sacred right to cast their vote and feel that it counts.”

In the 2020 General Election, 75% of Surry County’s voters cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

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