MINOT, N.D. — Auditing elections has become something of a rallying cry among die-hard Donald Trump supporters convinced that President Joe Biden only ascended to the office because of fraud at the ballot box.
Pillow impresario Mike Lindell has led a bizarre and high-profile national push to reveal what he claims is election fraud though, so far, he's failed to produce evidence he claims to have.
Election fraud is fodder for much debate among conservative talk radio hosts (who are often hawking Lindell's products even as they promote his election theories).
At least five states — Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia, per the Brennan Center — have made serious progress toward auditing elections. In other states, including Texas and Maine, there has been a concerted push for an audit.
In July, Biden's Justice Department issued a warning to state's auditing elections out of concern "that some jurisdictions conducting them may be using, or proposing to use, procedures that risk violating the Civil Rights Act." Specifically, the Biden administration warned against destroying or altering election records that must be maintained under federal law and intimidation of voters.
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Thanks to Auditor Josh Gallion, North Dakota may soon be plunging into this political morass.
Gallion confirmed the impending audit to me and acknowledged the fraught politics around the issue. "We are looking purely at the system. It's not about contesting the outcome," he told me.
Throughout our conversation, he was careful to stress that this review was not about any particular result from the 2020 balloting.
His office gets a routine appropriation from the Legislature to conduct cybersecurity audits of the state's various agencies and campuses. This year that appropriation was $450,000, and Gallion says this review of the election systems, right down to the voting machines, will be a part of that larger effort.
He was hesitant to estimate how much this review would cost in total, let alone the election component, noting that negotiations with a contractor to carry out the review hadn't been completed. As a point of reference, he noted that a previous iteration of this audit, which did not scrutinize election systems, cost taxpayers $425,000.
This cybersecurity audit will be the first to look at the election systems.
When asked if he believes there were problems with North Dakota's last election, Gallion said, "At this point, I'm going to leave this up to the contractors." He said his office had received phone calls and emails from members of the public encouraging an audit and that he's aware of the "national issues" around election audits.
He added that he doesn't believe North Dakota has the same problems as these other states.
"Josh gave me a call to let me know he was doing this," Secretary of State Al Jaeger told me when I reached him for comment. "We're open to the audit if that's what's going to happen."
Asked if he felt the audit was appropriate, Jaeger said it's "his call," referring to Gallion. "I'm confident in our voting systems. We have a very good system. High integrity. I'm confident it will come out fine."
There has been some visible activism in favor of an election audit, mostly on social media.
Michael Coachman, a hardcore Trump supporter and a fringe candidate who has run for various offices both as a Republican and an independent over the years, has been vocal in his calls for a "forensic audit" of the 2020 election both on social media and in the ears of state elected officials.
In July, Coachman sent an email survey to state lawmakers demanding to know their position on a "full forensic audit" of state voting machines, among other issues, and requesting a live stream interview on Facebook.
Here's an example one lawmaker sent me:
During the 2020 election, Coachman staged a write-in campaign for governor with some promotion from state Rep. Rick Becker, founder of the secretive Bastiat Caucus of Trumpy state lawmakers. It's not clear how many votes Coachman, specifically, received, but write-in candidates received 4.88% of the vote last November.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.