Elections officials across the United States say they have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would affect the outcome of the presidential election, but a new group supporting President Donald Trump is cold-calling thousands of people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere and asking them if they voted in an apparent attempt to find instances of misconduct.
The effort has ties directly to the White House — including a controversial senior adviser there — and is feeding information to the Trump campaign’s legal team.
The “Voter Integrity Fund” is run by government employees and former Trump campaign staffers who are analyzing voter data in six key states, according to founder Matt Braynard, who worked for the Trump campaign’s data team in 2016. Braynard started the new operation last week after a tweet about his access to the publicly available data prompted people to offer donations to fund an investigation into any irregularities.
As of Thursday, Braynard said nine people, including five former Trump campaign staffers and a few “White House staff volunteers,” are working on the initiative at the Washington-area headquarters.
One of the White House staffers is Camilo Sandoval, a senior adviser to Trump who was recently named federal chief information security officer, a position in the Office of Management and Budget.
The federal Hatch Act limits the manner in which certain federal employees can engage in political activity, and makes it a crime for them to be coerced to do so. In an interview Thursday, Sandoval said he went on leave from his government position last week to work with Braynard’s group.
Braynard said the other administration staffers are on leave, as well.
Sandoval, who was director of data and voter contact operations on Trump’s 2016 campaign, came under fire from congressional Democrats in 2018 while he was the chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Democrats had called for his removal, citing, among other reasons, allegations of harassment and “rampant interpersonal conflicts.”
“This should matter to [president-elect Joe] Biden as much as it matters to President Trump," Sandoval said. “This is important to the integrity of our democracy.”
The Voter Integrity Fund has purchased data on millions of voters from six states — Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and Nevada — and is cross-referencing names of people who voted absentee or by mail with the national address change registry and the social security death registry, Braynard said.
They are focusing on identifying people who requested a mail-in ballot but were not marked as having returned it, as well as first-time voters in areas of high turnout, like Philadelphia. Braynard said they are also trying to find people who moved to adjacent states to see if they voted in both places.
The group has contracted three call centers — located in Iowa, Nevada, and Virginia — where more than 100 paid operators will call voters. He said his team hopes to contact about 1.5 million people. They are asking three questions, Braynard said: Did a person with your name vote? Did you request a mail-in ballot? Did you return a mail-in ballot?
“We have not made any claims that voter fraud has happened, we are just gathering evidence,” Braynard said in a phone interview Thursday.
“If we actually find there are no indicators of voter fraud, we will put that out,” he said. “The data speaks for itself.”
Trump and his allies have made baseless claims about widespread and systemic voter fraud in Pennsylvania, but the campaign’s court challenges in the state have so far failed to cite a specific instance of a fraudulent vote being deliberately cast. Instead, they have relied on complaints about the process of how administrators oversaw the casting and counting of votes.
Philadelphia voters have been perplexed by the mysterious calls, with some viewing it as an intimidation tactic or an attempt to raise doubts about the results of the election that Biden won.
“I’m pretty upset that these agents of misinformation were able to get my phone number and basically bother me to help create their phony panic,” said Marc Faletti, 44, of South Philadelphia, who had dropped off a mail ballot at one of Philadelphia’s satellite elections offices.
Faletti received a call from the Scranton, Pa., number on Thursday afternoon, but sent the call to voice mail when he didn’t recognize the number. The voice mail was left by a woman who said she worked for the Voter Integrity Fund. She said that Pennsylvania reported a ballot was cast in his name in the recent presidential election. “If Marc Faletti did not cast this ballot,” she said, “please call us.”
“It’s just all around unsettling to get a call that is so obviously politically motivated from people who just want to spread misinformation,” Faletti said.
Antjelina Eckman received a similar voice mail Thursday evening from the same group. Eckman, who moved to Philadelphia from Washington state in August and voted by mail, said the message made her doubt whether her ballot counted.
Doris Wagner, a biology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who voted by mail ballot, said she was “deeply concerned” by the voice mail she received from the group on Thursday.
“It sounds so official, the title of the organization, like it’s just somebody making sure everything went well with the election,” Wagner said. After doing some quick research on the group, Wagner worried that it is an attempt to intimidate voters or sow doubt.
“Maybe people will call back and get unsure of themselves, thinking there is something wrong with their vote," Wagner said.
Braynard said they have identified a “few hundred” voters who said they did not vote, but who had a ballot cast in their name, and that data has matched names from the master death file with those who voted.
He said if they find a couple of individual cases of fraud in one specific area, they would then focus on that area to study it more closely, and then have voters sign affidavits confirming their issue. He declined to say how many affidavits have been signed thus far.
Braynard said the group was formed independently of the Trump campaign, but that it is in frequent communication with it. He said they have provided the campaign and its team of lawyers with information on voters for their legal battles.
“We are not completely driven by some kind of political objective other than putting the information out there that we found, the way we found it,” he said.
Within 24 hours of launching the effort, Braynard raised about $220,000, he said, but then GoFundMe shut the campaign down, stating that it violated its terms of service for attempting to “spread misleading information about the election.” Braynard denied GoFundMe’s reasoning.
He moved to Give Send Go, a Christian crowdfunding site, and as of Friday morning had raised more than $550,000. Braynard said the group has spent at least $400,000 thus far on data, labor, and operational materials, and said the team is fund-raising to purchase more data. He said he plans to publicly disclose all invoices.
Nationally, the Trump campaign’s legal challenges have seen little success, with many judges tossing the cases quickly. The two victories it has secured in Pennsylvania courtrooms have been focused on minor issues that did not affect the vote count in the state, which as of Friday put Biden at a 58,000-vote advantage.