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‘Raccoon Army’ Swamps Election Officials in Dubious Campaign to Disprove Results – Yahoo News

(Bloomberg) — For the last several months, a persistent group of election skeptics has been inundating local election officials with public records requests, seeking data that they believe will prove that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
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The requests are emanating from a single home in central Florida, targeting each of the more than 3,000 counties in the US and demanding records on voting machines and email communications between election officials and vendors of those machines. Election officials say the deluge is taking valuable time away from preparations for the upcoming midterms, which will determine who controls Congress and oversees the vote count in 2024.
“One of the requests for a file is so large I’m having trouble even copying it. It's more than 2 million files,” said Brian Sleeth, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, referring to the large volume of responsive materials stemming from the public records’ inquiries. “What would someone even do with that?”
The campaign has been organized by a software and database engineer in Davenport, Florida who goes by the online name Lone Raccoon. He is actually Jeffrey O’Donnell, a bearded 61-year-old who communicates with his more than 13,000-person strong “Raccoon Army” on his Telegram channel from his home office in a suburban subdivision in central Florida.
In a phone interview, O’Donnell said his goal is to create a public database of “Cast Vote Records,” allowing his supporters – and anyone else – to probe the data to find evidence of voter fraud. Cast Vote Records, known as CVRs, are the electronic version of voters’ ballot selections, saved on a voting system’s hard drive, and O’Donnell has created a document, “Cast Vote Records For Dummies,” that provides step-by-step instructions on how to request them.
“I was led by God to do this,” O’Donnell said.
The efforts continue as local government officials, academics and news organizations have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud or irregularities during the 2020 election. Former Attorney General William Barr also said the Justice Department came to similar conclusions, and a federal judge indicated recently that Donald Trump knew voter fraud claims were false.
O’Donnell has found an ally in MyPillow Founder Mike Lindell, who is being sued by voting machine vendors Dominion Voting Systems Inc. and Smartmatic Corp. over his claims that they engaged in a conspiracy to ensure President Donald Trump lost his re-election bid. Lindell has encouraged his followers to join O’Donnell’s campaign and provide “support.”
Lindell told Bloomberg News he hired O’Donnell last summer as an IT, cybersecurity and CVR expert, along with a dozen others under his companies Lindell Management and Lindell TV. He described the vendors’ lawsuits as “frivolous.”
Journalists, lawyers and others frequently request public records to hold public officials accountable and monitor the daily workings of government. But in dozens of interviews, election officials in both Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning counties said voluminous requests from the Raccoon Army and others seeking similar information seems intended to upend the upcoming midterm elections, an allegation that O’Donnell denies.
Christopher Channell, director of elections in Glynn County, Georgia, likened them to a “spam attack.” The director of the Caswell County, North Carolina, board of elections, Robert Webb, compared it to a distributed denial-of-service incident, a kind of harassment in which huge amounts of traffic is directed at a website to knock it offline. The requests have prompted crisis meetings among election officials and reminders from secretaries of state that elections, not speculative requests, are the priority, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg.
Justin Roebuck, clerk of Michigan’s Ottawa County, said his office had received more than 100 public records requests this year, compared to a previous annual average of eight.
“In many cases, when we ask for clarification from the individuals, we are told that they themselves do not know what they are requesting,” Roebuck said. The responses were “troubling to me and lends credibility to the argument that these requests are meant more as a distraction and perhaps an intimidation tactic,” he added.
Bloomberg News queried 679 officials in key states like Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Questions were also sent to election officials in Alaska, Michigan, California, Minnesota and South Carolina.
Of the more than 134 election officials who responded to emailed questions, nearly all said they’ve seen an increase this year in requests for election-related data — including CVRs — compared with last. Many of the requests have landed in counties that Trump won by a landslide.
In Muscogee County, Georgia, officials received more than 1,200 requests for CVR data — all apparent carbon-copied requests that “seems to be a coordinated effort,” elections chief Nancy Boren said. They received 10 in 2021. In Murray County, near the Tennessee border and where President Joe Biden received 15% of the 2020 vote, election chairman Larry Sampson said the volume of requests has “really gotten to the point where they sometimes interfere with the normal office routine.”
“One man, who was sent by a group, someplace out West I think, stood here at the counter and told me that Mike Lindell had proof that the Dominion equipment was controlled by satellites from South America!” Sampson said in an email. “I just shook my head.”
It wasn’t clear how many of the requests to county election officials came from members of the Raccoon Army. At least 10 officials said the requests they received contained the exact same wording as the templates posted on O’Donnell’s websites. Others said the requests were copies or screenshots from O’Donnell’s record request manual.
“We have seen FOIA requests that just copy and paste directly from certain Telegram channels,” said Isaac Cramer, executive director of Charleston County’s board of elections and voter registration in South Carolina. FOIA is an acronym for Freedom of Information Act and is often used as a shorthand for public records requests.
Cramer said he has received requests for every single polling location receipt tape in the primarily Republican county – of which there are more than 100. Some requests were so voluminous the requester was invited to come and view the records in person as they could not be transferred over email. But after locating and preparing the documents, the requesters never turned up, Cramer said. “They're just telling their followers, ‘Hey, go FOIA election officials and just overwhelm them,’” he said.
O’Donnell said it was never his intent to put the midterms at risk and that claims he was conspiring to cause chaos before Americans went to the polls was untrue. “I've heard those accusations but that was never even a thought,” he said. “We had no idea how many people were going to pick up the gauntlet and go with it.” O’Donnell said it should be easy for counties to upload the information to their websites so individuals do not need to keep asking for it.
The effort has been organized on O’Donnell’s Telegram channel, where supporters regularly post memes criticizing liberals and are encouraged to try to them banned on Twitter. O’Donnell, and others in the chat, have posted about being watched, or fearing that they will be shut down. A backup website and Telegram channel are available in case the originals are taken down.
“Talk amongst yourselves for a moment folks,” The Lone Raccoon wrote on Oct. 6. “To my three letter agency friends, I have a request. I get that you have to hack my phone. But could you please stop sapping all the battery? Thank you.”
Last year, O’Donnell tried to build a crowd-sourced system that collected digital photos of ballots to try to find creases or smudges that might have skewed the result, Vice News reported. That project was abandoned when election skeptics turned their focus to CVR, which O’Donnell said he began collating in early 2021.
When information stolen from voting machine hard drives in Mesa County, Colorado, began circulating on QAnon channels on Telegram later that year, he analyzed the data and prepared a report that alleged voter fraud which was touted by high-profile election skeptics. Mesa County’s district attorney investigated the allegations and determined there wasn’t any wrongdoing.
Regardless, the episode earned O’Donnell recognition among the “election integrity movement,” as the online community of election skeptics call themselves. He began working with a fellow election skeptic and software engineer named Lisa Batsch-Smith, who goes by the online name Lady Draza, and together, they created the ballot database they claim will prove fraud. Batsch-Smith didn’t respond to a request for comment.
O’Donnell’s work piqued the interest of Lindell; Both men agreed there was a need for more national voting data, specifically CVRs, O’Donnell said. At a voter fraud conference in Missouri in August, Lindell encouraged participants to join O’Donnell’s Raccoon Army and start demanding that election officials hand over CVRs.
The number of requests “easily tripled, if not more, after Mike put out the call,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell now makes regular appearances on the Rumble video service and Lindell’s Frank Speech app.
Leading the Raccoon Army has nearly become a full-time job, O’Donnell said, taking a toll on him and his wife, Nancy, who is also known as “Mama Raccoon.” In a Rumble video, he said he has lost some consultancy jobs because of his skepticism of the 2020 election results. The initiative is draining their savings and free time. “We talked about it, and we knew there was gonna be hardships and attacks, and she was fine with that.”
One of O’Donnell’s sons provides security when he travels, due to numerous death threats. His other three sons think he’s an “idiot,” he said. “But I can live with that.”
For some election officials, public records requests aren’t their only headache. Persistent requesters are also suing for information, encouraged by O’Donnell and Lindell. In addition, some election skeptics are turning up at clerk’s offices and demanding to inspect voting machines, according to Chuck Broerman, El Paso, Colorado, county clerk and a handful of officials who wished to speak only on background. O’Donnell is encouraging his followers to stand watch over the Nov. 8 vote.
“I miss the days when the question we got asked the most was, ‘What do you do the rest of the year?’” said Mary Hall, auditor for Thurston County, Washington, and an election administrator.
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