Republicans running partisan reviews of the 2020 election results and Democrats trying to stop them are barreling toward court showdowns in two key swing states in the coming weeks. Nearly a year after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Republican-led legislative chambers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are still forging ahead with investigations similar to earlier efforts in states such as Arizona — which were sharply criticized by election experts — looking for evidence of fraud or other malfeasance in the 2020 vote. Now, an initial round of rulings and new court dates in lawsuits challenging the reviews is coming up, with Democrats and election experts hoping they will halt the drive by Republican lawmakers to revisit the results. Investigations in other states, most recently Texas, have failed to turn up evidence of serious issues. And election experts have long warned that the reviews — which supporters often call “audits,” a term professional election administrators and experts have rejected — are a political vehicle for former President Donald Trump and his followers to launder their conspiratorial beliefs about his 2020 loss into the mainstream under the guise of government investigation.
Nineteen tables are spread across a ballroom the size of an Olympic swimming pool, each with its own set of voting machines. Hackers crowd around them, tinkering, unscrewing, and more or less destroying anything with a power button. This is the Voting Village at DEFCON, the annual “ethical hacker” conference in Las Vegas and one of the few places where pretty much anyone has permission to do whatever they please to equipment that would otherwise be locked away. At the last in-person DEFCON, in 2019, well before “Stop the Steal,” the “audit” in Maricopa County, and the conspiracy theory that Nancy Pelosi’s husband owns one of the country’s largest voting machine manufacturers, attendees packed the village. Now, two years later, the issue has become even more of a national obsession. DEFCON is a meeting place for the different stakeholders in the world of cybersecurity: grungy hackers, nerdy academics, security researchers, election officials, voting machine manufacturers, and representatives from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency whose security guidelines nearly every state relies on to some extent. For a few days, DEFCON enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists gather together and race to see who can prove voting machines are insecure. With its made-to-be-shared antics, the village regularly produces viral tweets and national headlines. It also has quick impact: Following demonstrations at the convention in 2017, Virginia’s Department of Elections recommended decertifying some of its machines effective immediately. “Multiple types of DREs, some of which are currently in use in Virginia, were hacked, according to public reports from DefCon,” the agency wrote.