The Conspiracy Theories of 2020

Nov. 20, 2023

Part of the Voting and Elections web pages
by Douglas W. Jones
THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA Department of Computer Science

Copyright © 2023. This work may be transmitted or stored in electronic form on any computer attached to the Internet or World Wide Web so long as this notice is included in the copy. Individuals may make single copies for their own use. All other rights are reserved.


  1. Summary
  2. The Story Begins
  3. Background
  4. Early Conspiracy Theories
  5. The Nevada Phone Call
  6. The Navid Keshavarez-Nia Phone Call
  7. After the Phone Calls
  8. The Narrative Wanders
  9. Conclusion

1. Summary

In mid November 2020, I received two unexpected phone calls from Trump supporters asking me to join in their election denial efforts. I have been involved with election technology and related issues since the mid 1990s, including testifying before various federal committees and consulting with election offices around the country. I am used to being contacted by people who have had problems with elections, but I found these contacts from people working directly or indirectly for Trump to be unusual and troubling.

These contacts were at the edges of a story that would continue to develop for years after the 2020 election as the criminal cases surrounding the 2020 election began coming to court. These contacts should also be of interest because of what they teach about the strange evolution of conspiracy theories.

In going through my notes from these events, I can see that some of the key conspriacy theories that became prominent after the Trump-Biden election had roots years earlier. These theories shift in the details so, for example, a theory that originated among left-wing opponents of George W. Bush would morph into a theory about Chinese interference on behalf of Biden in 2020.

2. The Story Begins

On August 14, 2023, criminal charges were filed in Fulton County, Georgia against former president Donald Trump and a number of co-conspirators alleging the existance of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

The timeline of activities discussed in this indictment begins before the the Nov. 3 election with discussion of a draft speech on Oct. 31. The speech, drafted in case of a Trump loss at the polls, contained a claim of victory and allegations of election fraud — all prepared in advance. Immediately after the election, on Nov. 4, the indictment states that Trump's speech hinted at a constitutional crisis, furthering the conspiracy.

The indictment lists no addtional acts furthering the conspiracy until Nov. 15 when former mayor Rudy Giuliani left a phone message alleging election fraud in Fulton County, Georgia.

On Nov. 14 and 15, 2020, I spoke to two different people who were associated with the Trump efforts to overturn the election. I have not avoided speaking about these events since then, but in light of the Trump indictment, it seems to be time to give an organized telling of those two conversations.

On Nov. 14, a lawyer working on challenging the outcome of the election in Nevada phoned me. Unfortunately, I never got his name, but I was curious enough to remain very noncommital while he tried to convince me to join the campaign to overturn the election. As a result of that listening strategy, he spoke for most of an hour.

On Nov. 14, I also received an e-mail inquiry from one asking to talk to me. He phoned me the next day, at which point I learned that he was Navid Nia. We spoke for at least an hour, during which he presented me with a string of theories about how the 2020 election was stolen. I did not know at the time, but what he was doing was going over an expert statement he was writing. A week later, that statement would be attached to or cited in Sidney Powell's "Kraken" lawsuits attempting to overturn the election.

3. Background

Why would people working on Trump's efforts to overturn the election phone me? I got involved in election technology in late 1994 when I volunteered to serve on the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems (a board in need of a catchy short name). I served on that board for a decade, under both Democratic and Republican secretaries of state. By 2000, I was board chair, and I had also begun to speak publicly about weaknesses in the way we evaluate and administer voting technology.

At 4:43 PM on Nov. 7, election day 2000, I posted a note, Thoughts on computers in voting to comp.risks, an on-line forum that we would now call a blog (the term existed then, but was not yet in widespread use). The note gave some examples to illustrate how vulnerable computerized voting machines were and how little the regulatory environment did to defend against such vulnerabilities. I could not have imagined when I posted that note that the presidential election was about to devolve into confusion as the close race in Florida exposed mismanagement of election technology on an almost comic scale.

The result of that public blog post was an invitation to "explain what happened in Florida" from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. That, in turn, led to an invitation to testify before the House Science Committee on a draft of the Help America Vote Act, and to my involvement in the 2002 revision of the Federal Election Commission's Voting System Standards.

I was eventually appointed to a seat on the Election Assistance Commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committee, and I have been routinely asked to testify or offer expert reports in numerous court cases involving election technology in the years since.

In 2004, the Kerry campaign asked me to help monitor the presidential election, and in 2008 and 2012, the Obama campaign asked me to do the same. On election day during each of those elections, I had access to the Democratic Party's real-time database of election incidents. This gave me a good understanding of how reports about election irregularities from partisan election observers are processed and how legal and technical staff cooperate to respond to reports from the field. The Democrats and Republicans both deploy such election monitoring opertations, and on perhaps two occasions, I was aware of back channel communication between the two.

I also participated in three election observing missions with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, two to Kazakhstan and one to the Netherlands. Both countries had aggressively deployed computerized voting systems. In Kazakhstan, we saw elections that were deeply flawed, with evidence of widespread fraud perpetrated on behalf of the ruling party. In the Netherlands, we saw significant problems with the regulatory system, where the technology had outpaced the ability of the government to regulate it.

In 2012, the book Broken Ballots that I co-wrote with Barbara Simons came out. We could easily have called our book The History and Politics of Voting Technology but that title was already taken for Roy Saltman's 2006 book. Our book traces the automation of vote counting from its origins in the early 19th century to roughly the date of publication.

In 2016 and 2020, I observed the presidential elections as a volunteer with the non-partisan 1-888-Our-Vote election protection hotline. Like the partisan operations, this also rests on an army of election observers and it maintains a database of election incidents. I also had access to this database when I was working for the Obama campaign, so I could compare it with the partisan database. I saw little difference in the type or severity of problems reported in the Democratic and non-partisan databases. Watching both databases at the same time, I noticed that few incidents appeared in both. It seems to be a matter of accident which hot-line someone phoned to report a problem, and once it was reported, it was rare for someone else to also report it.

After election 2020, based on my observations, I agreed to co-sign an open letter that went out on Nov. 16, stating that there was no credible evidence that the 2020 election outcomes had been altered by technical means. This letter was mostly drafted but not yet published before the phone calls discussed here, and it received national publicity in the New York Times and the Associated Press, among others.

By 2020, I was used to receiving phone calls from people with election problems. I usually drop other activities to make time for such calls, even when in cases where the caller seems to be out on the fringe. When I can, I do my best to offer constructive advice and sometimes I take action. Election anomaies bring together odd bedfellows. When I hear what appear to me to be legitimate complaints, I have found myself working with pro-marajuana crusaders, self-described gun nuts, right-wing Republicans and radical leftists.

4. Early Conspiracy Theories

It was not long after I began to speak publicly about election integrity that people began to approach me about various conspiracy theories. After Bush defeated Kerry in 2004, I was approached by a number of activists with theories about what had happened in Ohio that November. There were some odd (and still poorly explained) anomolies in that election, but some left-wing conspiracy theorists focused on the unlikely theory that votes were changed by Republican-controlled servers located in Kentucky. Kim Zetter wrote about this for Wired News on April 24, 2007: Did Ohio Election Data Run Through Republican Servers?

As with most conspiracy theories, this rests on an element of truth. Many election jurisdictions outsource many of their functions to outside contractors and indeed, these contractors have, on occasion, done a poor job. However, the electronic transfer of vote totals to an out-of-state server would generally only involve unofficial preliminary totals for release to the press. There is a huge amount of redundancy in the final conduct of the official canvass of the election from the polling-place level, through the county level to the state level. This makes it highly unlikely that corrupt vote servers in Kentucky could have any effect on the Ohio election outcome.

By 2012, this conspiracy theory had shifted from the left to the right, with allegations that Obama had sold vote processing rights to Scytl, a Spanish company allegedly connected to George Soros. On April 11, 2012, Snopes posted a piece debunking this mutated version of the theory under the headline Obama Sold Vote Processing Rights to SCYTL?

Since 2005, conspiracy theories have swirled around Sequoia Voting Systems and its corporate successors. In 2005, Smartmatic bought Sequoia and almost immediately attracted conspiracy theories. The net result was that, in 2007, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States began an investigation, and Smartmatic responded by selling Sequoia to a group of its US managers.

Ironically, Sequoia had not been US owned since at least 1983. Smartmatic bought the company from De La Rue, a British company. De La Rue, in turn, had bought Sequoia's parent company from Smurfit, an Irish conglomerate.

Why did Smartmatic cause such a fuss? Two Venezuelian expats founded Smartmatic in 2000. One of their first successful sales was to Venezuela. They used the income from that sale to purchase Sequoia Voting Systems. That immediately raised the specter that Hugo Chavez controlled Smartmatic.

Selling Sequoia did not entirely kill the conspiracy theories, because Smartmatic retained some intellectual property rights to code Sequoia began using during the two years of Smartmatic ownership. Eventually, after a failed hostile takeover attempt by Hart Intercivic, Dominion voting systems ended up acquiring Sequoia's assets.

The problem with extrapolating from this truth to the idea that Venezuela might be controlling elections conducted on Dominion's machines is that corporate takeovers generally involve only minimal mixing of products. When one company buys another, software from the purchased company does not automatically "infect" the products of the purchaser.

Another theory that I had been familiar with since 2016 is called Fraction Magic. The original allegations of that theory are that Diebold's election management system used floating point arithmetic to count votes and allowed votes for different candidates to be weighted differently. This was alleged to have been used by the White establishment in Memphis to discriminate against Blacks. As is typical in such cases, the election in question may well have had significant problems, but the evidence presented to document those irregularities does not support the theory proposed as a mechanism for the alleged fraud.

It is not hard to see how Global Election Systems, the predecessor of Diebold, would have been pushed to use floating point arithmetic to count votes. In the early days of that company, they were working on 16-bit microprocessors using programming languages where the largest integer value was 32767. Using floating point on these early machines, exact integers up to 8,388,607 could be handled. I am not alarmed by this as evidence of anything other than normal incompetence. Nor did I see anything coming close to a demonstration that such fractional vote accumulation was actually being use for nefarious purposes.

On Nov. 11, 2020. Khaya Himmelman, working for The Dispatch ( asked me to help her debunk a new conspiracy theory, known as Hammer and Scorecard. That theory proposes that there is a secret government supercomputer named the Hammer, and that this computer runs a program called Scorecard. Scorecard was developed, alledgedly, by the U.S. government as a tool to take control of foreign elections. The way Scorecard was supposed to work is by taking over transfer points through which votes were passed and then editing all votes as they passed through.

Alledgedly, agents of the deep state had turned Hammer and Scorecard against the United States for the purpose of ousting Trump from the presidency. This is my reply to Khaya's E-mail:

From: Jones, Douglas W
Date: Nov 11, 2020, at 3:02 PM
Subject: Re: Journalist at The Dispatch reaching out

Well, what an introduction to the dark and bizarre conspiracy theories. I'd never heard of Hammer and Scorecard before your phone message and e-mail, nor is the term transfer point standard terminology in the election domain.

The web sites I quickly perused are an interesting read. If you accept the idea that all of our votes somehow pass through transfer points where computer tampering could make arbitrary changes, the story holds together. However, that's not the way the system works.

I once had a long conversation with the noted science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. I'm quoting from memory, but he said something like this: "The key to writing good science fiction is to make just one outrageous assumption and then base everything on that. It doesn't matter how outrageous it is. So long as the rest of the story is consistent with the world as we know it, readers will be willing to overlook the outrage and go along with you."

I think the authors of the Hammer and and Scorecard story have done a pretty good job of following Clarke's dictum. They made their outrageous assumption, and then designed a plot revolving around the kind of shenanigans that match what many suspect is going on inside the NSA and CIA with the growing interest in cyberwarfare. To make the story convincing, lots of detail is attributed to real people, and lots of real incidents are woven into the story and attributed to Hammer and Scorecard.

Back to the outrageous assumption: Yes, there are contractors like VR Systems that various states have outsourced election administration functions to. Indeed, they create vulnerabilities. But no, "hammering" them would not go undetected, allowing some kind of deep-state coup. Here's why:

At each precinct, in most states, before any report of precinct totals is made to the county, the precinct totals are printed, usually in duplicate and usually with observers from both parties present. One copy of the printout is then signed by witnesses, enclosed with the electronic results cartridge, and sealed in an envelope for hand delivery to the county election office. Then, in some counties, the electronic results are transmitted by modem for quick reporting of unofficial totals, while the spare printout is posted on the wall for everyone present to look at. Partisan observers and in some cases, the press frequently report these numbers.

Back in the election office, the typical procedure is that, after scanning each batch of ballots, the totals for that batch are printed on paper before being electronically delivered to the county election management system for incorporating into the totals. There are typically observers from both parties present at the county during this process, and observers from the press.

At the county, the unofficial totals are released to the press. Unofficial statewide reports of election totals usually come from press stringers putting together all the county results before any totals reach the state election office. The counties also report unofficial results electronically to the state election office — these reports are frequently done through outsourced systems, the "transfer points" that the conspiracy theory focuses on.

The fundamental problem is, there are too many witnesses from both parties, the press and the public who can see the numbers going in and compare them with the numbers the state announces. This makes tampering at these "transfer points" far too easy to detect for this to be an effective attack on the election.

None of what I've described above officially closes out the election. After the county is sure that every vote has been counted, it prepares the official report of canvass. In most counties, the memory cartridges and files produced when the polls close and the batches of ballots are scanned are re-read into a clean computer and the result is printed out as the official report of canvass, listing — for each candidate, the total votes received in each precinct or ballot batch along with the grand total for that candidate — think of it like a large spreadsheet, although spreadsheet software is not typically involved. In states around the country, before the board of elections signs off on this official report of canvass, they check the printouts from the precincts and the printouts from the scanners after each batch to see if there are any mistakes.

Those official reports of canvass from each county are then delivered to the state election office — on paper — where they are compared with the state's database of results for the election. Once the numbers all match, the statewide report of canvass is prepared, and the same kind of cross-checking against the paper reports from the counties is typically done before the state election election authorities sign off on the result, making the election official.

The key thing to note is that hacking those "transfer points" would, at its worst, corrupt only the unofficial early results reported to the press, and the press are highly likely to notice the corruption.

In reality, the election process does have weaknesses. The biggest weakness is that there are a huge number of clerical steps in the process, and people do make clerical errors. I live in one of the most closely balanced congressional districts in the country. Right now, the race hangs in the balance by under 100 votes, and two clerical errors have been uncovered so far. Each one flipped the race and narrowed the margin. Clerical errors are really maddening, but they are not the result of a conspiracy, they are simply examples of normal and predictable human behavior, and the system we have is designed to catch and correct them.

In rereading the e-mail quoted above, I note that I was a bit optimistic about the transparency of our election system. The rights of observers at polling places and vote counting centers are not as secure as they should be. An omniscient attacker could elect to attack only those polling places, vote centers and election offices where election observation is poor and paper records are not carefully checked. Fortunately, our enemies do not have godlike powers. From election to election, those interested in observability and accuracy push back, so a polling place that restricted observers in one election may well be well observed in the next.

The first reference to Hammer and Scorecard that I found in researching my reply to Khaya Himmelman was from Nov. 2, 2000, when a right-wing blog hosted a discussion with Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney who described a "CIA program known as 'Scorecard' [that] allows its users to change voting outcomes by hacking the transfer between local reporting stations and state or national data centers." The Hammer was, according to that blog, the supercomputer required to run Scoreard.

It is worth noting, however, that the Hammer and Scorecard mechanism is suspiciously similar to the 2004 theories about the Republican win in Ohio, except that instead of a partisan contractor in Kentucky, the theory blames operatives in some kind of deep state. Also note that we have since learned that McInerny's source for this story was Dennis L. Montgomery, a man responsible for a number of questionable stories.

5. The Nevada Phone Call

Late in the afternoon of Saturday November 14, 2020, I picked up the phone to find myself speaking to a lawyer interested in the recent election in Nevada. He told me that he was looking for a technical expert to help him challenge the processing of absentee ballots in Nevada. He did not identify his client, but that is entirely normal in such exploratory contacts.

My initial response when I receive such an inquiry was to ask for more information, not about the client, but about the kind of expertise he needed and how that expertise related to my qualifications and interests. I wasn't particularly interested in who it was that had contacted me, since that would generally be irrelevant unless I decided to involve myself in the case.

Over the course of the next hour or so, it slowly became apparent that he was calling on behalf of the Trump campaign, and that his goal was to overturn the election result in Nevada by finding some pretext to discount already-counted absentee ballots. This was not immediately apparent.

Immediately after that call on Saturday Nov. 14, I sent an e-mail to a friend of mine with significant behind-the-scenes connections in the Democratic Party. I wrote (with spelling corrections and hyperlinks added later):

Trump Nevada Strategy
Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2020 7:12 PM

Feel free to forward this wherever you think it would be helpful

I just had a long phone call from a lawyer for the Trump campaign working on their challenge to the election in Nevada. ... I learned something about their goal there:

In short, they want to challenge the signature checking on Nevada absentee ballots. There are real problems there, and they want to leverage these to ask the court to do a systematic adjustment to the vote totals of in-person versus absentee ballots that would adjust the count in their favor.

Real problems:

Nevada has contracted with an election vendor that remarkets a Diebold signature checking product. This product was almost certainly developed for the banking industry, and it is bundled by the vendor into a system for checking signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, plus other processing and sorting steps for those envelopes.

The vendor says that the system should be given reference signatures digitized at 200 dpi or more, but the state DMV database is apprently lower resolution, and that's what they're using. Bad.

Signature checking is not a strong way to authenticate voters, and it discriminates against those with signatures that have changed since getting their drivers licenses (the elderly) and against those who have not developed repeatable signatures (many of those under 30). Bad.

The rejection threshold is customer adjustable. Apparently there's no state standard for this, and the threshold is left to county officials. Bad. (The editorial that I co-wrote earlier this fall directly addressed this issue!)

So, they have grounds to attack this system.

But, in use:

Rejected absentee envelopes are sent for human judgement, so the machine has no final say on rejection, only on acceptance.

The Trump plan:

The Trump campaign will allege that the sensing threshold was set so that the software rejects on the order of 1% of the absentee envelopes. They will allege that this let large numbers of bad signatures bypass human inspection, and that those ballots should be subject to inspection.

While rejected ballots are all saved and a court could demand that they be reconsidered, once a ballot is accepted, it is mingled with other ballots and cannot therefore be subject to any kind of reconsideration.

Therefore, the remedy they are talking about is to ask the court to require the vote totals from absentee ballots to be "adjusted" downward to take into account the number of ballots that would have been rejected had the rejection threshold been adjusted at a "sensible" level (they suggest 10%) and had those ballots been subject to inspection by human eyeballs.

A lovely plan, except I have never heard of a request to simply slice off some fraction of absentee ballots like that, and as I've commented previously, rejection of any ballots on the basis of signature mismatches almost always disenfranchises far more honest voters than it prevents fraudulent votes.


As I said in the above e-mail, I found the suggested a judicial remedy to be bizarre. The following scheme is analogous: Suppose that, in any particular school year, we find that about 1% of high-school students are arrested for various crimes. Couldn't we save work by simply arresting 1% of them at random at the start of each semester? That would obviously be a travesty, but that's also the true of the proposal to throw out ballots at random because some ballots may have been improperly counted.

I think I actually gave the phone caller a simple numerical example to show how dangerous inaccurate signature checking can be. You don't even have to know how the checking is done to see the problem. Suppose that 1% of all ballots have fraudulent signatures, and suppose that signature checking is 90% accurate. To make things concrete, assume that exactly 10,000 ballots were cast in the election. The result?

This is extremely troubling. Statistics I have seen show that, nationally, 1% to 2% of absentee ballots are invalidated, including both rejections for signature mismatches and for such things as using the wrong return envelope or returning the ballot after the deadline. To add to the problem, commercial signature checking proucts are very difficult to evaluate. They claim to use artificial intelligence, and some may, but it is extremely hard to find clear statistics on the accuracy of such checking. I definitely recall telling the lawyer who called me about these issues.

Along the way during our conversation, I recall the lawyer telling me that he already had a "testifying expert" lined up. What he wanted was a "behind the scenes" expert who would not appear on the witness stand, but would do the legwork that the testifying expert would then craft into an expert report and in-court testimony.

I was troubled by this. All of my experience as an expert witness has been working in my own name. I signed my expert reports, and occasionally, I have been on the witness stand in court. The idea of having a behind the scenes expert anonymously supporting a testifying expert strikes me as questionable.

I wondered if perhaps, once he knew that I opposed his basic arguments, he wanted to retain me for the sole purpose of keeping me from testifying on behalf of the other side. I will never know because he never called back.

6. The Navid Keshavarez-Nia Phone Call

Saturday evening, Nov. 14, I received a brief e-mail from NR K [] asking when I would be available for a phone call. I said I was available at 3:00 PM Central Time Sunday. In his confirmation e-mail for the call, he signed his name Navid. He phoned at 5:00 PM, Sunday.

I was greatly puzzled by the call, and put some effort into finding out who the caller was. I didn't write down anything about the call itself until Tuesday afternoon, when I sent the following E-mail to several others involved with election integrity:

From: Jones, Douglas W []
Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2020 1:43 PM
Subject: Puzzling contact

I received a phone call Sunday evening from a concerned citizen worried about voting machine.

As the discussion developed, this "citizen" asserted:

He was full of "detail", but any time I pressed for anything that would confirm anything, he shifted the discussion. What I found fascinating is that the universe of "facts" he was asserting were in close conformance to the conspiracy theories circulating on the right wing, but he never once came across as a right-winger, he came across as scrupulously neutral.

So, aftereward, I used Google and Duck Duck Go on his e-mail address. Google found a cluster of dentists, all with south-Asian names, possibly the all the same dentist who had practiced in the North East US. Duck Duck Go found several Russian sites. What was clear is that the Gmail address of this character does not appear anywhere at all except perhaps one post on a Russian aviation web site. It's as if the Gmail address might have been born to communicate with me.

After the call ended, I speculated about who I'd been talking to. I'm pretty sure that the "facts" this guy was presenting involved a whole lot of fiction, and he seemed to be very intent on convincing me that the deep state was real, and that he was a first hand witness to how it works. Two real possibilities emerged:

  1. That I was being trolled — Borat Style — by "journalist" for the alt-right intent on discrediting what I've said in the media about this election and about the HAMMER/Scorecard nonsense.
  2. That I was speaking with one of the social media engineers working for or even from Russia to help shape the post-election dialogue in the US, and that he wanted to influence me to join in the nonsense.

Has anyone else had contact from persuasive proponents of the conspiracy theories? (I've also gotten paranoid-schizophrenic e-mails about the conspiracy, but those are easy to identify and discount. I'm far more concerned by moderatly coherent and apparently earnest trolling that could be coming from Fancy Bear or one of their allied agencies.

As I outlined in a previous sections, I already knew about the Hammer and Scorecard conspiracy theory, the Dominion-Sequoia-Smartmatic-Venezuela conspiracy theories, and theories about the involvement of George Soros before Navid Nia contacted me.

As to the use of Dominion equipment in foreign elections, that's very unlikely because their equipment is not widely used outside the United States. Some municipal elections in Canada are run using Dominion equipment, and there may be similar small-scale uses elsewhere. The fundamental problem is that the electoral systems of different countries are very different and the United States system is extreme — we put more races on the the ballot in our general elections than any other major country. As a result, other countries generally don't need the complexity of voting equipment built for use in the US.

Navid also described himself as a "white hat hacker" and talked about the DefCon voting village. In this context he implied that he'd worked with Harri Hursti. He pushed me to accept the theory that the kinds of vulnerabilities exposed at DefCon had been widely exploited in the United States. I pushed back against this, demanding evidence and telling him that he was not presenting evidence, just hypotheses.

Another topic that came up was "vote dumps" in Pennsylvania. He held that these upward steps in the statewide vote totals were highly suspicious evidence of fraud. I replied that these were in fact a result of the way votes are accumulated and reported. There was absolutely nothing unexpected in the pattern of vote accumulation shown in the graphs of purported vote dumps, and their basic shape was predicted long before the electon, as this CNN story discusses.

Yet another topic was the connection between Venezuela and Dominion Voting Systems. I argued that despite the slim factual basis for the theory, I had no reason to believe that there was any way this could have led to foreign influence over U.S. elections.

Again and again, during our conversation, after Navid had presented a theory about some form of vote fraud, I pushed back, asking for evidence. Again and again, he had no evidence and when I pressed, he would say something like, "well, let's move on to the next point."

As the long phone call progressed, I never had the impression that Navid believed the fraud theories he was presenting. Instead, it seemed that his goal was to sell me on them. As I said in my Nov. 17 E-mail, I began to wonder if I was being trolled, if the call was kind of elaborate practical joke or a contact from a Russian disinformation operation.

7. After the Phone Calls

So why did Trump's supporters contact me for help? After the phone call from Navid, I began searching the web. One thing I found was a strange Open Letter to Donald Trump written to Sydney Powell by Jim Condit Jr. It was not difficult to find that Condit had a long track record of odd (to say the least) politics, including running ads accusing "Zionist Jews" of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. In his open letter to Trump, Condit listed 5 members of the board of advisors of the Verified Voting Foundation, including me. Oddly, Condit promised that those he recommended would "testify before the Supreme Court that we need a new election, or that mail-in ballots are not secure." So far as I know, the U.S. Supreme Court does not hear testimony so this promise seems to discredit Condit's advice.

I also took the time to write Harri Hursti about the name dropping Navid had done. Harri looked in his e-mail logs and found that, indeed had e-mailed him around the same time that he e-mailed me, but that Harri hadn't replied.

I asked around, and someone searched historical WHOIS records and found the address associated with, and These connected the name to Navid Nia, from which it was a short jump to Dr. Navid Keshavarz-Nia, who turns out to be listed as "former SVP Cyber Security CI & Insider Threat, Deutsche Bank." That led me to an EdD dissertation done at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University. The title: A Qualitative Study of Knowledge Transfer Among Members of the United States Intelligence Community.

Not long after I'd found out this much, Sydney Powell began filing her now infamous "Kracken" lawsuits. When I got my hands on Pearson v. Kemp, filed on Nov. 25 in Georgia, I found Navid Keshavarz-Nia cited in Paragraph 15 with his (missing) declaration cited (mistakenly) as Exhibit 26.

Powell also used a declaration by Navid Keshavarz-Nia as Exhibit 109 of King v. Whitmer filed on Nov. 25 in Michigan. The content of this declaraction closely parallels what I recall from the phone call; I suspect it is also the declaration that was supposed to have been attached in Powell's Georgia case.

On Dec. 16, 2020, Michael Madden of the Washington Post contacted me about writing something to rebut voting-machine myths. This contact led to my Dec. 24, 2020 opinion piece in the Post, but in my reply to Madden's initial inquiry, I also wrote about the strange contacts I'd had from Nov. 14 and 15:

On Dec 16, 2020, at 3:18 PM, Jones, Douglas W wrote:


In addition to reading the usual sources about the past month worth of election stories, on Nov 14, I had a long talk on the phone with one of the lawyers preparing to argue one of their bizarre court challenges in Nevada. I never got his name; he was trying to talk me into being a witness for their case, but the more he described the argument he was pushing, the more bizarre the whole affair sounded. Then, on the 15th, Navid Keshavarz-Nia talked to me for an hour. Navid is the former Deutsche Bank official who the right-wing media describe as 'the smartest man in the room.' Later, I discovered that our conversation was essentially a complete run-through of the arguments in the affidavits he's filed in several of the Trump court cases.

From those two conversations, I've come away being utterly baffled by the Trump strategy. The remedies they're asking for don't make any sense, and their allegations of fraud never hold water. Instead, what I'm seeing is a shotgun blast of random old conspiracy theories, reheated with references to more recent events and offered as a bundle. In an hour of conversation, I was never able to get Navid to actually offer any facts to support any of his allegations. Instead, when pressed, he'd squirm to the side and shift the discussion to a different allegation.

What I can't figure out is why? Both the lawyer and Navid sounded like basically rational people. Do they really believe this stuff or are they just milking the Trump campaign for money? ...

And why did they call on me? I am solidly on record as being a critic of election technology, and I've filed many affidavits on behalf of those who feel that there are problems with elections. I know they've been mining my affidavits for material to back up their allegations, but it would take only the shallowest of research to find out that I am hardly a likely ally of theirs. Are they really that incompetent, or did they reach out to me to deliberately leak Trumpist strategy and make sure that their arguments would be refuted if they ever made it to the witness stand in any law court?

The same day, I was contacted by a reporter from the New Yorker. That led to a story by Sue Halpern published on Dec. 20, The Catch-22 of Addressing Election Security. In the story, she wrote:

... Jones, himself, was surprised last fall when, he says, he got two calls from people claiming to represent Donald Trump, who asked him to weigh in on various voter-fraud lawsuits. "I immediately wondered why in hell were these people phoning me, and I started Googling around and found a bizarre screed that listed me and a shortlist of others as people who were guaranteed to testify before the Supreme Court that the voting system was utterly and completely full of flaws," he said. (He added, "I know I’m reading something written by someone who is an ignoramus, because the Supreme Court doesn’t take testimony.") Jones declined the offers

The screed that Jones referred to is an open letter to Trump’s lawyers and "other freedom fighters," published online by a perennially failed Ohio congressional candidate and avowed anti-Semite named Jim Condit, Jr. In what is now the topsy-turvy world of election security, Condit advances the rigged-election narrative while also advocating for the use of hand-marked paper ballots ...

I said far more to her, but as is entirely normal, she had a story to produce and only selectively used what I'd said that contributed to her story line. The big point here is that I was happy to tell anyone who asked about the strange phone calls I'd received on Nov. 14 and 15.

8. The Narrative Wanders

The mechanisms asserted by those objecting to the 2020 election results continued to change in the weeks that followed. Some of these changes seem to have begun even before Navid Nia phoned. On Nov. 13, Representative Louie Gohmert (R, Texas) announced on Newsmax that the US Military had raided Scytl servers in Germany after determining that votes had "cycled through" and been modified by those servers. (See this You Tube video.)

Somehow, the story now involved Scytl servers in Germany, not Spain (where Scytl was based). I suspect the move was motivated by the need to involve the US military in the story. We have plenty of troops in Germany, making a US raid there far more plausible than a raid in Spain. This altered story was covered intensely by the right wing media. See, for example, the Gateway Pundit story by Jim Hoft, posted Nov. 13, 2020, Did the US Raid European Software Company Scytl and Seize their Servers in Germany?.

The story continued to evolve, notably in the Absolute series of videos issued by Mike Lindell starting with Absolute Proof, on Feb. 5, 2021, where the focus was on China, not Scytl. Lindells movies used lots of flashy graphics, including hexadecimal dumps of material that purported to be packet captures, but examining that data showed it to be textual data, things like lists of addresses and ZIP codes.

Khaya Himmelman wrote a series of pieces for The Dispatch debunking Lindell's videos: Assessing the Various Claims in Mike Lindell’s ‘Absolute Proof’, on Feb. 16, 2021, Fact Checking Mike Lindell’s ‘Absolute Interference’ Video, on May 10, and Inside the Mind of Mike Lindell, on July 29, 2021.

Khaya consulted me on a number of her stories, and she invited me to come with her to help her cover Mike Lindell's Cyber Symposium in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Aug. 10-12, 2021. For 3 long days, we immersed ourselves in Lindell's world. Khaya's story based on this trip came out on Aug. 16, 2021, The Big Reveal That Wasn’t. The title refers to the fact that Lindell promised that he would reveal facts at his symposium that would once and for all prove that the election was stolen. That never happened, but the theories presented at the symposium were interesting. The names I'm using for these theories are my own:

I got the feeling while at the symposium that most of the attendees didn't really understand the details of these theories enough to notice the conflicts between them. Rather, what mattered to most of the attendees was that the theories looked like science and all of them seemed to point to something wrong with the election.

I came away feeling that Seth Keshel and Draza Smith were probably sincere, presenting their honest conclusions. I was convinced, while listening to them, that their conclusions were wrong, based on faulty data analysis and faulty assumptions, but I cannot draw character judgements from what I saw and heard.

Doug Frank's analysis, like that of Navid Keshavarez-Nia, left me deeply troubled. A good scientific talk should explain the sources of the data and explain the analytical techniques used to reach a conclusion. Frank's presentaiton seemed to me to be a flood of flashy graphics designed to distract from issues of source and analytical technique. As was the case with Navid Nia, I was not convinced that Frank actually believed what he presented. Again, I had the impresson that I was facing a salesman trying to sell me something.

Of all the talks about the 2020 election at the symposium, Colonel Waldron's smear of George Soros stood out. Despite the fact that his underlying theory of election fraud focused on China and required very little participation from U.S. residents, he spent a huge fraction of his time smearing Soros, using graphics and rhetoric that seemed to be lifted straight out of the Third Reich.

There was quite a bit more to Mike Lindell's Cyber Symposium than arguments about a stolen election. Eduardo Bolsonaro spoke on behalf of his father's campaign in Brazil, and Steve Bannon gave an impassioned speech linking our future in the United States with Brazil's Bolsonaro and Hungary's Viktor Orbán. I think that for many attendees, the Cyber Symposium served more as a place for election deniers to organize their political agenda for the future than to prove anything about what happened in 2020.

8. Conclusion

The most important conclusion I draw from this experience is that many of the allegations made by Sidney Powell and Navid Nia and later by Mike Lindell and some of his guest speakers were more likely based on conspiracy theories that have been around for many years, and in some cases decades, and not based on new evidence uncovered during and after the 2020 election.

Tracing the history of these conspiracy theories is fascinating because they mutate. Conspiracy theories that originally attacked Republican operatives and supported Democrats have switched parties. Theories that originally vilified Venezuela now vilify China (with still, occasionally, a nod to Venezuela). Conspiracy theories that originated in the Obama era have now been adjusted to to defend Trump. Evidence and plausibility seem to be irrelevant in this process.