Douglas Frank, an Ohio math teacher, affixed his Texas flag print bow tie, led a booming rendition of the National Anthem and then walked a crowd through an absurd mathematical equation that he claimed proves the 2020 election was stolen.
“Just about every county in the country was hacked,” Frank told the dozens of Texans huddled in a ballroom at a local country club on Sunday. When he finished speaking more than 90 minutes later, they gave him a standing ovation.
This is how the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen grows even bigger. More than a year later, there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. But Frank is still winning audiences with lawmakers, election officials and voters across the country.
Currently on leave from his teaching position, Frank has traveled to Texas and dozens of other states, claiming he uncovered an algorithm proving the 2020 election was stolen nationwide, even as his conclusions have been debunked by mathematicians and election experts.
“At the core of how our democracy works is that we have to trust election results,” said Justin Grimmer, a political science professor at Stanford University. “Luckily, the theory is so crazy that I think only the people who really want to believe or really, really want to see some conspiracy in the world would be persuaded. But nevertheless, I think there’s a real danger there.”
Frank is just one in an army of conspiracy theorists, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s election lies, who are dedicated to trying to convince others the 2020 election was corrupt. As of December, it was a belief shared by a third of Americans, who said Joe Biden was an illegitimate president, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll.
In an interview with CNN, he stood by his flawed conclusions, remaining adamant in his belief that the elections are rigged – regardless of the many experts who have disproven his claims.
“I know the elections are not real. I know the elections are being manipulated,” Frank said in an interview with CNN. “Regardless of who wins. I just want ‘em to be fair.”
Conspiracy-minded ‘super moms’
Across the country, Frank has connected with women he has dubbed “super moms.” They are women who have embraced unfounded election conspiracy theories and are engaged in efforts to expose the nonexistent widespread fraud.
In New Hampshire, one of the women has pushed for a so-called forensic audit of her state’s 2020 election results and has promoted efforts to ban voting machines and move to hand-count-only elections.
In Colorado, women have organized door-knocking campaigns to try to uncover phantom voters.
And in Pennsylvania, women have launched voter canvasses, pressured state GOP lawmakers to launch a 2020 election review and are now pushing to get rid of electronic voting machines across the state.
What elevates Frank above the everyday conspiracy theorist are his financial backing and his intensive travel schedule.
Critically, he has the backing of Mike Lindell. The My Pillow CEO is a deep-pocketed purveyor of election disinformation and told CNBC he has already spent $25 million on his efforts to push election fraud claims.
In an interview, Frank told CNN that he is an “expert witness” for Lindell’s attorney, and he is paid for specific projects. He said groups that invite him to speak cover the cost of his travel and lodging. Others donate money to support his efforts. Still, Frank insisted he wasn’t motivated by money or his newfound stardom among election deniers.
“My goal is to be able to pay my bills, and it’s working,” Frank said. “I’ve been able to do this a year now and my bank balance isn’t getting smaller.”
Debunking Frank’s fraud claims
Before Frank arrives at a speaking gig, he creates an elaborate slideshow complete with county-by-county graphs. An animated public speaker, he offers a bit of his bio, flips through the graphs and describes how a “sixth order polynomial” equation demonstrates that the election was stolen.
“I was the perfect person in this world to discover this,” Frank told state lawmakers at a stop in Colorado. “I have exactly the right skills. I love swimming in big data.”
The equation may be better suited to math wonks, but Frank takes liberties in his presentation with snappy lines that succinctly – and inaccurately – describe his findings.
“America was stolen by an Excel spreadsheet,” he told the crowd at a North Carolina event.
In Idaho, he explained his theory on phantom voters: “They are inflating our registration rolls, stuffing phantom ballots and then cleaning it up afterwards. It’s that simple.”
He has even absurdly claimed his discoveries could land Trump back in the Oval Office.
“I’d like the country to stand up and say, ‘Wow, this thing was ripped off. Let’s do a do-over or let’s put Trump back in office,’ ” Frank said in an August interview on the Truth & Liberty livecast.
Grimmer, the Stanford University professor, said Frank has a way of wooing crowds with his professorial demeanor but that ultimately his conclusions are meaningless.
“I think this took my research group an afternoon. You uncover that there’s no basis for this,” said Grimmer, who looked at data for 42 states and found that Frank’s assessments do not provide any evidence of voter fraud. “But if you’re not someone who, like me, spends all day working on statistics and data, six order polynomials and nearly perfect correlations — it sounds like he’s uncovered something really impressive.”
Frank uses the number of registered voters by age group and prior voter trends to predict voter turnout, then claims it is evidence of fraud when it aligns with actual voter turnout. Put another way: Frank’s analysis finds that age groups with more people have more people who vote, which Frank then interprets as fraud, Grimmer said.
“Effectively, what he’s doing is he’s discovered that anything that you go out and measure in the world is closely related to itself,” Grimmer said.
Aside from Frank’s flawed interpretation of the math, there are extensive election security protocols in place that would prevent the kind of widespread hacking and phantom vote-stuffing that Frank has described.
“If you even change a period, a period in the election programming, it sends up a red flag that immediately stops the entire process until we can identify what would have triggered that red flag,” said Isabel Longoria, the elections administrator for Harris County – the most populous county in Texas and home to some 2.5 million voters.
In Harris County alone, election officials inspect thousands of voting machines – repeatedly – in the months leading up to elections.
“Six months out, we start checking all 13,000 pieces of voting equipment in Harris County, opening them up, do they turn on? Have they been tampered with? Can we take them to a voting location? Are all the buttons working?” Longoria said.
Election officials run accuracy tests on the machines under the watchful eyes of bipartisan observers. On Election Day, officials track the number of people showing up to vote and the number of ballots cast – one of the many safeguards that would catch an election inflated by phantom voters, according to Longoria.
Longoria said she is required by law to update the voter rolls daily, and she noted that it would be effectively impossible for even a coordinated group to break in and inflate the voters rolls in each individual county.
“Breaking into multiple buildings, multiple systems in tandem, with not a single red flag going off in this incredibly sensitive system, all in unison, right? As you have all eyes on elections from every election staff,” Longoria said.
Longoria revealed little frustration as she ran through the extensive checks and balances in the election system and debunked a wide range of conspiracy theories.
“I love answering these questions, and I love geeking out and getting all the details,” she said. “My job is to make sure that you can feel, as a voter, good and secure about our system.”
Spreading the big lie nationwide
When Lindell and Frank met with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on two occasions last year, Merrill said, it also didn’t take much effort for him to discredit their wild election claims.
“Every time they gave us an example, we were able to refute what they showed us without even knowing what they were going to do when they arrived,” said Merrill, who’s a Republican.
Addresses they claimed were stocked with phantom voters turned out to be facilities like apartment complexes or assisted living facilities, where multiple people resided and were registered to vote.
“The information that they had been sharing with us could have been cleared up by doing a simple Google search of addresses,” Merrill said.
Frank acknowledged that the Alabama presentation had been a “complete botch” and blamed it on a newly hired staffer working on his team.
To others, Frank’s presentation is fuel for their baseless suspicions that President Joe Biden wasn’t fairly elected.
“Some people say we know that other states are wrong, but we think Kentucky must be right,” Kentucky state Sen. Adrienne Southworth said. “And I say, well, how do you know? And they have no idea. They just assume, and so I said, well, that’s kind of the problem.”
Southworth held an event featuring Frank and, after seeing his work, said she had come away more convinced that 2020 was problem-plagued.
“I think the whole world is on the edge right now of – are we going to continue trusting the system?” Southworth said.
Kentucky was just one of the stops on Frank’s nationwide tour.
In Missouri, a “voter fraud is real bootcamp” featured Frank and a state representative, with a flyer calling on county clerks to attend.
In Colorado, Frank met with Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk now under investigation by the FBI and others for her alleged involvement in a security breach of the county’s election system last year. Peters has defended her actions, claiming she conducted a backup of the voting system to preserve records.
In Montana, the Montana Free Press reported that Frank met with staffers for the state attorney general.
“We’re going into each state – clandestinely – and I meet privately with legislators and secretaries of states and attorney generals,” Frank said at an event in Dallas last year.
This week, in his return to Texas, Frank appeared with a handful of candidates running for everything from county offices to Congress. He urged the crowd not to buy into the idea that Texas is becoming a battleground state, insisting “they” – Frank never identified who – were stocking the state voter rolls.
“They’re getting ready to switch you purple,” Frank said. “Don’t believe it. You’re red.”
After his pitch to Lone Star State voters, he sat down for his interview with CNN and defended his efforts to undermine confidence in America’s elections.
“It’ll be a constitutional crisis. It will be a crisis. It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen. And I’m helping that happen. Yes,” Frank said.