After appearing on a flyer promoting an upcoming “election integrity” event hosted by a far-right conspiracy group, the U.S. Air Force Academy says it has no formal relationship any of the involved parties. This Tuesday, Spunky Patriots, a Colorado Springs-based conspiracy group, is hosting Team Election Integrity Protocol at Fervent Church to promote the concept of distributed ledger voting via a live demonstration election using what they call their “election integrity protocol.”
Of the many bills to die a quick death in the Colorado House State Affairs Committee this past session, Rep. Ken DeGraaf’s (R-Co Springs) Distributed Ledger Voting bill was perhaps the most ambitious. It aimed to replace the state’s current voting tabulation system, widely considered to be the gold standard among state systems, with a digital database called a distributed ledger, which is based on the same technology as cryptocurrency. As with most bills sent to the so-called “kill committee,” HB23-1170 didn’t survive its hearing.
Following opposition from the Secretary of State’s office and Common Cause, DeGraaf called his witnesses. They included a couple software engineers who had no experience running elections and Republican party volunteers, some of whom had served as poll watchers, all who were well-versed in online election conspiracies. Two testified that they knocked doors as part of the “Colorado citizens’ audit” canvassing project. That field effort was launched by another conspiracy group, U.S. Election Integrity Plan, and led to three of the group’s founders being sued by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP for voter intimidation.
Besides DeGraaf (who says he is unable to attend), Team EIP, as they call themselves, includes David Brown, J. Cole, Michael Enos, Donna LaBelle, Dwight Johnson, Dr. Brian Mitchell, Robert Miller, Margarita Osterman, Tanya Regan, Spencer Roberts, and Steve Smith.
The original version of the flyer also lists one final name: Air Force Academy CS Dept. Furthermore, the EIP website featured this very specific claim:
“The Air Force Academy will be implementing EIP as a Capstone Course in the Fall of 2023. This course will teach cadets at the Air Force how to build their own EIP Systems and Network Nodes.”
Spencer Roberts, whom DeGraaf credited during his committee hearing with creating the slide deck DeGraaf used to present the bill, lists “Mentor for Air Force Academy Capstone Project focusing on Blockchain usage in Election Systems” on his LinkedIn page. He also runs the Team EIP website and did not respond to an email request for comment. This article will be updated with any response received. A Twitter account identified as Roberts has tweeted the event flyer at numerous national election fraud conspiracists, including Lauren Boebert, Mike Lindell, Michael Flynn, and Kari Lake.
Reached for comment, USAFA spokesman Dean Miller says that while the Academy has robust research programs in a number of disciplines, including its computer science department, it is not affiliated with EIP and has no plans to make distributed ledger voting part of its curriculum. He noted that following the Colorado Times Recorder’s inquiry, the USAFA reached out to EIP and asked the group to remove the USAFA name from their site.
“We have no formal relationship with them at all,” says Miller. “In fact our marketing team is in the process of asking them to remove mention of the Air Force Academy from their website.”
Asked whether the USAFA’s research into blockchain and distributed ledgers is related to voting or elections, Miller said, “No, we have just a very general blockchain research. Period. Full stop.”
EIP appears to have complied, as the flyer no longer mentions the AFA CS Dept, and the website now reads: “A prestigious university will be implementing EIP as a Capstone Course in the Fall of 2023. This course will teach student how to build their own EIP Systems and Network Nodes using Blockchain technology.”
Reached by phone, Rep. DeGraaf says that while he’s unable to attend Tuesday’s demonstration, he supports the EIP election process as a way to build trust, especially given our state and country’s current partisan divide.
“So what you have is a system where both sides don’t trust the other, which is fine,” says DeGraaf. “That’s the nature of politics, unfortunately. So what you need is a system that you can trust, a system that can be validated as opposed to a system where somebody tells you, ‘this system is secure. Don’t look behind the curtain.’
“We have an election system that is outdated and it’s no longer supported. And yet we say, ‘well, it’s secure. Just because it’s the most valuable asset, it’s the most high-value target in the entire country, doesn’t mean anybody would want to hack it.’ Now, that doesn’t mean there is fraud, it just means that you can’t prove there’s no fraud. And so what EIP does is it bypasses all that. It’s a protocol that produces real-time results that can be seen. Instead of having a system where I demand that you believe that it’s secure, we put it in a transparent box.”
DeGraaf said that including the USAFA on the flyer was “premature,” but said he still believed they were doing relevant research, including potential “Capstone Courses” this fall.
“USAFA has just been removed from everything because they’re not Team EIP,” says DeGRaaf. “They’re doing research on it, but they’re not Spunky Patriots. They’re not endorsing it. It’s just purely research, which is fantastic because the cadets are learning from a high-level protocol with a distributed ledger and they’re learning how to use that. This is an application of learning that. But they’re not Team EIP. So that was just a realization that listing USAFA was not appropriate.”
Spunky Patriots was actively involved in the El Paso County Republican party primary races last year. The group supported the more conservative “grassroots” candidates, such as former state Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Penrose), most of whom campaigned on their beliefs that not only was the 2020 election rigged in favor of Biden, but that subsequent local and primary elections were also fraudulent.
Spunky Patriots did not respond to an email request for comment. This article will be updated with any response received.