How United Sovereign Americans is Radicalizing an Anti-Voting Movement

A Zoom screen featuring photos of United Sovereign Americans founders Marly Hornik and Harry Haury, along with images of a child with a snare drum, The Federalist Papers, and a graphic of Gadsden Flag snake.

On a recent Tuesday in May, nearly 120 people from across the country logged on to a Microsoft Teams meeting for a study session. The topic? A short history lesson on legislation and case law about noncitizens allegedly registered to vote throughout the country. 

“Hello. Welcome!” A warm, soft voice greeted the attendees as they logged on. “If you’ve never been here before, what we do at this meeting is review and dissect parts of federal election laws… so we can become more educated in how to protect our fundamental right outlined in the United States Constitution.”

The session was led by Marly Hornik, the co-founder of United Sovereign Americans (USA) — a nascent far-right legal group that’s organizing to disrupt the 2024 election with a series of lawsuits aimed at upending the voting process in a handful of states.

Even for the most plugged-in politicos and voting nerds, an hour-long lecture on election law — that essentially amounted to reading full-on passages of the U.S. code — was enough to put anyone to sleep. But Hornik kicked off the lecture with a simple question that kept attendees rapt, hanging on to her every word: “What steps can citizens take to protect our elections from that very clear and obvious potential [of noncitizen voting]?”

By the time Hornik finished her presentation, the virtual meeting room swelled to nearly 160 people. For the next hour, she fielded a flood of questions from attendees eager to know more about the group’s efforts in the courts — and what they can do on the ground in their communities to protect their elections. 

It’s part of USA’s multi-pronged anti-voting effort to toss the 2024 election into chaos. The group is mounting a longshot legal effort to dispute voter rolls throughout the country. In early March, United Sovereign Americans filed a lawsuit in Maryland challenging the state’s voter roll maintenance practices and other election procedures. The group says they plan to file similar lawsuits in at least nine states challenging election administration and voting laws. 

Though a federal judge tossed out their Maryland lawsuit, the group recently filed an appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In one of the group’s more recent online meetings, in mid-May, Hornik said that they’re next preparing to file a lawsuit in Pennsylvania aimed at the state’s voter registration records. 

United Sovereign Americans is hardly the first conservative group to file anti-voting lawsuits with the goal of disrupting the 2024 election — groups like the Public Interest Legal Foundation, the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and the Republican National Committee are currently doing just that in a number of battleground states — but USA is complementing its legal strategy with something more insidious and potentially dangerous: building a grassroots movement of volunteers radicalized to believe there’s mass fraud in the elections system, and training them to confront officials on how they administer elections. In such a charged political climate for election workers, the concern is that USA’s efforts may contribute to an already heightened risk of political violence in the 2024 election season.

A movement born from disinformation and voter intimidation.

United Sovereign Americans was born in the wake of the NY Citizens Audit, a group started in 2022 by Marly Hornik that described itself as a “non-partisan group of citizens dedicated to restoring and maintaining the essential, founding American principle of sovereignty through honest, provable elections in New York and across the nation.” 

In practice, what the NY Citizens Audit amounted to was a group of people that spread disinformation about mass voter fraud throughout the state of New York. The group claimed they obtained voter roll databases from state and local boards of elections throughout the state and conducted their own audit of the records, alleging to have found “massive irregularities which appear to reflect violations of state and federal law.” 

The group then recruited volunteers to investigate the irregularities, by posing as county board of elections staff and going door-to-door in at least 13 New York counties to interrogate voters about their voter registration status. 

When the effort caught the attention of the New York State Board of Elections, the board released a statement warning residents of individuals “confronting voters regarding their registration status, and erroneously accusing voters of committing a crime because of how they appear in the state voter database.” The stunt also caught the attention of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who issued the group a cease-and-desist order for their effort, which James claimed violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act for intimidating voters through threats. 

The cease-and-desist order may have put a stop to Hornik’s door-to-door tactics in New York (she said in a statement at the time to Spectrum News that her group was “not engaged in any canvassing”), but it caught the attention of Harry Haury, who approached her about nationalizing her efforts in New York, according to the Los Angeles Times. Haury is a self-described cybersecurity forensics expert who, according to his bio on USA’s website, was “directly involved with elections systems analysis after the 2020 election where he was the first to advocate focusing on the obvious and massive election misconduct.” 

Together the duo formed United Sovereign Americans to, essentially, repeat what Hornik did in New York across the country. Hornik and Haury then recruited volunteers in 20 states to help them obtain voter registration rolls through information requests and analyze the data for irregularities, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Among the numerous allegations in the Maryland lawsuit is one claiming that the state’s current voter registration rolls are inaccurate and out-of-date. The crux of USA’s argument is that inaccurate voter rolls lead to illegally cast votes, which is a civil rights violation because the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right for people to choose their own elected representatives. When an election is marred by hundreds of thousands of illegal votes, it dilutes the power of lawful votes and violates the civil rights of U.S. citizens, the group claims. 

Leah Tulin, a senior counsel in the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, told Democracy Docket that it’s not hard to see why this might seem like a compelling argument to get people on board with USA’s efforts. “Saying ‘this is about civil rights and the right to suffrage’ sounds appealing,” she said in an interview. “But it actually turns civil rights laws on their heads and has absolutely no basis in either law or fact.”

The problem is that this plan is based on data compiled by its volunteers who don’t have the necessary election expertise or training to properly interpret, which United Sovereign Americans is then presenting to the court as fact. 

In Maryland, for example, the group alleges that there are nearly 80,000 “current apparent registration violations” with the Maryland State Voter Registration Database that could allow hundreds of thousands of illegal votes to be counted. Due to this, USA asked the court to block the state’s current elections practices and appoint someone to adopt new elections procedures. It’s a legal argument that is “completely upside down,” Tulin said.

And Hornik knows that. “What I do want to say about the USA litigation strategy is, first off, if you thought it was going to be easy, that’s an unreasonable expectation,” she said at a recent virtual meeting. The strategy is to file as many lawsuits in as many states as possible, with the hope that at least one judge, somewhere, will rule in their favor, she told the Los Angeles Times. 

“Marly Hornik has been quite open about what their stated goal is, which is essentially to create some sort of circuit split and get the Supreme Court to rule in their favor before the 2024 election,” Tulin noted. 

Building a grassroots effort across the country.

United Sovereign Americans’ lawsuits might be a legal longshot, but it’s not the group’s only goal. USA is cultivating a grassroots movement that, much like in 2020 and 2022, is radicalizing a large swath of people across the country to become election vigilantes. The weekly meetings — which the group labels as Study Sessions — that Hornik hosts typically start simple enough, with a specific theme — like noncitizen voting or the Federalist Papers No. 10 — to give a brief lecture on before they devolve into a call to action, with Hornik preaching about the corruption of our elections. 

“‘The people of the several states shall choose those representatives,” Hornik said during a virtual meeting on April 9, which has since been removed by the group. “This is the philosophy that we have to anchor ourselves to no matter what.”

Beyond United Sovereign Americans’ weekly study sessions and their legal efforts, the group is also recruiting volunteers for on-the-ground efforts to promote election integrity at the grassroots level. 

“United Sovereign Americans has measured the effect of millions of instances of election fraud-as defined by the US Department of Justice-on the 2022 midterm elections,” Hornik said in an emailed statement to Democracy Docket. “We have put it all together into a comprehensive and easy to understand framework, that shows our voting system is broken, and the intent of qualified citizen voters has been drowned out by error. In each state, we are proving that election officials do not check who their voters are, grant everyone a vote regardless, can’t or don’t reconcile, and disregard system accuracy requirements.”

The USA website includes a printable form called the “Resolution for a Legally Valid 2024 Election” that it encourages its volunteers to print out and get election officials to sign. The form essentially asks that election officials sign a form ensuring that they will administer a “legally valid” election, wherein voter rolls are accurate and only votes from eligible voters are counted. The resolution, according to USA, is meant to be a “citizen-to-citizen educational document designed to be used at the town board level and up” and “opens the way for discussions with board members of other towns, party officials, business owners, attorneys, and more.”

The USA website also doesn’t outright ask for volunteers to canvas their communities to get people to sign the resolution — a similar tactic for which Hornik and the NY Citizens Audit were ordered by the New York Attorney General’s Office to stop doing back in 2022. What the group does say on its website is that “weekly training is provided via a national call where we share successes, discuss challenges, and review the Resolution and scripts” and that the group’s “process is ready for you to speak on behalf of all those whom you love, and those coming who shall be born into freedom as you were.”

During a virtual meeting on May 21, when one attendee asked Hornik for clarity on what, exactly, the resolution is asking of election officials, she said that USA is “asking for their support. We’re asking for their signature. And, to be honest, we’re putting a little pressure on because… the idea is that you can’t just not sign. You have to come down as ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’”

Hornik told Democracy Docket in an emailed statement that it has “volunteers in 22 states, covering 351 electoral votes” who are “presenting Resolutions in public forums such as County Commissioners, City Council and Civic Group meetings.” When asked if the group is worried that such efforts might violate the federal Voting Rights Act or Ku Klux Klan Act, which the NY Citizens Audit was accused of, Hornik responded “respectfully, no comment.”

The group claims that its volunteers have “already presented countless hours of election validity education to representatives by making use of the three-minute public comment period at town board meetings” and that “many towns have signed on with a clear understanding of need and objective,” but it does not list any such communities that have signed on. 

USA’s resolution was introduced and considered in at least one county in Florida in April. The Collier County Board of County Commissioners discussed adopting USA’s resolution, according to the minutes of their April 23 meeting, but ultimately agreed not to adopt it. The cumulative effect of United Sovereign Americans’ legal and grassroots organizing efforts is something that worries democracy and voting rights advocates like Tulin at the Brennan Center. “The danger of making these kinds of unsupported allegations is that it does feed misinformation and disinformation, which threatens our public confidence in elections,” she said. “And it threatens election officials, because it heightens the risk of political violence, and it diverts their resources from administering elections to dealing with false allegations about the election system.”