Republicans to begin auditing 2020 ballots in effort to undermine election results
Nearly five months after Joe Biden was declared the official winner of the presidential race in Arizona, state Republicans are set to begin their own audit of millions of ballots, an unprecedented move many see as a thinly-veiled effort to continue to undermine confidence in the 2020 election results. The GOP-controlled state senate ordered the audit, set to formally get underway this week, which may be one of the most absurd and alarming consequences to date of Donald Trump’s baseless lies about the 2020 election.
It will be executed by a private Florida-based company. It also reportedly will be supported from far-right lawyer Lin Wood and observers from the far-right news network One America News Network.
The audit will be solely focused on Maricopa county, the largest in the state and home to a majority of Arizona’s voters. Biden narrowly defeated Trump in the county, a crucial battleground that helped the president win Arizona by around 10,000 votes. The audit will include a hand recount of all 2.1m ballots cast in the county, a process expected to take months.
Trump and allies have claimed, without evidence, there was fraud in Maricopa county. But the county has already conducted two separate audits of the 2020 election and found no irregularities. The Republican decision to continue to investigate the results, months after they were certified by both county and state officials, extends the life of election conspiracy theories. The audit also comes as Arizona Republicans are advancing legislation in the state that would make it harder to vote by mail.
“They’re trying to find something that we know doesn’t exist,” said Arizona secretary of state Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, who serves as the state’s top election official. “It’s ludicrous that people think that if they don’t like the results they can just come in and tear them apart.”
David Becker, an election administration expert and the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said the effort was so shoddy he was hesitant to acknowledge it as a legitimate investigation.
“I’ve never seen an ‘audit’ that was remotely similar, and given the fundamental flaws, I don’t think this process can even be described as an audit,” he said in an email.
Other voting rights groups have expressed similar concerns.
“At this point, additional audits will have little value other than to stoke conspiracy theories and partisan gamesmanship – or worse,” the groups, which included the Carter Center in Atlanta and the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote in a letter to the Arizona senate earlier this month. “In short, this appears to be a decision driven by politics rather than a search for the truth.”
Alarm over the audit has escalated in recent weeks after Republicans announced the firms that would be leading the effort. The company that will lead the audit, a Florida-based company called Cyber Ninjas, is led by Doug Logan, who supported several baseless conspiracy theories about the election.
In December, he retweeted a post that questioned the validity of Maricopa’s ballot count and falsely said Trump may have gotten 200,000 more votes than were reported in Arizona, according to the Arizona Mirror, which first reported his involvement in the audit.
He also made statistical comparisons between elections in Venezuela and the 2020 race in a tweet that included a “stop the steal” hashtag, according to the Mirror. Cyber Ninjas is not accredited by the US Election Assistance Commission to inspect voting machines, the Washington Post reported.
“You’re bringing in this firm that’s on a treasure hunt,” Hobbs said. “They are not qualified, they don’t even know what they’re doing.”
It’s not clear how Cyber Ninjas was chosen to lead the audit. Karen Fann, the president of the Arizona senate, did not return a request for comment. In an interview with One America News Network, a far right news outlet, Fann said the audit was needed to answer questions about the 2020 election.
“It is our job to make sure those laws are followed to the T, that they are always above reproach, and if we find any mistakes, we need to fix it and or report it,” she told the outlet.
The Arizona state senate is renting a Phoenix arena to conduct the audit and there is growing scrutiny over how the process is being funded. While the state senate has allocated $150,000 towards the effort, it is also being backed by private donors.
L Lin Wood, an attorney who promoted some of the most inflammatory lies about the 2020 election, told Talking Points Memo he had donated $50,000 to a fundraiser to support the effort. Wood also told the outlet that he hosted Logan at his South Carolina home last year.
“That should scare a lot of people,” said Martin Quezada, a Democrat in the Arizona state senate. “Who are the people that are gonna be donating to this? It’s already shown that this is the people who have an agenda and that agenda is to show that there was some sort of fraud, that there was a stolen election.”
It’s also unclear how much access media and other independent observers will have to the audit. Reporters will be prohibited from using pens and paper and will have to sign up to serve as official observers, a spokesman for the audit told an Arizona Mirror reporter on Wednesday. The Arizona Republican party also tweeted that the process will be live-streamed and that observers from One America News Network, the far fight outlet, would ensure nonpartisan “transparency”.
There is also concern the audit could lead to voter intimidation. In its statement of work, Cyber Ninjas wrote it had already performed “non-partisan canvassing” in Arizona after the 2020 election and knocked on voters’ doors to “confirm if valid voters actually lived at the stated address”.
The company said it would continue that work during the audit “to validate that individuals that show as having voted in the 2020 general election match those individuals who believe they have cast a vote”.
Such activity could amount to illegal voter intimidation, a group of voting rights lawyers wrote to Cyber Ninjas and others involved in the audit earlier this month.
Quezada, the Arizona state senator, said it was impossible to separate the audit from the suite of voting restrictions in the Arizona state legislature that would make it harder to vote by mail. Among the most prominent is a bill that would essentially do away with a longstanding and popular practice in the state that allows any eligible voter in the state to automatically receive a mail-in ballot if they want. Another measure would require voters to provide identification with their mail-in ballot.
“They want to justify all of the changes that they are already proposing to election laws because they need to have some sort of legitimacy behind it to justify the severe restrictions they’re hoping to put in place here,” he said.
“Every element of this audit, from the beginning, to the end, it just stinks to high hell.”
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