PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona Republicans’ partisan review of the 2020 election results got off to a rocky start when their contractors broke ballot counting rules and election experts warned that work was dangerous for democracy.
When auditors stopped the count and returned the ballots this week, the situation had not improved. In the past week alone, the only audit executive with substantial electoral experience was kicked from the building, went on the radio to say he was resigning, and then backed down hours later. The journal’s Twitter accounts were suspended for breaking the rules. A conservative Republican senator withdrew her support, calling the process “sloppy.” And the lead auditor confirmed what has long been suspected: that his work was paid for almost entirely by supporters of Donald Trump who were active in the former president’s movement to spread false accounts of fraud.
It all happened nearly 100 days in a process that was supposed to take “about 60 days,” according to Senate Republicans who started it. And it’s not over yet. The contractors are now producing a report on the findings which could take weeks or more. for writing.
The turmoil casts even more doubt on the conclusions of what donors describe as a “forensic audit,” but what experts and critics are saying is a deeply flawed partisan process.
“Not even a bit to be saved at this point,” said Senator Paul Boyer, the state’s first Republican senator to publicly oppose the audit in May. “They’ve botched it at so many points along the way it’s unrecoverable.”
Boyer’s opposition became less lonely over the weekend when another Republican, Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, one of the Legislature’s most vocal advocates for stricter election laws, agreed that ” the Trump audit “was” sloppy. ” With the 14 Democrats, a majority of the Senate, which ordered the audit, is now against.
“I wanted to review our electoral processes and see what, if anything, could be improved,” Ugenti-Rita wrote on Twitter. “Unfortunately, it is now clear that the audit was botched.”
The exam includes a manual ballot count, analysis of voter data, and a review of ballot counting machines. It’s run by Cyber Ninjas, a software security consultant with no electoral experience before Trump started trying to overturn the 2020 results. Its owner, Doug Logan, has backed the movement to spread bogus conspiracies on the vote count in battlefield states.
On Wednesday night, Logan ended months of silence on who was paying him when he said $ 5.7 million was donated by political groups led by prominent Trump supporters including Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell , Patrick Byrne and correspondents from One America News Network. The figure eclipses the $ 150,000 to be paid by the Senate.
Logan said he approaches the review objectively and his own opinions are irrelevant. Still, Logan appeared in “The Deep Rig,” a conspiracy film claiming the election was stolen from Trump. Filmmakers were given access to restricted areas of the ballot counting operation, including the secure area where the ballots were stored.
The integrity of the review took another blow when former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican whose electoral experience gave the operation credibility, found himself locked outside the building where the audit was underway because he had provided data to outside election experts without authorization, he said.
Bennett told a Tory talk radio host he was resigning because he was expected to endorse the findings. Later that same day, he said he wasn’t stopping after all. Senate Speaker Karen Fann, a Republican, agreed that Bennett “will have full access to all workspaces, procedures and audit data.”
When the Cyber Ninjas’ manual ballot count did not match the official county count, a third count was ordered, this time using paper counting machines to count the number of ballots but not the number of ballots. winning candidates. The findings have not been published.
Meanwhile, the timeline for a final report, most recently due in late July, continued to slide.
Supporters of the effort blame the obstruction of Maricopa County. Republican county leaders refuse to cooperate, saying “knowledgeable listeners” have everything they need to completely overhaul the vote count.
“It is unfortunate that the county has been recalcitrant,” said Republican Senator Warren Petersen, chairman of the judicial committee that issued the subpoenas, recently. “It doesn’t build trust. It slows things down. It makes it difficult. “
Twitter this week suspended accounts related to the audit, including the official Arizona exam account and several others looking for similar exams in other states. A Twitter spokesperson said the accounts were suspended “for breaking Twitter’s rules on platform manipulation and spam.”
The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in, warning any state that plans to conduct an Arizona-style review that it will have to follow federal law that requires officials to keep and preserve election records, including election records. ballots and voting materials, for 22 months.
Earlier, Justice Department officials alerted Arizona officials to the federal requirement. At this point, the Justice Department has taken no public action beyond the letter. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice this week declined to comment further.
“It is claimed that this effort will build confidence in our elections, when we know that is not the motivation behind it all,” said Tammy Patrick, senior advisor to the Democracy Fund and former head of elections for Maricopa County. . . “Because if they were, then they would be telling the truth.”
The operation started with difficulty on the first day. A reporter pointed out that the workers were using blue pens in violation of a fundamental rule of the election administration. Blue and black pens are strictly prohibited near ballots, as these are the colors voters are asked to use, which creates the potential for workers to manipulate the tally.
Days later, a former Republican state lawmaker who lost his candidacy for re-election – and who would have been a Trump voter in the Electoral College if Trump had won – was among the workers counting the ballots. Listeners pursued conspiracy theories, shining ultraviolet lights for a time to look for watermarks on ballots and taking high-resolution photographs to look for evidence, such as bamboo fibers in the paper, that Fraudulent ballots from Asia were slipped into the pile.
“The audit process and its eventual results can be used to undermine popular confidence in our electoral system nationwide, thereby depriving millions of Americans of the right to vote,” said Ralph Neas, lawyer and civil rights activist who wrote a report on the flaws in the audit for The Foundation of the Century. “These are existential threats to our democracy and they must be stopped dead. “
Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.