Experts say Arizona effort to undermine election results is 'reckless' and has made 'bad mistakes'

Experts say Arizona effort to undermine election results is 'reckless' and has made 'bad mistakes'
Photo via Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump's Big Lie continues to bear toxic, conspiracy-theorist fruit in Arizona, where the Republican state Senate's effort to "audit" the vote from Maricopa County is an ever-worsening cluster in desperate need of oversight—oversight that was disrupted Sunday night when the judge in a case challenging the count was forced to step down. The situation starts with Arizona Republicans getting enthusiastically on board with a series of conspiracy theories bolstering Trump's sore-loserdom and using the state Senate's subpoena power to seize all 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County and hand them over to an unqualified company led by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist. And it goes on from there about like you'd expect from that beginning.

Arizona Senate Republicans retained a company called Cyber Ninjas to conduct the so-called audit. Cyber Ninjas has no elections experience—in contrast to the two professional auditing firms previously retained by the county as part of its series of audits and reviews of the vote—and is headed by Doug Logan, a man who has repeatedly tweeted election conspiracy theories, including sharing posts by lawyer Sidney Powell and Rep. Lauren Boebert, and was an expert witness in a Michigan lawsuit promoting conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems.

That lack of experience—or worse—was immediately on display on Friday, when Cyber Ninjas equipped counters with blue pens. The state Elections Procedure Manual explicitly bans blue pens from hand counting areas because ballot scanners can read blue and black ink, and a blue pen could, during the count, accidentally or intentionally, spoil a legitimately cast ballot.

That's not the only ominous sign about how this is going. In the days leading up to the count, a news team from Arizona Family repeatedly gained access to the areas where ballots and elections equipment were being unloaded and stored—not exactly feeding confidence in the security being employed. Following that, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, called on state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, to investigate potential violations of the law, writing in a letter that reports "suggest that the Senate has failed to secure the election equipment and ballots, resulting in unauthorized and unmonitored access to [ballots and voting equipment]." Brnovich refused to investigate, prompting Hobbs to respond "Apparently, #sharpiegate was more worthy of investigation than actual ballot integrity issues."

Then there's the source of funding for this effort. The state Senate has put up $150,000, but the far-right One America News is also raising money to go directly to Cyber Ninjas and is livestreaming the count. At the same time, access has been very limited for reporters wanting to observe the process.

There are a lot of very serious reasons for concern here, in other words, and experts are saying so in the strongest terms.

"I think the activities that are taking place here are reckless and they in no way, shape or form resemble an audit," Jennifer Morrell, a partner at Elections Group, a consulting firm advising state and local election officials, told the Associated Press. Hobbs, the Arizona secretary of state, used similar language in a CNN interview. "I have been avoiding calling it an audit to be quite honest with you, because that's not what it is. They have been making this up as they go along," she said. "This is just a fishing expedition by people who are determined to find something wrong."

"This is not like any audit I've ever seen," Mark Lindeman, the acting co-director of the nonpartisan organization Verified Voting, said. "If it intends to be perceived as fair-minded and credible, they've made some bad mistakes."

Sunday night, the judge in the Democratic Party's suit to stop the effort stepped down, citing the fact that a lawyer for the firm representing Senate Republicans' lead auditor had been an extern in his office within the past five years. With a Monday afternoon hearing scheduled, a new judge is being assigned to the case. This comes after, on Friday, the judge had ordered a pause in counting over the weekend … but only if the Arizona Democratic Party put up a $1 million bond to cover increased expenses due to the pause. The party refused, so counting continued despite the long list of reasons to question the process.

The count is expected to take weeks if allowed to proceed. Logan has estimated it will be completed in 16 days, but as has been established, he doesn't know what he's talking about in general. The counting is being done in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, which the state Senate has rented through May 14.

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