Steven Rosenfeld

Progressives sweep 2021 municipal elections across Georgia

Georgia’s 2021 municipal runoff elections saw dozens of progressives elected as new mayors, city council members and local officials in a wave that challenges the political narrative that only centrists can win in Southern battleground states, according to several organizers of voter outreach efforts.

“Last night proves two things,” said Ray McClendon, the Atlanta NAACP’s political action chair, speaking a day after the November 30 municipal runoff elections. “One, it proves the value of the grassroots relational organizing that we’re doing. And two, it explodes the myth of what the national narrative is about a progressive capacity for victories.”

“In other words, progressives are not the problem,” said Andrea Miller, executive director of the Center for Common Ground, whose tools for finding and informing Black voters were used by the NAACP and its allies in the runoffs, as well as in Virginia’s recent statewide elections where they led to some of that state’s highest voter turnout in communities she targeted.

McClendon and Miller made their remarks during a Zoom briefing that discussed a new e-book, “The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections,” which McClendon co-authored. The e-book is an oral history of the bottom-up organizing that turned out infrequent voters from communities of color to vote in its 2020 elections. Voting Booth’s Steven Rosenfeld is also a co-author.

The organizers’ approach combines the use of cutting-edge digital analytics and voter contact tools with “relational organizing,” which emphasizes listening to overlooked people’s concerns, helping with their upward mobility, and then asking them to register and vote. Both McClendon and Miller said that this strategy’s impact in 2021’s elections was a template for 2022’s midterm elections.

“We suddenly find a community that [reportedly] doesn’t vote with 18 percent early voting turnout among the Black voters,” Miller said, referring to the center’s recent targeted outreach in Virginia’s 2021 elections. “In Fairfax County, which is in northern Virginia, [the region prioritized by the state Democratic Party’s campaign ads,] the early voting turnout [among Black voters] was 8.77 percent.”

The victories of progressives across Georgia have been slowly recognized by the state’s media. Georgia’s most influential newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, initially characterized the runoffs’ results as a bad day for incumbents rather than voters embracing progressives.

“Holders of political offices across metro Atlanta didn’t like what they saw Tuesday night after runoff votes were counted,” began the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s report on December 1. That report noted, however, that in South Fulton, the state’s eighth most populous city, that Khalid Kamau, a “prominent Democratic Socialist… got 59 percent of the vote.”

On December 2, the paper noted that two city council members with a combined “four-and-a-half decades of experience” on the panel “were ousted Tuesday by younger, more progressive challengers.” (One victor, 34-year-old Antonio Lewis, is among the activists featured in “The Georgia Way.”)

Lewis defeated four-term incumbent Joyce Sheperd, 69, who told the paper that Tuesday’s results across the city were “part of a paradigm shift.”

McClendon added that November 30’s municipal election results were part of a wider trend across Georgia, which reflected the state’s changing electoral demographics. He noted that in 2016, Republican Donald Trump won the state’s presidential election by about 211,000 votes; in 2018, Republican Brian Kemp was elected governor by about 55,000 votes; but in 2020, Democrat Joe Biden beat Trump by more than 12,000 votes, and two Democrats were elected to the Senate in January 2021’s runoffs. (Kemp’s 2018 opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, announced her 2022 candidacy for governor one day after 2021’s municipal elections.)

“We have, first of all, elected a very progressive new [Atlanta] mayor… Andre Dickens,” said McClendon. “We also have turned over a substantial number of city council seats that will make the council more progressive and more prone toward action. And then across the state, the state has elected first-time Black mayors.”

McClendon cited the mayoral elections of Cosby Johnson in Brunswick (where Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, was killed by white vigilantes); LaRhonda Patrick in Warner Robins; and Sandra Vincent in McDonough. He noted that Vincent was elected in the city that was home to the former governor and U.S. Senator Herman Talmadge, who was a staunch segregationist.

“Over 50 municipal seats flipped to progressives in the most recent cycle,” McClendon said. “This completely debunks the national narrative that there is not a [progressive] movement afoot… And what we need to do is get the word out that when you do bottom-up, relational organizing with a digital strategy like the Center for Common Ground[’s tools], we can make major inroads. So, ‘The Georgia Way’ is really a blueprint that we can build on.”

(To hear more about “The Georgia Way” and its impacts in 2020 and 2021, see a recording of the December 1 Zoom briefing.)

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Wisconsin has become the new front line in the war by pro-Trump Republicans over the 2020 election

As COVID-19 swept the country in March 2020, Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to postpone the April 7 presidential primary. But Republican state legislators aligned with President Trump and, denying the severity of COVID-19, sneered, sued, and won in court hours before the polls were to open. That fray left Wisconsin's 1,850 municipal clerks who administer elections, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which guides the clerks, frantically scrambling.

"I was given a cardboard box with a roll of paper towels, six pairs of rubber gloves, a couple of bottles of what looked like Everclear [grain alcohol], and a roll of painter's tape and a half a box of masks—all of which were open," Municipal Clerk Vicki Terpstra of Spring Green, a village in central Wisconsin, recalled at a November 9 state legislative hearing on 2020 election administration. "That's what we received in April, after I had to let go of all of our poll workers."

What ensued became a national model of how not to conduct in-person voting in a pandemic. Terpstra told the Joint Legislative Audit Committee she tried "to reach out to anybody I can find to figure out how to make this work, and the Elections Commission was there for us; they're doing their best to help us boots on the ground." She said, "I don't know how many people in this room or on these committees have actually worked as a poll worker… But my legislature failed me, as well as it failed all the other clerks, the boots on the ground that are doing the work."

Terpstra's remarks came during the public comment section of a hearing that was not intended to praise the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) for helping 3.3 million people to vote in 2020's presidential election, including a record number who cast mailed-out ballots. Instead, the Republican-majority legislature was using an October report from the body's auditors—one that affirmed Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump—to attack the agency and perpetuate doubts about the election.

READ: 'Knowingly lying': DeSantis torched after falsely claiming the COVID vaccine is 'not preventing infection'

"I find it absolutely repugnant that nobody [WEC commissioners] could show up" today, fumed state Rep. John Macco, a Republican eyeing a 2022 run for governor, addressing WEC Executive Director Meagan Wolfe. Moments before, she said that the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report was filled with errors, in part because it did not allow the WEC to respond to mistaken assumptions and findings—as has been the legislative bureau's practice in every audit since its founding in 1965.

"It's also worth repeating that no major errors were identified that could have changed the outcome of the election," Wolfe said. "Now I plan to take you through some of the key sections of the LAB's report."

Wisconsin has become the new front line in the disinformation campaign by pro-Trump Republicans to delegitimize Biden's presidency by casting doubt on his election and attacking election officials and protocols that assisted voters during 2020's pandemic. The presentation of a flawed report on November 9, which criticized the WEC but did not mention that COVID-19 concerns drove its guidance to clerks like Terpstra, was the latest chapter in a long saga where Wisconsin Republicans have targeted elections for partisan gain.

But what sets the latest episode apart is deliberate amnesia by pro-Trump partisans who know the history and facts—because they were there. It was Wisconsin's GOP who created the WEC in 2015 to replace a bipartisan election oversight board that was composed of retired state judges. The same legislative leadership that did not reconvene after the pandemic struck to adopt emergency measures to respond to COVID-19, unlike many red-run state legislatures. And these legislators are questioning the very election that returned them to their statehouse posts.

READ: Top GOP donors alarmed by number of Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of Biden's infrastructure package

"A big lie does not take shape on its own, but must be carefully built upon a scaffold of lies," observed Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, in his new book that details Trump's authoritarian gambits to attack Biden during the 2020 campaign and efforts to overturn Biden's victory, both of which prompted Trump's impeachment.

Smears and Power Grabs

Such a "scaffold of lies" could be seen in one of the most scurrilous attacks on the WEC, an attack that also highlights another aspect of the disinformation campaign underway in Wisconsin and other battleground states. Elected Republicans are abusing their authority by making allegations of illegal voting in forums where there is no requirement to present fact-based evidence, unlike a courtroom with rules of evidence, and there is no penalty for intentionally lying.

In Racine County, Wisconsin's fifth-most populous, Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, an elected Republican, and his deputy, Michael Luell, have gone on social media and held press conferences to claim that at least eight 2020 presidential ballots cast at a nursing home were fraudulent. They cite family members who said that their relatives were incompetent to vote. (Under Wisconsin law, only courts can revoke a voter's registration for mental incompetence.)

The officers have said the ballots are indicative of a wider fraud and demanded a statewide investigation—impugning the 3.3 million ballots cast in the election. And they blamed the WEC for suspending a state law requiring special election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (These accusations ignore that the GOP-authored statute that created the WEC allows it to issue such directives. Election officials also conducted routine audits and recounts that affirmed the results, and Trump's campaign didn't seek a statewide recount.)

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In normal times, the nursing home incident—if it occurred—would be handled proportionately. Police would press charges, which the sheriff has not pursued. Instead, Schmaling has said that the WEC's commissioners (three Republicans, three Democrats) should be charged with felonies for violating a state law that required election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (After COVID-19's outbreak, state health officials ordered all nursing homes closed to visitors.)

Josh Kaul, Wisconsin's attorney general and a Democrat, has ignored the sheriffs' call for prosecutions. But the Wisconsin assembly speaker, Republican Robin Vos, has not. Initially, Vos called for the WEC executive director to resign. Wolfe has not. More recently, Vos said felony charges are warranted. And there's more.

In June, Vos, following the example set by Arizona's pro-Trump Republicans, launched a 2020 election review, and appointed a retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, to lead it. In October, Gableman told reporters that he "doesn't understand" how elections work. More recently, Gableman told legislators that he would pursue the issues raised by the Racine County sheriffs.

In November, one of Wisconsin's U.S. senators, Ron Johnson, another pro-Trump Republican, cited the audit bureau report and said the legislature should ignore the governor and WEC and take over administering Wisconsin's federal elections. This power-grabbing suggestion, however glib, is following Trump's template for partisan propaganda, disinformation, and anti-democratic authoritarian rule.

READ: The GOP's new 'Southern Strategy' evokes civil war and bloodshed — but it has a fatal flaw

"I want to stress this is not normal," said David Becker, founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, which organized a letter in support of Wolfe signed by more than 50 bipartisan state election officials. "It is not normal for a sheriff, in a county, in a state, to hold a Facebook press conference about alleged election crimes and not follow up on them."

"If there's a legal law enforcement reason to suggest that there's a crime, what would happen is there would be an arrest, and an arraignment or indictment and a prosecution. That is not happening in this case—and I think it's pretty clear why," said Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department Voting Section attorney. "It's because these claims have no evidence to support them. A taxpayer-funded sheriff [is] doing this. An audit bureau, who, rather than going through its normal process and allowing for a review of procedures, [is] putting things out [that are] roughly timed with some other disinformation about the election in Wisconsin."

Taken together, such history-denying and boundary-breaking behavior is tearing at the institutions and civil servants who try to uphold American democracy, he said.

"I think there's no way to overstate the danger we're in," said Becker, whose nonprofit just conducted a poll finding that about two-thirds of the Republican electorate still believe that the 2020 election was stolen and there were problems with voting. "This is as dangerous a moment for American democracy as the Civil War and perhaps worse. We have a situation where a majority of one of our two major parties believes without any evidence that elections are stolen because they're sincerely unhappy with the results."

READ: Why GOP strategists are increasingly worried about the 2022 Senate race in Pennsylvania

"There's no one in the United States that hasn't experienced a bitter electoral disappointment in the last five years or so," Becker continued. "But elections matter, and they have consequences, and there's always a winner and always a loser. And our system has always depended on people putting country over party, country over themselves."

No End in Sight

Wisconsin's 2020 presidential primary was a GOP-fueled disaster. Public health efforts were thwarted. Poll workers vanished. Voter turnout fell. The state's 1,850 municipal clerks faced immense chaos. In cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay, only a handful of polls opened. Voters often waited for hours, including several dozen voters and poll workers who later contracted COVID-19.

The WEC sought to prevent a debacle in the fall by shifting to mailed-out ballots, which Trump's allies also sought to block in court. No Republican legislator at the Joint Legislative Audit Committee's November 9 hearing recited 2020's troubled chronology. Instead, they attacked the WEC. Only Wolfe, several Democratic lawmakers and voter advocates called out the denials and revisionist history.

"What was the Elections Commission to do there—deprive the residents of the right to vote?" asked the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Matt Rothschild, after the auditor chastised the WEC for helping nursing home voters without explicit legislative approval. "Not only was this the prudent thing to do, the [WEC] staff was in a legal bind because Gov. Evers and the Department of Health Services had declared a public health emergency prohibiting nonessential individuals from going to nursing homes and long-term care facilities."

READ: Outrageous': Wisconsin Republicans seek full control of state's elections in 'partisan power grab'

But history, facts, and prudence have no place among Wisconsin's pro-Trump Republicans. On Monday, November 15, former Republican Lt. Gov. and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch sued the WEC to stop it from allowing municipal clerks to use ballot drop boxes, move polling places, and suspend the statute sending special election deputies into nursing homes.

"Wisconsinites are sick and tired of unelected bureaucrats intentionally ignoring the law," Kleefisch said. "The lawsuit forces WEC to clean up their act prior to administering the 2022 election."

On Wednesday, November 17, Timothy S. Ramthun, a Republican assemblyman, proposed a resolution to decertify Wisconsin's presidential election results.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Democrats have a roadmap to electoral success — and it was drawn in Georgia

Corey Shackleford knew he could rely on Georgia's Prince Hall Masons—named after the freed slave who created the civic-minded group's first Black chapter in 1784. "We're in those corners of the state, those rural areas, where others don't normally go. But we are there."

Shirley Sherrod, whose Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education has been active since the 1960s, trusted the young women on her staff to reach rural voters—even during a pandemic. "I really allowed them to take this program and just go, and it worked."

And Keith Reddings, who leads Georgia's Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and lives in Brunswick—where three white men killed Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, in February 2020—knew neither he nor his members could be idle in the 2020 election. "I've been in movements for quite a while. You get these waves where you're involved; you can be involved."

Their comments are from an oral history of the grassroots organizing across Georgia that led to the state's historic voter turnout and election of Democratic candidates for president and the U.S. senate. The e-book, "The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections," recounts the mindsets, values, tactics, challenges and solutions that coalesced in 2020 in a 21st-century voting rights triumph.

"What happened in 2020 in Georgia was the manifestation of coming together, setting ego to the side, and saying that we can be much more effective and efficient if we work together through coordination, collaboration and communication," said Ray McClendon, the Atlanta NAACP political action chairman and a co-author of the e-book. "Once that happened, we became a much more effective group."

The campaign's organizers built on this model with some success in November 2021's elections, and hope to deploy this model across the South in 2022's federal midterm elections. Georgia's GOP is trying to copy this template by opening community centers in Black neighborhoods.

"The Georgia Way," which was co-authored by Voting Booth's Steven Rosenfeld, features the voices of three dozen organizers from an array of civic and civil rights organizations serving Georgia's communities of color. Together, they made a determined effort to reach out to their communities in a coordinated and unprecedented manner. They did not start by focusing on voting, but first listened, validated, and sought to meet local needs. Those efforts prompted thousands of people not on any political party's radar—or contact lists—to vote in 2020's elections.

"Your work just didn't revolve around voting, but around other issues that people cared about, that mattered to them, and impacted their lives," said Dr. Gloria Bromell Tinubu in her interview with Sherrod in "The Georgia Way," which Tinubu also co-authored. "That is really the crux of relational organizing—that you have a relationship with people outside of the formal voting process."

Building Toward 2020

Inside the NAACP, Masons, Black fraternities and sororities (known as the Divine Nine), and civil rights groups, the leadership knew the 2020 election was going to be pivotal. Many leaders in these volunteer posts recalled their frustration after 2016's presidential election, where voter turnout among communities of color was disappointing. The next big election, Georgia's 2018 governor's race where Democrat Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp, showed there was a deep vein of civic engagement to be tapped. But activists and voters had to be engaged.

"I started to understand what we needed to do going forward," said Richard Rose, the Atlanta NAACP president, who noted that 77 percent of Georgia's Black voters lived in 19 of the state's 159 counties. "What I did know was that people were willing to help. Young people were willing to give up their time. Members of various fraternities, sororities and the Masons were willing to help. But it was fragmented."

2020 brought a series of focusing events. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, the once-a-decade U.S. census got underway. Rose and many others were concerned their communities would be undercounted. One obstacle little noted by the media was food insecurity—hunger. People who were worried about their next meal had no patience for the census or voting. That reality led groups like the NAACP and others to step up food giveaways. Those settings led to relationships where people were later informed about vaccines and planning to vote.

"We used those food distributions and the long lines to try to get people to respond to the census," recalled Bobby Fuse, a civil rights activist. "Out of that came this idea of feeding people at Thanksgiving and encouraging them to come back and vote in the runoff… See, all of this is about celebrating while we're in the midst of this [challenging] thing."

The pandemic, social distancing requirements, and a local legacy of poor health care among lower-income communities in the state forced the organizers to be innovative.

"Coming into the pandemic, we did have to be innovative because the old gathering, meeting, marching was not safe," said Omega Psi Phi's Reddings. "So different organizations, different groups, came up with different strategies to get the word out. There were billboards. There were buses that went around from city to city with voter information. There was phone banking where brothers and sisters would get on the phone, and they would make call after call. There were email blasts, caravans, motorcades."

While Black voters are among the Democratic Party's most reliable base—with 85 percent routinely voting for Democrats across the South, according to the Center for Common Ground's Andrea Miller—this grassroots outreach had little logistical or financial support from the Georgia Democratic Party, several organizers emphasized.

"This was not necessarily a Georgia Democratic Party operation," Fuse said. "Without being offensive, I'd like to say that the majority of our funding and resources came from outside any political party. And it came directly from these nonpartisan grassroots organizations with whom we interacted—and boy, did we interact."

Many voters eyed by the coalition's organizers have long been overlooked by the major political parties, and these voters don't consider themselves members of any party, Miller said.

"The voters that we called, unfortunately, haven't really been called by anybody," she said. "They haven't been called by candidates. They haven't been called by political parties. So, they stopped voting, which means they're not going to be called by candidates, political parties."

There were several mindsets that emerged and shaped the outreach. The pandemic forced groups to innovate. Local organizing was prioritized. Hiring local campaign workers, including teenagers who knew where and when to find voters, was preferable to out-of-state volunteers. Teaching members of families and congregations to use online media was a necessity at first but evolved into an opportunity that expanded campaigning.

"COVID-19 really helped the younger generations to connect with the older generations," said Tiffany Carr of the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education. "I know for myself and my family, my mom will always call on me and my brother and ask, 'How do you work Zoom?' 'How do I join this virtual meeting?' 'How do I get on Facebook?' 'How do I do this and how do I do that?' So, it really opened the door for the older generation to learn more about technology and to see how convenient it is and how quickly you can reach a lot of people at one time."

The leaders from the various groups spoke of enlisting their members and reaching out to their communities—in rural areas, in cities, and in colleges and universities. They often let young people be the frontline. They created events that set a tone and were highly visible, but kept the messaging personal. They used different media that various age groups were familiar with.

"We invited our undergraduates, and we pushed that information out to them," said Sigma Gamma Rho's Celestine Levanne. "We didn't leave anyone of voting age out of this conversation, from our 18-year-olds to our 100-year-olds. Everyone got that information and if, for some reason, they couldn't vote, they had that information to give to a relative or a church member. So, again, it was about making sure they understood their rights."

"We had to be intentional about setting the atmosphere," said the Masons' Marvin Nunnally. "We built momentum, we kept building and building the audience, but more importantly, what we kept doing was working on their minds. And that was the beauty of all this moving around: the food, the music, the motorcycles [and motorcades]… It all played a role."

As November's U.S. Senate election headed to January's runoffs, the Center for Common Ground—which by that fall had 40,000 volunteers across the country writing postcards to Black voters in Southern states, and also sent hundreds of thousands of text messages and made tens of thousands of phone calls—turned its full attention to the runoff.

By then, the numerous frontline efforts were well positioned to use the center's various data-driven tools—for identifying eligible voters, reaching them by postcard (if their phone numbers weren't correct in political data lists), or by text or phone, as well as by going door to door.

"What was most impressive was the organizations working together rather than in competition, and each of us really using our strengths," the Center for Common Ground's Miller said. "Our strength is building out the digital tools and platforms and that is what really made the difference, and making sure we weren't duplicating efforts—that we were covering the entire state instead of 40 groups working in the city of Atlanta."

"That's what worked in 2020 and 2021," the NAACP's McClendon said, referring to the Senate runoff's results and unexpectedly high turnout in Black communities in Georgia and Virginia that were targeted in November 2021's general election. "That result was the result of several years of deciding that it was the time for us to coalesce, and manifest through the efficiency and effectiveness of collaboration. Now we are ready to ramp this up across several battleground states to get ready for 2022."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Virginia governor race: Organizers are turning out overlooked voters of color

After 2020's election, Virginia adopted more pro-voter legislation than any state, from expanding access to starting to amend its constitution to enshrine voting rights. But these reforms have not been enough to turn out voters in this fall's statewide elections, where the top-of-the-ticket Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are close in polls but seen as underwhelming.

"The college-educated voters, predominantly in northern Virginia, are not turning out to vote, at least early in this election," said Andrea Miller, whose Virginia-based Center for Common Ground has successfully worked in many Southern states in recent cycles to motivate voters of color to turn out. "We feel there is a lack of interest, especially at the top of the ticket."

Virginia is one of two states electing a governor, constitutional officers, legislators, and local officials on November 2. There are 1.2 million Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters across the state whom Miller is trying to reach via a mix of postcards, texts, phone banks and door knocking. But by October 21, only 66,000 of those people had voted, according to the public data she tracks.

Statewide, TargetSmart, a political data firm, reported that 655,000 voters had voted early in the state as of October 25. In contrast, in 2020's presidential election, 2.8 million people voted early. (The figures from 2019 are not comparable, because voting early was very restricted.)

While political parties tend to elevate suburban voters, Miller's focus is elsewhere: in cities and rural areas where voters whom political insiders do not expect to turn out reside. Notably, the counties where voters of color have seen the highest percentages of early voting this fall are in corners of the state away from Washington, where Miller has campaigned on local, not national, issues.

"We've got a democracy center in Roanoke. That's southwest Virginia, almost in Appalachia," she said. "Roanoke has the second-highest Black turnout—compared to its voting population. And why are they so successful? Because they started with the community's pain points."

"One of the pain points for that very poor community was food insecurity," Miller said. "So that's where they started off. They bought baskets and put food in them. And people who came to get the food baskets told their neighbors. And when they held their first event, they showed the 'Summer of Soul' [film] on the wall of their building. They listened to what they said about voting. They gave them palm cards that showed them what they were voting for. And people signed up to volunteer and canvass."

Miller's palm cards don't mention the governor's race. At the top of the ticket, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking reelection, has been railing against his opponent as a Donald Trump clone. His Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, has attacked McAuliffe as a liberal who will poison public school children with a politically correct agenda. In contrast to these clichés, Miller's palm cards say, "Vote Your Issue" and cite a monthly child care allowance, ending gun violence, and prison reform, and "Vote Your Power" and cite restoring ex-felons' voting rights, addressing homelessness, and providing free internet access.

Relational Organizing

Elections in nonpresidential years always have lower voter turnout than nationwide contests. But there is more going on in Virginia than an election that political analysts have characterized as a rehearsal for 2022's elections, which include congressional and many statewide races. How the Center for Common Ground is approaching community outreach and organizing stands in contrast to the gubernatorial campaigns, which have relied on nationally known figures.

The center's approach to finding and reaching voters who are not on any party's map were successful in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs in January 2021, where tens of thousands of infrequent voters of color turned out across that state—not just in metro Atlanta. The center identifies counties where "missing voters" live, meaning people who are registered to vote but rarely do so, or eligible but unregistered voters. It identified 21 counties across Virginia where 1.2 million voting-age people of color reside.

The center partnered with local community leaders in church and cultural circles, who began by asking people what they were worried about, and started taking steps to address those issues. Overtly, the foremost concerns had little to do with who was on Virginia's fall ballot but had everything to do with engaging people in solving problems in their community. Upon some reflection, it was clear which party's slate was best positioned to address those concerns.

"One of the things that it takes is knowing, and caring enough about knowing, what the needs of a community are," said Bernadette Lark, known as B.J. Lark, who is the Roanoke Democracy Center's program director and a well-known singer in church and local activist.

"There is not one person in a grassroots organization that can say they don't know that we have over 500 homeless students in our system," she said. "We know people go hungry and homeless every day. That's just a reality that first must be accepted as the truth of what we're experiencing… You then take that conflict, and ask yourself, 'How can we be part of at least one resolution?' Well, you provide food. You feed them. You go to where these people are."

Lark said bringing food baskets started a larger conversation, where she and others asked people what was on their minds and took the time to listen about what they wanted—rather than immediately urging them to vote.

"If there's a sense that someone cares about you, you tend to be more engaged. We know that type of data has not been researched much, but I know this from firsthand experience," she said. "We didn't walk up to their house and put a 'vote for' sign in their yard. We walked up to their home saying, 'We realize there are needs in the community. Do you know of other family members or people in your community that need the things that we can offer to them, you know, within our means?"

This community-oriented strategy is called relational organizing. But, as Lark noted, it involves more than asking a circle of family, friends, and neighbors to do something. The key, she said, was listening and validating people's concerns.

"You've empowered them enough to show them that they now begin to get the value of their voice, but also you've empowered them to know that they matter," Lark said. "We're building a relationship. I'm not worried they're going to run off before I share my palm cards and flyers."

Miller said this community-based strategy was adding overlooked voters.

"Take Petersburg. Normally nobody cares about Petersburg. It's 86 percent Black. But Petersburg has crossed the 10 percent turnout threshold," she said. "In these places where we've got organizers and we're talking to people about what's important to them, or more directly, what is their pain point? What is hurting? And then we're saying, 'We're going to have to work on this together and let's start this process right now,' we are seeing this amazing turnout."

"Who would have thought that Roanoke's turnout would be more than double Fairfax County?" Miller said. "If you ask anybody, not by the numbers, but by the percentage of voters who are turning out, they're saying, 'You know what, I'm going to go out and vote. I am going to start engaging because I know what I'm voting for and this is what I want to fix.'"

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How celebrities are reconnecting with their hometowns to boost local progressive candidates

For most Americans, the elections that have the greatest impact on their lives are not at the top of the ticket. The most impactful offices often are state legislators and county and local officials, which is where the Hometown Project resides. Since its inception, the project has helped 125 candidates for these offices by connecting them to celebrities who grew up in their districts: the celebrities' hometowns.

The artists, actors and athletes make videos where they speak about the local values that shaped them, and the candidates who share these values. I spoke with Peter Salett, the Hometown Project's founder, about its growth in recent years, impact in 2020, and focus on Virginia's 2021 elections.

Steven Rosenfeld: Please remind people what the Hometown Project is.

Peter Salett: The Hometown Project began in 2017. I am a musician by trade. Through my years in the film industry, I know a lot of well-known people. I saw in the world of social media that people would be tweeting and posting things, and a lot was getting lost in the wind. I asked myself, how could I personally make a difference? What could I do? I was meeting with an environmental activist, and he said when Mark Ruffalo went back to his hometown to talk about environmental issues, that was really powerful.

A little light bulb went off. I thought, "Gosh, what if we could get well-known people to support local candidates in their hometowns in races that are often decided by 500 votes or 1,000 votes?" I began to put this together along with our founding Executive Director Erin Frederick. We have built an organization over the past four years leading up to 2020 where we had 36 well-known people support over 55 candidates, plus additional GOTV [get out the vote] content. In 2020, we created over 140 videos, supporting mostly candidates for state legislature, but over the years we've supported candidates for city council, school board, county executive, sheriff, and any other down-ballot races.

SR: Are these celebrities trusted local messengers?

PS: The primary difference between what we do with the Hometown Project and what's been done before [in political messaging] revolves around the notion of hometown, and what that means. Obviously, using a celebrity in an election is not a new thing. But using somebody who still has a stake in a particular community, who often has family still living there, or whose friends still live there, is authentic.

People are making these videos for places where they actually feel an affinity, and where the decisions of these local officials actually have an impact on people that they care about and communities that they care about. We're not looking to have celebrities give a sermon about particular issues. The main objective for us is to raise the profile of well-deserving candidates, exciting candidates that have a really difficult time breaking through. In 2020, it was difficult because there's so much attention on the presidential race. And in 2021, the challenge is making sure people know there are legislative elections, for example, in Virginia.

SR: Where did these videos appear?

PS: This is where we have grown tremendously. In the beginning, we had two "Hometown Energizers" [endorsers]. In the fall of 2017 as Erin and I created the organization, we said, let's try to see if this concept works. At the beginning, we just had the candidate post on their Facebook page. Mark Ruffalo and Jason George made videos for a couple of Virginia candidates. In one example, the candidate was getting about 300 views on their own ordinary Facebook videos.

When she put up Mark's and Jason's videos, they got 25,000 views.

We could see right away that this was far more viral, and far more people saw them. And, of course, at times we have someone with a large profile like Ruffalo or Jason Mraz post their videos to their millions of followers. But what we really care about is how many people are seeing the videos within the [electoral] districts. We've fine-tuned our approach to the point where we're really just focused on digitally distributing the content within the specific district.

SR: Was that expensive or hard to do?

PS: It's not an expensive proposition in that we're not looking to broadcast something statewide. We're not looking to broadcast the national television commercial. We're just looking to reach voters within a relatively small district.

SR: What platforms were most helpful in that regard?

PS: In the beginning, we really just used Facebook and Instagram. But in the last two election cycles, we've also devoted a decent amount of our ad budget to what's called programmatic ads, which is essentially Google ads, so they might be seen before a YouTube video. Or this year we're creating banner ads that could follow the person from place to place. That way we aren't relying on just one or two platforms. We can identify who is, you know, a likely Democratic voter or whatever the different parameters we think would be most helpful to the candidate.

SR: Did that change with the pandemic?

PS: No. The irony is that when we first started, we thought that we would get people to travel back to their hometowns and hold campaign events with candidates. I quickly grew to see that this was a fantasy. Nobody has that amount of time. What it became was people made videos. We realized that videos are great because they can be seen over and over. They can be passed around. It's not a one-event type of thing. Pre-pandemic, we were having people record themselves on their phones with scripts that we would set up for them. It ended up being something that we could easily do in a pandemic world because we had already set it up that way.

Working with well-known people, who don't have a lot of time, we realized if we can get somebody to shoot [a video of] themselves on their phone, then they are much more likely to do it. We don't have to give them a specific time or send a camera crew or all these things which are also much more expensive. So, the ease of it, for us, was primary. And we like creating things that are low-fi, and it gives the viewer a chance to kind of connect with a well-known person. We call them "Hometown Energizers." There's not that distancing effect of seeing somebody super glammed up, because what we're trying to emphasize is the connectivity, the community aspect.

But I will say the thing that changed a little bit in the pandemic is that pre-pandemic, the excitement of seeing someone, like Connie Britton, in their living room was unusual. But once the pandemic hit, then everyone was used to seeing everyone in their living rooms. We had to come up with conceptually some things to make our content stand out. So that involves using some animation and graphics and online memes and little game show ideas and things like that.

SR: One of the things I noticed in your 2020 report was that a lot of these races were very close. The winners only won by several hundred votes. How did these videos impact turnout?

PS: Our objective from the beginning was to be involved in close races. We work with local partners to identify the races that they think are going to be tight, because we want to have an impact in potentially swinging a race. We know that the use of celebrity can appeal to atypical voters, and we've had a continued focus on learning from our past work, analyzing the data and refining our program accordingly. We are set up to gather a good deal of data this year as we go into 2022.

We've also seen how the videos boost morale among campaign volunteers and staff at a much-needed time, driving traffic to social media pages, and reaching key demographics. For us, to increase the name recognition of a candidate in the local race, get people excited about that candidate, [and] get the candidate excited, but also to encourage people to vote down the ballot and see a name that they recognize because they were served up some content by a well-known person—that's what we're driving toward.

We're not going to be out there knocking on doors. What we can do is we can make a video and raise that [candidate's] name recognition and also, quite frankly, bring excitement to the campaign. The amount of excitement that goes to their campaign is really fun to watch. The candidate feels really excited about it. The campaign staff does. The volunteers do. It really gives a boost to that campaign at a very crucial time, typically in the final stretch. So, there's the excitement factor. And more people are going to see content that has this candidate's name in it and has a few reasons why people with shared values would want to vote for them.

SR: Do the videos try to reach out to people in the political middle or to independents?

PS: We're trying to speak broadly to a broad section of the electorate. In general, we're not going for persuasion ads. We feel like using a Hometown Energizer in that context appeals to more people. We never, or very rarely will we, use the word "Democrat" within our ads. We're always speaking more to shared values and shared interests, and shared issues. And all of our content is positive. We never mention an opponent. We never mentioned anything in a negative context. We're simply talking about community and shared values and raising that candidate's name recognition. We're definitely going for people in the political middle and have an open mind to who they might vote for.

SR: You were involved in about 50 campaigns in 2020. There are statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey this fall and municipal elections in swing states. What are you looking at?

PS: This fall, we're focused on Virginia. Despite our growth, we wished we had the bandwidth to be active nationally in terms of municipal elections. We're really trying to build toward that in 2022 and beyond. But for this year we're going to be involved in state delegate [legislative] races in Virginia. There's a narrow Democratic majority we're looking to preserve.

SR: Are the messages this fall different from a year ago?

PS: The pandemic last year influenced a lot of our content. Certainly, in our GOTV [get out the vote content] both in Michigan and Ohio. State Democratic parties wanted us to focus very early on the basics of how to vote in a pandemic: all the different deadlines, the different ways to vote. This year is a more typical year in terms of the themes that we'll be running on. Although, of course, I think that election integrity is something that we'll be talking about a lot in our videos that we probably didn't talk about in 2020.

SR: Let's go back to 2020 for a second. What were some of your highlights last year?

PS: Obviously this was a huge year for everyone involved in electoral politics. This was our first year working with a couple of state Democratic parties, which was an experiment for us. We had 20 well-known people from Ohio, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Molly Shannon, Phoebe Robinson, Ed O'Neill, and Yvette Nicole Brown, and many more, supporting local candidates. In Michigan, we had 11 well-known people supporting candidates. And we had folks from other states supporting candidates as well, including Jon Hamm in Missouri. And then we had people doing GOTV videos including Selena Gomez, who made a get out the vote (video) for her home state of Texas. And we worked with Kerry Washington to create a video that emphasizes the importance of local officials and the decisions that they make and is not specific to one election or cycle.

And so that's kind of the meta theme of the Hometown Project… yes, we're trying to get local candidates elected, candidates that are responsive to their communities. But we are also trying to, in a larger way, emphasize the importance of local elections, and how local elections are often not something that everybody pays attention to, and it's tough to figure out what the different local officials do, but it's really important because the decisions that local officials make often affect us much more than what happens in Washington, D.C.

SR: That is what a lot of grassroots organizers that I met in Georgia in 2020 talked about. What was the best way to deliver the message that emphasized the importance of these posts?

PS: When people talk about local elections, or they talk about the decisions that local officials make, I think they don't quite realize the specific impact of those decisions. Some of these things have become clearer in the pandemic. If you're talking about mask mandates within your school system, those decisions are often made within your school district. Who's on your school board? And if it's deciding whether there's a Medicaid expansion within your state that's going to help hundreds of thousands of people. Well, one of the first things that the Virginia legislature did when they achieved a Democratic majority was to pass the Medicaid expansion, where I think over 400,000 people were now eligible.

For us, it's about the specificity. Just to say something is important without the actual examples of where that importance lies [isn't enough]. So, if we're talking about who you elect as a city councilperson, well, what are they in charge of? Are they in charge of making sure that your road has the speed bump that you want because your kids are going to be playing out there? Or are they in charge of the zoning regulations that determine whether or not a skyscraper is going to be built right next to your home?

It's the specificity of the issues which I think is lacking in this discussion. Anybody can be activated and become an activist when they feel personally involved in a particular issue. We can't just talk about local officials and why it's important in a general sense. We need to talk about the specifics of those decisions, how they impact you, and how to get involved, and have your voice be heard within a local context.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

How the Cyber Ninjas ended up delivering what Republicans really wanted in Arizona

The election audit contract that Arizona's state Senate leaders signed with the Cyber Ninjas in March 2021 never specified that the pro-Trump firm would produce a report that included a definitive recount of the votes in 2020's presidential race. And as revealed by a close examination of the most detailed data released from the Senate review so far, the Cyber Ninjas' recount is incomplete, inaccurate, and far from definitive.

The document containing the most detailed data, "Arizona Senate Maricopa County Election Audit: Machine Paper Ballot Count Report," was prepared by Randall Pullen, former Arizona Republican Party chair and a former partner with Deloitte & Touche, a nationwide accounting firm. But an October 1 analysis by a bipartisan team of retired election auditors found the data set in Pullen's report does not account for one-third of the ballots that were hand-counted. Moreover, a line-by-line comparison of the data in Pullen's report with Maricopa County's official records shows that nearly half of the figures are missing or wrong.

On September 24, the Cyber Ninjas-led team told the Arizona Senate that Joe Biden won the election in the state's most populous county and gained 99 votes, while Donald Trump lost 261 votes. But their most detailed data presented does not account for nearly 16,000 hand-counted ballots, which is the basis of its reported presidential election results.

"What we are saying is that any discussion of the [presidential election] votes based on the hand counts is meaningless," said Benny White, a lawyer, data analyst and longtime election observer for the Arizona Republican Party. "That's our bold conclusion in this report."

"We believe our worst fears have happened—the entire exercise in hand counting ballots on lazy Susans [rotating stands] for two months, was a hoax," wrote Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of Clear Ballot, in an October 1 blog on their latest findings.

The Senate's comments since White and Moore released their analysis suggest that their investigators either did not reconcile all of their hand-count numbers, or perhaps never completed that vote count at all. Moreover, the Senate's contract with the Cyber Ninjas anticipated that absence of precision.

Did the Political World Fall for Another Big Lie?

On Friday, September 24, the political world breathed a sigh of relief as the Cyber Ninjas and other pro-Trump subcontractors hired by the state Senate affirmed that Joe Biden had won the election in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and two-thirds of Arizona voters. Not only had Biden won and gained votes, but the Cyber Ninjas reported that Trump had lost votes.

Their Senate Republican sponsors praised the contractors' work and proclaimed that Arizona had set an example for other states to follow. A day later, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann issued a letter stressing the importance of the Cyber Ninjas' findings that affirmed the officially reported election results. "This is the most important and encouraging finding of the audit… This finding therefore addresses the sharpest concerns about the integrity of the certified results in the 2020 general election."

However, that claim of accuracy is undermined by another report to the Senate—not issued by the Cyber Ninjas, but by another team member, Pullen, the Senate co-liaison. That report, posted on the Senate Republican website, includes 17 pages of subtotals of five ways that the contractors sought to verify the total number of ballots.

Pullen's report compares five attempts to track and count the number of ballots from 40 storage boxes delivered to the contractors (out of 1,631 boxes delivered by Maricopa County.) Under the column heading of "ballot count," which refers to the two-month-long hand count that started in late April, Pullen's report lists 32,674 hand-counted ballots. Under the column "machine count," which refers to a tabulation on equipment purchased by the Senate in June to check the hand count's results, a total of 48,366 ballots are listed.

In other words, the most detailed document released by the Senate's team to date does not account for nearly one-third of the ballots used to recount and attest to the election's results. Pullen's presentation before the Senate on September 24 did not mention this discrepancy.

The outside auditors also compared ballot-count data in Pullen's report with Maricopa County's official election records—all are public documents—and found "the errors are numerous. Out of 260 count records included in the report, 124 records have some sort of error. This results in an error rate of 47.7 percent."

"Having zero experience in election audits, the [Cyber] Ninjas['] announcement that they had confirmed, to a high degree of accuracy, the election results of the second largest county in the country is, we believe, laughable," Moore wrote on their blog. "The assertion that Trump had lost 261 votes was, we believe, a 'shiny object' designed to convey believability to an otherwise unbelievable hoax."

The outside auditors shared their analysis with the Arizona Republic, which was the first news outlet to report the discrepancies. The paper's October 1 report contained statements from Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and Pullen rejecting the outside auditors' analysis.

"Are they saying Trump won?" Fann said, after calling the analysis "a lie that borders on inflammatory."

"The Cyber Ninjas' hand count was not completed before we did the machine count," Pullen said in a written response to the paper. "They were in the process of checking their counts."

Pullen's comments suggest the Cyber Ninjas may have never finished their hand count, which was the only way that compiled vote totals from the presidential election.

Fails as Audit, Succeeds Politically

The Arizona "audit" has triggered similar reviews of the 2020 presidential results in other states, including the presidential battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, where pro-Trump legislators have been using the reviews in an effort to cast doubt on the accuracy of 2020's results and return Trump to the presidency—by extra-constitutional means. In the summer of 2021, Trump reportedly assured his allies that he would return to office by August.

The outside auditors' October 1 blog includes the timelines and difficulties facing the Senate's 2020 election review team, which included the Cyber Ninjas and Pullen. They concluded that Fann allowed the Cyber Ninjas, the lead contractor, to create a made-for-media spectacle that had no ability to achieve its stated goal—assess the accuracy of 2020's election — but instead fueled a months-long narrative used by Trump's base to try to return him to office.

There is plenty of evidence that Biden won Arizona's election, but it was not produced by the Cyber Ninjas. The outside auditors, using public election records, in August released a report about how nearly 60,000 ballots in Maricopa showed a majority of votes for Republicans but not for Trump. They included a map displaying the Phoenix suburbs where Republicans had rejected Trump.

However, there is a legal detail that fell outside the purview of the outside auditors' most recent review of the Senate's work. The contract signed in March between Fann and Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said the firm "will attempt to validate every area of the voting process," including an "attempt to… count all ballots to determine the accuracy of all federal races."

That language specifically does not require the Senate's contractors to produce a definitive report. The contract goes further and directs that the "results from all phases are [to be] compared." In other words, the omissions and errors found by the outside auditors in Pullen's report satisfied a contract that never required a definitive election audit—regardless of the exercise's stated goal from the Senate Republicans.

While lawyers may argue that the Senate's investigators had a duty to count every vote, and their inexperience and fights with Maricopa County officials led to obstacles preventing a fuller accounting, the Senate's contract with the Cyber Ninjas, nonetheless, anticipated a 2020 review without definitive results.

Thus, a review that failed to meet the standards of a professional election audit still achieved its pro-Trump political goal. It sparked copycat efforts that are underway in other battleground states, such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

And it has fueled a nonstop disinformation campaign where Trump allies in state legislatures have used election integrity rhetoric to pass laws that complicate voting in battleground states—and, in Georgia, empowered a state board to overturn the popular vote results in future elections.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

2020 election deniers still clinging to conspiracy theories after Arizona debacle

"Truth is truth and numbers are numbers," said Arizona Senate President Karen Fann on Friday, September 24, as she summarized the most important finding in the long-awaited report from the body's pro-Trump contractors to assess the accuracy of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, where two-thirds of Arizonans reside.

That bottom line, that Joe Biden won, and his vote totals had increased while Donald Trump's totals had fallen, was noted by almost everyone following American politics except for the people who arguably needed to hear it the most: Trump and his base of true believers.

"Yesterday we also got the results of the Arizona audit, which were so disgracefully reported by those people right back there," Trump said at a Georgia rally, pointing to the press as attendees cheered. "We won on the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn't believe!"

"We call on each state to decertify… Decertify… DECERTIFY… [their 2020 presidential results]," yelled Republican Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, at a pro-Trump rally outside legislative chambers after the Senate's contractors reported that Biden won Maricopa County by 45,469 votes. (The official results showed Biden beating Trump by 45,109 votes countywide and 10,457 votes statewide.)

Despite the unexpected affirmation of the accuracy of Maricopa County's voting system, other parts of the reports revived and expanded previous conspiratorial claims. There were claims that more than 20,000 ballots might have come from wrong addresses—making the ballots uncountable. Or additional thousands might have come from voters who might have moved away, or people might have voted twice. Another Senate contractor, CyFIR, a cybersecurity firm, said that county election employees were seen on video in what might be erasing key computer records from the 2020 presidential election.

Fann concluded the hours-long hearing by releasing a letter calling for Arizona's attorney general to investigate the alleged data erasure (which county officials deny) and other alleged problems. Fann said that further hearings would be held on the 2020 election.

Schism Between Reality and Fantasy Grows

The reaction by Trump and his base to the Senate's 2020 review, which has sparked copycat efforts in other swing states, underscores that these exercises have always been more about cultivating doubts about unpopular election results for partisan gain than about settling the lingering questions held by the most loyal supporters of a losing candidate.

One need look no further than coverage of the base's reactions by anti-Trump Republicans such as Charlie Sykes, editor of the Bulwark, whose newsletter on September 27 said, "If you have been living in a bubble of naivete or denial, you might have imagined that the results of the Cyber Ninja[s] audit in Arizona would usher in a New Era of Sobriety in our politics. Fat chance."

Still, there are some corners in the world of politics and elections where facts matter and conducting transparent audits where the methodologies and findings are fully released is the standard for credibility. The Cyber Ninjas still have not released their full data sets (they still are fighting public records requests in court), which has led many experienced election officials to comment that the public cannot trust anything they claim—including saying that their results from their controversial hand count was as close to the official results as they reported.

"Cyber Ninjas has no expertise in election audits, so it's no surprise that the methodology of their report makes it impossible to validate their findings," said Matthew Weil, Bipartisan Policy Center elections project director. "Real auditors show their work. Despite finding almost no change in the overall vote totals from 2020, they have succeeded in degrading faith in the results of a free and fair election and delaying discussions of real reforms to improve the voting experience."

Voting Booth, along with a team of experienced election auditors, obtained a draft copy of the Cyber Ninjas' report three days before its presentation in the Arizona Senate and worked on a section-by-section analysis that debunked its false claims and evidence. That analysis was shared with numerous reporters in Arizona and nationwide and election policy analysts as a baseline for their ensuing coverage.

The Cyber Ninjas' draft report insinuated that tens of thousands of voter registrations and paper ballots might have been illegitimate, forged, or even illegal. (In some cases, their final report rolled back or increased the number of voters and ballots that they alleged were questionable by several thousand, but they didn't change the evidence cited.)

The attacks on voter registrations, for example, were based on imprecise commercial data, not on government records used in elections. The forged ballots accusation indicated that Cyber Ninjas didn't know that ballots are printed for voters after they arrive at vote centers on Election Day. Under a microscope, the lines on those ballots appear less crisp than the lines that appear on mailed-out ballots, which are printed by an industrial press weeks ahead of an election.

Nonetheless, the Cyber Ninjas included recommendations for legislative action that are consistent with decades of GOP efforts to put partisan constrictions on voting and intimidate Democratic Party voters, based on clichéd false claims of fraudulent voting. Their legislative recommendations also included authorizing a new private election review industry, which would perpetuate their business model.

"The real reason the GOP is abetting Trumpist conspiracy theories is to justify restrictive voting rights laws, keep the base fired up for the [2022] midterms and lay the groundwork for letting partisan actors step in to influence the outcome of close elections," said Marc Elias, one of the Democratic Party's top lawyers, in an email touting his analysis of Arizona's 2020 review.

Whose Cover-Up?

While most Americans will not delve into the election administration details of Maricopa County's 2020 presidential election or the claims and evidence cited by the Cyber Ninjas, one of the foremost takeaways by pro-Trump contractors was the accusation that Maricopa County was caught destroying key evidence in February 2021. Election officials replied that their staff was archiving data, one of many responses and explanations offered via live tweets.

However, it appears to be the Cyber Ninjas who have been covering up their work and data—even after they issued their report. There were filings and hearings in two Arizona courtrooms on September 24 and 27 over the Cyber Ninjas' refusal to provide public reports, including the complete ballot and vote counts, to the Arizona Republic and public-interest groups. That refusal is important, because that data will likely reveal the extent of the Cyber Ninjas' incompetence and underscore that Arizona-style "audits" should not occur elsewhere.

"They should never be hired again to do this by anybody," said Benny White, a longtime election observer for the Arizona Republican Party, lawyer, and part of the team of experienced auditors who have been using 2020 public election records to debunk the Senate's review. "They're incompetent, and they lie about what they've done."

White's comments come after reviewing a handful of the tally sheets included in the Cyber Ninjas' report. His team has spent months to identify how many ballots and votes are in each batch and storage box from the election.

"It's very difficult to discern where they got their numbers from," he said, pointing to several columns where spreadsheet fields are blank. "My question is: Why is there not better data there for everything?"

What unfolded between late April and mid-August was a pattern in which the Cyber Ninjas changed the review's focus—moving the goal posts—from retallying the presidential and U.S. Senate election totals to attacking voter rolls and mailed-out ballots and flagging possible cybersecurity issues.

Their early blunders are briefly noted in Volume II of the Cyber Ninjas' report, in a discussion of "quality controls." The report said that "all [handwritten] Tally sheets originally aggregated in the first three weeks of counting were re-entered in the new forms," meaning they had to be redone. Those sheets, which grew to more than 10,000 pages, then had to be entered into an Excel spreadsheet at computer terminals. The report said overhead video cameras were used to catch data entry typos. "The primary function of these cameras was to… demonstrate irrefutable evidence that the data entered was accurate."

By late June, the Cyber Ninjas knew that the hand count's results had differed from the official results by thousands of votes, Voting Booth was told at the time by insiders. The contractors never released the hand-count results and, throughout the summer, went to court to oppose releasing their records to the press. In early July, the state Senate purchased machines to count the number of paper ballots—not their votes—as a way to try to understand what was wrong with the hand count. Until they presented their report on September 24, the contractors never discussed the machine count results.

Meanwhile, White and his colleagues, who had been working for months to hold the Cyber Ninjas accountable, believe that the Cyber Ninjas panicked in late June. That was why they began a machine count of the number of ballots (not votes) in hope of finding new pro-Trump evidence, he said. Instead, that tactic backfired as it confirmed the number of ballots and votes and left no room for speculation about Biden's victory.

At that point, the Cyber Ninjas announced that they had to expand their investigation, which the Senate president allowed—and they revived the longstanding GOP strategy of attacking voter rolls, by alleging that there were tens of thousands of illegitimate voters and thousands of forged ballots. These claims and their specious evidence, all debunked on the eve of the final report's release, involved volumes of votes larger than Biden's margin of victory.

Above all, perhaps one statistic from the Cyber Ninjas' report stands out as an indicator of their lack of expertise as auditors. In the presidential election, they reported counting 2,088,569 ballots. In the U.S. Senate race they reported counting 2,088,396 ballots in the U.S. Senate race—a difference of 173 ballots.

This is a basic auditing mistake; there should be no difference in the number of ballots counted in the same election.

An angry dispute breaks out between Republicans — roiling the final Arizona ‘audit’ report

A major split is unfolding on social media and behind closed doors over the report that the pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate Republicans to "audit" the state's 2020 presidential election will deliver to legislators on Friday.

The angry debate centers on what claims and evidence about the accuracy of the election results from Maricopa County will be included in the much-delayed report. Maricopa is Arizona's most populous jurisdiction and home to Phoenix. Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 45,109 votes in Maricopa County and 10,457 votes statewide.

On one side of this split are the Cyber Ninjas, the Senate's lead contractor, and that firm's subcontractors—almost all of whom have had no prior election auditing experience and have said on social media that they believed Biden was not legitimately elected. On the other side are the Arizona Senate's lawyers and the Senate's unpaid liaison to the audit, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, who want a credible and legally defensible report.

The publicly visible part of this dispute has played out on social media, where proponents of conspiratorial election theft claims are pressuring Senate President Karen Fann and Judiciary Committee Chair Warren Petersen to include various kinds of findings that have never before been used in, nor certified for, a government-run election audit.

"A new type of enemy has raised its head," said Jovan Pulitzer in a September 19 online video. Pulitzer led Cyber Ninjas' inquiry into a conspiracy theory that thousands of ballots were forged in Asia and smuggled into the county's election operations center. He used scores of costly high-definition cameras and thousands of manpower hours to look for bamboo fibers in the ballots—a line of inquiry that has been ridiculed by academic experts and election officials.

"This enemy is literally under the guise of a conservative," Pulitzer continued. "He's [a top Senate lawyer] specifically requesting that the kinematic artifacts [Pulitzer's name for his process]… doesn't get included to some extent in the audit stuff. Now, unfortunately, this fellow—this operative, as I say, I'm just calling it like it is—he has nothing on me. He's already trying to crap on everything."

Pulitzer is not alone in attacking the Senate's staff for purportedly rejecting conspiracy theories. Patrick Byrne, the largest private donor to Cyber Ninjas' review, also accused the Senate of "water[ing] down" the report after claims about hundreds of thousands of "lost votes" and "ghost votes" from Maricopa County were removed from the report. Byrne said that America's elections, election officials, and voting technology—and some Republicans—cannot be trusted.

These stances perpetuate the false narrative created by Trump and pro-Trump media that the election was stolen, and that Trump did not incite the Capitol insurrection on January 6. However, what's unfolding behind closed doors in Arizona is just as dramatic, according to Voting Booth's sources.

For example, despite protests from Trump supporters, it is an open question whether or not the report will end up including conspiratorial claims, dubious evidence, and the dearth of evidence concerning the accuracy of the official vote count and administering the election. Sources said all of these variables were in play as the report was finalized. These sources would not publicly discuss the report's contents but confirmed the debate over what was included.

The Cyber Ninjas have been expected to do everything they can to distract from the report's crucial bottom line: They have no concrete evidence that Trump won in Arizona even though they spent five months probing the arcane corners of Maricopa County's election administration process to unearth details that cast doubt on the certified results.

The Senate's contractors, lacking evidence that Trump won and covering up their inexperience as election auditors, may even suggest that the winner was unknowable given how the county ran the election. That tactic would echo false claims made by Trump allies in Georgia, which conducted two presidential recounts.

The fact is that Maricopa County's 2020 results, like those in many battleground states, are knowable, documented, detailed, accessible and verifiable—if one knows how to conduct an election audit and how votes are counted. With few exceptions, no one associated with Cyber Ninjas' team had undertaken an election audit before the 2020 election.

Sloppy Recounts, Not Precise Audits

The forthcoming Arizona report is the current front line in Trump's election denial campaign. Trump allies in other presidential battleground states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia—have been hoping that Arizona's review will lift their efforts to keep questioning 2020's election's results. Of course, the opposite is possible.

Affirming Biden's victory may undercut those efforts, which have become a litmus test in right-wing GOP circles. Or making dubious claims and presenting dubious evidence could serve to sow doubts about the legitimacy of Biden's presidency, which has been the goal of pro-Trump disinformation ever since he lost last November.

It's important to understand why Cyber Ninjas' claims cannot be given the same benefit of the doubt as career election officials—which is a false equivalence they have sought to perpetuate. Cyber Ninjas' review of Arizona's 2020 results, which initially was supposed to take several weeks, went on for five months. At most stages, but especially after it began last April, its methods were sloppy and imprecise.

An audit is a transparent comparison of two independently produced results based on examining the same underlying data. If the results are the same, or lack major discrepancies, one can assume that the initial outcome—what is being audited—is correct, and errors that caused discrepancies can be identified and addressed. Cyber Ninjas didn't compare their counts to the building blocks of the official results. Instead, they oversaw a series of recounts that produced inconsistent results, and, in one case, failed to produce a result at all.

Starting in April, Cyber Ninjas conducted a hand count of the presidential and U.S. Senate votes on Maricopa County's 2.1 million paper ballots. They did not compare their subtotals to the official election records and did not release their findings. Insiders told Voting Booth that the presidential totals were off by thousands of votes. In July, the Senate bought machines to count the number of ballots (not votes), to figure out what went wrong with the hand count. The Senate never released the machine count, either. The hand count was a flawed recount, not an audit.

In late July, Cyber Ninjas hired Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, a Boston-based technologist and unsuccessful Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts, to conduct another recount. Ayyadurai's contract said he would analyze the votes on the digital images of every ballot that is created when put through a scanner or tabulator. However, Ayyadurai could not process 40 percent of the county's digital ballot images, according to Randy Pullen, the Senate review spokesman. In other words, Cyber Ninjas' second attempt at a vote recount failed.

Ayyadurai, however, received a second contract with Cyber Ninjas to review digital image files of the outside of absentee ballot return envelopes—to see how many envelopes lacked signatures (which would disqualify the ballot). Maricopa County's official 2020 general election canvass, issued on November 20, 2020, reported there were 2,042 rejected ballot return envelopes—including 1,455 with no signatures. The rest had "bad signatures."

On September 24, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, his associate Ben Cotton, Pullen, Ayyadurai, and Ken Bennett will present Cyber Ninjas' report. Logan and Cotton will report on the hand count. Pullen will discuss the machine count. Ayyadurai will present the envelope signature review. Bennett will focus on administrative improvements, which was the stated purpose of the Senate's inquiry and subpoenas.

Logan, Cotton, Pullen and Ayyadurai, however, will likely cast further doubt on the county's vote-counting process—as Logan and Cotton did in a July 15 briefing for Arizona legislators—even as they concede that they have no evidence showing that Trump won. Whether or not the Senate's lawyers and Bennett can stop the report from perpetuating conspiracy theories or making factually sloppy or unsupported claims remains to be seen.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The top funder of Arizona's 2020 election 'audit' is signaling a new report will admit Biden beat Trump

The team of Arizona Republican state senators, legislative staff, and advisers finalizing the Cyber Ninjas' report on the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County are preparing to say that Joe Biden legitimately won the election, according to the largest funder of the Senate's mostly privatized election review, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.

"The way some of these political RINOs [Republicans In Name Only] are doing this is they're trying to argue that the [election] report should only be allowed to go and address the original construct of the report, the original assignment of the audit, and leave out other things that have been found," Byrne told Creative Destruction Media's L. Todd Wood.

"The political class is going to try to come in and water this down," Byrne said. "The Republican political class, the RINOs, the nobodies… They are going to try to water this down. I am sure they all have been promised federal judgeships or sacks of cash under a streetlight if they can get this killed at this late date or watered down. And I think the public of Arizona should go ballistic."

Byrne's comments were made on August 29 but have been reposted on pro-Trump media in recent days as Arizona's Republican Senate leadership is finalizing its report on the election. Trump has also revived his attacks on "RINOs" in recent days on Telegram, a social media site favored by his base.

The Arizona Senate's review team includes Doug Logan, the CEO of the Cyber Ninjas, its lead contractor—which is writing the report and has been paid $3.2 million from Byrne's organizations.

Byrne's comments underscore what observers of the Arizona Senate's review have anticipated for months—that any credible review would conclude there were no major problems with Maricopa County's conduct of the presidential elections, although, as in any election, some procedures could be improved to make the vote-counting process more transparent.

Cyber Ninjas was hired to oversee a manual recount of Maricopa County's presidential and U.S. Senate votes and to examine whether the county's ballots were authentic or possibly forged. Logan and his team had little or no prior election audit experience, and their methods were criticized as secretive and deeply flawed. Nonetheless, for months the Arizona "audit" has been a driving force perpetuating the "big lie," or the false claim that the election was rigged by Democrats and establishment actors who orchestrated a massive vote-stealing operation.

The Arizona review has generated endless conspiracy theories and became a rallying cry, if not a litmus test, for Trump-centered Republicans. It has inspired loyalists in other presidential swing states to launch similar reviews long after the 2020 election results were certified.

The stolen election claims, however, have not produced any evidence that has been accepted by any state or federal court. Instead, Trump's campaign legal team has been sanctioned by a U.S. District Court judge in Michigan for lying in court, and some of his lawyers face fines and disbarment. In Arizona, a team of retired election auditors with decades of experience has published analyses using official 2020 election records to document how nearly 60,000 ballots had a majority of votes for Republican candidates but not for Trump. Trump lost the state by nearly 11,000 votes.

Sources in Arizona have said that the state Senate review team was spooked by the possible losses of law licenses looming over Trump's attorneys, as well as stern warnings from the U.S. Department of Justice for possibly using investigative methods that could violate voter intimidation laws. As a result, they have been editing the report drafted by the Senate's lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas, and excising claims and narratives that are speculative rather than factual. This has delayed the report's release until the week of September 20, sources indicated.

The review team consists of Arizona Senate President Karen Fann; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen; Senate legal counsel Greg Jernigan; contract Senate attorneys Kory Langhofer and Thomas Basile of Statecraft; Garth Kamp, the Senate's senior policy adviser; audit liaison and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett; audit spokesman Randy Pullen; and Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO, according to the Arizona Republic.

Byrne's apparent frustration with the Senate stems from the decision not to include claims made in early September by Arizona Trump activist Liz Harris that there were 173,104 "lost votes" and 96,389 "ghost votes" in the Maricopa County election. That claim was quickly debunked by the county's Republican election director—and was the subject of the Justice Department's May 5 warning letter. During his interview with Creative Destruction Media, Byrne also cited sloppily marked ballots that were adjudicated—or set aside for review of the voter's intent—as another instance of when votes were allegedly changed.

Byrne's suggestion that the Arizona Senate is rejecting the conspiratorial narratives put forth by Logan—as well as Logan's subcontractors and partisan allies like Harris—could set the stage for one of the most stunning reversals in contemporary politics. Trump's endless claims of a stolen election led to an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. A rally defending those subsequently arrested and prosecuted is planned in Washington for September 18.

Meanwhile, across the country, pro-Trump Republicans have called for copycat audits in their states, and many candidates seeking office in 2022—including most of the Republicans running for governor in Arizona—have said they believe a second term was stolen from Trump. Those responses have been fueled to a large degree by Byrne's organizations and media projects, which include a book, a conspiracy-laden documentary film, and extensive fundraising efforts.

In short, Byrne is signaling, presumably based on what Logan and other allies have told him, that the Arizona Senate's review of the 2020 election will conclude that Biden beat Trump.

"The people of Arizona should make it very clear that they will not accept any political interference in this report," Byrne complained. "It's the kiss of death. If politicians get involved… The whole point was that we don't trust the politicians. We wanted some technologists to look at stuff and tell us what they find. To have them spend all these millions of dollars and all these months and this effort to do that… and then to have some weenie politicians get involved."

"I hope that it's made really clear in social media that the citizens of Arizona and this country do not want any political interference in this report from the political class in Arizona," he said. "[Within t]he Republican political class, believe it or not, there are some weak sisters. There are some RINOs… It's all corrupt."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Arizona mystery: Did the Cyber Ninjas botch another 2020 presidential recount attempt?

Did the Cyber Ninjas botch another attempt to recount Maricopa County's 2020 presidential ballots—an attempt that, so far, has escaped wide media coverage?

It appears, at the very least, that a contract signed on July 28 by the Cyber Ninjas—the lead contractor in the Arizona Senate Republicans' election review—and Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, a Boston-based technologist and unsuccessful GOP U.S. Senate candidate, indicated that all 2020 election results would be tallied by August—and that deadline has now been missed.

An Arizona Republic report about Dr. Shiva, as he is known on social media, and the contract quoted Randy Pullen, the Senate review's spokesman, as saying that Ayyadurai's tally of the votes on digital images of 2.1 million paper ballots (created by vote-count scanners) was "sidetracked because the data was corrupted." Pullen said "only 60 percent of the ballots were accessible."

"We couldn't do anything with it," Pullen said. "The corruption was done at the county."

County officials contest that claim. Megan Gilbertson, Maricopa County Elections Department communication director, said the department had confirmed that the ballot image data set given to the Cyber Ninjas was complete and accessible, and that the Senate's latest subpoenas of county records did not seek another copy.

Ken Bennett, the Senate's liaison to the audit and former Arizona secretary of state, said that he did not know if Ayyadurai's firm had completed a ballot image audit. But the Senate expected to be briefed on September 13 about the Cyber Ninjas' findings, he said, including, presumably, Ayyadurai's ballot image audit.

Shiva, whose contract with the Cyber Ninjas includes a nondisclosure agreement, would not comment to intermediaries contacted by Voting Booth about the status of what would be the second full recount of Maricopa County's official election records by the Cyber Ninjas. In July, the Cyber Ninjas completed a hand count of the presidential election's paper ballots.

Sources with access to the Cyber Ninjas' operation have told Voting Booth that its hand count results differed from the official election results by several thousand votes. The Senate then brought in machinery to recount the number of ballots—not their votes—to reconcile the discrepancies.

The Cyber Ninjas also have created their own set of electronic copies of the paper ballots, but those copies are not the same as working with official government records and data. The Cyber Ninjas' images, like any original new data set, could be altered to support a biased or predetermined conclusion.

So far, the Cyber Ninjas have not released any of their data, analytics or the methodologies used in their review. They have, instead, dropped hints at prior legislative presentations that they believe Joe Biden did not win Arizona's presidential election by 10,457 votes, the certified results.

The question of whether the Cyber Ninjas are continuing to bungle their review of 2020's official election records—paper ballots, digital ballot images and cast-vote record or the official spreadsheet of every vote—is important because pro-Trump Republicans have been pushing for Arizona-style reviews in other swing states. Wisconsin Republicans, for example, are working with Ayyadurai.

A New Wave of Disinformation

In the meantime, a bait-and-switch is unfolding in pro-Trump media. Instead of relying on official—meaning government-generated—data that was used to decide the election's certified outcome, pro-Trump activists are putting forth more stolen election narratives based on their own flawed data (gathered by interviewing voters) or statistical analyses based on more remote historical data they have selectively parsed.

For example, Arizona's Liz Harris, an avid Trump supporter who has led an effort to canvass Phoenix neighborhoods to try to tie voter registrations to vacant lots, is now claiming that there were "173,104 lost votes" and "96,389 ghost votes" in Maricopa County's 2020 presidential election.

Harris' hunt for vacant lots whose addresses were on voter registrations, which became a premise for claiming massive fraudulent voting, was quickly debunked by Arizona reporters. In short, her team missed homes on properties, among other amateur sleuthing errors. Still, her newest election-theft claims were covered on pro-Trump media, such as Steve Bannon's "War Room."

A somewhat more sophisticated—but still erroneous—claim that has been gaining ground in pro-Trump media is from Seth Keshel, a retired Army officer. Keshel has looked at historic voter turnout patterns and voter registration data and claimed that there was no way that Biden could have received as many votes as he did in swing states—as recorded in the certified 2020 results.

What Keshel does not refer to, despite his lengthy explanations online, are the 2020 election's official vote count records and related data sets. For example, he has not done what Benny White, a lawyer and longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer, has done, which is to analyze the official cast-vote record from 2020's general election to detect actual voting patterns.

White's analysis of Maricopa County's 2020 cast-vote record found nearly 60,000 ballots with a majority of votes for Republican candidates but not for Trump. On these ballots, about two-thirds of otherwise loyal Republicans voted for Biden.

The pro-Trump activists, in contrast, have not grounded their assertions in the most precise, local and factual balloting data. Keshel, moreover, while claiming to be an expert analyst, does not acknowledge that COVID-19 prompted millions of voters to cast their 2020 presidential ballots in a different manner (early or by mail) than in 2016. (Pro-Trump legislators in red-run states have noted that trend and passed new bills in 2021 to roll back those expanded ballot-access measures.)

But the big picture is what the Election Integrity Partnership—a collaboration between the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, the Digital Forensic Research Lab and Graphika—called "the bad use of statistics to sow doubt in election results" in a recent report.

"In the wake of the 2020 election, the scale and irregular nature of voting data was weaponized to create statistical disinformation in order to undermine confidence in the result," the EIP's report, "The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election," said. "A statistical model sets up an (often-flawed) expectation of how voting data should appear. Violations of this expectation occur, either due to chance (i.e., checking many locations), a mismatch between the data and model's assumptions, or an inappropriate application of the statistical model."

The report also cited Ayyadarai's early claims that loyal Republicans would not abandon the presidential candidate at the top of their party's ticket as an example of bogus analytics.

"In another example, Shiva Ayyadurai posted a fraught analysis, choosing variables that artificially created the impression that Trump did more poorly than expected in more Republican areas to suggest voting machines were changing votes to Joe Biden," the EIP report said. "He further used the imposed negative slope to estimate purported switched votes, which fed into misleading narratives about Dominion voting [system] software."

The EIP report said average voters could not "critique" technical-sounding disinformation, which makes it harder to debunk.

"These are [examples]… in which election data was weaponized to promote false narratives of widespread election fraud," the EIP report said. "This tactic is particularly challenging, as it simultaneously creates the impression of widespread fraud while leveraging statistical analyzes that average citizens cannot be reasonably expected to critique."

Dr. Shiva's 'Fraught Analysis'

The "fraught analysis" that Dr. Shiva presented at a November 2020 legislative hearing in Phoenix helped to launch the Arizona Senate's review of the 2020 election. His testimony likely yielded two contracts with the Cyber Ninjas nearly eight months later, an associate of Shiva's told Voting Booth.

One contract was to examine the digital images of returned absentee ballot envelopes to see if some envelopes lacked signatures, which are required before opening and counting the votes. Maricopa County's official canvass reported on November 20, 2020, that there were 2,042 rejected ballot return envelopes in its presidential election.

The second contract was to tally the presidential results from 2.1 million ballot images, which, if completed, would be the second recount of 2020's official election data by the Cyber Ninjas. The review spokesman, Randy Pullen, told the Arizona Republic that Shiva could not access 40 percent of those digital ballot image files—roughly 840,000 ballots—an enormous error rate.

Arizona's Senate Republicans may soon hear if Shiva completed his ballot image audit. Or if the Cyber Ninjas botched their second attempt to recount all of Maricopa County's presidential votes based on using official records—not shoddy evidence that's fabricated by Trump supporters or, as the EIP report put it, "the bad use of statistics to sow doubt in election results."

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