Election '20

Tensions flare among Republicans in Arizona as factions split over the future of the 2020 'audit'

The same split that is dividing Republicans nationally, whether to embrace or reject the fiction that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate, is now reverberating backstage at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Arizona, where pro-Trump contractors are leading a state-sponsored inquiry into the vote in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60 percent of Arizona voters.

The state Senate's lead contractor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO Doug Logan had said that Joe Biden's victory was illegitimate, has been opposing an effort to widen the Arizona Senate's inquiry—via another assessment that vets the 2020 vote more thoroughly. Logan also has sought to muzzle and even oust the lead proponent of that more detailed inquiry, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican. Senate President Karen Fann asked Bennett to take the role of Senate audit liaison after she hired Cyber Ninjas. He is not taking any compensation for his role, unlike Cyber Ninjas and the subcontractors.

Beyond the personality clashes involved, which Voting Booth heard about while reporting from Phoenix as a hand count of 2.1 million paper ballots was nearing completion, is an emerging bottom line: Cyber Ninjas has spent several million dollars and two months conducting inquiries that are not poised to present sufficient analyses that can legitimately assess the presidential results.

Cyber Ninjas' inquiries, which include a hand count of all paper ballots and looking for forged ballots based on high-resolution and microscopic examination of the ballot paper and ink marks, are generating reams of information that could be cited in partisan propaganda—which is how pro-Trump media outlets have covered the audit from its inception.

Crucially, the data Cyber Ninjas is accumulating has not been compared to the building blocks of the state-certified vote count. At best, it is conducting a loosely constructed recount, which is not an audit—which is based on comparisons.

"There must be comparable results in sufficient detail, or else it is not an audit," said Larry Moore, the retired founder and CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified audit firm. "It is unacceptable to put out anything less."

Moore is not an unbiased observer in Phoenix. He has criticized the inquiries and is part of a team of seasoned election auditors that has parsed the same official records given to Cyber Ninjas after a Senate subpoena. The team's early analysis confirmed that Joe Biden won in Arizona and offered an explanation why. The official records revealed voting patterns showing that tens of thousands of voters supported most Republicans on their ballots—but did not vote for Trump.

Moore's team, which is locally led by Tucson's Benny White, who is a longtime Republican Party observer in state and local elections, has shared its findings with news organizations in Phoenix, whose coverage is beginning to reframe how the Senate's exercise should be evaluated.

The team has gone further in recent days. They challenged Cyber Ninjas to take their subtotals (gleaned from the official election data) and compare it to the subtotals in a sealed box of ballots. By June 11, there were several dozen boxes of ballots that had not yet been opened and hand-counted. Cyber Ninjas did not take up the challenge.

The auditors then gave their data to the press, including reporters who have observed Cyber Ninjas revising their procedures repeatedly in recent weeks. The evaluation pushed by Moore and White would directly compare the paper ballots marked by voters, the starting line, to the official election results, the finish line, to attest to the election's accuracy. Cyber Ninjas' process isn't making this comparison.

Growing Pressure Inside and Out

That fundamental procedural flaw, meanwhile, has bothered Bennett, the former Arizona secretary of state who says he volunteered to be Senate liaison because he felt that doubts about the election's legitimacy had to be put to rest. Since April, he has expressed interest in expanding the Senate's audit's inquiries to parse the electronic records that detect votes on the paper ballots and then compile the overall results.

Bennett has been pushing for a so-called ballot image audit to do this assessment, which would compare the digital images of every ballot created by vote-counting scanners to the electronically compiled vote totals. Bennett has attempted to hire a California nonprofit, Citizens Oversight, that happens to be run by a Democrat for that specialized assessment. But that prospect has been attacked in right-wing media and on social media, including by the audit's contractors led by Logan.

Inside the Phoenix arena, there are reports that Logan has told Bennett—who also is a former Arizona Senate president—not to talk to the press. Logan has reportedly bad-mouthed Bennett in closed meetings with pro-Trump activists and legislators visiting from out of state—who are seeking to bring similar privatized partisan assessments to their states (after Trump also lost there). It is clear, according to interviews by Voting Booth with witnesses to these incidents, that Logan's allies fear that more investigations would expose their shortcomings and undermine whatever report they issue.

Thus, among other things, pushing Bennett out of the inquiry would seem advantageous to pro-Trump Republicans' efforts to discredit the integrity of the 2020 election. In response, Bennett said that he is committed to examining Maricopa County's 2020 ballots and vote counts as thoroughly as possible, because he said that he is still a trusted messenger to enough Arizona Republicans who are awaiting his verdict.

"It's not what evidence is presented to most people, it's who it is presented to them by," Bennett said. He added that he wants to look at what Cyber Ninjas' analysis, the analysis by Moore and White, and what Citizens Oversight may do, and then present his judgment, and, if necessary, the details leading to his evaluation, to dispel any doubts.

"I believe that we can convince 90 percent of the people that are questioning the election [of its legitimacy], because it was the opposite party that was questioning the results in 2016. Ninety percent can understand that if Trump lost the election, it was Trump that lost the election," Bennett said. He mentioned several debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election in Arizona, saying, "It wasn't ballots flown in at midnight from China. It wasn't any fractional counting of votes on voting machines. It wasn't because Dominion [Voting Systems] was owned by China or Russia, or I don't know who… And similarly, when the Democrats lose, maybe it's because Hillary Clinton just wasn't what the American people wanted in 2016."

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.

New report reveals how Trump's 2020 lies unleashed waves of threat and intimidation against election official

After the New York Times' Maggie Haberman reported, on June 1, that former President Donald Trump believes he will be "reinstated" as president by August, many Trump critics — from liberals and progressives to Never Trump conservatives — warned that his delusions could inspire more attacks like the January 6 insurrection as well as an increase in threats against officials. The death threats, harassment and intimidation that election workers have been receiving from Trump supporters is the focus of in-depth article published by Reuters this week, and reporter Linda So shows that the abuse continues months after Trump's departure from the White House.

In her report, So emphasizes that the election workers who have suffered ongoing abuse range from high-level officials such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (a conservative Republican) to low-level and mid-level election workers. Raffensperger, following the 2020 presidential election, infuriated Trump and his allies — including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and far-right attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood — by maintaining that now-President Joe Biden won Georgia fairly and that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state as Trump claimed. And Raffensperger, along with his wife Tricia Raffensperger, have been inundated with death threats ever since

So reports that on April 5, Tricia Raffensperger received a text message saying that a family member was "going to have a very unfortunate incident" — and that message was followed by one in mid-April saying, "We plan for the death of you and your family every day." Then, on April 24,

she received a text message saying, "You and your family will be killed very slowly."

Tricia Raffensperger, who is 65, told Reuters that because of all the death threats, she decided it was no longer safe for her grandchildren to visit her home. The Georgia secretary of state's wife explained, "I couldn't have them come to my house anymore. You don't know if these people are actually going to act on this stuff."

The 66-year-old Brad Raffensperger told Reuters, "Vitriol and threats are an unfortunate, but expected, part of public service. But my family should be left alone."

Georgia's secretary of state is hardly the only major election official who has been receiving death threats from Trump supporters. Others have ranged from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who is part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration, to Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

So explains, "Trump's relentless false claims that the vote was 'rigged' against him sparked a campaign to terrorize election officials nationwide, from senior officials such as Raffensperger to the lowest-level local election workers. The intimidation has been particularly severe in Georgia, where Raffensperger and other Republican election officials refuted Trump's stolen-election claims. The ongoing harassment could have far-reaching implications for future elections by making the already difficult task of recruiting staff and poll workers much harder, election officials say."

In Georgia, So observes, the "intimidation" has "gone well beyond Raffensperger and his family." The Reuters reporter notes that in Georgia, "Election workers, from local volunteers to senior administrators, continue enduring regular harassing phone calls and e-mails, according to interviews with election workers and the Reuters review of texts, e-mails and audio files provided by Georgia officials."

Trump-inspired death threats are terrorizing election workers www.youtube.com

Richard Barron, elections director for Fulton County, Georgia, told Reuters that his predominantly African-American staff has received hundreds of threats along with racial slurs. Barron told Reuters, "The racial slurs were disturbing and sickening." And one of the targets was Ralph Jones, who is part of Barron's staff and oversaw mail-in ballot operations in Fulton County (which includes Atlanta) in 2020. Jones told Reuters, "It was unbelievable: your life being threatened just because you're doing your job."

Carlos Nelson, elections supervisor for Ware County, Georgia, believes that the United States is facing a dire situation when poll workers are fearing for their safety.

Nelson told Reuters, "These are people who work for little or no money, 12 to 14 hours a day on Election Day. If we lose good poll workers, that's when we're going to lose democracy."

After Reuters published So's article, election law expert Richard L. Hasen quoted it extensively on his Election Law Blog and described it as a "must-read."

Here are some of the many reactions to the article on Twitter:

The power of GOP gerrymandering: Georgia's median Senate seat was 15 points redder than the state

Daily Kos Elections has calculated the 2020 presidential results for every state Senate and state House district in Georgia, a state that Joe Biden put in the Democratic column for the first time in nearly three decades but where Republican gerrymanders helped keep Team Red firmly in control of both legislative chambers.

Democrats, until last year, had failed to win a single statewide race in Georgia since 2006, but the highly educated and diversifying Atlanta area's rapid swing to the left during the Trump era helped power Biden to a 49.5-49.3 victory. Two months later, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock proved this showing was no fluke by capturing both of the Peach State's U.S. Senate seats.

However, while the legislative boundaries the GOP crafted in 2011 and tinkered with in 2014 and 2015 failed to anticipate the party's erosion in the suburbs, they were still more than enough to protect the party's majorities. Democrats netted only one seat in each chamber, which left the GOP with a 34-22 advantage in the Senate and a 103-77 edge in the lower chamber.

Despite his statewide loss, Donald Trump carried 31 Senate seats to Biden's 25, as well as 94 House districts compared to 86 for Biden. That divergence between the statewide outcomes and the legislative results is only one way, however, to illustrate the power of the GOP's gerrymanders—and how tough it would have been for Democrats to have flipped either chamber under these maps.

Diving deeper, we can sort each district in each chamber by Biden's margin of victory over Trump to see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. Because both chambers have an even number of seats, we average the two middle seats to come up with the median point in each chamber.

Taking this approach, we find that the median Senate seat backed Trump 57-42, a full 15 points to the right of his statewide margin. That means that for Democrats to have secured a majority, the party's Senate candidates would have somehow had to win districts that remained firmly Republican by double digits even during the best year for Georgia Democrats in recent memory. The median point in the House wasn't quite so unfavorable at 52-47 Trump, but that was still a 5-point advantage for the GOP and, in this age of heavily polarized voting, a massive obstacle for Democrats.

It was therefore Democrats who badly needed voters to split their tickets downballot, but it was Republicans who actually benefited from crossover support. Three Republican senators and nine House members represent seats that voted for Biden, while not a single Democrat represents a Trump district.

The bluest GOP-held Senate seat is SD-56, where Republican incumbent John Albers prevailed 51-49 even as Biden was taking his suburban Atlanta constituency 53-45. Its counterpart in the House is HD-43 around Marietta; Biden won by an even larger 54-44 spread, but longtime state Rep. Sharon Cooper was also re-elected 51-49.

Republicans will once again be in charge of redistricting ahead of the 2022 elections, so the legislature will have the chance to shore up these seats, as well as any other vulnerable turf.

P.S. You can find all of our district-level data at this bookmarkable permalink.

Texas AG spent another 22,000 hours hunting for 'election fraud' — and didn't find a damn thing

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton remains indicted for securities fraud, a status he has held since 2015 as everyone in the state apparently conspires to slow walk his trial into the next millennium. He has evidently been using the time gained to commit other alleged crimes; as attorney general, his own subordinates have accused him of bribery and other criminal acts, and his own attempts to delegitimize the 2020 elections appear to have been motivated at least in part by Paxton fishing for a Trump pardon for those crimes.

He is the perfect model of new Republicanism by way of Trumpism, a man who really likes to bellow about the rule of law and the criminality of his enemies while skirting the law himself. These are the pissant little twits that Trump's party would have rule us, that the Fox News propagandists spend countless hours attempting to prop up, and who would head fascism's home office if the next violent insurrection has more success than his last attempt.

In Texas, however, Paxton is just another member in the statewide Republican attempt to undermine elections under the guise of protecting Texans from a wave of "fraud" that nobody can find, no matter how much money or time Republican racists and conspiracy theorists spend hunting for it.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting the latest numbers from Paxton's aggressive search for "voter fraud" in the state, and the numbers are about what you'd expect for an indicted ultrapartisan casting lines everywhere in search of justifications for his party's attacks on voting rights. Paxton's office logged "more than 22,000 staff hours" working on voter fraud cases in the last year, roughly doubling both the law enforcement officers and prosecutors already assigned to those cases. All 22,000 hours were paid for by Texas voters.

How much fraud did Texas Ahab's team find in those 22,000 hours? Sixteen cases. The team closed out 16 cases, all of them for Houston-area residents who wrote "false addresses" on voter registration forms. None of the 16 went to jail for it. That's in keeping with his department's long-term record, which has never found any organized fraud of the sort Paxton continues to insist exists somewhere, just beyond our visible realms.

Sayeth the Chronicle: "In its 15 years of its existence, the unit has prosecuted a few dozen cases in which offenders received jail time, none of them involving widespread fraud."

The Washington Post's Phillip Bump notes that from 2015 (you know, the year Ken Paxton was first indicted for crimes) to last year, there have been only 197 state-filed complaints of election fraud. That's out of tens of millions of votes, for a total percentage of approximately bupkis. It is not a thing that exists. While Paxton's allies have continued to lie outright about widespread supposed fraud, the number of pending cases involving the 2020 election consists of exactly one. Team Indicted Fascist is simply lying on this one. The Republican governor, the Republican legislators—they're all lying on this one. The case for writing new, tighter voting restrictions into law cannot be made because the "fraud" they look to prevent—and that Paxton has blown tens of thousands of hours looking for last year alone—is either paranoid fantasy or outright anti-democratic propaganda.

The reason for new Republican-pushed laws putting up higher obstacles to voting than already exist is the same in Texas as it is in Georgia. As voting trends shift (and after the two Republican presidencies in most recent memory both ended in national catastrophes), Republican candidates are finding themselves in increasingly close scrapes. The toppling of Georgia's two meritless Republican senators, especially, appears to have driven party leaders into outright panic. Any barricade that can hold Black or Hispanic voters from the polls or that can put a single new hour of delay between a working class voter and the ballot box is being hastily thrown up in an attempt to retake government in the next midterms. The threat is considered existential.

And it's considered existential in large part because Republican propaganda has successfully convinced a large portion of their own base that they are losing elections not because of economic crises, pandemics, scandals, and incompetence, but because not-white not-Republicans are "stealing" them out from under the party. The propaganda that underpinned a violent pro-Trump insurrection and that underpins state Republican laws targeting voting rights are one and the same. It is the same effort. The goals of both are to nullify elections Republicans have lost and replace them with "correct" results that the party itself has determined to be more valid.

It's not new. The violence at its edges isn't new either. This is what the Republican Party morphed into after the losers of the civil rights era coalesced together into one large ball of hate and grudges. Trump's innovation was to scrape off the crust and prove to the party that those grudges were close enough and strong enough to hold the party together all on their own. No policy. No need for success, no penalties for failure, and no need to be bound by either decorum or truth. Just the grudge, screamed at everyone in America who was turning it into a less hateful place than they would prefer.

While Ken Paxton is lying about fraud and the Texas governor is threatening to withhold legislature pay unless Democrats allow Republican-demanded voting restrictions to be written into law, Texas Republicans are trying to dodge accusations of outright racism in crafting their new "fixes" to a fake problem. A specific provision in the Texas bill that limited early voting on the Sunday prior to an election to the period from 1 PM to 9PM appears to aim squarely at "Souls to the Polls" efforts by Black churches to encourage voting after Sunday services. (Southern Republicans have focused on Black church voting initiatives in multiple states with, among other devices, rules that criminalize driving voters to the polls unless you're related to them or have filled out a form with the state. Other rules have banned providing voters with water once they're in line. Anything that might make it easier to vote is being targeted by Republican bills; anything that puts new steps between voters and voting is being embraced in the same bills.)

Texas Republicans now claim that the seems-to-be-racist thing was, ha ha, just a little accident when typing things up. The 1 PM opening time was meant to be 11 AM, you see, and not a single Republican noticed it until after attempting to ram through the vote on the measure, despite the clause being specifically singled out across the national media as an apparently racist act.

Sure, right. "We just now noticed that the thing the country is pointing to as evidence of blatant racist intent on our parts was actually, um, a typo." That'll work.

There's not going to be a Republican reckoning here or a backpedaling from these voter suppression efforts. The party genuinely believes it and only it has a legitimate claim to government power, a "right" that is only ever taken from it when the wrong people vote or when too many people vote. It's not Republicanism that's flawed and needs reformation in party minds. It's the voting.

If the House and Senate cannot impose new minimal standards that allow all Americans the same right to vote without state lawmakers throwing up a barrage of new hurdles, this will continue. It will worsen. New Republican laws are granting new supposed powers to circumvent actual vote totals and determine the "correct" outcome of elections—precisely what Republican seditionists stormed Congress to demand—and state Republicans will not hesitate to test those powers if individual midterm races do not go their way.

That even those screaming about "election fraud" the loudest cannot, even with every state resource at their disposal or with the powers of a presidency behind them, find any of the fraud they are looking for is evidence enough that the claims are intended to be propaganda, not fact. The Republican Party is organized around a propaganda campaign in order to convince their base that our current democracy is no longer legitimate and that it therefore must be altered to better meet Republican needs. It is a fascist attack, it follows the path of historic fascist attacks, and it stands every chance of working.

Fears mount that the GOP's Big Lie was just a 'test run' for what comes next

With Senate Republicans expected to use the filibuster on Thursday to block a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol instigated by former President Donald Trump, fears are mounting that his "Big Lie" about the 2020 election was just a "test run" for future GOP assaults on American democracy.

As Ryan Cooper lamented Wednesday in a column at The Week, "The truth is that the insurrection never actually stopped."

"What happened on January 6 was just one part of a huge effort to overturn the 2020 election—through the courts, bullying local officials, and finally an outright putsch—that is ongoing to this day," he wrote. "In Arizona a collection of right-wing conspiracy theorists are conducting a fraudulent 'audit' of the 2020 ballots."

"Key figures in the attempted election theft are now running for election oversight offices in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan," he continued. "The national-level Republican Party has swung hard against the proposed congressional investigation to investigate the putsch, and Senate Republicans are likely to filibuster it."

Though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has continued to promise that the upper chamber will vote on a House-approved bill that would create a 9/11-style commission to probe the Capitol attack, which resulted in five deaths and Trump's historic second impeachment, Democrats lack the requisite 10 GOP votes.

If Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) maintain their opposition to killing the filibuster, efforts to pass not only the commission bill but also other key priorities for Democratic lawmakers and President Joe Biden—including legislation on gun control, infrastructure, labor protections, and voting rights—could be fruitless.

Meanwhile, since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol in January, Republican state legislators have proposed, and in some cases passed, voter suppression bills that critics warn could impact ballot access in key states for next year's midterms and the elections that follow. And as vaccine rates rise across the country, Trump—who is banned from major social media platforms and facing multiple criminal investigations—is gearing up for the return of his infamous rallies and another possible run for president.

"Trump is confiding in allies that he intends to run again in 2024 with one contingency: that he still has a good bill of health," Politico reports of the 74-year-old, citing unnamed sources close to him. As for 2022, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) aim to retake both chambers; McCarthy has made clear that members who criticize Trump will be ostracized, while McConnell is making the commission fight about the midterms.

In 2018, Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris told Vox's Sean Illing that since the 1990s, "we've seen a one-sided escalation in which Republicans exploit the vagueness or lack of clarity in the Constitution in order to press their advantage in a variety of arenas—from voter ID laws to gerrymandering to behavioral norms in the Congress and Senate." He warned that "Democrats have to recognize the urgency of the moment and act accordingly."

Illing, in a follow-up interview with Faris published Thursday, said that "it feels like we're sleepwalking into a real crisis here, but it's hard to convey the urgency because it's not dramatic and it's happening in slow motion and so much of life feels so normal."

"The most destructive thing that Trump did on his way out the door was he took the Republicans' waning commitment to democracy and he weaponized it, and he made it much worse to the point where I think that a good deal of rank-and-file Republican voters simply don't believe that Democrats can win a legitimate election" Faris said. "And if Democrats do win an election, it has to be fraudulent."

Recent legal proceedings for alleged members of the mob that attacked the Capitol have highlighted the effectiveness of the Big Lie—that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from Trump—among voters.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for D.C. wrote in an opinion Wednesday that releasing defendant Cleveland Meredith Jr. from jail could endanger the public. Meredith, who allegedly was not at the Capitol but brought weapons to the city and texted that he wanted to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on live television, has pleaded not guilty.

As the judge put it: "The steady drumbeat that inspired [the] defendant to take up arms has not faded away; six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near-daily fulminations of the former president."

CNN on Thursday compiled other examples of judges reaching similar conclusions.

To Faris, the GOP's embrace of Trump's Big Lie in 2020 "felt like a test run."

"The plot to overturn the 2020 election never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that, which I never thought was particularly likely," he told Illing. "But the institutional path that they pursued to steal the election failed because they didn't control Congress and they didn't control the right governorships in the right places."

"It was a test run for a way to overturn an election with the veneer of legality," he explained. "You have to give Trump and Republicans some kind of dark credit for figuring out that this is really conceivable. I think they now know that, even though it would cause a court battle and possibly a civil war, that if they can't win by suppressing the vote and the election is close enough, they can do this if they control enough state legislatures and the Congress."

As the lack of Senate Republican support impedes federal legislation like the For the People Act, a sweeping bill of pro-democracy reforms that would thwart some of the GOP's state-level voter suppression measures, Faris warned that "if Democrats don't make some changes to our election laws and if they lose some races that they really need to win in 2022 and 2024, then we're in real trouble."

Faris is far from the only political expert worried about future U.S. elections.

Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won widespread praise earlier this year for refusing to bow to Trump's demands that he "find" more than 11,000 votes to reverse Biden's November victory in the Peach State—and the ex-president's action provoked a criminal investigation into the matter.

However, Raffensperger has also defended the new voter suppression measure signed into law by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in March and the secretary of state's lengthy interview with the New York Times, published Wednesday, has increased alarm about the long-term consequences of allowing yet another inspection of 2020 ballots in Georgia's populous Fulton County spearheaded by a known conspiracy theorist.

While Raffensperger claimed that the effort will help restore "voter confidence" in the 2020 results, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent pointed out Wednesday that the Georgia Republican faces a primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, "who has been endorsed by Trump on the specific grounds that he'll use his official power to subvert future election results that Republicans hate, in a way Raffensperger would not. This is Hice's whole rationale for running!"

Sargent also consulted a scholar of democracy:

Harvard historian Daniel Ziblatt notes that Raffensperger's travails echo a historical dilemma for conservatives. Those who want their party to accept despised election outcomes often contend with radical elements to their right who reject the core legitimacy of those outcomes.
That leaves those conservatives in a position of trying to "appease" those radicals by flirting with their hostility to democracy, but it often proves a fool's errand, Ziblatt said.
"The purpose of this is not to give the election a clean bill of health," Ziblatt told me, referring to the Georgia effort. "It's to further undermine its credibility." Ziblatt said such recounts are a "dress rehearsal for 2024."

According to Ronald Brownstein, a senior editor at The Atlantic, "Anxiety is growing among a broad range of civil rights, democracy reform, and liberal groups over whether Democrats are responding with enough urgency to the accelerating Republican efforts to both suppress voting and potentially overturn future Democratic election victories."

"Virtually all Democrats and activists I've spoken with agree that Manchin is unlikely to move forward on voting rights unless Biden personally persuades him to do so," he wrote Thursday. "Which is why, even as they express unease about the flagging Democratic response to the Republican red-state offensive, so many activists are willing to give Biden more time to see whether he can steer new voting protections into law."

Although Biden "does have an obligation as president to do everything he can in his power to unite the country," Fernand Amandi, a longtime Democratic pollster, told Brownstein, at some point he will need "to look into the mirror, acknowledge the stark existential threat that the Republican Party represents [to democracy], and make the decision about whether or not it's time to talk turkey with the American people."

Why Brad Raffensperger's troubles are a sign of problems to come for non-extremist conservatives: columnist

In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is facing an aggressive primary challenge from Rep. Jody Hice, a far-right Republican who backs President Donald Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Liberal Washington post opinion writer Greg Sargent, in a column published this week, cites Raffensperger as a prime example of the fact that non-extremist conservatives can never win when extremists are involved.

"In future history courses on the GOP's slide into hyper-radicalization," Sargent writes, "one of the most illuminating readings will surely be these extraordinary new public comments from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. They capture the challenge that well-meaning Republicans face in holding back their party's ongoing abandonment of democracy, in a particularly unsettling way."

Sargent notes that in Georgia, pro-Trump Republicans are pushing a "buffoonish inspection of ballots" led by a conspiracy theorist — and Raffensperger is going along with it in the hope of proving them wrong.

"After Raffensperger attested to the integrity of Trump's loss and staunchly resisted Trump's pressure to reverse it," Sargent writes, "this is jarring. Raffensperger explained his support for the inspection in a long interview with the New York Times. Showing as much 'transparency' as possible, he said, will help restore 'voter confidence' in the 2020 outcome. But this perfectly captures the core problem. It presumes that those claiming the election was stolen from Trump can be reasoned into accepting his 2020 loss via more transparency and a continuing appeal to facts."

As Raffensperger sees it, he is humoring Trump supporters in an effort to show that now-President Joe Biden won Georgia fair and square. But according to Sargent, "This misses the whole point of such efforts, which is to manufacture ways to cast doubt on electoral outcomes in conscious and deliberate defiance of what full transparency and the facts reveal. We need to forthrightly confront whether a broader movement is developing, in which such moves are really dry runs at manufacturing fake justifications for subverting future electoral losses by any means necessary."

Raffensperger told the Times, "Whenever we can restore, or have a process that will help restore, voter confidence, I think that's a good thing…. (The Georgia inspection will) get the same results we got after November. And then, we can hopefully put this to bed."

But extremists, Sargent warns, will not be willing to "put this to bed."

"There is a real movement underway in Georgia to delegitimize the 2020 outcome there," Sargent writes. "This is exactly why Raffensperger is under such heavy fire from Republicans. Consider this: Raffensperger is facing a primary challenge from Rep. Jody Hice, who has been endorsed by Trump on the specific grounds that he'll use his official power to subvert future election results that Republicans hate, in a way Raffensperger would not. This is Hice's whole rationale for running!"

Sargent discussed Raffensperger's challenges with Daniel Ziblatt, a historian at Harvard University. According to Ziblatt, humoring extremists in the hope of trying to prove them wrong does not end well.

Ziblatt told Sargent, "Anytime you have a conservative who feels the need to appease their radical base, they think they can ride it out. In the process, they legitimize that radical base, to their own demise."

Arizona Republicans launch new power grab to punish a Democratic official defending the 2020 election

Arizona Republican lawmakers on Tuesday moved to strip the state's chief elections officer of one of her most important election duties: defending the state's elections in court. Republicans have been waging a war against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, who opposes the Senate Republican President's Cyber Ninja "recount."

"Political score-settling is not supposed to be part of the budgeting process, but you will have a hard time convincing Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee of that," is how Arizona's ABC 15 News reported the latest development.

"On Tuesday morning, the Appropriations Committee stripped Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her ability to defend election lawsuits. It gave the power exclusively to the attorney general."

The Arizona attorney general is currently a Republican.

And to show that this is absolutely a power grab, stripping the Secretary of State of that critical election responsibility expires at the end of Hobbs' term.

While they were busy attacking Hobbs, Arizona Republicans also struck back at her for daring to fly the LGBTQ pride flag from the Capitol Museum in 2019.

According to ABC 15, her decision to fly the flag on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall during Pride month "infuriated both the Speaker of the House and the Senate President," both Republicans. Republicans forced it to be removed almost immediately.

On Tuesday Republicans not only moved to strip her of her ability to fly the flag from the Capitol Museum, they moved to strip her of her entire oversight of the Capitol Museum.

ABC 15 notes the entire legislation will have to approve these changes, but given the GOP majority in the Arizona legislature – 16-14 in the Senate, 31-29 in the House – it probably will pass.

Hobbs issued a statement slamming Republicans:

New analysis reveals one key reason Trump lost Arizona — and deflates his claim of 'rigging'

About 75,000 Republican-leaning voters in Arizona's two most populous counties did not vote to re-elect President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, according to an analysis of every vote cast by a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer and election technologists familiar with vote-counting data.

The analysis from Maricopa and Pima Counties underscored that the Arizona state Senate's ongoing audit of 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County's November 2020 election was based on a false premise—that Democrats stole Arizona's election where Trump lost statewide to Joe Biden by 10,457 votes.

"I am continuing my analysis of why Trump lost in Arizona," Benny White, a former military and commercial pilot who has been a Republican election observer for years in Pima County and was part of the research team, said in a May 10 Facebook post. "Bottom line: Republicans and non-partisans who voted for other Republicans on the ballot did not vote for Trump, some voted for Biden and some simply did not cast an effective vote for President."

The analysis, whose methodology is similar to academic research by political scientists, offers a counternarrative to Trump's continuing claims that he lost a rigged election. It also underscores that election experts can extract records from voting systems to affirm and explain the results, such as showing that at least 75,000 Arizonans voted for many other GOP candidates but not for Trump.

Maricopa County and Pima County accounted for 76 percent of Arizona's 2020 presidential election ballots.

"The data is all there to form a justified belief that there wasn't anything amiss, and you should be looking at that [data] before you turn ballots over to partisan third parties," said Larry Moore, who founded Clear Ballot, a federally certified firm that helps local and state governments to count and verify election results, and helped White analyze to fall 2020's vote patterns from the two counties.

"This needs to be treated like a giant accounting problem where everything has to add up," Moore said. "We have been working on this nonstop for days. The [state] Senate's auditors don't know what they are doing… The county election officials and their attorneys also don't realize the power of the [data] tools that they have."

The analysis was based on the "cast-vote record" of every vote on every ballot in the two counties, which White obtained in a public records request and analyzed. The state Senate's auditors, led by the pro-Trump contractor Cyber Ninjas, were given the same data in February, but have not used it to cross-reference the subtotals in their hand count of Maricopa County's presidential and U.S. Senate votes, audit officials told Voting Booth. Cyber Ninjas has not yet issued any findings about several audits it is supervising.

"I want voters to decide the results of the election, not lawyers and judges, which is what is occurring in Maricopa County with this [Senate-led] audit that is extremely disruptive," said White in an interview. "It is really undermining the public's confidence in our election systems, and it's completely unnecessary."

Bryan Blehm, an Arizona attorney representing Cyber Ninjas, replied to White's post on Facebook—without identifying that relationship—by saying that White was not working with reliable data and was angling for a job with Arizona's Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.

"Of course data facts matter," Blehm wrote on May 10. "That is why Mr. White relies on data supplied to him by government buearocrats [sic] rather than the actual real data. Hence, he questions anyone actually working with the underlying real data. I think Mr. White is pushing for a job with the Secretary of State."

However, a handful of political scientists who study voter turnout confirmed that using cast-vote records to analyze voting patterns, including voters who split their votes between major party candidates, was a standard research methodology.

"Yes, political scientists have done research using cast-vote records," said Charles Stewart III, who directs the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. "Last year, I published a co-authored article that looked at the 2016 election, and we concluded that Republicans were much more likely to abstain in that election than Democrats—and the Republicans who did abstain had been anti-Trump in the primary."

"This approach is similar to research we have done," said Matthew Thornburg, a University of South Carolina Aiken assistant professor of political science. "What we find in political science research is that voters are more likely to defect in races they know more about. In presidential races, everyone knows the candidates well by November and can be persuaded by factors other than partisanship."

"Given that you have the data, you can make all kinds of analyses," said Duncan Buell, chair emeritus of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of South Carolina, who has analyzed public election records in a half-dozen states. "This is not rocket science, and it is not partisan."

A Political Science Analysis

The approach that White and Moore used echoed what political scientists do when analyzing split-ticket voting patterns (when voters diverge between different parties' candidates as they fill out a ballot) or partisan voting patterns based on a precinct's demographics.

To start, White obtained the cast-vote record from the counties, both of which saw more voters support Biden than Trump in the 2020 election. This public document is a series of elaborate computer files that contain every vote cast in every race. Those records are organized as individual folders each containing batches of several hundred ballots. Maricopa's data was in 10,300 folders, White said.

White reached out to Moore, who enlisted Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot's former CTO. The Boston-based firm's expertise is based on analyzing digital images of every scanned paper ballot to double-check election results. After obtaining the cast-vote records, the researchers had to identify Republican-leaning voters.

General election ballots don't identify voters or list their party affiliation. White's team noted that there were 15 contests with Republican candidates for county or higher offices in Maricopa County in the 2020 election. There were 13 such contests in Pima County.

To identify Republican-inclined voters, Halvorsen created a search tool to identify the ballots where half or more of the votes in these contests were for Republicans. That meant at least eight votes for Republican candidates in Maricopa County and seven Republicans in Pima County.

The search tool also identified how many ballots contained a majority of votes for Republicans—but not for Trump. It found about 60,000 such ballots in Maricopa County and slightly more than 15,000 ballots in Pima County. White said that he needed an experienced voting system programmer to help process the data.

"I don't want to trivialize this analysis because it is very difficult," White said. "You have to have knowledge of the election administration process. You have to have knowledge of the way voting machines work. You have to have knowledge of what might be available to you in all of the public records… It takes actual expertise to be able to do that."

The finding that some number of Republican voters were turned off by Trump and did not vote for him in 2020's general election is not unique.

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor who tracks voter turnout patterns nationally, said "it seems consistent with what we've seen elsewhere concerning the suburban shift toward Biden."

"The upshot is that voters defect more the higher up the ballot the race is and the more information they have," said Thornburg, citing published research about this pattern. "This result does not surprise me."

"Fifty-nine thousand votes in Maricopa County amounts to only approximately 2.8 percent of the votes that were cast there," he continued. "Assuming (generously) that loyal Republicans made up just 45 percent of Maricopa's 2020 voters, that's only about 6.3 percent of loyal Republicans (which is in line with national exit poll results that show approximately 6 percent of Republicans and 5 percent of Democrats voted for the other party's presidential candidate)."

There was also a drop-off in Republican voter turnout in Georgia between its November 2020 election, which Trump also lost, and the turnout in early January's U.S. Senate runoffs, which Trump repeatedly said would be fraudulent and where the Democrats prevailed—returning the majority to Democrats. Trump's rhetoric has been seen as suppressing his party's turnout in the Senate runoffs.

Arizona Investigation Continues

The investigation by White and Moore was also using other public records to debunk another conspiratorial claim about Maricopa County's election: that 40,000 ballots were smuggled into vote-counting centers after midnight on November 4.

Using Arizona's public voter history file and eligible voter file, White found there were no unusual spikes in precinct-level turnout patterns (Maricopa County's turnout was 80.5 percent), Moore said. White also verified the identities of all but 720 voters out of the 2.1 million people who voted in the 2020 election in Maricopa, Moore said, adding the exceptions were people whose identities were protected as crime victims, law enforcement officers or public officials like judges.

"It completely checked out—all 2.1 million voters," Moore said. "There were no unknown names except for those 720… And the tool we used to explain all this [assertion] was mapping. We show by precinct the percentage turnout and the actual numbers of turnout. There's no [conspiratorial] there, there."

On May 17, Blehm, Cyber Ninjas' attorney, also commented on Facebook, again criticizing White for this line of inquiry. "Pretty map," he wrote. "And it shows you are up on the data they give you. So much for reality because you apparently only need what they feed you."

Ken Bennett, a Republican and former Arizona secretary of state who is serving as a liaison for the Senate's audit of Maricopa County's 2020 election, declined to comment on the research by White and Moore. Previously, Bennett has said that he hopes to oversee several audit procedures to address the persistent belief among Trump supporters that Arizona's 2020 presidential election was dishonest.

"The power of this [cast-vote record] analysis is dealing with the complete record of all votes and not just statistical estimates," Moore said. "This is not based on estimates. There are no confidence intervals. These numbers are based on 100 percent of all the voters voting."

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 2020 election mystery that we still haven't solved

by W. Joseph Campbell, American University School of Communication

More than six months after the astonishing polling embarrassment in the 2020 U.S. elections, survey experts examining what went wrong are uncertain about what led to the sharpest discrepancy between the polls and popular vote outcome since Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in a near-landslide in 1980.

Lingering questions about the misfire in 2020, in which voter support for then-President Donald Trump was understated in final pre-election polls, suggest that troubles in accurately surveying presidential elections could be deeper and more profound than previously recognized. If the source of the polling miscall isn't clear, then addressing and correcting it obviously becomes quite challenging.

Moreover, as I discussed in my 2020 book “Lost in a Gallup," polling failures in presidential elections since 1936 rarely have been repetitive. Just as no two elections are alike, no two polling failures are quite the same.

Over the years, pollsters have anticipated tight presidential elections when landslides have occurred. They have signaled the wrong winner in closer elections. The estimates of venerable pollsters have been singularly in error. Wayward exit polls have thrown Election Day into confusion by identifying the losing candidate as the likely winner. Off-target state polls have confounded expected national outcomes, which essentially was the story in 2016.

Support that wasn't there

In 2020, overall, election polls pointed to Democrat Joe Biden's winning the presidency. But the polls overstated support for Biden and underestimated backing for Trump no matter how close to the election the poll was conducted and regardless of the methods pollsters chose. Surveys in races for U.S. senator and governor were beset by similar shortcomings.

Those were among the key findings described recently at the annual conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, which was convened online. The organization had recruited a task force of 19 experts in survey research who examined the 2020 election polls in detail and reported being unable, so far, to pinpoint specific causes of polling errors.

Their findings did make clear, however, that the 2020 miscall was the most significant in 40 years.

Polls in the presidential race in 2020 collectively overstated Biden's lead by 3.9 percentage points, the task force chair, Joshua Clinton of Vanderbilt University, said in a presentation at the conference.

This marked the fourth presidential election in the past five in which the national polls, at least to some extent, overstated support for Democratic candidates.

Masking dramatic miscalls

Averaging the polling errors, as the task force did in conducting its analysis, is broadly revealing about the extent of those errors. But it has the effect of masking several dramatic miscalls in late-campaign polls conducted in 2020 by, or for, leading news organizations. The final CNN poll had Biden ahead by 12 points. Surveys for The Wall Street Journal-NBC News and by the Economist-YouGov had Biden winning by 10 percentage points as the campaign wound down. A few polls, such as Emerson College's survey, came close in estimating the outcome.

Biden won the popular vote by 4.5 percentage points.

Clinton, the Vanderbilt professor, said the task force eliminated several prospective causes of polling error in 2020, including those that likely distorted survey results in key states in 2016 when Trump unexpectedly won an Electoral College victory. Those factors included undecided voters swinging to Trump late in the campaign and a failure by some pollsters to adjust survey results to account for varying levels of education.

White voters without college degrees were understood to have voted heavily for Trump in 2016, but those voters were underrepresented in some polls in key states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump won narrowly and surprisingly.

A source of the miscalls in 2020, Clinton said, may have been that Republicans were less inclined than Democrats to agree to be interviewed by pollsters.

If that's so, it's not entirely clear why that happened. And that prospect troubles pollsters and survey research experts.

Courtney Kennedy, director of survey research at Pew Research Center, said while moderating a panel discussion at the conference that “what keeps me from getting a good night's sleep these days is the prospect … Republicans, or maybe certain types of Republicans, seem like they're less inclined to participate in polls these days than Democrats."

This may be a tough problem for pollsters to overcome, she said, adding, “It would be a real challenge" to calibrate poll-taking to capture such nuanced distinctions.

Likewise, it is unclear whether Trump's sharp criticism of pre-election polls in 2020 dissuaded his supporters from participating in surveys.

“So it's possible that these may be short-term phenomena that will abate when Trump is not on the ballot," Daniel Merkle, president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, said in a speech recorded for conference-goers.

“On the other hand, it could be a broader issue of conservatives becoming less likely to respond to polls in general because of a decline in social trust, or for some other reasons. It will take further evaluation to understand this nonresponse issue and to adjust for it. This may not be an easy task," Merkle said.

Overblown characterizations

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, several media critics asserted that polling seemed “irrevocably broken" and faced “serious existential questions."

Such alarming characterizations appear overblown; polls are not going to melt away. After all, election polling represents a slice of a multibillion-dollar industry that includes consumer and product surveys of all types.

And if election polling survived the debacle of 1948 – when President Harry S. Truman defied predictions of pollsters and pundits to win reelection – then it surely will live on after the embarrassment of 2020.The Conversation

W. Joseph Campbell, Professor of Communication Studies, American University School of Communication

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'Ineptitude': Republican-controlled county board slams Arizona audit firm as 'grifters and con-artists’

Arizona's Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in a letter sent Monday slammed both the State Senate Republican President and the company she chose to perform a highly controversial recount of the 2020 presidential election ballots.

That recount, which has been going on for nearly four weeks, has been plagued by regular reports of irregular and suspicious actions and, as the Board of Supervisors said today, "ineptitude."

Already the U.S. Dept. of Justice has notified the company performing the recount, Cyber Ninjas, that it is watching their actions and warning them their actions may violate the law.

The Maricopa Board of Supervisors – which is made up of four Republicans and just one Democrat – Monday did not hold back, blasting Senate President Karen Fann, accusing her of lying, among other disturbing actions.

Fann, in a false accusation picked up and repeated by Donald Trump over the weekend, claimed Maricopa County deleted an entire database. The accusation was made either out of ignorance or political vengeance, or both, but the damage has been done.

The County responded today, calling the accusations "false, defamatory, and beneath the dignity of the Senate."

"We demand that you immediately rescind your false and malicious tweet," the county tells Senate President Fann in a 13-page letter, "asserting that Maricopa County 'spoiled evidence' in the days before we provided the server to the Senate. Your tweet, which relies on the 'modified date' shown in the screenshot as evidence of wrongdoing, is demonstrably false; the only thing it does demonstrate is your auditors' incompetence. Their stunning lack of a basic understanding for how their software works is egregious and only made worse by the false tweet sent defaming the hardworking employees of Maricopa County."

The Senate, Maricopa County adds, "is only interested in feeding the various festering conspiracy theories that fuel the fundraising schemes of those pulling your strings."

You have rented out the once good name of the Arizona State Senate to grifters and con-artists, who are fundraising hard-earned money from our fellow citizens even as your contractors parade around the Coliseum, hunting for bamboo and something they call "kinematic artifacts" while shining purple lights for effect. None of these things are done in a serious audit. The result is that the Arizona Senate is held up to ridicule in every corner of the globe and our democracy is imperiled.

A few more excerpts:

  • "Your various questions about our election procedures reveal a serious lack of understanding of election law."
  • "a spectacular lack of understanding on your part"
  • "we cannot give you a password that we do not possess any more than we can give you the formula for Coca Cola. We do not have it; we have no legal right to acquire it; and so, we cannot give it to you."
  • "We will not be responding to any additional inquiries from your 'auditors'. Their failure to understand basic election processes is an indication you didn't get the best people to perform in your political theatre. We have wasted enough County resources. People's tax dollars are real, your 'auditors' are not."
  • "Your 'audit' is harming all of us, and we ask you to end it."
But perhaps among the most disturbing accusations Maricopa County makes, is, as The Guardian's Sam Levine reports, Cyber Ninjas is "just straight miscounting ballots." Read this short tweet:

Jack Sellers, the Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, concluded a meeting Monday afternoon by announcing to the Arizona Sensate, "Finish your report and be ready to defend it in a court of law."

Watch below:

From the floor of Arizona's audit: The process has key flaws — and they will taint the outcome

The Arizona Senate's audit of 2.1 million fall 2020 ballots has been extremely controversial since its inception. As recently retired Arizona Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake reiterated on May 11, its premise is based on "the 'big lie' that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump."

The audit's lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas, is a data security firm whose CEO is pro-Trump and has not been certified by federal election administration regulators. The firm has no prior experience vetting vote counts. Its main subcontractor, Wake TSI, took part in a controversial election audit last fall in a tiny rural Pennsylvania county. The auditors have been fighting with Democrats and Republican officials who oversaw Arizona's 2020 general election about access to voting machinery, computer systems, paper ballots, procedures, transparency, security and more.

But the audit has proceeded at Phoenix's Veterans Memorial Coliseum. As details emerge from the arena's floor, it appears its hand count of presidential and U.S. Senate votes from Maricopa County will likely produce results that diverge from the county's official 2020 results, where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 45,109 votes or 2.16 percent. (Statewide, Biden won by 10,457 votes.) The reason for the probable discrepancy is not the hyperpartisanship surrounding the Senate's audit, but because the hand count is imprecise at key junctures.

Voting Booth's assessment is based on its role as a floor observer on May 6 and 7, which included strict limits on interviews (for instance, only being allowed to speak with Cyber Ninjas' attorney or designated technicians). Voting Booth's conclusion is also based on its review of state and county election procedure rules and guidelines, and consultations with outside lawyers specializing in post-election procedures and other observers allowed in the tightly watched coliseum.

"Proper recount procedure and protocol contain several indispensable components and requirements that must be rigorously adhered to. If any are missing, a manual recount could become inherently flawed. As a result, inexperienced people overseeing the count might not even be aware of errors or be able to correct mistakes," said Chris Sautter, a veteran recount attorney and co-author of The Recount Primer, a guide to post-election disputes.

The Senate's Hand Count

There are two different audits underway at the Phoenix arena. (Both inquiries had to pause and pack up before the weekend of May 15-16 because the coliseum was used for high school graduations. They are expected to resume afterward. A third audit, examining the digital ballot images created by the county's vote-counting scanners and not associated with Cyber Ninjas, has yet to begin.)

The audit drawing the most attention, and derision, by career election officials including Republicans, is a camera- and microscope-centered examination of returned paper ballots to detect forgeries. This process examines folds and fibers in the ballots, as well as ink markings, and was sparked by unproven allegations that thousands of paper ballots were printed in Asia and smuggled into Maricopa County, according to other audit observers. Even the audit's liaison, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, who says the exercise is needed to quell concerns about untrustworthy elections, told Voting Booth that scenario was "crazy."

But there is another audit going on, a hand count of Maricopa County's presidential and U.S. senatorial votes. This process is more visible—via video feeds—and is spread out across most of the coliseum's floor. Seen from afar, the optics resemble recounts in other states. Yet the hand count is not being run by government election officials. Nor is it following Arizona's Elections Procedures Manual, or using all of the 2020 election records and data that Maricopa County provided to the state Senate (after a court's February order that the county needed to comply with a subpoena). Instead, it is following procedures set up by Cyber Ninjas.

As a result, the hand count omits key accounting controls at important intervals where discrepancies with the official results can be identified and investigated, and any mistakes related to the hand count can be corrected. Three decision points stood out in this regard. For example, the hand count team was not setting aside problematic individual paper ballots after counting teams used their judgment to interpret a voter's intent on a sloppily marked ballot.

Nor was Cyber Ninjas' hand count looking for differences with 2020's official results based on cross-referencing its subtotals with the county's data. Notably, it has not reviewed the subtotals from so-called poll tapes on each of the voting machines used on Election Day (when 168,000 people voted). Nor was it using the subtotals from 9,600 batches of early ballots processed before November 3 but counted on Election Day.

(Those subtotals would have to be extracted by Cyber Ninjas from data given to the Senate, which experienced election auditors know how to do. However, as of mid-May, Cyber Ninjas' team had not examined all of the Senate's data, according to observers who are familiar with that aspect of the operation. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, wrote a May 12 letter to Maricopa Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, a moderate Republican, expressing frustrations that the county's data was not readily accessible. A legislative hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 18.)

Regardless of these frustrations, Cyber Ninjas' hand count has proceeded without comparing its step-by-step results to the key baseline of the county's subtotals. Additionally, as of Friday, May 7, when about 250,000 ballots had been hand-counted, the Senate's contractors had not begun to copy the thousands of individual tally sheets from the hand count, nor had they begun to look for, and fix, possibly data-entry errors when those subtotals were entered into a spreadsheet to compile the overall vote totals. (The next week, however, video feeds appeared to show tally sheets being scanned.)

Blurry Process Where Precision Matters

Politics aside, verifying election results can be seen as a big accounting problem, where all the figures have to add up. Election audits typically are laborious and mind-numbing. When precise records are not created and cross-referenced with underlying data in manageable steps, it becomes harder to find and trace errors, and mistakes by the auditors can become embedded and taint the process's conclusions. Arizona's hand count audit is being run by a lead contractor with no prior election experience, which means that controls at key comparison and procedural points were not instituted, or were added after the audit began.

The audit's first soft spot concerns tagging individual ballots where a voter's intent is not clear. The hand count starts by counting paper ballots in the order in which they were batched and stacked in the county's storage boxes. The audits count 50 ballots at a time. A table manager puts the paper ballot on a rotating stand. The three counters view and write down the presidential and U.S. Senate choices on a tally sheet. A supervisor from Wake TSI, a subcontractor, oversees this process. Using green pens, the counters record each vote as a single pen stroke. Five votes are recorded on each line of the tally sheet. After 50 ballots are counted, their slash marks are manually subtotaled. The process is repeated until votes from 100 ballots fill each tally sheet page. The arena floor had 40-plus counting tables.

The counters initial and write the ballot batch number at the top of the tally sheet. If a dispute arises between the counters over a voter's intent on a single ballot, the vote is assigned to whomever two of the three counters agree upon. A red pen is used to correct the prior green ink mark. Once the hand counting round is finished, the counters' math is checked by the table manager. A cover sheet is prepared and a runner takes it to a tabulation station.

Cyber Ninjas' process, which has been fine-tuned as the audit proceeded, differs from the county's process in several ways, starting with adjudicating voter intent, according to Maricopa County Elections Department documents and the state's 2019 Elections Procedures Manual. These procedures, which were approved by Arizona's Republican governor and attorney general, include bipartisan audit boards with members appointed by political parties, specific voter intent standards, and adjudication logs for individual ballots.

The Senate's hand count lacked bipartisan representation, as Arizona Democrats have boycotted the audit. Counters at each table are using their own judgment about how to count questionable votes. Problematic ballots are not set aside for later review. In addition, stepping back, the audit is not producing a crisp record that can rapidly trace disputes to the originally questioned ballot. Whether this omission will create future issues is unknown, but it is a weakness.

More specifically, the hand count tables are not comparing their subtotals to the county's subtotals at key vote counting intervals, starting with the voting machines (or their memory cards) used on Election Day when 168,000 residents voted. Comparing the hand count tallies to these cashier-like poll tapes (or the same information on the machinery's memory cards) would be the most direct way to cross-check the official results in precise intervals, recount experts said. This baseline comparison was not being done.

Nor were the hand count teams comparing their subtotals to the subtotals for the rest of the 2020 general election ballots, which mostly were bundled in numbered batches of 200 ballots each. (In Arizona, these are called early ballots—as they are cast before Election Day. In other states, these ballots are called absentee ballots and in-person early ballots.) Generating those batch subtotals requires extra work, Maricopa County officials said; but they emphasized that these batch subtotals could be extracted and compiled from the data turned over to the Senate.

The Cyber Ninjas' team also discovered what many election auditors face: ballot inventories are sometimes in less-than-perfect condition. For example, not every storage box has paper dividers between the batches packed inside, Fann's May 12 letter to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair said. Some batches do not contain precisely 200 ballots, the letter said, citing issues with "handling, organization, and storage of ballots."

Nonetheless, the subtotals used by the Maricopa County Elections Department to tally its 2020 election results are not the same as the subtotals being created by Cyber Ninjas' hand count team. Comparing these records before generating a final total is akin to comparing apples to oranges—it is inherently imprecise and lacks cross-referencing.

Not Yet Tracing Data Entry Errors

These procedural steps are technical. But they are the building blocks and evidence upon which vote totals are created, and upon which accusations of stolen elections are proven or disproven—if accusatory partisans want to heed the facts.

There was another omission in Cyber Ninjas' procedures closer to the hand count's finish line that is simpler to follow and could be consequential. This gap is where the results from dozens of counting tables have been entered into a single overall database to compile the audit's presidential and senatorial results.

Stepping back, the completed tally sheets, which record 100 ballots on each page, are taken by a runner to a line of tables at one end of the arena. There, the sheet's subtotals are re-checked by a Wake TSI employee, who, in turn, passes the forms and chain of custody cover sheet to other Wake TSI employees. They, in turn, input the subtotals into an Excel spreadsheet.

The individual tally sheets are not dated. Nor, as of May 7, when Voting Booth had observed floor operations for two days, were they copied before their totals were entered into the overall results spreadsheet. By then, about 250,000 ballots had been hand-counted. That meant there were at least 7,500 tally sheets (three per ballot) and possibly 1,000 or more "chain of custody" cover sheets awaiting backup and data-entry verification.

When asked about this omission on May 6 and 7, Cyber Ninjas' attorney, Bryan Blehm of Phoenix, pointed to unused computers on tables that he said would eventually copy the tally sheets and check if that data was correctly entered into the results spreadsheet. A week later, when 330,000 ballots reportedly had been hand-counted, it appeared that tally sheets were being scanned, according to video feeds. A line of plastic storage bins could be seen near this operation.

The Likely Outcome

Blehm defended Cyber Ninjas' process as carefully constructed. It is a determined effort to conduct a massive hand count, even though its procedures, despite being sanctioned by legislators, are not following Arizona's Elections Procedures Manual. But Cyber Ninjas did not appear to know what inventory and accounting controls its process, said to cost more than $3 million, lacked. Or perhaps it did not care.

For example, after 2020's Election Day, Maricopa County was required to conduct a hand count of 52 batches of early ballots—which Bennett said was insufficient to attest to the county's results, where Biden beat Trump by 45,109 votes. That audit was conducted by "ballot boards" where political parties independently appointed the boards' members, state-issued voter intent standards were followed, and the public could attend—unlike the coliseum audit. That neutral approach, common to most states, guards against partisan favoritism and legitimizes the election's outcome.

Cyber Ninja's hand count process anticipated such an adjudication board, Blehm said. But he said that no voter intent disputes necessitated convening that panel. With Democrats boycotting the hand count, there were fewer disagreements. On the other hand, Voting Booth observed table managers and Wake TSI staffers asking about handling ballots and related issues, such as what to do with food-stained ballots.

The Senate's audit will not change the legal outcome of the state's 2020 election. Overcoming a 10,457-vote statewide lead is unheard of, according to recount lawyers. At most, recounts alter outcomes when margins are several hundred votes or fewer, and sloppily marked ballots are fought over—one by one—in lengthy public proceedings.

While it is unclear what results will emerge from the hand count in the coliseum, it is unlikely to mirror Maricopa County's certified results—and may not be poised to present precise evidence for apparent discrepancies. Where that leaves the public and partisans is an open question. As one floor observer was overheard saying to another observer during a break from counting ballots cast in late October, it appeared many of these early ballots were overwhelmingly for Biden.

"I hope they are fake ballots," she said, "because I am seeing so many Biden."

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.

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