This Trump-backed candidate appears to be unstoppable – but even some GOP officials think she is ‘dangerous’

On a warm Saturday evening, several hundred people milled around the Old West-style trappings of Frontier Town in Cave Creek, waiting for Kari Lake to take the stage.

The rally was held to “Back the Blue," and the crowd shared the pro-law enforcement sentiment. But more than anything, they were there to back Lake in her bid to become Arizona's next governor.

This article was originally published at Arizona Mirror

It was a stunning show of support for a candidate for governor — for anything, really — at a time when few voters are even paying attention to an election that is 13 months away.

Lake has spent the past several months barnstorming the state, packing people in for her campaign events. In Cave Creek on Oct. 2, it was several hundred. A couple weeks earlier, more than 50 people crowded into SoZo Coffeehouse in Chandler on a Tuesday morning. The crowd would be considered large for just about any candidate, but one volunteer said it was the smaller Lake events he'd seen recently.

“I've never seen hundreds of people go to an event over a year out," said Tyler Montague, a longtime Republican operative from the East Valley.

Few, if any, political operatives in Arizona have ever seen anything like Lake. When she left Fox 10 after 27 years as a news anchor in March, she recorded a video declaring that she walked away because she had to read news she didn't believe was truthful and no longer felt proud to be a member of the media. Three months later, she launched her campaign for governor. Since then, she's become a phenomenon: shooting into the lead in the crowded gubernatorial primary, confounding her opponents and surging to the front of the field with a populist conservative message and 27 years' worth of name ID from her career in television.

Lake faces businessman Steve Gaynor, regent and developer Karrin Taylor Robson, former Congressman Matt Salmon and state Treasurer Kimberly Yee. Reliable polling is hard to come by so early in the race. But what little polling has been made public shows her in the lead.

No one questions her frontrunner status. Political observers don't need polls to tell them that Lake is the favorite. The only question is whether she will maintain her momentum through the primary election on Aug. 2, 2022.

A lot can happen between now and then, and other candidates could still pull ahead of Lake, said George Khalaf, a GOP political strategist. But he doubts that will happen.

“Right now, the momentum seems decently unstoppable," said Khalaf, who isn't involved in the gubernatorial race but whose father's company is the treasurer for Lake's campaign.

Following in Trump's footsteps

The parallels between Lake in 2021 and Donald Trump in 2015 are hard to ignore.

Both were celebrities with high name ID who had never run for office, who jumped into their campaigns with populist, conservative messages, buoyed by vigorous social media presences and flurries of rallies that draw in supporters. Both campaigned as outsiders dedicated to shaking up the establishment while decrying the political class they were running against. Both rile up their supporters with pugilistic attitudes toward their opponents, Democrats, the media and anyone else they perceive as enemies. And both quickly vaulted themselves to frontrunner status on a groundswell of grassroots enthusiasm, feeding off the cheers of supporters at large rallies.

It came as little surprise when Trump endorsed Lake in late September. She's done all she can to tie herself to the former president, touting herself as a “Trump Republican," effusively praising his presidency, policies and his style.

“That's the style that the Republican Party is going in — outsider and someone who is taking folks to task. People want to see a fighter," Khalaf said.

Lake rails against vaccine mandates, face mask requirements and other COVID-19 mitigation measures, and speaks at “medical freedom" rallies. She lauds law enforcement, castigating calls to defund police departments, and is a booster of strict border security and enforcement of laws against illegal immigration. And she's made demands for “election integrity" a central theme of her campaign, promoting baseless claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud and rigged against Trump.

Like Trump, Lake is fond of controversial and outlandish comments paired with combative rhetoric. She calls for the 2020 election to be “decertified" based on bogus fraud allegations, and she's repeatedly claimed that the likely Democratic nominee may be imprisoned for those same discredited allegations. In addition to her endorsement from Trump, she touts the backing of controversial figures like former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and Congressman Paul Gosar.

She has urged Arizona State University students to defy a face mask mandate and said it's “child abuse" to make children wear masks. When health care officials and pharmaceutical companies began advocating for a third booster shot for COVID vaccines, she tweeted, “The COVID vaccine is a nightmare that will NEVER stop."

Lake's story seems almost tailor-made to appeal to Trump's most fervent supporters — a lifelong journalist who quit the business because she refused to go along with the liberal bias and “fake news" her industry promoted.

Voters are tired of career politicians pushing agendas for special interests and big donors, Lake told the Arizona Mirror. And that's driving the grassroots energy behind her campaign. Everywhere Lake goes, she said, she draws record crowds.

“They've had it. The pendulum's coming back, and it's coming back as a wrecking ball. And there's no returning from this. We're not going back to the way things used to be, with these politicians who run us into the ground, don't give a damn about our issues and what matters to us," Lake said.

Lake emulates Trump's style better than anyone, said Republican political consultant Nathan Sproul.

“For someone who's never run for office before, her instincts about what to say and when to say it are about as good as anybody I've ever seen," Sproul said. “She has a very instinctive understanding of what her voter wants to hear and when."

She has charisma and has an undeniable stage presence. Her background on television is serving her well on the campaign trail, with a level of comfort in front of cameras and crowds that few first-time candidates can achieve, Sproul said.

Steve Martinson, a 69-year-old retiree from Glendale who attended Lake's Cave Creek rally, said few things compare to the energy at her campaign events.

“I've been to Super Bowls, I've been to other things, and just the energy there was just amazing compared to even those. You leave pretty jacked up. You kind of get that similar feeling on a smaller scale here," said Martinson, who said he rarely attends campaign events, outside of Trump's February 2020 rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Lake's style, along with her message, is a big draw for many of her supporters.

“I thought she was awesome. I love everything that she stands for. I love how she's so forward, that she's not scared to talk about the policies," said Jennifer Nelson, a Chandler housewife, as she left Lake's campaign event at SoZo Coffeehouse. “I'm a big Trump supporter, so I love everything that she has to stand for."

Conservative credentials

Salmon has repeatedly castigated Lake as a fake Republican, an actress who's just saying what people want to hear, whose true colors will eventually shine through for the GOP faithful to see. She switched her voter registration from Republican to independent in 2006 and to Democrat in 2008, switching back to the GOP in 2012.

An independent expenditure supporting Salmon, Arizona Best, is already running television ads criticizing her for contributions she made to Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.

Lake has said the $500 she gave to Kerry was due to her disillusionment with the war in Iraq. She said the $350 that federal campaign finance records say she gave to Obama — the money is listed as coming from a K Halperin, her legal, married last name, at the time — was actually given by her husband, not her. As to her time as a registered Democrat, Lake reminded a crowd at a Lincoln Republican Women meeting in Scottsdale last month that Trump, Ronald Reagan and Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward used to be Democrats as well.

That is outrageous, it is dangerous and it is not the way a serious leader communicates with the public.

– Kathy Petsas, Legislative District 28 Republican Party chairwoman

Other Lake critics take a similar view. Former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham, an ardent Trump supporter since the early days of his first campaign, said Lake has fooled people for now. But as people learn about Lake, Graham predicted, they'll be “stunned" by what comes out.

“People haven't had time to vet her," Graham said. “She's going to have to answer a lot of questions, that's for darn sure."

But those attacks didn't work against Trump in 2016, and Sproul doubted they'll work against Lake now.

“There's a new breed of Republican voter out there that is willing to overlook what, 10 or 15 years ago would've been unpardonable sins for a candidate to have made," he said. “Fifteen years ago, if a Republican candidate contributed a significant amount of money to a Democrat candidate in years prior, that would've been game, set, match."

The line of attack over Lake's contributions to Democrats and her previous voter registration won't get her opponents very far, Montague predicted. Trump has largely inoculated her from that. Numerous attendees of her rally in Cave Creek said the same.

“It's OK to make mistakes. It's just what you personally believe in now. That's the whole point of what's going on," Art Haduch, a 70-year-old retiree from Surprise, told the Mirror as he waited for Lake's rally to begin in Cave Creek.

Mike and Teresa Rowe, of Anthem, weren't bothered by Lake's old contributions, either.

“It matters now, not what happened 15 years ago," Mike said.

“People's eyes were opened over the past four years," Teresa added.

Trump's endorsement will likely make it harder to cast Lake as a fake conservative.

“The party is owned by Donald Trump right now, so it's in fact an endorsement right now by the Republican Party," said Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin.

Sean Duffy, a 49-year-old electrician who moved from Massachusetts to Scottsdale in June, said he wasn't supporting anyone in the race for governor. Then he heard about the Trump endorsement. Four days later, he was at his first Lake rally in Cave Creek.

For some supporters at the Cave Creek rally, Trump's endorsement sent an unmistakable message.

“Kari Lake got endorsed by President Trump, so I know she's going to be for the people." said Stacey Goodman, a retired police detective from Long Island, New York, who now lives in Cave Creek.

Not everyone in Cave Creek was quite as sold on Lake. Brad Nielsen, of Gilbert, is tentatively supporting Salmon for now. But he came to the rally to learn more about Lake.

“He has a proven track record. So, we'll see. I don't know what Kari stands for," he said.

Heidi Grande, who attended the rally with Nielsen, also wanted to know more about Lake.

“Not just what she stands for, but what does she bring to the table? I know her experience, but what does that do for us when it comes to a governor position? I'd like to know," said Grande, a Republican precinct committeeman in legislative District 12.

Ken Varichak, a retired Scottsdale police officer who now works in casino surveillance, said he likes a lot of what Lake has to say and appreciates her support for law enforcement. But despite wearing a Lake shirt to the rally, he expressed reservations about her.

Varichak said he was a big supporter of Trump's policies. But he isn't a fan of Trump's rhetoric and his “turning on people," like he did with Gov. Doug Ducey when the governor certified the 2020 general election results, and he has some concerns that Lake's rhetoric is similar. Varichak said he also likes Salmon. He has a good, conservative résumé, Varichak said, and thinks he, like Ducey, wouldn't be afraid to certify the election and flat out tell Trump that he lost.

“Honestly, if it's too close to a Trumpian thing, I probably will lean away and go towards more of like a Matt Salmon," Varichak, who lives in the community of Desert Hills, near New River, said of Lake.

Remember November

Some Republicans worry that Lake's outlandish statements and enthusiastic support for conspiracy theories could be a problem if she's the GOP nominee next year.

Lake has unabashedly embraced the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, including in Arizona, where Joe Biden won by just 10,457 votes. She has touted the dubious findings of the so-called “audit" commissioned by Senate President Karen Fann, and has joined the vocal chorus of people on the Republican fringe who are calling for the 2020 election in Arizona to be decertified, something that constitutional and legal scholars largely agree is impossible.

She has even demanded that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, be imprisoned for an undefined role in the unproven fraud that Lake claims took place last November.

“Frankly, I think she should be locked up," Lake told the crowd in Cave Creek, which responded by starting a Trumpian chant of, “Lock her up!"

Lake's campaign spokesman, Ross Trumble, wouldn't say what specific crimes she believed Hobbs had committed or whatever there was of any malfeasance on the secretary's part. No such evidence has ever become public, though supporters of the “Big Lie," as many have dubbed the discredited election fraud claims, have at times become so threatening to Hobbs that Ducey provided her with a Department of Public Safety security detail.

Kathy Petsas, a lifelong GOP activist and the Republican chairwoman in legislative District 28, found Lake's rhetoric about Hobbs to be concerning.

“That is outrageous, it is dangerous and it is not the way a serious leader communicates with the public," Petsas said.

Sproul doesn't see the electability argument getting much traction among primary voters. And it may not even be as true as some might wish, he said. After all, critics said Reagan and Trump were unelectable, too.

“I don't for one second think she's unelectable in Arizona," Sproul said.

Other paths to victory

Lake may be in the lead, but it's still early in the campaign cycle, and most primary voters are still undecided.

If the Republican nomination can be wrested from Lake, most GOP observers believe it's up to either Robson or Salmon to do it.

Robson is almost completely unknown to voters. She's never run for office, and though she's long been a mainstay in the political world, her work has been out of the spotlight. She's served on the Arizona Board of Regents, a relatively low-profile entity that few voters follow closely enough to know who serves on it, and been active behind the scenes in things like overseeing a political action committee that helped Republicans maintain their slim majorities in the legislature.

The biggest advantage that Robson may bring to the table is money. She and her husband are wealthy, and observers predict that she may spend tens of millions on the campaign. Robson has also assembled a large campaign finance committee — its members include many establishment GOP establishment donors — indicating that she won't rely on personal wealth alone.

“Karrin Taylor Robson's going to have the resources to reach every Arizona Republican in this state. She will not be outspent in this campaign, and in a race like this that is going to stretch well over a year, it's going to take a lot of money to get over the finish line," said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Robson.

There are still a lot of undecided voters in the race, Montague said, and Robson can win them over. But she may need to spend $20 million to do it, he said.

Kari Lake got endorsed by President Trump, so I know she's going to be for the people.

– Stacey Goodman, a Republican voter from Cave Creek

Salmon has the advantage of name recognition from voters from his two stints in Congress, the second of which ran from 2013-2016, as well as his narrow loss to Janet Napolitano in the 2002 governor's race. He had a reputation as a conservative renegade in Congress in the 1990s, and after his return to Congress years later he helped found the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Since jumping into the race in June, he has released a ceaseless torrent of endorsements, ranging from local law enforcement officials to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Governor's races often come down to trust and results, and Republican Primary voters in Arizona are looking for a trusted and proven conservative with a record of getting things done," Salmon campaign spokesman Colin Shipley said in a statement to the Mirror.

Montague said Salmon is still in the mix, but he'll need Lake to stumble first. And he'll need to pivot away from the platform he's been running with so far. Salmon has tried to emulate Lake's message, Montague said, but that won't work when Lake is doing it better.

“Can he reinvent himself or can he hang back if she stumbles?" Montague asked. “He's going to have to help voters find a reason to vote for him."

Lake has little to say about most of her opponents, but regularly trashes Salmon. As a career politician and a former lobbyist, most recently for Arizona State University, she describes Salmon as the embodiment of the “swamp" that Trump campaigned against, and questions why he thinks he can win despite losing the governor's race in 2002.

“On Day One, he owes 30 years of political favors," Lake said during the event at SoZo Coffeehouse. “Not to mention he's been a lobbyist and has a soft spot in his heart for the communist Chinese regime."

Lake's comments about China refer to the Chinese-government funded Confucius Institute at ASU that provided Chinese language and cultural education. The ASU branch of the institute opened in 2007, long before Salmon joined the university in 2017. ASU shut it down in 2019 after the National Defense Authorization Act for that year barred universities that receive U.S. Department of Defense funding for Chinese language study from hosting the Confucius Institute.

As for Robson, Lake said, “I don't want to attack the people who are running. It takes a lot to run. I'm working very hard. … Anybody who wants to run can run. Anybody who wants to pour their own money into a race to try to drum up support can run."

Most observers believe Gaynor and Yee have tougher roads ahead of them.

Gaynor has the potential to bankroll his own campaign, Sproul noted, but it's unknown how much he's willing to spend. In 2018, he spent about $2.6 million of his own money, defeating an embattled incumbent in the Republican primary for secretary of state while narrowly losing the general election to Hobbs.

Yee spent nine years in the legislature before getting elected as treasurer in 2018. But the Treasurer's Office is a relatively anonymous post and she's not well known to the public. Ducey was state treasurer before getting elected governor in 2014, but accomplished that feat through self-funding and prolific fundraising.

The long game

Lake is formidable and her early lead is daunting, but it's still early.

“We're not even a year out right now. In politics, a month can be 10 years, practically. So much can change a week from now, a month from now and certainly a year from now," Petsas said.

For now, Sproul said Lake's opponents are better off saving their money until the race heats up. But there may be only so much time left if they hope to stop Lake from locking up the nomination early.

“Do you want to spend significant cash early doing rallies, or do you want to hold onto your resources until later in the campaign, when most voters are paying attention? There's obviously a danger of the candidates not doing enough because she can get too far ahead and they can't catch up," he said.

And despite the similarities between Trump's 2016 run and Lake today, there are significant differences, Sproul said. Trump tapped into the populist wing of the party early, taking a sizable minority of the vote while 15 other candidates vied for the rest of the votes. He didn't really expand that lead until he locked up the nomination. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was so crowded that the other candidates couldn't clear the way and expand their leads in the way they needed to have a better shot at dislodging Trump from his position at the front of the pack.

Perhaps the most important difference, said Barrett Marson, a consultant with the pro-Salmon Arizona Best committee, is that Trump's rise to the top of the field in 2015 was fueled by saturation media coverage that simply won't exist in the Arizona governor's race. Trump dominated every news cycle: If cable news outlets weren't showing his speeches or allowing him to call into their shows, they were still talking about him around the clock.

And though the big crowds are impressive, that alone doesn't mean she'll win, Marson said. After all, Trump packed thousands of people into Veterans Memorial Coliseum last year but still lost Arizona to Biden.

“I'm not saying she doesn't have her rabid fans. But you need more than rabid fans to win an election. You need some money. You need media exposure. You need TV ads. You need grassroots efforts. You need a lot," Marson said. “They came together for Donald Trump. I'm not denying that. But Kari Lake is not Donald Trump."

Sproul, too, said Lake's support and the turnout at her rallies represents a large amount of enthusiasm from a small segment of the electorate. He's seen candidates start their primary campaigns with a dominating share of the vote, only to lose to people who started out in single digits.

The race isn't over, Khalaf said. But he had a hard time seeing how anyone else will defeat her in the primary.

“Something dramatic would have to happen for anyone else to have a serious shot at taking her out in the primary at this point," he said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

In other news, MAGA-loving 'Church of the AR-15' purchasing massive Tennessee retreat for 'training center'. WATCH:

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Arizona ‘audit’ expert didn’t understand election procedures -- and made a number of false signature claims

The audience in the Senate gallery oohed and aahed as Shiva Ayyadurai drew its attention to a “verified and approved" stamp that appeared behind a triangle on the image of an early ballot envelope, unsubtly suggesting that it might have been pre-printed that way.
“It's almost as though it was imaged on there. I don't want to say Photoshopped, but put on there. But it's quite fascinating. I'm sure there's some explanation for this," Ayyadurai said. The remark elicited laughter from an audience largely composed of audit supporters who believed, without factual basis, that the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump, a position Ayyadurai himself has aggressively promoted.

It turns out there was an explanation, and a simple one at that. But Ayyadurai appeared to have absolutely no knowledge of Maricopa County policies and procedures regarding the early ballot envelopes and signature verification. That shortcoming would be a consistent theme as he presented his findings as part of the so-called audit of the election in Maricopa County, portraying commonplace occurrences and standard procedures as potentially suspicious.

And Senate President Karen Fann has asked the attorney general to investigate Ayyadurai's obviously false findings.

I just thought his testimony — if you can call it testimony — was a little bit ridiculous.

– Helen Purcell, former Maricopa County Recorder

Ayyadurai, known to his fans online simply as Dr. Shiva, is an MIT-trained engineer and entrepreneur known for his disputed claim that he invented email. He has a history of promoting discredited and debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, including during a day-long event at the downtown Phoenix Hyatt several weeks after the election that featured Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

The claim about the triangle on the early ballot envelopes was perhaps the most attention-grabbing of the numerous findings he presented during a presentation on Sept. 24, as the team that led Senate President Karen Fann's review of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County.

“I would consider this potentially a critical anomaly," Ayyadurai said.

But to those who understand how elections work, the “critical anomaly" was anything but. In fact, it's not only not an anomaly at all, it's exactly how the systems used to safeguard the election are designed to work.

'Hollowed out' shapes increase speed and decrease file size

When Runbeck Election Services, the company that prints Maricopa County's ballots and envelopes, scans the outbound and incoming early ballot envelopes, it does so in a binary format that only uses black and white pixels, with no gray shading. To save space with its file sizes and increase the speed at which ballots and envelopes can be scanned, the binary format doesn't fill in blocks of solid color, said Jeff Ellington, Runbeck's CEO.

So, the solid black triangles that point to the signature box on the envelopes become white triangles with black borders. All of the ink inside the triangles and other shapes, including any parts of the approval stamps that happened to be made over the triangle, are removed. The Arizona Mirror was shown examples of this technology from the scanning process of Arizona and Colorado ballot envelopes at Runbeck's Phoenix facility.

Ayyadurai never mentioned in his presentation or in his written report that the triangles on the paper envelopes, unlike in the digital images he analyzed, are solid black. Two smaller, solid red triangles on the ballot return envelopes also appeared hollowed out in the same fashion on the digital images that Ayyadurai displayed.

Ellington said Ayyadurai never contacted his company during his envelope analysis. Wake Technology Services, a company that worked on the audit until it parted ways with the rest of the team in May, contacted Runbeck with some questions early in the process, Ellington said. He asked them to route their questions through the county.

It's unclear if Wake ever contacted the county, but county officials have repeatedly refused to cooperate in any way with the audit team, which they view as as unacceptably biased — the team is led by adherents of the “stop the steal" movement that promotes false claims of election rigging — and professionally unqualified. It's also unclear if Ayyadurai made any attempt to contact anyone else who had knowledge of Maricopa County's election procedures.

Surge in 'verified and approved' stamps is a proof of success, not fraud

The triangle issue was far from the only of Ayyadurai's claims that demonstrated a lack of knowledge about how Maricopa County election officials handle early ballot envelopes and signature verification.

Ayyadurai said that only about 10% of the approximately 1.9 million early ballot envelope images had the “verified and approved" stamps on them, and said the bulk of them appeared to have been approved after the election, with a 25% increase between Nov. 4-9, the six days after the election. The implication was clear that he considered this suspicious.

Had Ayyadurai bothered to ask anyone who had knowledge of or experience with elections work in Maricopa County, he would have learned that there is a simple answer to his question.

Election workers who have been trained in signature verification examine digital images of early ballot envelopes to determine whether voters' signatures are valid before their ballots are counted. If the signature matches what the Elections Department has on file for that voter, the envelope is opened and the ballot counted. But if the signature doesn't appear to match, or if there's no signature at all, the voter's envelope is pulled out for additional review.

By law, elections officials must give voters an opportunity to rectify or “cure" their signatures. For a missing or potentially bad signature, election officials contact the voters to confirm that they were the ones who signed the envelope. Voters who forget to sign can come in to the Elections Department to sign there.

The reason why so many of the approval stamps came after Nov. 3 is that the Maricopa County Elections Department put additional resources into signature curing in the days after the election, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Elections Department. By law, voters have five business days after an election to cure defective signatures — and after Election Day, workers who had been verifying signatures largely shift to signature curing duties. Voters cannot cure missing signatures after Election Day.

Tammy Patrick, the senior advisor for elections at Democracy Fund and the former head of federal compliance at the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the largest number of mail-in ballots also come in shortly before Election Day. That became more pronounced last year because of an increase in the use of drop boxes for early ballots, she said.

And the reason most early ballot envelopes don't have approval stamps is because election workers don't stamp envelopes if the signatures are verified without the need for additional follow-up. Only envelopes that are approved after missing or potentially invalid signatures are cured receive the stamp. If there's no need for additional review, election workers never actually handle the physical envelopes during the signature verification process, Gilbertson said — they only review the digital images of the signature area of those envelopes.

Ignorance of elections breeds faulty assumptions and implications

Ayyadurai's ignorance of Maricopa County's procedures extended to the process election workers use to actually verify the signatures. He repeatedly commented on the number of signatures that he described as “scribbles," which he defined as having 1% or less pixel density in the signature box, while anything over 1% was considered a signature. He identified 2,580 such scribbles, which he described as potentially bad or were assumed to be invalid.

Ayyadurai did not have the file of voter signatures and did not conduct any comparisons to determine whether the signatures matched.

Patrick took issue with Ayyadurai's analysis of the so-called scribbles.

“The very use of that word implies impropriety. It also demonstrates his lack of understanding of signature verification. And now we know why he wasn't hired to do signature verification," Patrick said.

Signature verification has nothing to do with legibility. The issue is whether the signatures match the ones on file for that voter, a process that's conducted by trained professionals, with multiple layers of oversight when questions arise.

Former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who held the position for 28 years, said she and her election director once had to call an Arizona Supreme Court justice to confirm that the illegibly scribbled signature on his ballot envelope was correct. She said Ayyadurai's testimony on numerous points showed a lack of understanding about the processes he was analyzing.

“I just thought his testimony — if you can call it testimony — was a little bit ridiculous," Purcell said.

The bulk of Ayyadurai's presentation was devoted to the issue of duplicate ballot envelopes. But he displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what a duplicate ballot image actually meant, declaring to Fann and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen, “Each of these voters submitted two ballots."

That is blatantly false.

Election officials don't use the term “duplicate" to refer to ballot images. In election administration, the term “duplication" is used to describe a very specific process of re-copying ballots that can't be read by tabulation machines for various reasons.

What Ayyadurai referred to as duplicate images appeared to refer to multiple ballot envelope images for the same voter. That generally occurs when two images are made of the same ballot envelope, which most often happens when there is a question or issue with a particular envelope.

When election workers verify signatures on ballot envelopes, they look solely at digital images of the box on the envelope where voters are instructed to affix their signatures. If they can't verify the signature, or if there is no signature, they physically examine the paper envelope for further verification. If election workers are unable to verify a signature but are able to cure it by contacting a voter, that same envelope is re-scanned after being stamped for approval. If there's no signature, voters can come into the Elections Department to sign it in person.

Nonetheless, Ayyadurai presented the existence of duplicate envelope images — he questioned why the county didn't report them in its official canvass — as potentially suspicious.

Ayyadurai drew attention to 1,455 envelopes that he said were stamped as “approved" despite there being no signature in the signature box. Gilbertson said those are most likely instances when a voter affixed a signature elsewhere on the envelope, ignoring the instructions on where to sign. In such cases, election workers would cure the signature, re-scan it and then approve it. Ayyadurai even showed one side-by-side comparison of two envelope images in which part of a signature appeared jutting out from a black redaction box on the line for the phone number.

“If we stamped it as verified, there's absolutely another signature somewhere else," Gilbertson said.

Ayyadurai acknowledged during his presentation and in his report that he only looked at the designated signature field and did not look elsewhere on the envelope for signatures.

Auuadurai's distortions are 'disingenuous and irresponsible'

Gilbertson said there are other reasons why a ballot might be approved without a proper signature in the box.

There are bipartisan special election boards that personally bring ballots to voters who are in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, or who live at home but need assistance voting for various reasons. Technically, those voters are casting early ballots, which are placed into early ballot envelopes with their signatures. Some of those voters have physical difficulties signing, and some even sign with an X.

But because the boards must check their identification, as would happen with an in-person Election Day voter, those ballots bypass the signature verification process entirely and wouldn't even have an approval stamp, Gilbertson explained.

Ayyadurai showed several side-by-side examples of duplicates that he intimated were problematic. One showed a blank signature box next to a signed signature box — but he didn't note that it was the signed envelope, not the blank one, with the approval stamp on it.

Patrick said she was exasperated while watching Ayyadurai's presentation because he kept showing two images of what was clearly the exact same envelope. But multiple images doesn't mean multiple ballots or multiple votes, she said.

“To take something so simple and distort it and present it as though it was some sort of evidence of malfeasance, fraud or criminal activity is not only disingenuous and irresponsible, but I think it also, in itself, should have some sort of serious repercussion," she said.

At the end of his presentation, Ayyadurai presented a list of questions for Maricopa County officials that he didn't know the answer to, including whether the county “received" any duplicate early ballot envelopes, why he found more envelopes with no signatures or bad signatures than the county reported in its official canvass, why most envelopes didn't have “verified and approved" stamps, why there was in increase in those stamps after the election, why some envelopes with blank signatures fields were approved, and why the stamps appeared behind the triangles on some envelopes.

He even asked what the standard operating procedure was for processing early ballots and for verifying questionable signatures.

Ayyadurai was far from alone. Audit team leader Doug Logan and team member Doug Cotton made numerous claims throughout the more than three-hour presentation in which they portrayed normal, commonplace practices as possibly suspicious while acknowledging that there may be reasonable explanations that they were overlooking.

Ayyadurai, Logan and a spokesman for Logan did not respond to questions from the Mirror and would not say why he didn't make any effort to learn whether his alleged findings were actually suspicious or whether there were reasonable explanations.

Fann signed a $50,000 contract with Ayyadurai's company, EchoMail, for his ballot envelope analysis, according to documents obtained by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight. Those records include a separate contract between EchoMail and Cyber Ninjas, Logan's company.

After listening to Ayyadurai's presentation for an hour on Friday, Fann and Petersen didn't ask him a single question about whether he'd taken any steps to verify his claims. Fann also did not respond to questions from the Mirror.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

'Ridiculous': Arizona conservatives wooed by ignorant and disingenuous ballot analysis

The audience in the Senate gallery oohed and aahed as Shiva Ayyadurai drew its attention to a “verified and approved" stamp that appeared behind a triangle on the image of an early ballot envelope, unsubtly suggesting that it might have been pre-printed that way.

“It's almost as though it was imaged on there. I don't want to say Photoshopped, but put on there. But it's quite fascinating. I'm sure there's some explanation for this," Ayyadurai said. The remark elicited laughter from an audience largely composed of audit supporters who believed, without factual basis, that the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump, a position Ayyadurai himself has aggressively promoted.

It turns out there was an explanation, and a simple one at that. But Ayyadurai appeared to have absolutely no knowledge of Maricopa County policies and procedures regarding the early ballot envelopes and signature verification. That shortcoming would be a consistent theme as he presented his findings as part of the so-called audit of the election in Maricopa County, portraying commonplace occurrences and standard procedures as potentially suspicious.

And Senate President Karen Fann has asked the attorney general to investigate Ayyadurai's obviously false findings.

Ayyadurai, known to his fans online simply as Dr. Shiva, is an MIT-trained engineer and entrepreneur known for his disputed claim that he invented email. He has a history of promoting discredited and debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, including during a day-long event at the downtown Phoenix Hyatt several weeks after the election that featured Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

The claim about the triangle on the early ballot envelopes was perhaps the most attention-grabbing of the numerous findings he presented during a presentation on Sept. 24, as the team that led Senate President Karen Fann's review of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County.

“I would consider this potentially a critical anomaly," Ayyadurai said.

But to those who understand how elections work, the “critical anomaly" was anything but. In fact, it's not only not an anomaly at all, it's exactly how the systems used to safeguard the election are designed to work.

'Hollowed out' shapes increase speed and decrease file size

When Runbeck Election Services, the company that prints Maricopa County's ballots and envelopes, scans the outbound and incoming early ballot envelopes, it does so in a binary format that only uses black and white pixels, with no gray shading. To save space with its file sizes and increase the speed at which ballots and envelopes can be scanned, the binary format doesn't fill in blocks of solid color, said Jeff Ellington, Runbeck's CEO.

So, the solid black triangles that point to the signature box on the envelopes become white triangles with black borders. All of the ink inside the triangles and other shapes, including any parts of the approval stamps that happened to be made over the triangle, are removed. The Arizona Mirror was shown examples of this technology from the scanning process of Arizona and Colorado ballot envelopes at Runbeck's Phoenix facility.

Ayyadurai never mentioned in his presentation or in his written report that the triangles on the paper envelopes, unlike in the digital images he analyzed, are solid black. Two smaller, solid red triangles on the ballot return envelopes also appeared hollowed out in the same fashion on the digital images that Ayyadurai displayed.

Ellington said Ayyadurai never contacted his company during his envelope analysis. Wake Technology Services, a company that worked on the audit until it parted ways with the rest of the team in May, contacted Runbeck with some questions early in the process, Ellington said. He asked them to route their questions through the county.

It's unclear if Wake ever contacted the county, but county officials have repeatedly refused to cooperate in any way with the audit team, which they view as as unacceptably biased — the team is led by adherents of the “stop the steal" movement that promotes false claims of election rigging — and professionally unqualified. It's also unclear if Ayyadurai made any attempt to contact anyone else who had knowledge of Maricopa County's election procedures.

Surge in 'verified and approved' stamps is a proof of success, not fraud

The triangle issue was far from the only of Ayyadurai's claims that demonstrated a lack of knowledge about how Maricopa County election officials handle early ballot envelopes and signature verification.

Ayyadurai said that only about 10% of the approximately 1.9 million early ballot envelope images had the “verified and approved" stamps on them, and said the bulk of them appeared to have been approved after the election, with a 25% increase between Nov. 4-9, the six days after the election. The implication was clear that he considered this suspicious.

Had Ayyadurai bothered to ask anyone who had knowledge of or experience with elections work in Maricopa County, he would have learned that there is a simple answer to his question.

Election workers who have been trained in signature verification examine digital images of early ballot envelopes to determine whether voters' signatures are valid before their ballots are counted. If the signature matches what the Elections Department has on file for that voter, the envelope is opened and the ballot counted. But if the signature doesn't appear to match, or if there's no signature at all, the voter's envelope is pulled out for additional review.

By law, elections officials must give voters an opportunity to rectify or “cure" their signatures. For a missing or potentially bad signature, election officials contact the voters to confirm that they were the ones who signed the envelope. Voters who forget to sign can come in to the Elections Department to sign there.

The reason why so many of the approval stamps came after Nov. 3 is that the Maricopa County Elections Department put additional resources into signature curing in the days after the election, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Elections Department. By law, voters have five business days after an election to cure defective signatures — and after Election Day, workers who had been verifying signatures largely shift to signature curing duties. Voters cannot cure missing signatures after Election Day.

Tammy Patrick, the senior advisor for elections at Democracy Fund and the former head of federal compliance at the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the largest number of mail-in ballots also come in shortly before Election Day. That became more pronounced last year because of an increase in the use of drop boxes for early ballots, she said.

And the reason most early ballot envelopes don't have approval stamps is because election workers don't stamp envelopes if the signatures are verified without the need for additional follow-up. Only envelopes that are approved after missing or potentially invalid signatures are cured receive the stamp. If there's no need for additional review, election workers never actually handle the physical envelopes during the signature verification process, Gilbertson said — they only review the digital images of the signature area of those envelopes.

Ignorance of elections breeds faulty assumptions and implications

Ayyadurai's ignorance of Maricopa County's procedures extended to the process election workers use to actually verify the signatures. He repeatedly commented on the number of signatures that he described as “scribbles," which he defined as having 1% or less pixel density in the signature box, while anything over 1% was considered a signature. He identified 2,580 such scribbles, which he described as potentially bad or were assumed to be invalid.

Ayyadurai did not have the file of voter signatures and did not conduct any comparisons to determine whether the signatures matched.

Patrick took issue with Ayyadurai's analysis of the so-called scribbles.

“The very use of that word implies impropriety. It also demonstrates his lack of understanding of signature verification. And now we know why he wasn't hired to do signature verification," Patrick said.

Signature verification has nothing to do with legibility. The issue is whether the signatures match the ones on file for that voter, a process that's conducted by trained professionals, with multiple layers of oversight when questions arise.

Former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who held the position for 28 years, said she and her election director once had to call an Arizona Supreme Court justice to confirm that the illegibly scribbled signature on his ballot envelope was correct. She said Ayyadurai's testimony on numerous points showed a lack of understanding about the processes he was analyzing.

“I just thought his testimony — if you can call it testimony — was a little bit ridiculous," Purcell said.

The bulk of Ayyadurai's presentation was devoted to the issue of duplicate ballot envelopes. But he displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what a duplicate ballot image actually meant, declaring to Fann and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen, “Each of these voters submitted two ballots."

That is blatantly false.

Election officials don't use the term “duplicate" to refer to ballot images. In election administration, the term “duplication" is used to describe a very specific process of re-copying ballots that can't be read by tabulation machines for various reasons.

What Ayyadurai referred to as duplicate images appeared to refer to multiple ballot envelope images for the same voter. That generally occurs when two images are made of the same ballot envelope, which most often happens when there is a question or issue with a particular envelope.

When election workers verify signatures on ballot envelopes, they look solely at digital images of the box on the envelope where voters are instructed to affix their signatures. If they can't verify the signature, or if there is no signature, they physically examine the paper ballot for further verification. If election workers are unable to verify a signature but are able to cure it by contacting a voter, that same envelope is re-scanned after being stamped for approval. If there's no signature, voters can come into the Elections Department to sign it in person.

Nonetheless, Ayyadurai presented the existence of duplicate envelope images — he questioned why the county didn't report them in its official canvass — as potentially suspicious.

Ayyadurai drew attention to 1,455 envelopes that he said were stamped as “approved" despite there being no signature in the signature box. Gilbertson said those are most likely instances when a voter affixed a signature elsewhere on the envelope, ignoring the instructions on where to sign. In such cases, election workers would cure the signature, re-scan it and then approve it. Ayyadurai even showed one side-by-side comparison of two envelope images in which part of a signature appeared jutting out from a black redaction box on the line for the phone number.

“If we stamped it as verified, there's absolutely another signature somewhere else," Gilbertson said.

Ayyadurai acknowledged during his presentation and in his report that he only looked at the designated signature field and did not look elsewhere on the envelope for signatures.

Auuadurai's distortions are 'disingenuous and irresponsible'

Gilbertson said there are other reasons why a ballot might be approved without a proper signature in the box.

There are bipartisan special election boards that personally bring ballots to voters who are in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, or who live at home but need assistance voting for various reasons. Technically, those voters are casting early ballots, which are placed into early ballot envelopes with their signatures. Some of those voters have physical difficulties signing, and some even sign with an X.

But because the boards must check their identification, as would happen with an in-person Election Day voter, those ballots bypass the signature verification process entirely and wouldn't even have an approval stamp, Gilbertson explained.

Ayyadurai showed several side-by-side examples of duplicates that he intimated were problematic. One showed a blank signature box next to a signed signature box — but he didn't note that it was the signed envelope, not the blank one, with the approval stamp on it.

Patrick said she was exasperated while watching Ayyadurai's presentation because he kept showing two images of what was clearly the exact same envelope. But multiple images doesn't mean multiple ballots or multiple votes, she said.

“To take something so simple and distort it and present it as though it was some sort of evidence of malfeasance, fraud or criminal activity is not only disingenuous and irresponsible, but I think it also, in itself, should have some sort of serious repercussion," she said.

At the end of his presentation, Ayyadurai presented a list of questions for Maricopa County officials that he didn't know the answer to, including whether the county “received" any duplicate early ballot envelopes, why he found more envelopes with no signatures or bad signatures than the county reported in its official canvass, why most envelopes didn't have “verified and approved" stamps, why there was in increase in those stamps after the election, why some envelopes with blank signatures fields were approved, and why the stamps appeared behind the triangles on some envelopes.

He even asked what the standard operating procedure was for processing early ballots and for verifying questionable signatures.

Ayyadurai was far from alone. Audit team leader Doug Logan and team member Doug Cotton made numerous claims throughout the more than three-hour presentation in which they portrayed normal, commonplace practices as possibly suspicious while acknowledging that there may be reasonable explanations that they were overlooking.

Ayyadurai, Logan and a spokesman for Logan did not respond to questions from the Mirror and would not say why he didn't make any effort to learn whether his alleged findings were actually suspicious or whether there were reasonable explanations.

Fann signed a $50,000 contract with Ayyadurai's company, EchoMail, for his ballot envelope analysis, according to documents obtained by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight. Those records include a separate contract between EchoMail and Cyber Ninjas, Logan's company.

After listening to Ayyadurai's presentation for an hour on Friday, Fann and Petersen didn't ask him a single question about whether he'd taken any steps to verify his claims. Fann also did not respond to questions from the Mirror.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona official resigns after outlandish recordings of him bashing colleagues over ‘audit’ become public

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri announced that he will resign his seat after a recording surfaced in which he criticized his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors for not supporting the Senate's review of the 2020 election, speculating that two of them were worried about what such a review would show about their own narrow victories in November in a newly released recording.

Chucri's resignation will be effective Nov. 5. The remaining four members of the Board of Supervisors will select his replacement.

In the conversation with conservative activists, which they recorded in January and March and provided to right-wing media this week, Chucri also made an outlandish claim that dead people voted in the November election, and alleged problems with illegal ballot harvesting and a law that Gov. Doug Ducey signed last year that allowed election workers to analyze digital images of ballots in cases where it was unclear which candidate a voter chose.

Chucri lamented in a recording of a March 22 conversation that fellow Republicans Bill Gates and Jack Sellers, the board's vice chairman and chairman, respectively, didn't support the upcoming Senate review of Maricopa County's election results. He said he'd personally told Senate President Karen Fann, who ordered the self-styled audit, that they would agree with him in supporting the election review.

Maricopa County was the driving force behind that law, and it was supported by Chucri and the other county supervisors.

And Chucri said he believed their opposition stemmed from concerns about what the audit would show.

“You know what I think it was, in hindsight? Gates got scared because he barely won, and Jack got scared because he only won by 200 votes. And if there was an audit and a recount — which is pretty bullshit, by the way — what would happen in those two races? And that is way too self-serving," Chucri said.

Sellers defeated Democratic challenger Jevin Hodge by just 403 votes, and Gates beat Democrat Whitney Walker by 5,613 votes.

Chucri's comment appears to cast doubts on the county's post-election hand count of a limited number of ballots that was required by law — 2% of ballots cast at polling places, and 1% of mail-in ballots — which matched perfectly with the county's official tally, and of an audit the supervisors ordered of the county's ballot tabulation machines. That audit of the machines, commissioned in response to baseless conspiracy theories that machine vendor Dominion Voting Systems manipulated the results, showed no problems. At the time, Chucri lauded the results and said they should instill public confidence in the county's election systems.

The picture some individuals are trying to paint about a cover-up, scam and other nonsense about my colleagues and myself is simply false. There was no cover-up, the election was not stolen. Biden won

– Steve Chucri

The comments were made during a meeting in March with Shelby Busch and Steve Robinson of the conservative group We the People AZ Alliance, which, at the time, was attempting to force recall elections against all five members of the Board of Supervisors, including Chucri. The group did not collect enough signatures to force recall elections against any of the supervisors.

In a press statement announcing his pending resignation, Chucri apologized for his comments about Gates and Sellers, and said that while his comments were critical, it was a pleasure and an honor to serve with them.

“The comments I made were during a very turbulent time. My colleagues have every right to be both angry and disappointed with me. I should not have made such statements and offer my colleagues heartfelt apologies," he said.

Chucri said he first ran in 2012, a time when the Board of Supervisors and Maricopa County government in general had been rocked by years of discord and scandal, to bring civility, innovation and a business mindset to government.

I do not want to perpetuate the very problem I ran to eliminate several years ago. While I have had my differences with my colleagues, I have known them to be good, honorable and ethical men," he said.

In a different recording from the same conversation, Chucri alleged that Republican Supervisor Clint Hickman wanted to discuss the possibility of an audit late last year, but “he just didn't have the guts to do it."

Chucri also made a baseless claim about dead people's ballots being cast in the election.

“I think it was done through dead people voting. I think it was multifaceted. I think there's a lot of cleanup here," he told Busch in a Jan. 22 phone call, which Gateway Pundit posted on Tuesday.

There is no evidence that the votes of dead voters affected the outcome of the election. The Arizona Attorney General's Office secured an indictment in May against a Republican woman from Scottsdale for allegedly casting her dead mother's early ballot, which may be the first such prosecution in the state's history.

Gateway Pundit, a far-right conspiracy theory website that has promoted countless false claims and conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 election, first published the recordings.

Chucri: Comments twisted to prove non-existent 'cover-up'

Chucri said the political landscape “has changed for the worst this year," a trend he blamed on the proliferation of false fraud claims about the 2020 election, an issue which, in Arizona, has put Maricopa County's elections officials and supervisors in the center of the storm.

“The environment is wrought with toxicity — and all civility and decorum no longer seem to have a place. The fixation with the 2020 election results and aftermath have gotten out of control," Chucri said.

He also criticized Gateway Pundit and others for presenting his comments as evidence of problems with the election in Maricopa County.

“The picture some individuals are trying to paint about a cover-up, scam and other nonsense about my colleagues and myself is simply false. There was no cover-up, the election was not stolen. Biden won," he said.

Chucri's criticism wasn't limited to his fellow supervisors. At one point, he said he was proud to have helped “take out" Adrian Fontes, the Democratic county recorder who lost his re-election last year, opining, “That guy's a scumbag." Fontes and the board clashed several times, and the supervisors stripped him of some of his powers over elections after problems during the 2018 vote.

The recordings are largely at odds with Chucri's public comments since the 2020 election. Chucri was initially supportive of any audit, and was the only member of the Board of Supervisors who opposed going to court to fight Fann's subpoenas for ballots, tabulation machines and other election materials she wanted for her review.

But Chucri has since been critical of the Senate's “audit," which has been plagued by problems and controversies, and was conducted by contractors who had no qualifications for elections-related work and who had openly promoted false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against former President Donald Trump. In May, he joined his colleagues in condemning the review, saying, “There was doubt cast, so I supported the audit. What I didn't support was a mockery, and that's what this has become."

According to Gateway Pundit, the recording was made on March 22, a little more than a week before Fann announced that she'd hired the Florida firm Cyber Ninjas to conduct the upcoming “audit," which began several weeks later.

Chucri also said he regretted not pushing for a larger hand count of ballots after the election. State law permits counties to count up to 5% of ballots; the county counted 2%.

'He can go to hell'

In a written statement his office provided to the Arizona Mirror, Chucri said he was referencing his support for an audit conducted by an accredited firm, but that he does not support the Senate's current audit, noting that he previously called it a mockery.

In addition to Gates and Sellers, Chucri apologized using what he called an “unflattering term" to describe Fontes.

Chucri added that he stands behind the audit that the county commissioned of its ballot tabulation machines earlier in the year, and supports the election workers who “have worked tirelessly to conduct secure elections for Maricopa County voters."

“This was not my finest moment but I own it. Again, I apologize to those who I have offended. And I apologize to those who will be misled and used through my commentary for the purposes of chipping away at our democracy," he said.

Chucri's office did not respond to a follow-up request for a response to his comments about dead voters and about Hickman.

Sellers said he was surprised by Chucri's comments. He said he hadn't heard Chucri express any concerns about the post-election hand count or the audit of the tabulation machines.

“Certainly Bill Gates and I were not concerned about a recount at any time. When the election's over, it's over. And a recount wasn't going to change the results. So, it's silly to say either one of us was ever concerned about it. But I really don't know where that came from or why," Sellers told the Mirror.

Fontes was blunter in his response to Chucri's comments about him.

“I won't apologize for thinking the same about him, and he can go to hell," Fontes said.

Gates and Hickman could not be reached for comment.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to reflect Steve Chucri's resignation and its headline has been changed. The original headline was “Chucri bashed GOP colleagues over lack of 'audit' support, claimed dead people voted."

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona Senate asks Cyber Ninjas for 'audit' documents after state Supreme Court rejection

Senate President Karen Fann has asked Cyber Ninjas to provide her with all documents in the company's possession that are related to the review it led of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County.

In a letter to Cyber Ninjas on Tuesday, Fann, R-Prescott, asked the company to immediately provide records it and its subcontractors possess “with a substantial nexus to the audit."

That includes, “without limitation," all documents and communications related to the planning, performance and execution of the so-called audit, all policies and procedures used for the audit, documents pertaining to funding and staffing, “and all records that are reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of activities concerning the 2020 Maricopa County election audit."

Fann's request came shortly after the Arizona Supreme Court declined to accept her appeal of a lower court ruling that audit-related documents and communications possessed by Cyber Ninjas and other subcontractors constitute public records. The Senate president's attorneys argued that the documents weren't public records because they weren't in the Senate's possession, but a trial court judge and the Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that any documents that have a “substantial nexus" with government business are public records, regardless of who holds them.

The lawsuit was brought by American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group that requested communications between contractors and audit employees, payment and funding records, and any contracts or agreements with outside groups that helped fund the “audit."

Mike Philipsen, a spokesman for Fann, said the Senate president has not yet received a reply from Cyber Ninjas. Part of the contract that the company signed with the Senate to lead the “audit" requires Cyber Ninjas to surrender all documents and records needed to settle litigation.

Attorney Roopali Desai, who represents American Oversight, said she's been told the records will be available “soon."


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona lobbyist says Stephanie Grisham told her election fraud claims were bogus

A prominent Arizona lobbyist said former White House press secretary and veteran Arizona politico Stephanie Grisham told her that the fraud rumors that gained traction after the 2020 election were false.

POLITICO Playbook reported Wednesday that lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs texted Grisham on Dec. 12, a little more than a month after the election, to ask about whether presidential electors could be withheld to deny certification of President Joe Biden's win. And Jacobs said that Senate President Karen Fann, who was preparing to launch a review of the election results in Maricopa County, told her proof of fraud would be a “game-changer."

Jacobs also asked whether Grisham could help raise $104,000 to hire a consultant who could look for evidence of fraud, the article reported.

According to the article, Grisham forwarded the text to a Donald Trump campaign aide to ask if he had any thoughts. In her upcoming book, “I'll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw in The Trump White House," Grisham says she rejected the fraud claims and tried to convince former First Lady Melania Trump, whom she served as chief of staff, to say that the election wasn't rigged.

Jacobs told the Arizona Mirror that Grisham responded to her texts by calling her the next day and explaining that the fraud allegations were bogus.

“Hearing it from her was a great reality check," Jacobs said. “Stephanie, to her credit and to my benefit, said, 'I promise you, that's bogus. I promise you. Just drop it. Don't waste anyone's time or money.'"

Jacobs said Fann also did not believe there was any evidence of election fraud.

“She was (saying), 'People need to leave me alone unless there's demonstrable fraud proven.' It was exactly the opposite," Jacobs said. “She said there are a lot of rumors."

The text exchange between Grisham and Jacobs came just a few days before Fann and the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to Maricopa County for ballots, tabulation machines, voting records and a plethora of other information for use in a self-styled audit of the election. The audit quickly became a cause célèbre among proponents of the false allegations that the election was rigged against Trump in Arizona and several other swing states that Biden won.

Despite her work with the controversial “audit," which was ordered in response to the bogus fraud claims and conducted by outspoken supporters of election fraud conspiracy theories, Fann has never said she believes the election was affected by fraud. She reiterated that to the Mirror on Wednesday.

“Never have I said there was fraud. I have been asked hundreds of times about what it would take to 'decertify' the election. I have always said it would take solid proof (through) the courts to show the actual vote counts were different than what was certified and it would have to be of the magnitude that the number of invalid votes would have made a difference (in) the outcome," Fann said via text message.

Grisham could not be reached for comment, but friend and former colleague Brett Mecum said she forwarded Jacobs' query about raising money for someone to investigate the fraud claims as a favor, and likened it to “passing along the note." Mecum said Grisham has never believed the election fraud claims that became widespread among many Trump supporters after the election.

Grisham got her political start in Arizona, working for the state's AAA chapter and for the Arizona Charter Schools Association before becoming then-Attorney General Tom Horne's spokeswoman in 2013 and serving as former House Speaker David Gowan's spokeswoman in 2015 and 2016. She began working for the Trump campaign and joined the administration after he won the 2016 election, serving both the president and first lady, and eventually rising to the position of White House press secretary. She resigned from the position in 2020 and rejoined the First Lady as chief of staff.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump endorses Republican who sought to overturn the 2020 election in Arizona secretary of state race

Donald Trump endorsed state Rep. Mark Finchem in the crowded Republican primary for secretary of state, throwing his support behind a candidate who one of Arizona's most vocal proponents of the false allegations that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.

In an endorsement statement he issued on Monday, Trump called Finchem “a true warrior" and lauded him for spreading discredited fraud claims about the election.

“Mark was willing to say what few others had the courage to say. In addition to his incredibly powerful stance on the massive Voter Fraud that took place in the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, he is strong on Crime, Borders, our currently under siege Second Amendment, and loves our Military and our Vets. Mark will also be fighting hard for further Tax and Regulation Cuts," Trump said. “Mark Finchem has my Complete and Total Endorsement. He will never let the people of Arizona down!"

Finchem tweeted that the endorsement was, “Such a great honor!"

The Oro Valley Republican, who was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2014, helped organize a November meeting in Phoenix where Trump allies aired unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the election. And a nonprofit organization he runs called the Guardian Defense Fund has provided security for the self-styled “audit" of the election in Maricopa County that Senate President Karen Fann ordered.

Finchem also attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. Finchem claimed he was never closer than 500 yards of the Capitol building, but footage that surfaced months later showed him walking in front of the east steps after the pro-Trump rioters breached the barricades outside of the Capitol.

Jenna Ellis, a former Trump campaign attorney who promoted the debunked election fraud claims, endorsed Finchem last week. Finchem credit Ellis with helping him get the former president's endorsement, tweeting on Monday, “Thank you, Jenna! Your endorsement before this one was yuge."

Finchem did not respond to a request for comment from the Arizona Mirror.

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, advertising executive Beau Lane and state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita are vying with Finchem for the Republican nomination in the race for Arizona secretary of state. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes are seeking the Democratic nomination.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

'Audit' team plans to finally submit full draft report to Arizona Senate next week after delays

The team that conducted the controversial review of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County plans to submit its full draft report to the Senate next week, after several weeks of delays.

Randy Pullen, a spokesman for the self-styled election audit, said the team expects to submit the draft report to the Senate on Wednesday or Thursday.

The report has been plagued by a series of delays. Previously, the team planned to submit it by Aug. 20, but that plan was derailed after audit team leader Doug Logan and two other members of a five-person team tested positive for COVID-19. Senate President Karen Fann announced at the time that a partial report would come several days later, with the remainder still to come, but the partial report was never submitted.

When the “audit" began in late April, Logan said he expected it to be completed by mid-May.

A Senate team will review the report and recommend changes before the final report is issued. Pullen said the Senate team will meet on Monday to discuss the timeline.

One of the budget bills approved by lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey in July tasks members of the Senate Government Committee with reviewing the audit team's report and recommending changes to state law based on those findings.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona AG's office says Maricopa County must provide routers to Senate 'audit'

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors broke the law by refusing to comply with a subpoena for the routers used by its elections department, regardless of whether the Senate has the power to enforce that demand, the Attorney General's Office has concluded.

This article was originally published at Arizona Mirror

The supervisors must now determine whether they'll provide the disputed routers to the Senate for its self-styled “audit" of the 2020 general election, or whether they'll appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court. The county has until Sept. 27 to decide what to do.

If the county challenges the attorney general's findings, it will have to put up a bond worth nearly $700 million, equivalent to the amount of state-shared tax revenue it could lose if it ultimately refuses to hand over the routers.

Senate President Karen Fann first demanded the routers in a January subpoena, and then in a follow-up subpoena in July after the supervisors refused to comply. When the county again refused to provide the routers to the Senate, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, asked the attorney general to weigh under a 2016 law designed to punish cities and counties for violating state laws.

In the report of his findings that the Attorney General's Office released Thursday, Solicitor General Beau Roysden wrote that the Senate unquestionably has the legal authority to subpoena the routers, citing a judge's ruling in February. He noted that the county never disputed that it refused to fully comply with the subpoenas.

“The Senate has the same authority to issue the current subpoena as it had to issue the January 2021 subpoenas," Roysden wrote. “The Senate has broad discretion to determine what additional information is still needed."

The county argued in its response to Borrelli's complaint that it essentially wasn't breaking a state law requiring compliance with legislative subpoenas because the Senate has no power to enforce the subpoenas. The Senate isn't currently in session, meaning it can't introduce or vote on a contempt resolution, which is the only enforcement remedy available to it under state law. And even if it were in session, Fann wouldn't have the votes to find the supervisors in contempt.

But Roysden said it doesn't matter whether the Senate can enforce the subpoenas — refusing to comply with them is still illegal. Even if the supervisors are correct in asserting that the Senate has no enforcement power, that doesn't mean they aren't still violating the judge's February ruling from its court challenge to Fann's previous subpoena, he said. And the Senate does have an additional remedy through SB1487, the 2016 law Borrelli used to file the complaint.

“That argument, which addresses only the possible remedy for violating a legislative subpoena, is irrelevant to whether (the Board of Supervisors) is in violation of state law in the first place," Roysden wrote.

Roysden also rejected the county's argument that turning over the subpoenas would jeopardize confidential data and create a substantial burden for the county. The county has said it will cost $6 million to replace the routers, which numerous agencies and departments use, if it has to give them to Fann's election review team.

The supervisors can resolve the situation within the 30-day deadline by providing the routers to the audit team, negotiating an agreement with the Senate to protect sensitive data contained in the routers or by reaching a judicial resolution with the Senate, Roysden said.

The supervisors have not yet determined their course of action.

“The members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors are aware of the investigative report issued by the Arizona Attorney General. Board members will meet with their legal counsel and determine an appropriate path forward," the county said in a press statement on Thursday.

Routers are key to investigation of conspiracy theory

Fann and her “audit" say they want to examine the routers to determine whether they were connected to the county's ballot tabulation machines during the general election, which would indicate outside interference in the count.

However, election and cybersecurity experts say the “audit" team doesn't actually need the routers to determine whether the machines were connected to the internet. Fann's contractors have already examined the tabulation machines, which would provide all the information they need to determine if the machines were sending or receiving information. A pair of audits commissioned by the county earlier this year concluded that the machines were not connected to the internet, as some conspiracy theorists have alleged without evidence.

Nonetheless, the routers have become a fixation for some supporters of the election review. Former President Donald Trump, whose false claims of election fraud prompted the audit in the first place, repeatedly mentioned them during a speech in downtown Phoenix last month.

Fann, R-Prescott, praised the attorney general's findings.

“The Senate is pleased to see the attorney general stand strong enforcing the laws of our state regardless of who is breaking those laws," she said in a text message to the Arizona Mirror.

The Senate president did not comment on how long it would take her “audit" team to examine the routers, if and when the county turns them over, or how much longer it will take her contractors to compile a report on their findings.

If the county provides the routers, it will prolong an election review that has already taken months longer than expected. Cyber Ninjas, the Florida company that Fann hired to lead the election review, initially agreed to finish its final report in May. But the counting and examination of ballots, along with examination of machines and other materials, dragged on until late July.

Cyber Ninjas had planned to provide the first part of its draft report to the Senate on Monday, with the remainder delivered at an unspecified later date. But the Senate announced that day that Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan and two other members of the “audit" team contracted COVID-19, causing unexpected delays in the report. Fann also said the remainder of the draft report would be delayed because the county only recently provided digital images of ballot envelopes, which the county said it actually turned over in April.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Election experts launch preemptive strike against Arizona 'audit' findings

Elections experts watching the Arizona Senate's self-styled audit say Americans should take a deeply skeptical view of the conclusions reached by people they deemed inexperienced contractors using defective procedures for the purpose of intentionally undermining the results of the presidential election and continuing an ongoing fundraising effort.

This article was originally published at the Arizona Mirror

The team conducting the so-called audit ordered by Senate President Karen Fann will submit its draft report on Monday. The Senate will have an opportunity to review the findings and recommend changes before the final report or any of its findings are released to the public.

Various critics of the election review, however, aren't waiting for the Senate to release the findings to warn people to approach the findings with caution.

In a conference call hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Election Innovation and Research on Monday, a group of election experts and officials recounted a litany of problems they allege have plagued the audit, from substandard and constantly changing procedures to the motivations of the audit team and the people who are funding them.

Arizona Senate hires a 'Stop the Steal' advocate to lead 2020 election audit

David Becker, the center's executive director, called Cyber Ninjas, the Florida cybersecurity company that Fann hired to lead the review team, and its CEO, Doug Logan, inexperienced and biased. Logan and his company had no elections-related experience, and Fann hired him despite his public assertions that the election was rigged against former President Donald Trump.

“We're seeing the losing candidate in the presidential race and this ecosystem of grifters that have surrounded him continue to lie to supporters who are sincerely disappointed in the outcome, probably in an effort at grift," Becker said.

Becker described the “audit" as an effort to raise money — including by extending similar reviews into other swing states won by President Joe Biden, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and to undermine public confidence in the election, which Trump and many of his allies have falsely claimed was rigged.

“This has been a half-baked effort by a firm that's completely unequipped to have anything to do with election work. And the result of this effort was fully baked from the beginning. The Ninjas are likely going to intentionally cast doubt on the outcome, even though it's been verified and confirmed more than any election in Arizona history," Becker said.

Benjamin Ginsberg, a prominent Republican election attorney, noted that the “audit" was almost entirely funded by outside groups that have promoted conspiracy theories about the election. Anyone examining the review's findings should keep in mind that those funders, who provided almost $5.7 million — dwarfing the $150,000 the Senate paid — are the real audience for the report, not the public, Ginsberg said.

“The outside funding sources is really important to concentrate on in terms of talking about the legitimacy of the 'audit' results," he said.

“It's not an audit"

Various experts said it would be inaccurate to call the election review an audit in the first place, based on what they said were a lack of professional standards and practices.

Ray Valenzuela, Maricopa County's director of election services and early voting, and Jennifer Morrell, a former elections official and partner at Elections Group who has served as an observer at the audit for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, described the election review's policies and procedures, which Cyber Ninjas only released after being sued, as highly problematic and likely to result in inaccurate recounts counts. The “audit" team chased wild conspiracy theories about ballots with bamboo traces and secret watermarks, and ignored best practices requiring bipartisan review teams for recounts.

Others alleged that the “audit" team has failed to follow proper chain-of-custody procedures, to the point that a court would likely reject the county's ballots and other election materials as evidence were an issue to arise in court.

“This is an unofficial election review, a partisan review, whatever term you want to use. But it's not an audit," Morrell said. “Election audits are defined in statute. Those processes and policies and procedures are described, they're documented, they're conducted by election officials using best practices."

But the Senate's “audit" spokesman Randy Pullen brushed off the criticism of the election experts, saying only, “They must be worried."

The audit team has already provided the Senate with a separate draft report on the results of a machine count it conducted to double check the total number of ballots cast in the election. The team acquired machines to count the ballots after the initial hand count of votes from the presidential and U.S. Senate races came up with a different number than the nearly 2.1 million ballots county election officials counted from the November election.

Benny White, a Republican election data analyst who was the GOP nominee for Pima County recorder last year, said he and the founder of the Boston-based election services company Clear Ballot Group made several offers to Fann to assist with the recount, but she refused.

Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, whom Fann appointed as a liaison for the election review, was banned from the “audit" premises at the state fairgrounds for providing White and his colleagues with information about the counts from 20 boxes of ballots. White said his company's analysis found small deviations in four of the boxes and one with a more sizable miscount of 18 ballots.

White also questioned whether the results of the machine count would be accurate, saying the machines are designed to count new pieces of paper that slide easily over each other, not ballots that have been folded and handled repeatedly. And Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer noted that, rather than have a third party check the work, the machine count was conducted by the Cyber Ninjas.

“We'll go through any report that they put out, line by line by line, and point out where they're wrong, because they're going to claim that their results are different from the official results. And we're going to say, well, that's because you're wrong. You went about it incorrectly. You produced incorrect results," White said.

Pullen has said the election review team may also release an addendum to its final report at some point in the future if the Senate succeeds in forcing the county to turn over the routers used by its elections department. The county has refused to provide the routers, which the “auditors" say are needed to determine whether ballot tabulation machines were connected to the internet. The attorney general, and possibly the Arizona Supreme Court, will decide whether the county must comply with the subpoena.

But the election experts said the routers are completely unnecessary, given that the “audit" has already examined the machines, which he said contain all the information needed to determine if the machines sent or received online information. An audit conducted earlier this year by two federally accredited labs, and paid for by Maricopa County, concluded that the machines were never connected to the internet.

“Auditors" keep moving the goalposts, in “classic disinfo" fashion

Matt Masterson, a fellow at the Stanford Internet Observatory and a former election expert for the federal government's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, compared the demand for the routers to an old dodgeball trick of throwing a ball in the air to distract an opponent so you can throw another ball at his face. He said it is a “classic disinfo technique" intended to cast doubt on the election results.

“This is a farcical attempt to again move the goalposts, throw the ball in the air so you can get pegged in the face with other claims, and play Whac-A-Mole," Masterson said.

Hobbs and Richer took aim at the pending “audit" report in their own preemptive rebuttals.

Hobbs, a Democrat who is running for governor, highlighted several previous audits and examinations from both before and after the election that showed accurate counts and no problems with the election equipment. Her report also noted many of the problems that Morrell and other election experts saw while working as observers for the Secretary of State's Office.

“It is clear that any 'outcomes' or 'conclusions' that are reported from the Senate's review, by the Cyber Ninjas or any of their subcontractors or partners, are unreliable," Hobbs' report concluded.

Richer, who defeated a Democratic incumbent in the November election, released an open letter to his fellow Republicans on Thursday urging them to reject spurious voter fraud claims and accept that Trump lost the election.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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