'We had to do something': The inside story of how voting rights groups are beating Georgia GOP's suppression laws

On the only day of Sunday voting before Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff, the auto parts store parking lot across the street from Atlanta’s Metropolitan Library looked and sounded more like a block party than a get-out-the-vote event.

“We’re having a good time on this corner. If you feel the spirit, let me hear your horn. Come on!” bellowed D.J. Concrete Kash above a sound system that played gospel music and was next to several orange shade tents filled with free food, water, hand warmers and voter guides.

“We have five or six organizations out here coming together to say, ‘Hey, we believe in what you all are doing,” said Chandra Gallashaw, a community organizer. “Georgia Stand Up is over there. The NAACP. Black Voters Matter. We Vote, We Win… It has nothing to do with anyone running for office. It has to do with these people over there in line exercising their right, their constitutional right to vote.”

The tables at this pro-voter effort comprised some of Georgia’s oldest and newest non-profit civil rights groups. While they were careful not to endorse any candidate, their presence was a powerful rejoinder to the state’s GOP-led government, whose 2021 legislation banned giving food and water to anyone waiting to vote, among other rollbacks of voting options.

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“As we know, our governor [Republican Brian Kemp] banned us from being able to give water in line. We have to be 150 feet away from the polls,” said Mykah Owens, a campaign associate with We Vote, We Win. “One of our guys measured and made sure that we’re far enough from the polls so we won’t get in trouble.”

“We had to do something,” said Gallashaw. “The fact we cannot give water in line to people who stand in line for two or three hours… Some of these folks are 70, 80 years old. Some of them are diabetic. They have health issues.”

A similar “Party to the Polls” was held at three of Fulton County’s two-dozen voting sites on Sunday and will continue through the early voting period which ends on Friday. While the event was a rarity in this populous county, its significance was not lost on Black voters.

“I love the fact that, although they tried to pass a law where you couldn’t give water and things to people in line, they just put it across the street,” said Yasha Yisrael, who, with her husband, Chasum Yisrael, were sipping free smoothies from one of three food trucks. “It’s amazing.”

“It’s something that should have been done all along and I hope they continue it,” she continued, “because it does encourage more people who would not normally vote who are registered to come in and vote because they feel this sense of community.”

“Every effort is being tried to stop our right to vote,” said Chasum Yisreal. “We’ve got to be smart about it.”

The couple said that they did not know who the newer civic groups were. But across the state’s 159 counties, a coalition of community-based organizations, from mainstays like the NAACP and sororities and fraternities from historically Black colleges and universities to new groups targeting younger people, are making a determined effort to turn out voters for the Senate runoff and to keep in touch year-round to try to change state’s political representation.

Georgia, as U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams told the Democratic National Committee last June in a bid to urge the DNC to move up its 2024 presidential primary date, is one of the nation’s most racially diverse states with growing Black, Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander populations. It is the fifth-ranked state for women-owned businesses and 41 percent of all businesses are minority owned, which is double the national average. But cosmopolitan Atlanta is surrounded by the old South, where conservatives continue to dominate county and municipal government.

That landscape has turned every recent Georgia election into a struggle to engage voters. The Senate runoff was no exception and is operating under some new voting rules.

This is the first time that a statewide runoff is being held one month after Election Day. That timetable is half as long as the state’s two U.S. Senate runoff elections in 2020 and was created by the GOP’s 2021 legislation. One impact of the shorter timetable is to block new voters from registering. It also is too tight a timeline to obtain and return a mailed-out ballot.

Additionally, the legislation shortened the runoff’s early voting period to one week, although some metro counties expanded it through this past weekend, and a few counties started before Thanksgiving. (Republicans tried to bar voting on Saturday but lost in court last week.)

The early turnout numbers suggest that voters are not deterred by the 2021 law’s tightening of voting options. On Sunday, Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, tweeted that some metro Atlanta voting sites were experiencing waits of two hours. The wait at the Metropolitan Library’s first day of early voting on Saturday was as long, said We Vote, We Win’s Owens.

“We had over a two-hour wait yesterday. You usually don’t see that until the end of early voting – more towards the Election Day,” she said. “People are paying attention.”

Trump's amateur sleuths poised to decry another 'stolen election'

As Republican candidates, parties and groups are poised to legally challenge election results where they have lost or lag behind in the preliminary results, a parallel effort is underway in pro-Trump circles that likely will fabricate propaganda about illegitimate elections.

Candidates have long been able to challenge voters and ballots after Election Day during the vote count reconciliation process – called the canvass – which is before results are certified and recounts occur. But the efforts in Trump circles stand apart from these legal processes.

Trump Republicans and their allies are poised to gather “evidence” that frequently is not legally admissible in determining election outcomes, but can be exploited by propagandists to create distrust about voting, election officials, and the accuracy of voting systems.

“In some states, election deniers motivated by false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election are engaging in their own deeply flawed investigations to substantiate myths of widespread voter fraud,” reported the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School in a research paper released on Friday. “They have organized to engage in practices like amateur data matching with voter rolls, door-to-door canvassing to compare residents’ statements with voter records, and surveillance of mail ballot drop boxes. These error-ridden practices can disenfranchise eligible voters and strain election official resources.”

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Among the most high-profile recent efforts has been surveillance of drop boxes in Arizona, a state where 80 percent or more of the voters cast mailed-out ballots. This effort includes taking photos and videos of individuals dropping off ballots and their car’s license plates. That tactic is among several to make the claim that legions of unregistered voters are casting ballots.

This tactic, apart from possibly intimidating voters, is an example of what the Brennan Center called an “error-ridden” practice. The address tied to a license plate may not be the same as a voter’s most recent registration information, especially if that voter recently moved.

Nonetheless, since the 2020 election, ex-Trump campaign workers and self-appointed data analysts have parsed voter rolls in swing counties in swing states to falsely claim that the rolls were rife with inaccuracies that could be exploited by Democrats to fabricate votes.

Initially, Trump activists started knocking on doors to verify if a voter’s address on their registration record was accurate, to ask if they voted in 2020 and gather personal information. That activity lead to accusations of voter intimidation by civil rights groups. Earlier this year, the focus shifted to filing mass challenges of voters’ credentials, such as in metro Atlanta in Georgia, where more than 60,000 challenges were almost entirely rejected by county election officials this past summer, who, nonetheless, had spent months investigating the complaints.

“Activists are being encouraged by those who claim the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ to perform their own amateur data matching. They are using National Change of Address lists, tax assessor data, a portal operated by government contractor Schneider Geospatial, public map services, and public voter data from multiple states to make inferences about current voter eligibility and past election legitimacy,” the Brennan Center report said. “In doing so, they are cobbling together incomplete datasets that can later become ‘evidence’ for candidates to baselessly challenge the legitimacy of the election if they lose.”

Those behind these efforts have waged recruitment drives to gather evidence for post-Election Day challenges or to generate fodder that almost certainly will be used for propaganda – filling media channels as some battleground states take more time to count their votes than others. (Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example, cannot start counting absentee ballots until Election Day. Florida, Arizona, and Nevada can start several weeks before.)

Whether led by ex-Trump White House officials or campaign lawyers based at Conservative Partnership Institute in Washington, or a looser collective of election deniers and self-appointed experts convened and funded by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, the ringleaders have instructed activists to use apps like Basecamp to coordinate their activities, and apps like VotifyNow to report incidents that they deem suspicious.

“In the upper left-hand corner is the menu tab that will bring up your voter integrity tools,” a VotifyNow tutorial said. “When you click on these buttons, such as mail-in ballot issues, you’ll see the app allows you to type in a brief description of any suspicious activity you notice, as well as upload a photo or video... That incident is then sent to our database to be analyzed and compared with other issues in your area.”

Needless to say, just because a citizen observer thinks that they are seeing something wrong does not mean that factually is the case, said Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor at the Democracy Fund, at a November 2 press briefing where threats to election officials were discussed.

“I’ve had some election officials tell me that these observers act like they’re going to find the body; that they are coming onto a criminal site or crime scene,” she said. “When you approach the information that way, when you don’t know what you are looking at, you’re going to find what [conspiratorial evidence] you are looking for.”

Nor are specious observations likely to be accepted as evidence in any post-Election Day administrative review or legal process. But what fails to meet a legal standard of evidence can succeed as disinformation.

“It is important to remember that all reliable evidence shows that our elections — including the 2020 election — are safe, secure, accurate, fair, and free of widespread voter fraud,” the Brennan Center said. “We cannot let these dangerous and defective schemes compromise our democracy.”

Nevada County becomes a harbinger of the chaos that election deniers will wreak

A hand count has been halted. Most voters won’t use computers to vote.

One day after Nevada’s Supreme Court and Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske shut down a hand count of 2022 general election ballots in a rural county whose GOP leaders fell under the spell of 2020 election deniers, the man at the center of that political storm—Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf—was determined to resurrect the controversial process.

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

Standing outside the Bob Ruud Community Center in Pahrump, an early voting site in a town of 45,000 located at the base of a desert county that stretches for 170 miles along Nevada’s western flank, Kampf said he spent a sleepless night writing a proposal to revive the hand count. It was stopped because observers were hearing how people voted, which is illegal in Nevada before voting ends.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was working on my revised procedure,” he said on Friday, October 28. “The procedure was what I had conceived of before I even got into this office [in August], which was a silent process… They [Cegavske’s staff] might get it tomorrow.”

Inside the voting center on Friday afternoon, it was quiet. As a Democratic Party observer noted, there were more poll workers than voters. A Republican Party observer said there had been no trouble apart from one man trying to bring his gun inside (Nye is a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”) He was told to leave it in his car. Another man who voted in the morning tried to vote again. Poll workers recognized him and told him to leave. The Democratic observer asked about a voter who put their absentee ballot on top of a drop box—not in it.

These mostly calm scenes belie the political issues and stakes raised by Nye County’s rebellion in election administration. Led by Trump Republicans who control the Board of County Commissioners, Nye County has broken with how the rest of Nevada is conducting the 2022 general election in two major ways.

First, until it was halted on October 27, Nye County was conducting a hand count of 2022 general election votes that also were being counted on state-approved voting system computers. The hand count was an effort to assess the accuracy of the computers. Second, county officials want most voters to cast a hand-marked paper ballot, not a computer-marked ballot on a state-approved system.

Across Nevada, most 2022 general election voters will cast a mailed-out ballot—which is a hand-marked paper ballot. In 2021, Nevada’s Democrat-led legislature adopted this way of voting after it was used during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state also offers in-person voting before and on Election Day. Almost all Nevada counties use touch screen computers for their in-person voting. These systems use software to record votes, which Nye County’s commissioners no longer trust.

If Nye County executes its plans, it could foreshadow what elections may be like in states should 2020 election-deniers win on November 8.

Political Theater

The hand count has received the most attention and is a reaction to the distrust of computer voting systems by ex-President Donald Trump and his loyal followers. Last March, Jim Marchant, who became Nevada’s 2022 Republican secretary of state nominee, and several 2020 conspiracy theorists made a presentation to the Nye County Board of County Commissioners as the first stop on a statewide tour urging the banning of voting machines and adoption of hand counts.

The GOP-majority commission was swayed. It started pressuring the longtime county clerk, Sandra Merlino, to move to an all-paper, hand-counted election. She opposed that plan and resigned a few months later after 28 years of service in county government. Kampf, a retired corporate executive who specialized in supply chain controls and audits for Fortune 500 companies, was appointed interim clerk. He is expected to be elected on November 8.

Outside the Bob Ruud Community Center on Friday, neither Kampf nor Frank Carbone, a Republican county commissioner standing with him, would say what they distrusted about computer voting systems. Instead, they said that their constituency—the 69 percent of county voters who voted for Trump in 2020—had concerns that must be addressed.

“The Board of County Commissioners made a decision. It said they wanted to go to paper ballots. And that’s what we did,” said Carbone. “It has nothing to do with disliking machines. It had nothing to do with any of that process. The people said this is what they wanted.’”

So, on Wednesday, October 26, six teams of five people—plus political party observers, reporters, and voting rights lawyers watching—started reading aloud every vote that had been cast on a batch of 50 general election ballots and began to manually tally the votes. In 2020’s presidential election, roughly 25,000 votes were cast in Nye County. By day’s end, the teams only got through 50 ballots, because, among other things, counting mistakes were made.

Lawyers from the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter noted that they could hear the results, and on Thursday filed an emergency motion saying the hand count violated state law banning the release of results before the close of voting on Election Day.

Hours later, Nevada’s Supreme Court and secretary of state ordered the hand count to immediately stop. The high court told Nye County—meaning Kampf—to work out a hand count procedure that the secretary of state could approve. Kampf stayed up most of Thursday night revising his plans.

Kampf said his revised plan would have three members of each hand-counting team eye every ballot without saying aloud how people voted. They would write down the votes cast. If discrepancies appeared, a recount process would ensue and be documented. Thus, instead of speedy computer tabulators, there would be volunteers parsing bundles of 25 ballots, one contest at a time.

What gets lost in the political drama surrounding these details is that the hand count—which Kampf and Carbone said is to inspire public trust—has become a public relations sideshow. Even though Nye County’s GOP leadership wanted the hand count to replace the state’s official vote-counting process, that preexisting lawful system—as Nevada’s Supreme Court noted—remains in place. The hand count will have no impact on the official tabulation of votes in 2022’s general election. At this point, the hand count is merely an unofficial recount that may take months.

All Hand-Marked Paper Ballots

The more significant ongoing development, at least from an election administration perspective, is what has escaped notice by local and national media. That development is what Nye County is doing to ensure that almost every ballot cast will be a hand-marked paper ballot, not a computer-marked ballot.

In 2021, Nevada joined the handful of states that are mailing every registered voter a paper ballot. But not every voter will vote by mail. Nevada allows voters to opt out from receiving a mailed-out ballot, an acknowledgment that some Republicans, like their ex-president, do not trust any ballot that was not cast in person and counted on Election Day. It was not hard to find such voters in Pahrump.

“I didn’t ask for one,” said Bill Becht, who was manning a booth for the GOP candidate for sheriff. “I received one and promptly threw it in the trash.”

Every Nevada county also will have in-person voting sites. There people can register and vote on the same day. Those who do not want to use a mailed-out ballot can vote. And people with disabilities can use a computer voting station. In most counties, including Nye County before the 2022 general election, the in-person voting was done on a touch screen computer made by Dominion Voting Systems—the vendor demonized by Trump and his ardent followers, which is currently suing Fox News and other defendants in a billion-dollar defamation case.

Dominion’s computer system has voters selecting their candidates by touching a large rectangular screen. The computer, in turn, records the choices on a thumb drive locked inside. After voting ends, the drive is removed by poll workers and taken to county headquarters where its subtotals are compiled into the overall results on a central tabulating computer. Each touch screen voting station also prints the votes on a paper roll that can be seen, but not accessed, by voters.

Nye County is the only Nevada County this fall that will not use the touch screens except when requested by an infirm voter or person with disabilities.

At Nye County’s three early voting sites, there is only one touch screen voting station set up. In contrast, at the community center in Pahrump, there were 36 privacy booths on four rows of tables, where voters would fill out their paper ballot by hand using a pen. An overflow room had additional privacy booths.

Poll workers checking in voters gave out pre-printed paper ballots. (There are 13 different ballots across the county, which vary by local races.) When combined with paper ballots mailed out by the state, Nye County has found a way to replace almost entirely all of its computer ballots with hand-marked paper ballots.

As of noon on October 29, 6,097 mailed-out ballots had been received by the county, the clerk’s office said. An additional 1,125 pre-printed ballots had been given out and cast in person at the early voting sites. Only 53 voters used the computer voting station for people with disabilities. Together, those ballots represented a 17.7 percent voter turnout.

In general, hand-marked ballots are praised by experts because they are a direct record of a voter’s intent. Jennifer Morrell, a former election official now with the Elections Group, a consulting firm that assists officials, said that using all hand-marked paper ballots in polling places with one ballot-marking device for people with disabilities was not uncommon. “I’ve seen it in many jurisdictions across the country that operate a precinct polling location model.”

Both Kampf and officials in the county clerk’s office stressed that they were making sure that the number of legal voters and ballots issued each day was the same—to ensure that no illegal votes were cast. Election officials routinely check this aspect of elections to prevent fraudulent voting or to trace illegal voting.

More Paper Means Later Results

The shutdown of Nye County’s hand count has halted that aspect of its election administration rebellion. It remains to be seen whether Secretary of State Cegavske will accept Kampf’s proposal to restart that process.

But Nye County’s use of hand-marked paper ballots may have other Election Day impacts. If there is a heavy turnout on Election Day, particularly near the close of voting, it is likely that the tasks associated with counting all of the paper ballots will delay the release of its preliminary results until Wednesday, November 9, or later. Such late reporting in 2020 was criticized by Trump as an indication of a corrupt election, although that claim was factually inaccurate.

But if Nevada’s statewide and federal elections come down to the wire, Nye County—whose southern tier is in a U.S. House district now held by a Democrat—could be among the last of Nevada’s counties to report.

That delay would be due to several factors. The clerk’s office, where its central tabulating computers are located, is in Tonopah. That office is where all of the paper ballots are scanned and counted. (The scanner makes a digital image of every side of every ballot. Software then correlates a voter’s ink marks with the ballot’s layout of candidates and ballot measures.)

Tonopah is 168 miles and two-and-one-half hours to the north of Pahrump—on a two-lane highway locals call the “highway of death” because the speed limit is 70, it is unlit at night, and wild horses and burros wander onto the road.

That distance will delay the counting of the last tier of ballots from Pahrump, the county’s population center. Additionally, if the state allows the hand count to resume, Kampf’s staff in Tonopah has to fill out additional chain-of-custody paperwork so the paper ballots can be returned to Pahrump in batches of 25 ballots for the hand count. This will add more time to counting ballots.

Nevada, like many states, has taken steps to speed up its reporting of results. It allows county offices to preprocess mailed-out ballots before Election Day. The paper ballots given out at in-person voting sites can be counted starting on Election Day, which, in Nye County, will help the Tonopah office to get ahead of the ballots that will arrive after voting ends.

But Trump Republicans who oppose any form of voting other than in-person voting on Election Day and who expect results on Election Night are likely to be frustrated. Trump has said anything outside this window cannot be trusted. So even if Nye County is a harbinger of what elections may look like if election-denying candidates win this fall, some aspects of elections won’t change. Producing accurate results, even or perhaps especially in Republican-run counties, takes time.

“It would be nice to have the results by midnight on election night, but it won’t happen that way this time,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, Nye County Democratic Party chair. “That’s another consequence of the Big Lie.”

Author Bio: 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.

Voting Wars: Unprecedented efforts by pro-Trump Republicans and election officials are targeting the 2022 election

There is little doubt that pro-Trump Republicans are going to challenge voters and contest results that they do not like in 2022’s general election. And should they lose those challenges and contests, they are not likely to accept the results.

The warning signs are everywhere.

There are recruitment drives to challenge voters and voter registrations. There are instructions to disrupt the process and counting of votes. There are assertions not to trust any vote-counting computer. Some general election candidates are already claiming that the results will be rigged unless they win.

Election officials and their defenders are anticipating these actions. They have written and shared guides on how to deal with subversive poll workers and unruly party observers. Election officials have been urged to build relationships with the press before crises hit, and tell stories about “friends and neighbors” who run the process to build trust. They are being reminded to bolster cybersecurity, be calm and professional, and use posters and handouts that explain the process.

But as the November 8, 2022, Election Day nears, it appears that the people most likely to be attacking and defending the process are, in many respects, talking past each other. What the critics are seeking—a level of simplicity and transparency in the vote-counting protocols and rules—is not what is being teed up and offered to the public in defense of the voting to come.

“In a lot of these close races, the margins are not going to be close enough for a recount, but close enough that the election deniers will be able to attack the results,” said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer who has specialized in post-election challenges and recounts since the 1980s. “The margin that triggers recounts is much smaller than the margin that will trigger attacks.”

Stepping back, a key question that has hovered over the investigations by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol remains: How much can the electoral system be stressed before it breaks, whether from disruptions, disinformation, partisan interference, or something else that is unexpected but swirls out of control later this fall?

“We will soon find out if American democracy is robust enough,” concluded the New Yorker’s Sue Halpern, in an October 4 report that detailed how “Republican-led legislatures and right-wing activists alike are making things more difficult for election officials.”

The Coming Attacks

There have been no signs in recent months that pro-Trump Republicans have tempered their belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Instead, there are ample signs that their mindset is becoming more belligerent.

In early August, after the FBI raided the ex-president’s home in Mar-a-Lago to retrieve secret documents that should not have left the White House, there was an uptick in social media posts threatening a coming “civil war.” On August 29, Trump again cited baseless 2020 conspiracies and demanded a new election.

Trump loyalists and copycat candidates have built on these sentiments.

Matt Braynard, an ex-Trump campaign staffer whose claims that voter fraud tilted the 2020 election have been debunked by media fact checkers, nonetheless announced plans on October 5 to “challenge votes” in nine battleground states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—and is recruiting volunteers.

Days before, at an October 1 forum in Arizona, Shawn Smith, a retired Air Force Colonel, member of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and president of Cause of America, another election-denying group, told the audience that no voting system computer is reliable. “The people telling you they are secure are either ignorant or lying,” he said, before naming 10 of the nation’s top election regulators, election administration experts, and voting industry spokespeople. These experts are some of the same people now advising local election officials on how to respond to threats this fall.

Jim Hoft, the founder and editor of the Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump website that has championed Trump’s false stolen election claims and sees the January 6 insurrectionists as heroes, has gone further. On October 3, his site published an “action list… to save our elections from fraud,” whose instructions include urging party observers inside election offices to “escalate,” “disrupt,” or “require a temporary shut-down of the faulty area” if they see anything suspicious. The action list also recommended that postal workers should be followed, “incident reports” should be prepared, and lawyers should “[f]ile lawsuits demanding oversight.”

“Patriots must register as poll workers, observers, and get involved,” Hoft wrote. “But we must do more.”

Meanwhile, candidates who have embraced Trump and his “big lie,” such as Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake in her August primary or New Hampshire GOP U.S. Senate nominee Don Bolduc on October 10, said the vote count was rigged in 2020 and was likely to be rigged again this fall.

“And as long as we have this type of fraud and irregularities that are susceptible to our system across this country, we are going to be in big trouble,” Bolduc told a radio interviewer. “So, it’s less about whether we focus on 2020[’s] stolen election and [more about] how we focus on how we’re going to win in 2022 and [that we] don’t let it happen.”

Arming Election Defenders

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen organizations—from federal agencies tasked with cybersecurity, to nonprofits specializing in voting rights and running elections, to professional organizations of election administrators, to consulting firms staffed by former election officials—have been preparing and sharing guides, tools, and taking other steps to defend the process and the 2022 general election’s results.

“Thanks to the folks at… [the Alliance for Securing Democracy,] Brennan Center, Bipartisan Policy Center, Bridging Divides Initiative, Center for Election Innovation & Research, Center for Tech and Civic Life, CISA [U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency], The Elections Group, National Association for Media Literacy Education, and National Association of State Election Directors for all the work they’ve done for elections officials and for providing the resources here,” wrote Mindy Moretti, editor of Electionline.org, a news and information hub for election officials, in an October 6 weekly column that listed and linked to more than 40 publications, guides, and other resources.

The topics covered include audits, communications, cybersecurity, election management, election security at polls and operations centers, legal advice, mis/disinformation, insider threats by election workers, poll worker security gaps, de-escalation techniques, nonconfrontational training strategies, standards of conduct for election workers, testing voting systems, voting by mail, and more.

The “De-Escalation Guidance for Poll Workers,” from Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative, for example, emphasizes planning, training, and monitoring one’s responses.

“Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws and guidance on polling place disruptions and unauthorized militia,” it said in its section on planning. “Remember the goal is not to win an argument but to calm verbal disruptions and prevent physical disruptions,” it advised as part of its training guidance. “While de-escalating don’t: order, threaten, attempt to argue disinformation, or be defensive.”

“As trite as it sounds, you need to take control of the ‘narrative’ before it takes control of you,” wrote Pam Fessler, a former National Public Radio reporter who covered elections for two decades there, in “Telling Our Story: An Elections Communications Guide,” written for the Elections Group, a consulting firm run by former election officials.

“Of all the stories you have to tell, the most important one is this: ‘Our elections are safe and secure, and run by Americans you can trust,’” Fessler’s communications guide said. “It’s about feelings and belief, more than numbers and facts. Those who question the legitimacy of elections refer to what they believe are ‘facts’ about voting discrepancies, but their appeal is largely emotional: ‘People are trying to steal our elections; we need to take our country back.’”

“You can counter by appealing to these same emotions—patriotism, desire for freedom and civic pride,” it continued. “You might even find common ground. Many of those who question the voting process believe they too are defending democracy and that if they don’t, they risk losing control of their lives.”

Ships in the Night?

Arguably, the country has not seen as wide an array of proactive measures among election officials to anticipate and counter potential disruptions and propaganda. In 2020’s general election, the focus concerned implementing new protocols that surrounded mailed-out ballots and safer in-person voting—as COVID-19 vaccines were not yet available—and cybersecurity to protect voter and ballot data.

However, what is not emphasized in these tools is what some pro-Trump Republicans say that they have been specifically seeking, which is easily understood evidence that results are accurate. That desire is behind their movement’s push for states to stop using vote-counting computers and to count all ballots by hand.

Pro-Trump legislators in six states (Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia) introduced bills in 2022 to ban these computers. A handful of rural towns and counties have put forth measures to require hand counts and a few have passed, including in Nye County, Nevada, a swing state. Candidates such as Arizona’s gubernatorial nominee Lake and GOP secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem have sued to require hand counts. (They lost in court in September rulings but have appealed.)

Beyond studies that have also shown that electronic vote-count systems are more accurate than hand counts (which are error-prone due to their repetitive nature and can take days to complete), the current timelines in many states between Election Day and when the official results must be certified do not accommodate hand counts—especially in states where millions of ballots are cast.

Moreover, the margins in state law that trigger recounts (which come after the results are certified) are generally 1 percent or less. That volume is much smaller than the volume of votes that pro-Trump Republicans have claimed were suspect in 2020—even though they never offered any proof that was accepted by a court.

Thus, while election officials and their defenders might be preparing to convince reasonable Americans that the voting and counting is accurate and legitimate, it appears that pro-Trump Republicans who did not accept 2020’s results will not find much to be reassured by—since their movement’s self-appointed IT experts continue to say that election system computers cannot be trusted.

These factors and seemingly irreconcilable views are poised to collide after November 8. This is why growing numbers of pundits are starting to ask aloud if the system will hold under the coming stress test from election deniers.

“Until we are able to return to the point where the losing side accepts the vote count as valid, we’re going to be trapped in a world of election wars,” said Sautter. “Of course, transparency, public oversight, and public access are paramount to restoring faith in our elections so that we can get to that point.”

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.

Notorious pro-Trump election denier resurfaces with new and easily debunked conspiracy

One of the most conspiracy-minded “con artists” who sought to elevate and enrich himself by posing as a technical expert during the Arizona Senate GOP’s flawed review of the 2020 presidential election is returning to Maricopa County on October 1, where he is pushing a new – and easily-debunked – conspiracy theory about how 2020 votes were forged.

“I’m just going to explain a few things here that I think you need to look at. But there’s many – there’s much more work we have to do,” said Jovan Pulitzer, in a video posted online this week (and then taken down) that was recorded by AUDIT Elections USA, an Arizona-based advocacy group seeking more transparent vote counts. “I’m doing this because we can’t move on.”

Pulitzer, who rented a theater in Tempe where he will speak and host other election deniers, is alleging that a handful of accessible voting stations that assist voters with disabilities were used to hijack votes for Joe Biden. These computers have a touchscreen to register votes and a printer that produces a filled-out ballot card. A separate scanner then counts the votes.

“It is well-known that these voting machines have features built into them under the auspices of protection or equal access for people with disabilities that can be used nefariously,” he said. “I call this hiding in plain sight. They’ve always had the ability to modify the vote.”

Pulitzer is claiming that Maricopa County’s accessible voting stations hijacked Trump votes by using an on-board library of images to fill in the ovals next to Biden’s name.

“We have to look at, on all these ballots, 188,056,260 ovals – yes, 188,056,260 ovals – and you have to look at them all individually,” he said.

“This is made-up nonsense,” said John Brakey, AUDIT Elections USA executive director. “He’s talking about machines there that don’t even exist. He doesn’t even realize that 91 percent of the county’s [presidential] ballots were mailed out and came back in a signed envelope.”

Election officials in Maricopa County, where 1.2 million people voted for president, quickly pointed to evidence that showed why Pulitzer’s claims are yet another false narrative.

Maricopa County’s voting stations for voters with disabilities, called ballot-marking devices, do not print out ballots with any filled-in ovals. They print out human-readable text of the voter’s selections and a QR code (a dot matrix) of those choices that is read by a scanner. Thus, the claim about deliberately misprinted ballot ovals has no basis in reality. Pulitzer’s narrative, ignorantly or deceptively, relies on a voting system that Maricopa County does not use.

Further, the volume of presidential votes cast on Maricopa County’s ballot-marking stations is nowhere near Biden’s 10,457-vote statewide margin over Trump. As the county noted in a post-election report, only 454 people used the accessible voting stations in the presidential election. There’s no way that Pulitzer’s alleged forgeries would have affected the outcome.

Moreover, the ballots printed by the marking device computers are smaller (8.5 inches by 11 inches) than the traditional ballot cards (8.5 inches by 19 inches) issued to all other voters at voting sites. Here, again, the factual evidence is easy to account for, and does not support any claim that accessible voting devices could have altered the election’s results.

Maricopa County is the second most populous election jurisdiction in America. Only Los Angeles County has more voters. Its election department is highly professional, as seen by the data that it compiles and issues. In early 2022, it issued one of the country’s most comprehensive and technical refutations of every stolen election allegation posed after Trump’s loss.

That report was overseen by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who voted for Trump but felt compelled to defend the county’s election administration after the Arizona Senate Republicans sanctioned an “audit” led by Cyber Ninjas, a pro-Trump IT firm.

Pulitzer had a unique and influential role in that error-plagued audit – which failed in multiple attempts to account for every ballot cast (a starting-line inventory control step) but concluded that Biden had won (without evidence that could be replicated).

Most of the sophisticated equipment that filled the floor of Phoenix’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum – the tables of overhead cameras and microscopes – was prompted by Pulitzer, who told others that he was looking for signs of forgeries, including bamboo fibers in paper ballots that he said would prove that 40,000 ballots had been forged in Asia and smuggled, somehow unseen and undetected, into Maricopa County’s voting operations.

When the Cyber Ninjas and other IT contractors sanctioned by the Senate Republicans issued their findings in September 2021, the state legislators did not include Pulitzer’s forgery theory or analysis on its webpage. Nor did they invite him to present his findings in any forum.

“Jovan Hutton Pulitzer is a con artist who is a master of hoaxes and frauds,” Brakey wrote in an email during the audit where he was an observer. “[The] following are links to various sources that discredit him entirely. Please note that his so-called Wikipedia page is a FAKE page made up by him with the URL of his website, NOT the [real] Wikipedia URL. Pulitzer changed his name from Jeffrey Jovan Philyaw. He also goes by J. Hutton Pulitzer. He did invent CueCat, which PC World called ‘one of the 25 worst inventions of all time.’”

Pulitzer’s latest claims may be easily debunked before his upcoming event in Tempe, but it shows how determined 2020 election deniers remain as 2022’s general election approaches.

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

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

How efforts by Trump allies could suppress Georgia's midterm voters

On August 29, eight cartons of notarized paperwork challenging 25,000 voter registrations were delivered by pro-Donald Trump “election integrity” activists to Gwinnett County’s election offices in suburban Atlanta. They were accompanied by additional paperwork claiming that 15,000 absentee ballots had been illegally mailed to voters before the county’s 2020 presidential election.

Two days later, the activists held a briefing on the filings. It was led by Garland Favorito, a soft-spoken retired IT professional who has been agitating in Georgia election circles for 20 years and heads the non-profit, VoterGA. Favorito began by citing six lawsuits the group has filed against state and county officials – claiming counterfeit ballots, untrustworthy or illegal voting systems, and corrupt 2022 primary results. Then he turned to Gwinnett County.

“We are delivering today 37,500 affidavits challenging voter rolls and handling of the 2020 election,” said Favorito. “As a reminder, the presidential spread for the entire state of Georgia was 11,000 and change, not quite 12,000 [votes]. And we have 20,000 [allegedly improper voter registrations] just in Gwinnett alone. This number will increase as our analysis is ongoing.”

The Gwinnett challenges are not unique. In Georgia’s Democratic epicenters, Trump backers have been filing voter roll challenges since last winter targeting upwards of 65,000 voters. The state’s post-2020 election “reform” bill, S.B. 202, authored by its GOP-led legislature, allows an unlimited number of challenges.

While most of the claims put forth by Voter GA are easily refuted, the challenges individually targeting voters could have an impact in suppressing some number of votes this fall, where polls find some statewide contests are very close.

“This is brazen voter intimidation with the express intent of suppressing minority votes,” said Ray McClendon, NAACP Atlanta political action chair. “The NAACP is working to inform voters of their legal remedies in order to protect their voting rights. We will not be bullied by these underhanded tactics.”

Bogus Attack on Absentee Voting

The voter challenges concern three areas, said Zach Manifold, Gwinnett County election supervisor, who patiently explained why most of VoterGA’s claims were mistaken and overblown. For example, the assertion that 15,000 voters were improperly sent an absentee ballot in 2020 was flat-out wrong, he said, and formally should not even be called a voter challenge.

“They’re not really voter challenges because they’re related to the 2020 election,” Manifold said. “Voter challenges are challenging [individual registered] voters going forward for an upcoming election, or to remove them from the rolls.”

The linchpin in this allegation hinges on whether a voter’s application for an absentee ballot was filed more than 180 days before the election.

“[They contend] our office should not have processed these applications because they were received more than 180 days before the election, which was the law at the time,” Manifold said.

The county elections staff investigated, he said, and found that the allegations were wrong, and, crucially, that VoterGA had overlooked a simple and obvious explanation.

“It appears that all of those, at least everything we have looked at – the few hundred that we sampled – were all valid [absentee ballot applications],” said Manifold. “They’re what we call rollover voters. You can apply for a ballot earlier in the year, before a different election, and roll it over [the absentee ballot request] throughout the whole cycle.”

The absentee ballot application on the county’s website offers this option. On page two, at item 12, a voter can check a box that says, “I opt-in to receive an absentee ballot for the rest of the election cycle.” In other words, these voters apparently had opted in. The voters and the county did nothing improper.

Neither Favorito nor Sheryl Sellaway, the media contact listed on VoterGA’s press release about the Gwinnett challenges returned phone calls seeking comment.

Voter Suppression Scenario

A similar dynamic is at play with the 25,000 individual challenges to registered voters on the county’s rolls. But, unlike the false claim of illegal absentee voting in Gwinnett County in 2020, which perpetuates Trump’s false stolen election myth, these forward-facing registration challenges could suppress an unknown number of votes from being counted in 2022’s November 8 election.

Such voter suppression is possible because under Georgia law the challenges could force some number of infrequent, but registered, voters to go through extra hoops before their ballots would be counted. Should any of the challenged voters try to vote this fall in Gwinnett County, they would be given a conditional ballot. That ballot would not be counted unless that voter presented additional ID at a hearing after Election Day. Historically, most voters skip these hearings.

(This process is similar to what happens to voters who are not listed in precinct poll books. They are given a provisional ballot, which is set aside and not counted until the voter shows up at a county office or an election board hearing with ID, which, historically most of these voters do not do.)

Manifold said that this cadre of VoterGa’s voter roll challenges were threading a needle that narrowly followed state law and avoided a 1993 federal law that bars larger-scale voter purges within 90 days of a federal election.

“Somebody could challenge somebody under [Georgia law section] 230 and put them into a challenge status all the way up to Election Day,” he explained. “What happens is that voter would vote a challenge ballot. It’s similar to a provisional ballot. And those ballots are adjudicated at the same meeting [after Election Day] where we do provisional ballots.”

“That puts the onus on the voter,” Manifold said. “The voter actually has to come to a hearing and say, ‘This is me.’ ‘I live here.’ ‘And you should count my ballot.’”

How many voters could find themselves in this situation is hard to predict, he said. About 22,000 of the voter registration challenges concern people who are infrequent voters or have not voted recently. VoterGA’s press release said it had used “a variety of public records to determine accuracy of the [voter registration] entries.” The release did not specify what public databases were used, but most of the affidavits cited the Postal Service’s change of address database. That database was not designed for vetting voter registration information.

Ironically, it appears that VoterGA’s efforts to winnow Gwinnett County’s voters rolls pales next to the county’s (and state’s) efforts to update these records.

Gwinnett County, which has 650,000 registered voters, has procedures dictated by state and federal law to contact infrequent voters before removing them from the rolls. Infrequent voters, people who may have moved or died are tracked via several government databases, Manifold said. In the past 12 months, the county has sent five notices by mail to alert these voters of their pending removal – and telling them what steps they must take to become active voters, meaning they would get a regular ballot in the next election. Normally, any infrequent voter who shows up would reactivate their registration status.

However, under VoterGA’s challenges – which name individual voters – those registrants would be shunted aside and given a conditional ballot. The county has assigned a team of workers to review these 22,000 voter registration challenges, Manifold said. So far, it has found that most of these individuals already are on the county’s radar, he said. But several thousand potential voters may not be.

“Almost 90 percent of the challenges that we have seen here are people that were already picked up in our conformation process,” Manifold said.

Manifold also said the current election cycle was the first one where Georgia was participating in an interstate registration data-sharing consortium, which helps to update its voter rolls and identify eligible but unregistered voters. Georgia also is among the states that automatically register voters as they get a drivers’ license.

Georgia’s automatic registration system, which is run by another state agency whose primary business has nothing to do with elections, has led to some number of data-entry typos (misspellings, incorrect addresses) in the voter rolls, Manifold said. These errors appeared to be the reason for the third category of registration challenges from VoterGA, where 2,700 registration files were found with missing address information or could not be tied to a physical street address.

“We do want to get that information updated,” Manifold said. “There is some sort of data mismatch somewhere in the system, and that means that voters are not getting whatever we’re sending out.”

But VoterGA is not coming in and working with county officials to alert them to deficiencies in voter registration data that, if corrected, could lead to more voters casting ballots. They are making sloppy and easily refuted allegations about 2020 absentee voters that seek to perpetuate false narratives about that election. And they are filing voter challenges that could suppress and nullify the ballots cast by an unknown number of infrequent but legal voters later this fall.

“What this really is all about is to frustrate minority voters into staying home on Election Day,” said the NAACP’s McClendon. “Such efforts will only motivate those who believe in democracy to fight even harder to ensure all voters’ voices are heard.”

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.

Jan. 6 committee exposes the disturbing consequences of Trump's 2020 lies

The scope of Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election widened in the congressional testimony on June 22 as Republican state legislators, state election officials and local election workers described Trump’s pressure campaigns and bullying that targeted them and led to them facing severe harassment for doing their jobs.

“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” said Ruby Freeman, who, with her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, were election workers at an Atlanta arena and were repeatedly named and smeared by Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for what the men falsely said was an attempt at stealing Georgia votes for Joe Biden.

“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?” Freeman continued. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me.”

A video of the two women as they resumed processing ballots after an evening break was mischaracterized and widely circulated by Trump’s allies. Giuliani told Georgia’s state Senate that the Black women were criminals. Trump said they were part of a conspiracy to steal the election, which led his supporters to threaten and stalk the women, and even saw vigilantes barge into Freeman’s elderly mother’s home to attempt a “citizen’s arrest” of her and Moss.

The January 6 hearings have shown that it was Trump and his minions—not Democrats, nor state officials who followed their oaths of office, nor local election workers who did their jobs—who plotted to overturn the election, and who embraced lying, ignoring laws, harassment and violence to seize the presidency.

“Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them… He went forward with his fake allegations,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY, the panel’s co-chair. “We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”

From a legal standpoint, the hearing of June 22 directly tied Trump to one scheme where complicit Republican Party officials and state office holders knowingly forged and signed fake Electoral College certificates that declared Trump, not Biden, won their state’s votes. That scheme emerged after Trump could not get any Republican governor or GOD-led legislature to reconvene to award him an Electoral College victory despite Biden winning the state’s popular vote.

But what stood out was Trump’s boorish and boundary-breaking harassment of legislator leaders and top election officials who would not bend to his will to overturn their state’s election results. Trump’s ongoing claims that the election was stolen have sparked many copycat candidacies in 2022 among right-wing Republicans. That posturing continued and targeted the panel’s opening witness, underscoring the threat that Trump’s cadre still poses.

Before the hearing began, Trump issued a statement saying that the first witness, Rusty Bowers, the Republican longtime speaker of its House, had personally told Trump in November 2020 that Arizona’s election had been “rigged” for Biden. Bowers was present to describe Trump’s efforts, from receiving phone calls from President Trump to lobbying by his legal team, to push Bowers to launch an unprecedented legislative process to retract Biden’s victory.

“Before we begin with the questions I have prepared for you, I want to ask you about a statement that former President Trump issued, which I received just prior to the hearing,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA. “Former President Trump begins by calling you a RINO, Republican in Name Only. He then references a conversation in November 2020, in which he claims that you told him that the election was rigged, and that he had won Arizona… Did you have such a conversation?”

“I did have a conversation with the president. That certainly isn’t it,” Bowers said. “Anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged—that would not be true.”

Bowers went on to testify that Trump pushed and then bullied him to convene a special legislative session to revoke Biden’s victory. (Michigan’s Senate President, Republican Mike Shirkey, told the panel the same thing in a videotaped interview: Trump had pushed him to take the steps needed to declare him the state’s Electoral College vote winner.)

Bowers testified that he told Trump that he did not have the authority to do so under Arizona’s state constitution and the federal constitution, and that he would not violate his oath of office to do so. Shirkey told Trump much the same thing.

Then Trump moved on to a second ploy based on an untested legal theory by John Eastman, a lawyer who argued that state legislatures had the power to ignore the popular vote and appoint Electoral College slates of their choosing. The so-called fake-elector plan involved Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who Trump asked to promote it—another disclosure that was made on June 22.

In that same conversation with Bowers, Trump claimed to speak on behalf of other senior Arizona lawmakers, Bowers recounted, to pressure the speaker to hold a hearing on Eastman’s theory—which would lend it credibility.

“I said to what end? To what end the hearing?” Bowers recounted. “He said, ‘Well, we have heard by an official high up in the Republican legislature that there is a legal theory or a legal ability in Arizona, that you can remove the electors of President Biden and replace them. And we would like to have a legitimate opportunity through the committee…' And I said, ‘That’s totally new to me. I’ve never heard of any such thing.’ And he pressed that point.”

Trump’s lie-laced pressure tactics didn’t end there. Giuliani kept lobbying Bowers. Then came more bullying. When Bowers did not budge, Trump supporters went to his home and held menacing protests, he said. The protests occurred while his daughter was very ill at home and would soon pass away.

“We had a daughter who was gravely ill, who was upset by what was happening outside,” he said.

At the hearing on June 22, numerous Republican and Democratic legislators and state election officials described how Trump’s foot soldiers threatened them on social media, published their private contact information online and stalked them outside their homes—which neither Trump nor his team discouraged, as Cheney noted.

The officials who recounted this harassment included Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who testified, Michigan’s Mike Shirkey, a Republican, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican.

Raffensperger recounted how someone broke into his daughter-in-law’s home after the election, which he attributed to the threats he received. When asked why he didn’t leave his job or cave to Trump, his reply was much the same as Bowers: he felt he had a public duty to oversee a constitutional process even if it meant that his party did not win the White House.

“I knew that we had followed the law, we had followed the Constitution,” Raffensperger said. “You’re doing your job. And that’s what we did.”

But not every witness had a story of valor under duty. Georgia’s Ruby Freeman said that the targeting of her by Trump and Giuliani led to the loss of her business, a loss of privacy and her sense of security. She was afraid to use her name in public, she testified, because she feared it could provoke more harassment.

“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” she said.

And her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, told the committee that she had to leave her job as an election worker after a decade, leave her home and go into hiding—as advised by the FBI—and became deeply depressed. But she was most upset because of the threats made by Trump’s thugs to her grandmother—who called her in a panic when his foot soldiers barged into her house seeking to make a “citizens’ arrest” of her and her mother.

“It was my fault for putting my family in this situation,” she said, referring to her work as an election official.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Schiff replied.

But that morning, Trump was back at it—putting false words into another witness’s mouth, as if nothing mattered except his return to power.

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

The best odds to prosecute and jail Donald Trump may lie in state court in Georgia

As the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol provides new and mounting evidence of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn a presidential election he lost, so, too, is the expectation rising that the Department of Justice will have no choice but to prosecute Trump and co-conspirators. But in center-left advocacy circles, there is rising talk that the best odds to prosecute and jail Trump may lie in state court in Georgia, not federal court in Washington, D.C.

“As I said last night on CNN, if there is an audience of one [person to persuade], it ain’t [U.S. Attorney General] Merrick Garland. It’s [Fulton County, Georgia’s District Attorney] Fani Willis,” said Norman L. Eisen, a former U.S. ambassador now with the Brookings Institution, speaking during an activist briefing call one day after the first January 6 House committee hearing.

Eisen and like-minded colleagues were working in public and private to push prosecutions of Trump. Their efforts have followed an arc, he said, from showing “likely criminality that a judge found,” to “substantial criminality” as a Brookings Institution report detailed, to an evolving “Criminal Evidence Tracker.” He said, “We’re going to get to beyond a reasonable doubt.”

And Eisen predicted that Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia—where Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was bullied by Trump in a phone call to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, and where GOP officials forged an Electoral College certificate declaring that Trump won—would likely file charges against Trump and others this year, which could be before Garland acted. Willis convened a special grand jury in May.

“Whether or not he goes to jail depends on whether she and all of us help frame that case that five justices of the [U.S.] Supreme Court say, as they did with Trump v. Thompson, ‘I don’t want to touch it,’” Eisen said. “It will have to survive federal scrutiny. It will be removed [from state to federal court], and we need to get it kicked back to state court in Georgia. That’s the whole shooting match.”

Willis, like her Justice Department counterparts, has been circumspect in her comments, saying her office has a “duty to investigate” and citing past experience in criminal racketeering cases. The Justice Department has also been investigating the January 6 insurrection, has charged hundreds of rioters, and, as Garland said, is scrutinizing the committee’s work.

While it is premature to speculate whether and where Trump and his allies may face criminal charges for their roles in a failed unconstitutional coup, the evidence presented so far—by the committee and by lawyers such as Eisen’s team—is also leading to public statements and new explanations about the committee’s objectives and what separately might unfold in court.

Building a Case

On Tuesday, June 14, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY, the committee co-chair, posted a Twitter video that reminded Americans what evidence it had most recently presented.

“Yesterday, the Select Committee’s hearing showed all Americans that President Trump’s claims of a stolen 2020 election were, to use former Attorney General [William] Barr’s words, ‘complete nonsense,’” she said, referring to its June 13 hearing. “We heard this from Donald Trump’s own campaign experts, his own campaign lawyers, his own campaign manager, his attorney general, and others Donald Trump appointed to leadership positions in the U.S. Department of Justice. President Trump’s advisers knew what he was saying was false, and they told him so directly and repeatedly.”

Cheney then previewed the next hearing’s topic: how Trump and his loyalists pressured the vice president “to refuse to count lawful Electoral [College] votes. As a federal judge has indicated, this likely violated two federal criminal statutes. President Trump had no factual basis for what he was doing, and he had been told it was illegal. Despite this, President Trump plotted with a lawyer named John Eastman, and others, to overturn the outcome of the election on January 6.”

Cheney’s video had more than one purpose. The House investigation itself is not a prosecution, but a wide-ranging inquiry intended to tell the American public what happened. However, the panel is also compiling and presenting an evidence trail centered around the hardest part of any prosecution—proving that the likely accused intended to break the law.

“The key, in terms of criminal cases and the viability of criminal cases, is the evidence that’s available to prove that Donald Trump and others acted with the requisite criminal intent,” said Kristy Parker, a former federal prosecutor, during a June 14 briefing by Protect Democracy, a nonprofit dedicated to representative government. “And for the kind of charges we’re talking about here, the department would essentially be required to prove that Donald Trump and his associates knew what they were doing was wrong.”

Parker said that proving intent doesn’t rely on knowing what a person is privately thinking.

“Intent is customarily proven by surrounding circumstances, and we’ve seen the committee doing just that,” she explained. “It’s important to understand as a legal matter that prosecutors won’t be in a position of having to prove that Trump believed he lost, only that he knew he couldn’t do certain things to stay in power, like coerce the Georgia secretary of state to find him one more vote than he needs, or tell the DOJ to just announce fraud, and let him do the rest, or pressure Vice President [Mike] Pence to refuse to accept the results, or weaponize the mob to disrupt the January 6 proceeding. And there’s much more to come from the committee on all of those points.”

Cheney’s video tweet promised more revelations to come. But progressives and center-left public policy organizations are trying to get ahead of that breaking news by ramping up the pressure on federal and state prosecutors to act. Eisen and his team of fellow lawyers have compiled an ongoing document, “The January 6th Hearings: A Criminal Evidence Tracker,” which details the “facts and evidence” known thus far, including new revelations from each hearing.

“Although we are just two hearings in, the evidence of possible criminal conduct is steadily mounting, which we document in our three trackers looking at possible federal charges under criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. §371); obstruction of an official proceeding (18 U.S.C §1512); and criminal solicitation to commit election fraud (GA Code § 21-2-604),” its introduction said on Just Security, a public policy forum. “The hearings have often resembled an argument to a criminal jury. That is not because of the heated rhetoric being used; the Committee has been quite restrained. Instead, it is because of the substance: the power, quantity, and import of the evidence.”

The tracker is co-authored by Noah Bookbinder (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW), Norman L. Eisen (Brookings Institution), Fred Wertheimer (Democracy 21), Jason Powell (CREW), Debra Perlin (CREW), and Colby Galliher (Brookings).

In contrast, at the Protect Democracy briefing, which featured three former Justice Department officials, one of the key takeaways was to give the department enough time to be methodical and to build its cases from the bottom up—starting with hundreds of January 6 rioters and working toward the instigators and organizers, including Trump.

“If, in fact, the evidence is there, as it looks like it may well be, to show that Donald Trump knew that he’d lost the election and knew in connection with these things that he was attempting to do that they were improper, then the culpability is right up near the top,” said Donald Ayer, former deputy attorney general. “Now, at the end of the day, we all need to be patient and acknowledge that the department is the one that has to make this call. Ultimately, it’s the attorney general [Merrick Garland]. And I think we listen, and we wait.”

Notably, the criminal evidence tracker co-authored by Eisen and his colleagues includes a section compiling facts, evidence, and criminal thresholds to convict Trump and co-conspirators in Georgia—not just in federal court in Washington. Eisen further told the activists that Georgia has a bipartisan state pardon board, meaning that a conviction could not be readily overturned by the state’s Republicans (unless its legislature reconstituted the board).

All of these developments, from Cheney’s video previewing the committee’s next hearing to the efforts of Eisen and others to frame the media and legal narratives, point toward Trump and his collaborators facing a day in court.

Even the former federal prosecutors, who, in contrast to Eisen’s team, urged patience, said that Trump knew what he was doing—which contrasts with former Attorney General William Barr telling the committee in a videotaped interview that Trump was “detached from reality.”

“That phrase that Attorney General Barr used strikes me as somewhat inapt,” said Ayer. “For example, that phone call with Raffensperger in Georgia, that Trump executed at some length, that was not the conversation of a person who was detached from reality. That was the conversation of a bully. And he had other similar conversations, [also during which he seemed like someone] who basically wanted things to go his way. And he was going to push and shove and lean on people in order to make that happen. And he did it multiple times, which… gives evidence of a high level of intent.”

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

Another extreme wing of the Republican Party is emerging – and it's not all Trump

J.D. Vance, the Ohioan who grew up poor, joined the Marines, got a Yale law degree, wrote a bestseller about his hardscrabble upbringing, became a venture capitalist, and panned Donald Trump before becoming a convert to Trumpism and winning Ohio’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, is one brand of 2022’s Republican candidates—a shapeshifter, as the New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens noted.

“He’s just another example of an increasingly common type: the opportunistic, self-abasing, intellectually dishonest, morally situational former NeverTrumper who saw Trump for exactly what he was until he won and then traded principles and clarity for a shot at gaining power,” Stephens said in a conversation with New York Times liberal columnist Gail Collins that was published on May 9.

But the GOP’s frontrunner for governor in Pennsylvania’s crowded May 17 primary field, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, is an entirely different Republican: a man of deep religious and political convictions who, if he wins the nomination and the general election, could be problematic for Americans who do not want elected officials to impose their personal beliefs on the wider public, whether the topic is abortion, vaccines, denying election results, or calling on God’s help to seize political power.

Mastriano’s current lead among nine candidates, with nearly 28 percent, could be taken two ways. He could be an extremist, like Trump in 2016, who won because too many contenders split the mainstream vote in a low-turnout primary. (In 2018, less than one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s voters turned out—suggesting that 2022’s winner may be nominated by as little as 5 percent of its state electorate.) Or, if Pennsylvania’s GOP were more firmly in control of its nomination process, Mastriano’s support might pale next to the establishment’s pick.

It remains to be seen if voters’ allegiances will shift as May 17 approaches, especially as the Democrats’ likely nominee, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has signaled that Mastriano is the Republican he would most like to run against in the general election by launching TV attack ads. Centrist Republicans also are attacking Mastriano, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reports it’s not working.

Mastriano’s prospects, and his chances in the upcoming general election in the fall as another breed of 2022’s GOP mavericks, suggest that wider currents are roiling American politics, including, in this national battleground state, a mainstreaming of white Christian nativism.

Mastriano is a retired Army military intelligence officer and Army War College historian (whose error-filled 2014 biography of a World War I heroic Christian soldier embarrassed its university press). In uniform, he served overseas in Eastern Europe, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His career in elected office started in a predictable rightward fashion: proposing a bill to ban abortion. But after 2020’s election, he emerged from local ranks as an early and fervent member of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” cavalry who sought to subvert the certification of its winner, Pennsylvania native Joe Biden, who officially beat Trump by 80,000 votes.

Mastriano invited Big Lie propagandist Rudy Giuliani and others to legislative hearings. On January 6, 2021, he bussed Trump supporters to the U.S. Capitol, and newly surfaced videos show that he followed them past police barriers. He opposed COVID-19 mandates, and in mid-2021 started calling for an Arizona-style “audit” of the state’s 2020 presidential election results. But unlike Arizona’s effort, led by the Cyber Ninjas’ Doug Logan, another deeply observant but more private Christian, Mastriano is vocal about how much his religion influences his politics.

A New Yorker profile by Eliza Griswold on May 9 characterizes Mastriano as a white Christian nationalist—a term he rejects—who, before the January 6 Capitol riot, “exhorted his followers to ‘do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.’”

On the 2020 election denial front, Mastriano is not alone. Although he was leading in a crowded field, there are other candidates for governor who have been falsely proclaiming that Democrats stole their state’s 2020 election and the presidency, and even forged Electoral College documents sent to Washington, D.C.

“If you thought Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate was the worst development in Pennsylvania’s 2022 GOP primaries, wait until you hear about the Republicans running for governor,” wrote Amanda Carpenter, a political columnist for the Bulwark, an anti-Trump Republican news and opinion website.

“They’re all election conspiracists.” she continued. “The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go. And, there’s an excellent chance the nuttiest bunny of them all, Doug Mastriano, is going to win the primary.”

But Mastriano is not a mere Trump imitator. He is cut from an older, more gothic American political cloth: mixing a nativist piety, conspiratorial mindset, and authoritarian reflexes. The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized his unbending religiosity as belonging to the “charismatic strand of Christianity.” The New Yorker’s Griswold concluded that “Mastriano’s rise embodies the spread of a movement centered on the belief that God intended America to be a Christian nation.”

This political type is not new, wrote Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist and historian, in 2006 in American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, which detailed how George W. Bush’s evangelism tainted his presidency. However, Mastriano’s ascension, coupled with a Trump-fortified U.S. Supreme Court that’s poised to void a woman’s right to abortion, affirms today’s reemergence of a radical right.

“Christianity in the United States, especially Protestantism, has always had an evangelical—which is to say, missionary—and frequently a radical or combative streak,” wrote Phillips. “Some message has always had to be preached, punched, or proselytized.”

Add in Mastriano’s embrace of Trumpian authoritarianism, and the Keystone State’s leading GOP candidate for governor is proudly part of this pantheon. As the Inquirer wrote on May 4, he “often invokes Esther, the biblical Jewish queen who saved her people from slaughter by Persians, casting himself and his followers as God’s chosen people who have arrived at a crossroads—and who must now defend their country, their very lives.”

“It is the season of Purim,” Mastriano said, according to the paper’s report of a “March [campaign] event in Lancaster, referring to the Jewish holiday celebrated in the Book of Esther.” The gubernatorial candidate continued, “And God has turned the tables on the Democrats and those who stand against what is good in America. It’s true.”

A Heavy Hand?

It’s hardly new for Republicans to demonize Democrats. But under Trump, the enemies list has grown to include not just the media (Mastriano has barred reporters from rallies and abruptly ended interviews), but America’s “secular democracy” (as Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of Jesus and John Wayne, put it in Griswold’s piece for the New Yorker). This targeting includes the government civil servants who administer elections and the technology used to cast and count votes.

When it comes to election administration, if elected governor, Mastriano gets to appoint the secretary of state, the state’s top election regulator. He also has pledged to sign legislation to curtail voting with mailed-out ballots, which was how 2.6 million Pennsylvanians—about 38 percent of voters, including nearly 600,000 Trump voters—cast 2020’s presidential ballots. (As of May 10, nearly 900,000 voters had applied for a mailed-out ballot for 2022’s primary.) Such a policy shift, if enacted, would deeply inconvenience, if not discourage, voter turnout.

Mastriano, if elected, could also play an outsized role should the presidency in 2024 hinge on Pennsylvania’s 19 presidential electors. In the wake of the 2020 election, as Trump and his allies filed and lost more than 60 election challenge suits, one of their arguments was the U.S. Constitution decrees that state legislatures set the “time, place and manner” of elections. That authority could include rejecting the popular vote in presidential elections and appointing an Electoral College slate favoring the candidate backed by a legislative majority, which, in Pennsylvania, has been Republican since 2011’s extreme gerrymander.

Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of recent litigation over this power grab, the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine.” If elected governor, Mastriano could hasten a constitutional crisis, because under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which was designed to say how competing slates of presidential electors are to be resolved, the governor—not the state legislature—has the final say, according to Edward B. Foley, a widely respected election law scholar.

“A key provision of the act says that if the [U.S.] House and Senate are split [on ratifying a state’s Electoral College slate], the governor of the state in dispute becomes the tiebreaker,” Foley wrote in 2016, when scholars were gaming post-Election Day scenarios in Trump’s race against Hillary Clinton. While speculating about 2024 is premature, there’s some precedent to heed.

After the 2020 election, 84 people in seven battleground states that Biden won, including Pennsylvania, sent lists of unauthorized Trump electors to the National Archives in Washington. Two of Mastriano’s primary opponents, ex-congressman Lou Barletta and Charlie Gerow, signed the fake Electoral College slates. Mastriano, however, did not.

With days to go before the primary, Josh Shapiro, the Democrats’ likely nominee for governor (he is running unopposed in the party primary) is already running anti-Mastriano TV ads seeking to tie the Republican candidate to Trump. (Incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, faces term limits and cannot seek reelection.) Shapiro’s strategy to elevate Mastriano is “dangerous,” according to Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, as it affirms Mastriano’s credentials to voters and could backfire in the fall—in a replay of Trump’s 2016 victory in the state.

“A Gov. Mastriano, Shapiro’s new TV spot says, would effectively ban abortion in the Keystone State and, the narrator continues, ‘he led the fight to audit the 2020 election,’” Bunch wrote on May 8. “‘If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.’ Cue the Satanic music, maybe the only clue that the Shapiro campaign thinks these are bad things. The commercial’s closing pitch: ‘Is that what we want in Pennsylvania?’”

“The answer, for far too many people in a state where the wife-cheating, private-part-grabbing xenophobe won by 44,292 votes in 2016, would, unfortunately, be ‘yes.’”

But a Mastriano primary victory would be more than the latest affirmation of the ex-president’s sway over swaths of today’s GOP. It heralds the rise of “radicalized religion,” as Phillips wrote in American Theocracy about fundamentalists and George W. Bush’s presidency, merged with more recent Trumpian authoritarianism.

“Few questions will be more important to the 21st-century United States than whether renascent religion and its accompanying political hubris will be carried on the nation’s books as an asset or as a liability,” Phillips wrote. “While sermons and rhetoric propounding American exceptionalism proclaim religiosity an asset, a sober array of historical precedents—the pitfalls of imperial Christian overreach from Rome to Britain—tip the scales toward liability.”

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

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.

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Maricopa GOP leaders call out Arizona attorney general for stolen election lies

Unlike many Republican candidates who are mimicking Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, or who initially rejected Trump’s claims but are now flirting with conspiracy theorists, Maricopa County’s top elected Republicans have lambasted Arizona’s attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich, for lying about the 2020 election.

“I just want to say something now to the Republicans who are listening,” said Bill Gates, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair, a lawyer, and a Republican, at its May 4 meeting, before it unanimously voted to send a detailed letter to Brnovich refuting his statements. “We used to be the party of facts. We used to be the party of the rule of law… What happened, Mr. Brnovich? Again, I’m going to say as I’ve said before, the 2020 election is over.”

“I have been so disappointed, on so many levels, with Republican electeds [officials], Republican colleagues, Republican friends,” said Stephen Richer, Maricopa County recorder. “But I’ve never been more disappointed than when somebody omits information, misstates information, and besmirches the good name of the hardworking people in my office and reopens vitriol, hate, and threats that they shouldn’t have to deal with. And when you have the power of the state behind you, the power of law enforcement… that’s a special kind of bad."

The comments came as the GOP-led county that is home to Phoenix formally responded to an April 6 “interim” report by the Arizona attorney general that criticized the county’s oversight of the 2020 election, but did not say illegal voting had occurred. The report also said the county did not “cooperate” with the AG’s office. Brnovich is now running for U.S. Senate.

“As has been stated previously, the 2020 election in Maricopa County left significant holes to be answered and addressed,” the April report signed by Brnovich concluded. “All branches of government in this state must come together to provide full assurance of the integrity of our elections and answer every outstanding question.”

The supervisors and recorder spoke at length before approving their nine-page letter to Brnovich that noted how the county, not the state attorney general’s office, this past January had parsed and debunked every allegation put forth by the state senate’s private contractors, Cyber Ninjas, during their months-long review that concluded in the fall and declared Joe Biden had won.

“When election integrity is challenged, we have the collective responsibility to investigate and report our conclusions thoroughly and honestly. We have. You have not,” the letter said. “The 2020 election was fair and the results indisputable. Rather than being truthful about what your office has learned about the election, you have omitted pertinent formation, misrepresented facts, and cited distorted data to seed doubt about the conduct of elections in Maricopa County. Given the oaths you took as both a lawyer and elected official, we were shocked by your April 6th letter [interim report].”

The county went on to note that Brnovich had told Fox News on November 11, 2020, that Trump lost because suburban Republicans had voted for most of the GOP candidates on the ballot but not for Trump. (Other Arizona Republicans found the same voting pattern.)

“Your ‘interim report’ is inconsistent with your statement on November 11, 2020, that ‘what really happened [is that] people split their ticket. That’s the reality. Just because that happened doesn’t mean it’s [election] fraud,’” the county said, quoting Brnovich. “It is also inconsistent with your office’s decision against filing any lawsuit following the election.”

Nonetheless, a day after Brnovich issued his April report, he appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where the county said he “made a number of inaccurate statements.” The county wrote:

“Though references to artificial intelligence [software] did not make it into your ‘interim report’ you somehow deemed it appropriate to appear on television on April 7, 2022, to allege that you had received a letter from Maricopa County ‘admitting’ that the County used artificial intelligence to verify signatures in the 2020 general election. But the referenced letter, which you posted to the internet, says no such thing.

“Nor do any of the training material provided to your investigators on February 9, 2022. We also provided your investigators with in-person instruction on the signature review process where they were told that artificial intelligence is not used to verify signatures. We told your investigators many times that all signatures are verified by humans. In short, your office knew that all signatures were verified by human beings. You stated publicly the opposite. Repeatedly.”
The pushback by lifelong Republicans against ongoing post-2020 propaganda is unusual in today’s GOP. In other battleground states, Republican officials who initially rejected Trump’s claims—like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—have been lending credence to conspiratorial claims about the 2020 election and prospects of illegal voting as their 2022 primary election approaches.But the Maricopa supervisors said that Brnovich’s efforts to smear their election administrators and to campaign in 2022 on false claims about Trump’s loss were “despicable.”

“It’s despicable that Mark Brnovich has made this allegation. He knows better, and so do the other lawyers in his office,” said Gates, the board chair. “It’s my job to tell the truth, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Several hours later, Brnovich replied via a video posted on Twitter.

“I was very disappointed in today’s press conference at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the county recorder because we already live in very divisive times,” he said. “Instead of casting aspersions and casting stones, we should be working together to address issues so everyone, no matter who they are, can have confidence in the electoral process.”

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

Upcoming 2022 primaries: A handful of voters will decide who is on the fall ballot

In May and June, as 26 states hold primary elections to determine the federal candidates for 2022’s general elections, fewer than one in five voters will likely show up. When broken down by political party, many candidates will be nominated by less than 10 percent of the electorate, a very low turnout that in most states will be dominated by voters who are middle-aged and older.

“Why do we tolerate a situation where 80 percent or more of these important offices are decided by elections where only one out of five voters turn out?” asked Phil Keisling, a former Oregon secretary of state, an ex-journalist, and a Democrat. “There are candidates out there literally saying, ‘If I can get 4, 5, 6 percent of the voters in the primary, that’s all I need to win’ [and likely win in partisan districts in the upcoming fall general elections…]. All they need to do is have a rabid 4 or 5 percent of the eligible citizens in their district cast the ballot.”

Keisling’s frustrations are not new. The handful of political scientists and policy analysts who study primaries say these contests are among the most important overlooked cornerstones of American democracy. While they cite reasons for the lack of attention and for low turnout—such as erratic scheduling and inconsistent offices on the ballot—Keisling blames the major political parties and press, for varying reasons, for underplaying voting in primaries.

“I’ve never met a candidate who says, ‘I’m looking forward to a competitive primary,’” he said, adding that both parties are now focusing on November’s elections via fundraising missives that imply voting may be futile: Democrats decrying voter suppression; Republicans decrying voter fraud. And he faults the media, too, such as reports on Texas’s March 1 primary, where 18 percent of its electorate voted, which either omitted the low turnout or celebrated it.

“It’s settling for thinking that somehow if 18 percent turnout is higher than the last six elections, you ought to cheer,” Keisling said. “We are about to have dozens of primaries in the next two months. And if the past pattern holds true, there will be exponentially more ink spilled on speculating what the results mean for November, and almost no mention of how abysmal the turnout was, and what it means for who votes and who doesn’t.”

Academics and policy analysts sympathize with Keisling’s critique, although their analyses of the primary scheduling, voter turnout, and reforms tend to be more measured—and aimed at the structural aspects of these contests rather than partisan considerations or press coverage.

“It is common to hear pundits, politicians, and experts decry low voter turnout in the United States relative to other democracies,” said a November 2018 report by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), “2018 Primary Election Turnout and Reforms,” which suggested that opening the contests to all voters (not just party members), combining state and federal primaries, holding primaries in the summer, and other reforms could possibly boost turnout.

“There are many reasons to desire higher voter turnout in all elections,” BPC said, “but primary election turnout in particular is more in need of attention than general election turnout. It is far too low considering the importance of primaries in choosing representatives at all levels of government.”

Low turnout in these nominating contests also undermines confidence in voting and governing, it added, and, in our political era besieged with disinformation, helps fringe candidates.

“[L]ow-turnout midterm primaries erode the credibility of U.S. democracy and may allow more extreme candidates to reach general elections and attain office,” its report said. “Higher participation means that the primary electorate would more likely match that of the general electorate and the population at large.”

Keisling has the same concerns but is blunter. The lack of attention to 2022’s primaries is empowering, rather than holding accountable, the state and federal officials who knowingly have perpetuated falsehoods about the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election—but not theirs, even though they were on the same ballot.

“There’s no penalty to be paid for that kind of partisanship around the basic mechanics of elections,” he said. “It maps back to the fact [to candidates and parties thinking] that ‘I just need my 5 percent [of voters] in my primary. I don’t want other people to show up.’”

Low Turnout Expected This Year

Nonetheless, policy experts and academics don’t expect a surge of reform-minded voters this May and June. Turnout will likely be lower than in 2018, the last midterm primary, they said.

The nationwide turnout “of all eligible voters” in 2018 was 19.9 percent, BPC noted. “That compares with 14.3 percent in 2014 and 18.3 percent in 2010.” Nationally, 46.3 million people voted in 2018, with Democrats casting 23 million ballots and Republicans casting 20.5 million ballots. The remaining votes were cast in third-party contests.

“Therefore, in 2018, 9.9 percent of eligible voters cast a vote for a Democratic candidate, 8.8 percent for a Republican candidate, and 80 percent cast no vote at all,” BPC reported.

Robert Boatright, Clark University political science department chair and one of the nation’s leading scholars on primaries, said via email that high-profile nominating contests can boost turnout, such as in 2018 when voters had strong feelings about Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Basically, primary turnout has been going steadily down since the 1960s, with a sharp upward turn in 2018 prompted by that year’s anti-Trump backlash,” he said. “If I were to guess, I’d say that it [2022] will look more like 2014, when it was below 20 percent, than like 2018.”

Boatright said that primary voters aren’t necessarily more extreme than general election voters, which runs counter to the conventional wisdom that primaries mostly lure fervent partisans.

“There’s little solid evidence that primary voters are more ideologically extreme than general election voters,” he said, “and while you’re correct that crowded primary fields can advantage candidates who are not the strongest possible nominees or who are ideologically extreme, that’s a problem with primary elections as an institution, not with the voters.”

Keisling—who, as Oregon’s secretary of state, oversaw the nation’s first state to shift to using mailed-out ballots, which boosted turnout, and more recently is the board chair of the National Vote at Home Institute, which helped many states shift to using mailed-out ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020—noted that primary voters tend to be middle-aged and older.

That trend was seen in Texas’ primary, according to the political data firm L2. That pattern is partly due to the fact that older voters are less likely to move and more likely to have current voter registrations than younger people. But it also means that candidates can give less attention to issues of concern to younger voters, such as student loans or climate change, Keisling said.

Boatright’s view of low turnout was more measured than Keisling’s—and he explained why.

“It sounds to me from the tenor of his [Keisling’s] comments like his concern has to do with [U.S.] House primaries, and in particular with multi-candidate House primaries in places where the primary is more important than the general election,” Boatright said.

It was hard to estimate turnout in primaries, he continued, because their rules vary—such as allowing only party members (or all voters) to participate, as well as their scheduling and mix of contests. However, higher-profile or higher-ranking contests tend to boost turnout.

“Primary turnout also tends to be driven by statewide or federal elections,” Boatright said. “That is, in presidential election years, in states with concurrent presidential and state primaries, turnout tends to be much higher, particularly when the primary falls earlier in the year when the presidential nominee is still unclear. That doesn’t mean voters know anything about the [more localized] candidates further down the ballot.”

Looking past May and June’s primaries, Boatright wonders if different forms of voting—not winner-take-all contests—might elevate less-ideological candidates with wider appeal. But with the exception of Alaska’s new system debuting in August, where the top four finishers move onto November’s ballot, most of 2022’s primaries will not be different from past years.

“All of which is to say, ‘yes, voter turnout in congressional primaries can often be pretty low,’ but drawing lessons from it is hard,” he said. “We’d all probably be better off with some sort of ranked-choice system like what Alaska is using this year (although we don’t know for sure that those systems work better), but that is another issue.”

Meanwhile, as May and June’s primaries loom, Keisling said the problem with turnout in most states has nothing to do with long lines at the polls or partisan voter suppression.

“The problem is that people do not understand why it matters,” he said. “And there are powerful interests that want to keep people in the dark about it. But the biggest mystery of all is the press. They should have a keen interest in shining a light into these dark, low-turnout corners of the American political scene.”

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.

Developments in two swing states offer some surprising clues on how to effectively debunk election disinformation

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, their ballots and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsities that attack election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating its presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the report said, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

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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Glenn Youngkin’s pro-Trump supporters are already claiming voter fraud in Virginia

As the Virginia governor's race heads toward a nail-biting conclusion – with polls from Fox News saying that Republican Glenn Youngkin is ahead and the Washington Post saying that Democrat Terry McAuliffe is ahead – how prepared are election experts to quickly counter disinformation should McAuliffe, a former governor, pull ahead in the first unofficial results?

The answer is not very, according to interviews with election officials, Democratic Party lawyers, election protection attorneys, and experts in academia and policy circles.

At best, it appears that government officials and experts with election administration experience will say again what Americans heard after the 2020 presidential election: that the voting process is trustworthy, includes checks and balances, and therefore the results are legitimate. What is not likely to be seen is quick and easily understood proof of the winner based in public election records that attest to legitimacy of the voters and the accuracy of the vote counts.

"I just don't think there's a factual way to combat this, or debunk this, nor do I think that's an effective strategy," said David Becker, executive director and founder of the non-partisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. "The simple fact is that if McAuliffe wins, the election deniers will claim fraud, regardless of facts, and then will make things up to support their false claims. We need a broader narrative about the security of elections, and force them to answer to that."

Becker continued, "The fact is that since 2017, Virginia has paper ballots statewide, and in the last couple of years, has instituted risk-limiting audits throughout the state. Ballots cannot be made up or dumped. I am firmly against getting into a meaningless cycle where we have to prove that an election had integrity when we've already done so. We've seen how that won't change minds."

Becker is referring to post-election claims, most notably in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In those states, pro-Trump legislators have launched "bad-faith audits" where they have hired Trump partisans with little election auditing experience, and given them great leeway look for problems that could be used to cast doubt on results where Trump lost.

During a press briefing on Monday by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which hosts a hotline to assist anyone having trouble accessing a ballot, Alexandria Bratton, senior program manager with the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, also pointed to the post-election audits—which would come after the results are certified just before Thanksgiving.

"Our elections, time and time again, have shown that we don't have any large-scale anything [wrong] that's really going on," Bratton said. "I think it's just a matter of using our facts, instead of some of the narratives that folks are trying to push to place fear into our voters."

Bratton's comments were similar to those from other election experts, including recently issued reports that said voting system-testing protocols and audits sufficed to counter disinformation. When Voting Booth noted that disinformation started on Election Day or sooner, while audits occurred weeks later — leaving a void that can be filled with conspiracy chatter — Bratton noted that false claims about Virginia's governor's race have already appeared, but reiterated that the job of election protection advocates is to help voters cast ballots and then arm them with facts.

"We've actually already started seeing some of that disinformation floating on social media… [and at] some of their rallies," Bratton said. "It's not even waiting for results to come in. Folks are already pushing those types of narratives to get those thoughts into folks' minds ahead of time. So what we have tried to do, as the nonpartisan election protection coalition, is just remind folks what the facts are, and when to actually see the results."

The partisan organizations most heavily invested in the governor's race are the political parties. Frank Leone, an election lawyer working with the Democratic Party of Virginia said the party has been "monitoring all that stuff pretty closely, which include Republican and MAGA [Trump's Make America Great Again] group efforts… basically watching everything they do with their theory that somehow in the middle of the night they are switching votes."

Leone said that MAGA factions have begun to copy Arizona activists by knocking on some voters' doors to ask them if they really requested a mailed-out ballot — a tactic that, as the Department of Justice warned Arizona's Trumpers, may violate federal voter intimidation laws. The state's Democratic Party is also monitoring GOP efforts to reportedly deploy several thousand poll watchers as a "line of defense against election fraud," as the Washington Post reported. Top Virginia GOP officials also have been saying that the state's use of drop boxes to receive the mailed-out ballots was an invitation for voting more than once — which is not true, as every return envelope goes through several checks to verify the voter before being opened.

Leone said the state party "was trying to be in the position to respond to these things," and was also concerned about what's been called the "Blue Shift." That's shorthand for the tendency of lower population, rural, GOP-heavy counties to report first on Election Night — presumably putting Youngkin ahead — followed by the state's urban centers, led by suburbs of Washington, D.C., which report their results later in the evening — presumably tilting the count toward McAuliffe. But for the most part, the party has "stayed out of the papers and haven't put our side in."

The Virginia Department of Elections has put up web pages seeking to debunk false claims about elections. Most of its messaging has been consistent with efforts by election officials in other states, emphasizing that there are many safeguards along the path of verifying voters and counting ballots—but not getting into much detail about those protocols and underlying data.

This overall status quo is not encouraging to Ion Sancho, who recently retired after three decades as an election official in Florida and was a technical advisor to the Florida Supreme Court during the Bush v. Gore litigation (where the U.S. Supreme Court stopped a state-based recount and appointed Bush president in 2000.)

"They are fighting the last war, the only war they have experienced, not the one we're in now," Sancho said, referring to election officials' responses to attacks on voting by Trump's base. "It's like the Defense Department always fights the last war, instead of anticipating the new one."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did the Political World Fall for Another Big Lie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fails as Audit, Succeeds Politically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry dispute between Republicans roiling final Arizona 'audit' report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sloppy Recounts, Not Precise Audits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Friday, Cyber Ninja CEO Doug Logan, his associate Ben Cotton, Pullen, Ayyadurai, and Ken Bennett, a former Arizona Secretary of State, and a Republican, will present the Ninja's report. Logan and Cotton will report on the hand count. Pullen will discuss the machine count. Ayyadurai will present the envelope signature review. Bennett will focus on administrative improvements, which was the stated purpose of the Senate's inquiry and subpoenas.

Logan, Cotton, Pullen and Ayyadurai, however, will likely cast further doubt on the county's vote counting process—as Logan and Cotton did in a July 15 briefing for Arizona legislators—even as they concede that they have no evidence showing that Trump won. Whether the Senate's lawyers and Bennett can stop the report from perpetuating conspiracy theories or making factually sloppy or unsupported claims remains to be seen.

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

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.