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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Morning Joe laughs out loud at Ron DeSantis tap-dancing around questions

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Wave of Disinformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Shiva's 'Fraught Analysis'

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

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

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

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


Most Virginia counties won't offer Sunday voting this fall

Virginia, the state with 2021's most expansive and inclusive voting reforms enacted after the 2020 presidential election, is leaving it up to its 133 counties to offer early voting on Sunday known as "souls to the polls" for its statewide elections in November.

With only a few days remaining before a September 3 deadline from the Virginia Department of Elections to apply for funds to implement early voting options, only a dozen counties, mostly in metro areas, are planning to offer one day of Sunday voting. The option has not been offered in Virginia, but has been a focal point for clergy-led get-out-the-vote efforts in other southern states.

Older church-going voters are among the most reliable voting bloc for Democrats. However, in many instances, they need assistance to get to voting sites; hence Sunday "souls to the polls" efforts. That option is apart from early voting on Saturday, which all Virginia counties are required to offer on at least one day during the 45 days prior to November 2's election.

"It turns out that we have souls, but there are not enough polls," said Andrea Miller, founding board member of the Center for Common Ground, a Virginia-based non-partisan non-profit that focuses on helping Black voters across the South. "I cross-checked all counties with more than 10,000 Black voters and Henrico County, which has the largest number of Black voters in the state, is [still] not offering Sunday voting."

But pressure from clergy, activists like Miller and the Democratic Party of Virginia has prompted a handful of counties with large Black populations to decide in recent days to offer at least one day of Sunday voting, Miller and state party activists said. They cited Norfolk County, Chesterfield County, Chesapeake City and Alexandria City.

"We're hearing other jurisdictions are getting pressured and the pressure is working," Miller said. "I heard there are 12 jurisdictions who have agreed, but most have not updated their websites—which is what we are using [to monitor the voting option]."

Early voting in Virginia starts on September 17, which is 45 days before the general election.

Virginia is one of two states in 2021 that will hold statewide elections, including for governor and legislature. This winter, its Democratic-majority legislature passed a slate of election reforms that was a counterpoint to legislation in red states that sought to prohibit many of flexible voting options offered by election officials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislature did not require its 133 county boards of elections to offer Sunday voting but passed legislation in a special session making it clear that Sunday voting was permitted and appropriated $3 million to assist local counties with implementing it.

Traditionally, Virginia's election administration has been very decentralized with many decisions delegated to county officials.

"The passage of HB 7001 during the Second Special Session of the General Assembly 2021 provides $3,000,000 to the Department of Elections to support local efforts to expand early voting to include the adoption of Sunday voting," said Andrea Gaines, Virginia Department of Elections external affairs manager. "We have since forwarded guidance to general registrars which included instructions for how to request funding."

Before that legislation, local officials took the position that they could not offer Sunday voting without authorization, a longtime Virginia-based voting rights attorney told Voting Booth. Local officials also worried about staff and funding shortages needed to implement the voting option.

As of August 31, Gaines said that seven counties had applied for a grant to offer Sunday voting.

"This is interesting that the state Board of Elections is allowing so much flexibility and that there seems to be no concern that there has been little to no expansion of early voting," Miller said. "The real expansion of early voting would be Sunday voting. All jurisdictions have been required by law to provide at least one early voting location since 2020."

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.

Republicans are openly turning on Arizona's fake 'audit' -- as the Cyber Ninjas fumble at the finish line

The effort by former President Donald Trump and his ardent supporters to delegitimize Arizona's 2020 presidential election was supposed to reach a turning point during the third week of August. But as has been typical with this hyperpartisan effort, the pro-Trump contractors empowered by the state Senate's Republicans faced another delay, ducking an anticipated reckoning with facts and critics.

The Senate's contractors were slated to submit their draft report on Monday, August 23, and present their findings to their legislative sponsors on Wednesday. In anticipation of the report, which was expected to revive debunked conspiracy theories that the contractors have previously cited, a slew of election officials and experts have been holding press briefings to frame the Senate's inquest as a "sham," "grift," and "disinformation campaign." These people, including Republicans, Democrats, a bipartisan task force, technologists and academics, have released new reports slamming the effort and say the process is anything but a professional election audit.

"This review isn't just impacting Arizona," said Republican Trey Grayson, Kentucky's former secretary of state who co-authored a June report criticizing the Arizona exercise, during an August 23 briefing hosted by the States United Democracy Center. "Over 40 local party leaders came to Arizona to watch, to learn, to try to take this bad idea back to their own states. [I'm] especially worried about [copycat efforts in] Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin."

Later Monday, however, Senate President Karen Fann announced that three of the five-member team led by Florida-based Cyber Ninjas had contracted COVID-19. The statehouse briefing was curtailed. It was unclear how much information and supporting evidence would be presented, a source told Voting Booth.

Meanwhile, the Senate's lawyers on August 20 appealed a lower court order to release all of the Senate's communications related to the review. The appeal means the records—including the results of the contractor's two problematic vote and ballot counts—will not be public until after the Arizona Supreme Court likely hears the case in late September, other sources said.

Thus, Trump's election-denial campaign will linger, especially among pro-Trump media that have portrayed Arizona's review as "saving" American democracy and have helped to raise millions from Trump's base. But unlike during the Senate review's early months, a critical and powerful counternarrative has recently begun to emerge that is being delivered by Republicans.

"This [inquest] is a big show for the Trump forces," said Ben Ginsberg, a Republican and lawyer who has represented the party for decades, speaking at an August 19 briefing hosted by the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR). "This whole 'audit' is a chance for the Trump forces to actually prove the case that they've been trying to make that the elections are fraudulent."

"They can't possibly have a more ideal set of circumstances to do that, because it's not a real audit," Ginsberg continued. "It is something designed to their specifications. The real thing is to make sure that they provide the proof—the evidence, as they have it; proof might be too strong a word—but the evidence for any broad allegations that are made."

There has been no shortage of criticisms of the Senate's review. But the most telling comments in recent days have come from Republicans who have candidly described their Trumpian flank as unhinged, paranoid, conspiratorial, and willing to foment unrest—rather than face reality, namely that Trump lost Arizona because suburban Republicans did not vote for him.

"I'm in disfavor in the Republican Party by even questioning the fact [believed by some] that Trump lost the election because of fraud," said Benny White at the CEIR briefing. White is a lawyer and longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer who co-authored an August 3 report that used public documents to show that tens of thousands of voters in greater Phoenix voted for most of the GOP candidates on their ballot but not for Trump. "I am very concerned about my country," he added. "We are in a period of increasing civil turmoil, and distrust in our elections exacerbates the problem."

"This [Arizona] process isn't an audit or a review, but instead a grift," said Matt Masterson, a former top federal election cybersecurity official and U.S. Election Assistance Commission member now at the Stanford Internet Observatory as a nonresident fellow, in the CEIR briefing. "This is an effort and a playbook that, unfortunately, we will see again, because it has proven to be effective, both in the messaging and in the fundraising around it… $5 million raised in this. This is a disinformation and misinformation playbook intended to accomplish two things."

He continued, "One, undermine confidence in our democracy; force election officials and those of us on this [CEIR briefing] call to play whack-a-mole around claims and conspiracies, ranging from bamboo ballots [allegedly forged in China] to Italian satellites [allegedly controlling vote tabulators], to questions around the 74,000 ballots [allegedly forged] that then they roll back days later, but the damage is done. And they know that."

Ginsberg said pro-Trump media have been hyping the Cyber Ninjas' forthcoming report in much the same way that the Trump White House smeared the Department of Justice investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into allegations that the 2016 Trump campaign colluded with Russia to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

"There was an effort to recast the report, public perceptions of the report, before the report itself was actually presented," Ginsberg said. "Once the report itself actually came out, it was much different from the early characterizations. I would be very careful as a reporter in looking for wild allegations, or general allegations or comments, without the backup."

Ginsberg also cited an August 11 report by Stanford University's conservative Hoover Institution that debunked a claim by Trump's allies in Georgia that the state's 2020 election was marred by widespread illegal voting—a false claim that Ginsberg predicted the Cyber Ninjas would revive.

Post-Election Conspiracies

There are other recent reports, such as by the center-left nonprofit, American Oversight, which obtained Fann's Senate-related emails and provides new insight into the goals of the Senate's review, Fann's contacts with Trump and his lawyers, and the Senate's mindset.

The goal of the Senate review, which was done by contractors with little or no prior experience in elections, is to find small administrative problems "that could be twisted into appearing to be evidence… of voter wrongdoing or voting irregularities," American Oversight reported in late July. "That predetermined conclusion, that fraud or security issues might call into question President Joe Biden's electoral victory in Arizona, was the goal, and any post-'audit' findings are necessarily tainted by that bias."

Fann's emails showed she was "sympathetic to calls from both constituents and former President Trump himself for the election to be overturned," a July 22 report by American Oversight said. The group noted that right-wing media personalities served as a bridge between Trump's lawyers and Fann, and said that Fann considered hiring the Arizona Rangers, "the armed volunteer group," to provide security for the hand count using money that would be funneled via a legal defense fund created for those arrested at the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6.

But possibly the most revealing profile of the Senate's review was an August 19 " open letter" to Arizona Republicans from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a lawyer and defiantly conservative Republican elected in November 2020. Richer, who said he worked for Trump's reelection and had voted for him, refused to play along with the big lie that Trump won.

"I will keep fighting for conservatism, and there are many things I would do for the Republican candidate for President, but I won't lie," Richer wrote. "I am driven by facts and logic, and the Stop the Steal movement has neither."

Richer's readable 38-page missive underscored that Maricopa County's public records showed suburban Republicans rejected Trump. It also recounted examples of elected Republicans embracing surreal conspiracy theories and choosing not to correct Trump's lies. Richer recalled now-forgotten episodes that can only be described as paranoid, unhinged, and conspiratorial:

"This obsessive desire to find election fraud reached new heights when some past and present state legislators were willing to theorize that a fire at Hickman's Family Farms [belonging to a Maricopa County supervisor] that killed 165,000 hens was somehow connected to the shredding of ballots and the theft of the election. Then, in a phone call, ironically taped and released by the accuser herself, state Senator Sonny Borrelli told the accuser that she shouldn't comply with the law by turning over the 'evidence' to law enforcement, but should instead give it to him, Borrelli, because only he knew what could be done. In that call, Borrelli said he would put the Board of Supervisors in jail if he could, but that the Board of Supervisors might have a plan to kill Borrelli—to 'whack me out' or fake his suicide. For good measure, he also labeled both me and County Treasurer John Allen as cowards. Senator Fann promised an apology to the County officials and discipline for Borrelli. That apology never came and Borrelli is still Senate Whip."

Richer wrote, "My attitude changed from flabbergasted to angered when I found out that multiple Republican state legislators had asked the Arizona Attorney General to criminally investigate the alleged shredding." Those events took place in March. (In early August, Borrelli, whom Trump lauded at a July 24 rally in Phoenix, invoked a little-used state law requiring the attorney general investigate Maricopa County's refusal to comply with the Senate's latest subpoena.) Richer noted how the Cyber Ninjas repeatedly made false claims based on their incompetence—claims that Trump repeated, such as saying that election files were missing, when, in fact, the records were in the Cyber Ninjas' possession. In a July Senate briefing, the Cyber Ninjas claimed they had discovered 74,000 "fraudulent" ballots, which election officials and reporters quickly debunked. Richer wrote:

"Eventually the [Cyber] Ninjas themselves agreed that they were wrong about the 74,000 fraudulent ballots claim. However, apparently neither they nor any of the Senators bothered to inform Trump that they'd erred. As such, in his recent July 24 speech in Phoenix, the former President made the 74,000 number a focal point in his speech alleging election fraud. In what was maybe the most dystopian moment of my life, I watched as the former President of the United States told a falsehood to a crowd of 5,000 fans, many of whom knew the 74,000 number to be wholly inaccurate, and the crowd cheered in agreement and delight. Senate audit liaison Ken Bennett later said it was 'frustrating' that Trump repeated the inaccurate allegation. Nobody else from the audit—not newly minted spokesperson Randy Pullen, nor the Cyber Ninjas, nor Senator Fann—made any effort to correct the new falsehood that Trump had broadcast as a result of the [Cyber] Ninjas' sloppy or purposefully deceitful work."

Richer concluded by reiterating his motive for speaking out and lamented that many fellow Republicans were embracing Trump's false narrative because they believed doing so would increase their chances for election or reelection.

He wrote, "my principal motivation for speaking out is abundantly clear: the… [Cyber Ninjas'] audit is an abomination that has so far eroded election confidence and defamed good people [election workers]. But there are other reasons too." He continued, "a lot of Republican politicians have their fingers in the wind and think that conforming to Stop the Steal, or at least staying quiet about it, is necessary for reelection in their ruby red districts or a statewide Republican primary. So that's what they'll do. Multiple elected or hoping-to-be-elected Republicans have told me this explicitly."

"It's disgusting," Richer concluded. "I will continue to tell the truth because it is the right thing to do. If it means I aggravate some fellow Republicans, or if it means my political career is very short, so be it."

Among those present at the Senate Republican leaders' August 25 morning meeting to review whatever draft report and related materials the Cyber Ninjas presented was the Senate's liaison to the audit, ex-Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, who is not trusted by the pro-Trump Cyber Ninjas. Bennett has said that he expects to assess their report and will present his conclusions to Arizona voters.

Meanwhile, Richer said at the CEIR briefing that Maricopa County may go to court to obtain the draft report and include a rebuttal—which is common practice in government audits. However, Voting Booth's sources say they expect the draft report to be leaked to pro-Trump media, likely generating more inflammatory coverage before more independent fact-finders weigh in.

New report unveils the truth about Trump's Arizona loss — and why the 'hoax' audit is a threat

Joe Biden had more votes than Donald Trump during every day of voting in the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, Arizona, according to a new report by a team of experienced election auditors who have used public records to show why the Arizona state Senate's "audit" of the election is a "hoax."

"Joe Biden was never behind Donald Trump during the entire election period in Maricopa County," said the August 3 report, "Lessons from Maricopa County: Slow Facts versus Fast Lies in the Battle Against Disinformation," demonstrating this finding with charts and tables based on public election records released on November 20.

Moreover, of the "74,822 disaffected Republican supportive voters"—Arizonans who voted for most of the Republicans on the ballots but not for Trump in Maricopa County (greater Phoenix) and Pima County (greater Tucson)—"[t]he most highly disaffected of those, 48,577 (65%) voted for Biden; the remaining 26,245 (35%) voted for candidates who could not win (e.g., the libertarian candidate) (19,873), or by overvoting [voting for more than one presidential candidate] (2,009), or by voting for no one (4,363)," the report said.

"To put the 48,577 disaffected Republican voters who voted for Biden in perspective, they represent 4.6 times the statewide margin of Trump's 10,457 vote loss to Biden," it said.

The August 3 report, by Benny White, a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer, Larry Moore, retired CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified election auditing and technology firm, and Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot's retired chief technology officer, is the trio's most recent research that draws on public records to refute and debunk the "large-scale disinformation campaign" that Trump won in Arizona, one of the 2020 election's closest swing states.

"With over 35 years of combined election experience, we know that there are publicly available tools and data that can debunk election disinformation," the authors said. "If legislators, litigators, and judges were aware of this data, they could be more effective in stopping additional 'forensic audits.' Armed with hard data, the media could shift the narrative away from anecdotal 'evidence' and 'concerns' to facts."

The significance of the report is not limited to Arizona. Its approach could serve as a blueprint to counter the "bad faith" audits underway or eyed by pro-Trump factions in other states, by using public records to prove which party's voters turned out and how they voted. Its evidence-based analysis has not widely been used across the country as Trump has continued to deny that he lost, and as a new pro-Trump industry has emerged that is dedicated to casting doubts on election results by attacking little-known election administration details.

The report also offers a road map to specifically assess and debunk the Arizona state Senate's "audit" led by pro-Trump contractors by showing how they failed to accurately account for the number of ballots cast last fall, and the votes on those ballots.

More Evidence Republicans Rejected Trump

But what's most newsworthy are new details about the Arizona Republicans who rejected Trump by tens of thousands and in many cases voted for Biden. The report comes as a pro-Trump Arizona state senator has used a little-known law to launch a state attorney general investigation into Maricopa County's refusal to turn over more confidential election records. That pressure tactic likely will perpetuate more disinformation about the election's outcome among Trump supporters.

"There have been many discussions about mail ballots and the effect those ballots may have had on the results," the experienced auditors' report said, referring to the way most Arizonans voted last fall. "The Cast Vote Record [or spreadsheet of every vote on every ballot], 'Voted' file [listing voters who cast ballots], and voter histories from the voter registration files provide an enormous amount of information to help the public understand what happened during the election."

Those three public records revealed that nearly 75,000 Arizonans in Maricopa and Pima Counties voted for most Republicans on the ballots but not for Trump, and revealed where those disaffected Republican voters were located—the voter turnout patterns for Republican-leaning voters rejecting Trump.

Arizona, like many Western states, has a decades-long history of using mailed-out ballots and also offers in-person voting at vote centers before Election Day. Many Republicans did not heed Trump's call to vote only in person on Election Day, November 3—which became part of his claim that only in-person Election Day votes should count, as he assumed that the earlier votes or votes by mailed-out ballot were mostly cast by Democrats. Public records reveal that more Republicans than Democrats voted early or voted by mailed-out ballot in greater Phoenix.

"Republican voters retained their mail ballots until the last minute and then returned about 20,000 more ballots than the Democrats," the report said. "There were also more Republicans, about 36,000 more, who went to the polling places on Election Day. Those ballots cast by Republican voters helped reduce the lead Joe Biden had over Donald Trump in the mail and early voting before Election Day but there were not enough of them to win."

The report's analysis goes deeper, by finding "the level of disaffection [among voters who voted for a majority of Republicans on the ballots but not for Trump] reached 3% to 5% of the total ballots cast in a large number of precincts [with more registered Republicans than Democrats]." The report also pinpointed the small suburban cities where Republicans rejected Trump. It included a map showing that Phoenix's northeastern and southeastern suburbs—surrounding Paradise Valley, Chandler and Gilbert—widely rejected Trump.

These details go beyond most criticisms of the Senate's audit by citing factual voter turnout patterns to document Trump's loss. The report has other sections that are intended to hold the Senate's partisan contractors to account, and explains why the contractors' analysis is almost certainly flawed or even fabricated.

Before explaining the contractors' missteps, the outside auditors noted in their report that Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann, who repeatedly has said that the inquiry is intended to boost voters' public confidence in Arizona elections, had sent emails privately "touting" her post-election phone call with Trump. That was one indication, among many, that the so-called audit was a partisan ruse.

"When we found out that… [Cyber Ninjas, the lead contractor,] were withholding counts and other information from Ken Bennett, the Senate liaison to the Cyber Ninjas, we decided to challenge the credibility and accuracy of the hand-count," the outside auditors wrote, explaining their motives, prior challenges to Fann's team, and an analysis that details how to judge Cyber Ninjas' work.

"We issued our first challenge on June 7, 2021. We urged Senator Fann to increase her 'audit' transparency by randomly comparing their ballot and vote counts with the Cast Vote Record," the report said. "We intended to increase transparency by publicly confirming the accuracy of their count and, in their confirmation, set them on a path to confirm or dispute the official results credibly. More importantly, we wanted to signal to Senator Fann and the Ninjas that we could hold them accountable."

How to Audit Cyber Ninjas

The outside auditors said in their report that it was Cyber Ninjas' process that now must be audited.

"In short, without an audit, it would be nearly impossible to refute another round of disinformation," they wrote. "Without a comparison to the official results, the Ninjas could say anything. Senator Fann has already said that… [Cyber Ninjas' hand] count [of presidential votes] did not match the official [presidential vote] count. Without verifiable details, statements like hers spawn more disinformation."

The report noted that Cyber Ninjas have covered up their lack of election auditing experience by trying to shift the focus to Maricopa County, where Fann, who hired Cyber Ninjas, has blamed the Maricopa County Elections Department, saying that the county was "uncooperative," "ballots were missing," "files were deleted," "there was no way to be sure which ballots should be counted," "critical pieces of equipment were not delivered (e.g., routers)," and "equipment could not be accessed due to passwords not being provided."

"Many of these allegations have been proven false," the report noted. "Without an independent count—ballots, and votes—to compare… [Cyber Ninjas'] count against, there would be no way to audit the Ninjas' much-criticized recount. Without numerous points of comparison, quickly analyzing and resolving discrepancies would not be possible."

"The threat of more disinformation is real," the authors said.

It cited a July 15 legislative briefing where two of the Arizona Senate's top contractors had questions about tens of thousands of ballots—ballots that they could not explain, but which the outside auditors accounted for in their report. Trump recited the contractors' claims, made without offering any proof, in statements after the briefing and during a Phoenix speech on July 24.

In contrast to those propaganda-filled narratives, the report noted that Fann has said that Cyber Ninjas' hand count's totals did not match the election's official results. Her admission came a day after the report's authors challenged the Senate's contractors to compare their count of the number of ballots in 1,634 storage boxes with the totals that the report's authors gleaned from public records. (In July, Fann initiated a second recount of the number of paper ballots from Maricopa County, which sources working inside the Arizona Senate's audit have told Voting Booth was an effort to understand the extent of the hand count's errors.) To date, Fann has not released the results of the hand count of presidential votes nor its follow-up count of the number of paper ballots; each of which should total 2,089,563 ballots.

The outside auditors noted that Cyber Ninjas did not count votes in the same increments as Maricopa County did, which the contractors should have done if they wanted an apples-to-apples comparison against the official vote count. That more authoritative process would have been based on tracking the results by ballot-counting groups (from early voting sites and county facilities processing mailed-out ballots) and from Election Day precincts. But Cyber Ninjas did not do that.

"The Ninjas' count of ballots and votes is inaccurate primarily because of the inherent inaccuracy of their methodology," the report said. "In our experience, without well-developed ballot control procedures, it is difficult to maintain a ballot count. Without an accurate ballot count, accuracy in the vote count is impossible." In other words, there are layers involved in an accurate audit that first relate to ensuring the inventory of ballots to be recounted is correct (as some ballots are duplicated, for various reasons, or are test decks), and then counting the actual votes in question on a well-controlled inventory of ballots.

The report also provides election data and analyses from public records that are intended to hold Cyber Ninjas to account—so the contractors might finally admit that Maricopa County's official 2020 election results were accurate, and that the contractors' so-called "forensic audit"—a technical term hijacked by Trump partisans—was flawed.

In short, the report's authors have used a mix of public records that affirm there were 2,089,563 ballots cast in Maricopa County's presidential election, and they account for all the votes cast (or not cast) for president on those ballots. They have repeatedly shared that information with the press and Fann, and challenged the Senate's contractors to prove them wrong. The contractors have so far not publicly replied, but the outside auditors have kept up the pressure, including trying to pre-empt what they believe would be disinformation by Fann's team.

"The information we have provided will enable an audit with 1,634 ballot points of comparison—one for each [storage] box. There are 8,170 vote points of comparison—[votes for] five candidates multiplied by 1,634 boxes (the Ninjas were counting five candidates—three in the race for President and two for U.S. Senator)," the report said. "It would be intentional disinformation if the Senate published a report that showed five numbers—the grand totals for the three candidates in the Presidential contest and two for the candidates in the U.S. Senate contest."

In other words, the report's authors are saying that the Senate's contractors cannot simply issue purported vote totals in each race and claim that they have conducted a credible audit whose results are accurate.

Whether or not the Cyber Ninjas will publish their analysis is an open question. In a July 15 legislative briefing, Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen suggested that the Senate's contractors may not be able to conclude their inquiry if Maricopa County refuses to share all of its records, including data used by law enforcement. Days later, the Senate then issued new subpoenas to the county, including seeking confidential law enforcement data.

The report's authors flagged the possibility that the Senate may seek to cover up the lapses of their contractors by manufacturing disinformation about the latest subpoenas.

"Imagine how dangerous it would be if, after their six-month-long process, their [the Senate's] report said, 'We have found thousands of extra ballots that call into question the integrity of Maricopa County election administration. Since the County did not provide us with everything we asked for and refused to answer our questions, we ask that this matter be referred to the Arizona Attorney General,'" the report said, noting that scenario was "realistic."

On August 2, a day before the outside auditors' report was issued, Arizona Sen. Sonny Borrelli, a Republican repeatedly praised by Trump at his July 24 rally in Phoenix, "invoked a law to prompt an attorney general investigation into the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, one day after the board rebuffed a subpoena related to the ongoing audit of the November 2020 election," the Arizona Republic reported.

"Without a detailed, independent audit, the Senate's review—we fear—will remain the nation's blueprint for election disinformation," outside auditors and co-authors of the report White and Moore wrote in an August 3 commentary published in the Arizona Republic. "Senator Fann, show the public your data."

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

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


Arizona shocker: Audit liaison threatens to quit over Cyber Ninjas’ secrecy and forged results

Ken Bennett, the Arizona state Senate's liaison to its review of 2020's presidential election ballots threatened to resign from that post live on conservative talk radio on Monday, saying the Senate's pro-Trump contractors had been hiding their results from him for months and could even be manipulating audit data.

"I cannot be part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects," Bennett told James T. Harris, host of The Conservative Circus on Phoenix's KFYI. "The reason that I am that close to stepping down as liaison is that I cannot be part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects along the way that make the audit legitimate."

Bennett, a conservative Republican, and former Arizona secretary of state has been an accountant outside of politics. While he cited problems with Maricopa County's handling of ballots, Bennett said that the lead contractor, the Cyber Ninjas, might be covering up mistakes made in the review's earlier stages by falsifying data.

"We have to be very careful that the third count [of the total number of ballots] is, of course, independent from the Cyber Ninjas' second [hand] count [of presidential votes]," he said. "We have to make sure that we are not force-balancing to their numbers or giving them something too early to allow them to force-balance back to our numbers."

"When I asked Mr. [Randy] Pollen, [former Arizona Republican Party chair] what are the procedures for us to do this third count, so that we can make sure that we are independent from the second count, and he refused to tell me," Bennett said. "I became very concerned that there would be this forced balancing going on."

The collision between Bennett's role as the Senate's liaison and the pro-Trump contractors has been simmering for months. While the Senate's review has been widely criticized as a pro-Trump propaganda exercise to perpetuate the "big lie" that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected, many Republicans who voted for Trump have been awaiting Bennett's assessment as a trusted messenger.

"I'm truly alarmed by this," said KFYI host James Harris, in the segment that followed Bennett's interview. "In the [show's] first segment, you actually had Ken Bennett step down because, in good conscience, he can't continue with this if he's been shut out and he's thinking that these numbers are being used improperly. And we know that that might be the case because we had President Trump spouting wrong numbers on the state last Saturday."

"I personally believe that we need to have Ken Bennett in this position [as Senate liaison]," he continued. "I know for a fact he's well-respected all around the state. I even heard from some people who respect him greatly say, 'Hey, what's going on with Ken Bennett… He sounds a little bit off.' Well, he is a little bit off, because he's seeing things that are shady."

"All of a sudden, this is getting convoluted," Harris said. "And instead of us having full disclosure, [and] transparency, it sounds like we are getting a grift!"

The spark behind Bennett's threat to resign—unless, he said, the Senate gave him full control of investigating several remaining aspects of the 2020 vote count—was a series of events that culminated last week that involved Bennett working with an outside group of retired election auditors. The team includes a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer; the retired CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified auditing firm; and the retired chief technology officer of Clear Ballot.

That team has been analyzing the public data from Maricopa County's presidential election and had been releasing findings to the Arizona media and challenging the contractors to prove them wrong. They showed, for example, that tens of thousands of Maricopa County voters voted for most of the Republican candidates on the ballot—but not Trump. The team also has been sharing its data with Bennett.

Bennett has told Voting Booth that the data from the independent auditors was the driving factor that led the Senate to recount the total numbers of Maricopa County ballots because the Ninjas' hand count did not match the election's official results. The auditors had accounted for virtually all the election's ballots and presidential votes and produced the hard evidence of public records to back up their findings. (They also found and corrected many data entry errors ahead of the Ninjas.)

As Bennett explained on the radio, the Ninjas were not telling Bennett what their progress or results were. In many instances going back months, they promised but never provided reports of their work. In recent weeks, Bennett said that he quietly has been comparing the outsider auditors' totals to the Ninjas' figures and seeing that the building blocks of the official presidential election results were accurate.

This reporter was on a Zoom with Bennett and the outside auditors on Wednesday, July 21, where Bennett said the conspiracy theories promoted by the Ninjas was a diversion because the pro-Trump contractors are realizing that Biden fairly won.

"The fact that they're posing questions, or asking questions, or throwing out things about all these other things tells me they know the counts are pretty close," he said. "They don't have any proof that there's any massive change in the numbers."

After the Arizona Republic reported on July 23 that Bennett had been talking to the auditors, he was locked out of the ballot count at a Phoenix warehouse. Trump held a rally in the city the next day. Two days later, on Monday, July 26, Bennett told KFYI's Harris that he could not continue as Senate liaison.

Bennett said there were serious election administration issues that the review has discovered that needed to be explained and addressed before future elections. Thousands of ballots from members of the military and citizens overseas had not been properly labeled when duplicated (after they came in by e-mail), he said. Some volume of mailed-in ballots that were counted did not have signatures on their outside envelopes and should have been disqualified, he said.

Bennett said that he wanted to investigate these problems and conduct another audit that compared the digital images taken of every ballot by scanners with the county's official spreadsheet of each ballot's votes. The interview concluded with Harris asking Bennett what needed to happen for him to stay on.

"The answer is there are key aspects of the audit that are not even part of the scope of work assigned to Cyber Ninjas," Bennett said. "Some of those other things need to be done independently of Cyber Ninjas, and maybe I can be a coordinator of those other aspects, not done within Cyber Ninjas' realm."

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.

Inside observers say the Arizona 'auditors' are backtracking — and the reality only supports Biden's win

The "big lie" that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected is not going away. One reason is Americans who care about their democracy are not learning how votes for president in 2020 were counted and verified — neither from the big lie's promoters nor from most of its fact-driven critics.

Most visibly, the absence of a clear and accurate explanation can be found among former President Donald Trump's ardent supporters. As seen in a July 15 briefing in Arizona's legislature, the contractors hired by the state Senate to assess the 2020 election's results unleashed a new thicket of finger-pointing and innuendo that fans doubts about Maricopa County's election administration and votes for Biden.

Critics of the big lie, who range from state officials (including Republicans) to voting rights advocates — and, of course, Democrats— have mostly emphasized that the Arizona Senate's inquiry and copycat efforts in other states are bad faith exercises led by Trump supporters who lack election auditing experience.

These competing narratives lack clear explanations of what matters when counting and verifying votes, and, by extension, what does not matter and is a sideshow. With few exceptions, easily understood explanations of how 2020's votes are counted and verified have been missing in the election's volatile aftermath.

Most of the arguments used by those trying to dispel 2020 election myths focus on labeling the big lie a propaganda narrative, or sweepingly dismissing Arizona's audit as a partisan-led hoax. But these don't seem to be nearly as effective as a different approach—one that focuses on demystifying the wonky details of the voting and vote-counting processes.

Two examples of the latter, more rigorous and successful approach stand out: the post-Election Day daily briefings by the Georgia Secretary of State office's Gabriel Sterling, which were widely covered by the media and attested to Biden's victory in that state and the victory by Democrats in its U.S. Senate runoffs; and ongoing efforts by a self-funded team of experienced election auditors in Arizona, which have attracted some coverage by using hard evidence from public data sources.

The team of experienced auditors includes a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer; the retired CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified auditing firm; and the retired chief technology officer of Clear Ballot. They have drawn on Maricopa County's official 2020 election records to provide a baseline to assess the accuracy of its presidential election. Their nuts-and-bolts approach has been missing from almost every other report criticizing the state Senate's inquest.

Among their early findings were tens of thousands of ballots where most of the votes were cast for Republicans, but not for Trump — and many were cast for Biden, which provided a factual explanation for Trump's loss. More recently, the auditors' documentation of 2020 ballot inventories and vote count subtotals has pushed the Senate's contractors to start a new recount of Maricopa County's 2020 ballots.

Sources with access to the contractors' operations have told Voting Booth that the contractors now know that their hand count of 2.1 million ballots was initially sloppy, and cannot account for thousands of ballots in the official results. (Hence, a new count.) But what the contractors are doing in private, behind locked doors in a Phoenix warehouse, is the opposite of what they have been saying in public, which is peddling vote-theft conspiracies.

Because the public's picture of the Senate's inquiry has a notable absence of clear descriptions articulating the building blocks of counting votes, there is a void that keeps being filled with misinformation, as exemplified by the contractors' July 15 briefing for Senate Republicans in Arizona's capitol.

Their statements, not given under oath, exemplified this charade. The contractors repeatedly spoke with indignation and bluster about technicalities in the corners of Maricopa County's election infrastructure, suggesting that the county's handling of the presidential election was deeply amiss. Not only were these technicalities hard for almost everyone, including the senators, to follow, but their presentation and tone supported conspiracy theories (which dominated pro-Trump media). In reality, the issues raised have little to do with validating voters, ballots and votes.

The contractors said, for example, that Maricopa County's central tabulators could have been hacked because key passwords and antivirus software had not been updated. They implied that officials had covered up their Election Day actions because activity logs on the tabulators were erased in March 2021. The lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas' Doug Logan, said there were several categories of suspicious ballots, all involving volumes of votes that exceeded Biden's statewide margin.

It is no surprise that fervent Trump supporters are invested in perpetuating doubts about his loss while their investigators fan diversions that hide their incompetence. Mostly, the Arizona Senate's contractors have discovered Maricopa County could have done better with managing some aspects of conducting the 2020 election. It is not headline news that election administration is complex, that officials do make mistakes, and — crucially — that the process usually catches and corrects them.

But what is going on here is far more cynical and intentionally dishonest.

In April, the Senate's contractors were told what was needed to conduct a credible audit, but they rejected that accounting-style approach. They were urged to compare the starting and finish lines of the vote-counting process to see if the figures matched. That involves three sets of records: the hand-marked votes for president on 2.1 million ballots; the digital images of every ballot immediately created by the scanners to start the electronic counting process; and the official results spreadsheet that lists every vote cast on every ballot. If the starting and finish line votes and totals matched, the election's outcome is legitimate.

Instead, the Arizona Senate's agents raced ahead with a hand count that did not even try to compare its step-by-step results with the building blocks of the official results. Now, inside observers have told Voting Booth that the Senate's contractors are backtracking in private to make more specific comparisons. (They also are trying to figure out if the hand count missed thousands of votes, which is why they are recounting the number of ballots but not the presidential votes.) But, publicly, the Senate contractors are not telling anyone what is going on. Instead, they are suggesting with bluster that they are hot on the election theft evidence trail.

The Senate Republican leaders are either falling for this masquerade or helping to perpetuate it. Not once during the July 15 hearing did senators ask their contractors why the Senate had to spend additional thousands to rent machinery to reconfirm the volume of ballots. The contractors urged the Senate to subpoena more data from the county, including voter signatures, in that briefing.

A new subpoena could lengthen the Senate's inquest, and, if some records are not released, it would provide a pretext for the contractors to claim that they cannot conclude their inquiry because evidence was withheld. Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen telegraphed this scenario in his closing remarks, saying, "it [the inquiry] will be incomplete if we don't have those items."

The session ended with Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann reciting her oft-stated disclaimer that the inquiry was not about overturning her state's 2020 presidential results, but merely addressing the doubts of Republican voters. "At no time have we ever implied or inferred that there is any intentional misdoings here in any way whatsoever, and, in fact, we certainly hope not," she said. "But we do need to have this information and answer these questions."

After the briefing, Trump issued three statements falsely claiming election fraud. And several days later, another Arizona Senate subcontractor, Jovan Pulitzer, who has led its inquiry into forged ballots, said the same thing without evidence—that election fraud had deprived Trump of Arizona's 2020 Electoral College votes.

"Finally, you get to see the truth that there is such a thing as election fraud," he told Arizona pro-Trump activist Liz Harris on her July 19 podcast. Pulitzer was interviewed while on a private jet en route to Arizona to meet other funders and organizers (those featured in the new pro-Trump film, "The Deep Rig"). Pulitzer praised the patriotism of the donors who have funded the inquiry and the 1,500 volunteers who "made this happen," saying, "The Arizona Senate only paid $150,000 for what ends up being a $9 million audit."

But inside the Phoenix warehouse where the Senate contractors are continuing their work, people know that the documentation and methodology provided by the independent outside auditors have not only unmasked their hand count's flaws; they also keep pointing toward the conclusion that Biden won Arizona's presidential election, and that Maricopa County's administration of that election, while not perfect, was not fraudulent.

There are Arizona Republicans who know what is going on inside the Senate's investigation, but whether they are willing to stand up to Trump's supporters is another question. That task would be easier if the public knew more about the building blocks of counting votes.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Pressure Inside and Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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