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Tag: arizona audit

Arizona’s Fake Audit Is Spreading Like Cancer

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Donald Trump is succeeding in mainstreaming his fringe politics at the state level just like he did at the federal level.

Originally, the Arizona sham audit was an outlier—replicated in no other state and only gaining prominence among Trumpy bit players at the state level. Now, however, GOP leaders in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have put the full weight of their legislative bodies behind the Arizona-style investigations, giving them a veneer of import despite the fact that they are nothing more than exploratory boondoggles.

These so-called "audits" won't overturn the election results, and they are coming on the heels of multiple recounts in both states. So the likelihood that the reviews will reveal anything approaching a significant finding is sheer fantasy. But at the end of the day, they needed to be on Trump's good side, and putting the full force of government behind the effort was the surest way to do that.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, who had been dragging his feet on opening an investigation, finally bowed to Trump's pressure campaign in late August.

"I am 100 percent behind it," Corman told a pro-Trump media personality after Trump loyalists began calling for primary challenges to any GOP lawmakers standing in the way of a review. Corman ultimately sidelined one of the state's chief proponents of the audit, Sen. Doug Mastriano, and put a loyalist in charge of the effort—Sen. Cris Dush.

In Wisconsin, GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made a similar calculation. In June, Vos tapped former conservative Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to lead a state audit after Trump had attacked Vos and several other GOP lawmakers as "working hard to cover up election corruption."

Late last month, Wisconsin Republicans on a key Assembly committee voted along party lines to pump nearly $680,000 in taxpayer funding into the effort. Vos later bragged to a conservative radio host that Trump was "comfortable" with "where we're heading."

Ultimately, GOP lawmakers like Vos and Corman have mainstreamed Trump's corruption to save their own hides.

"It's disappointing, because part of the burden of leadership is killing bad ideas that might be popular with the base," Trey Grayson, former Kentucky GOP secretary of state, told Politico. "When they put their imprimatur on it, it's a signal to everybody that they think that this is important."

In the meantime, the Arizona fraudit has produced exactly nothing—no results—and no one has any idea when it will.

Corman said that he hoped the Arizona results would "give us momentum, make it harder for courts to shoot us down, if results have happened in other states that have seen this." Corman has also indicated subpoenas are in the offing if they become necessary. Hearings on the matter are set to begin later this week.

Bannon Recruits QAnon Supporters As GOP Precinct Chairs

Reporting by Doug Bock Clark, Alexandra Berzon, and Anjeanette Damon

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

One of the loudest voices urging Donald Trump's supporters to push for overturning the presidential election results was Steve Bannon. "We're on the point of attack," Bannon, a former Trump adviser and far-right nationalist, pledged on his popular podcast on Jan. 5. "All hell will break loose tomorrow." The next morning, as thousands massed on the National Mall for a rally that turned into an attack on the Capitol, Bannon fired up his listeners: "It's them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side?"

When the insurrection failed, Bannon continued his campaign for his former boss by other means. On his "War Room" podcast, which has tens of millions of downloads, Bannon said President Trump lost because the Republican Party sold him out. "This is your call to action," Bannon said in February, a few weeks after Trump had pardoned him of federal fraud charges.

The solution, Bannon announced, was to seize control of the GOP from the bottom up. Listeners should flood into the lowest rung of the party structure: the precincts. "It's going to be a fight, but this is a fight that must be won, we don't have an option," Bannon said on his show in May. "We're going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct."

Precinct officers are the worker bees of political parties, typically responsible for routine tasks like making phone calls or knocking on doors. But collectively, they can influence how elections are run. In some states, they have a say in choosing poll workers, and in others they help pick members of boards that oversee elections.

After Bannon's endorsement, the "precinct strategy" rocketed across far-right media. Viral posts promoting the plan racked up millions of views on pro-Trump websites, talk radio, fringe social networks and message boards, and programs aligned with the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local GOP headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers. They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.

In Wisconsin, for instance, new GOP recruits are becoming poll workers. County clerks who run elections in the state are required to hire parties' nominees. The parties once passed on suggesting names, but now hardline Republican county chairs are moving to use those powers.

"We're signing up election inspectors like crazy right now," said Outagamie County party chair Matt Albert, using the state's formal term for poll workers. Albert, who held a "Stop the Steal" rally during Wisconsin's November recount, said Bannon's podcast had played a role in the burst of enthusiasm.

ProPublica contacted GOP leaders in 65 key counties, and 41 reported an unusual increase in signups since Bannon's campaign began. At least 8,500 new Republican precinct officers (or equivalent lowest-level officials) joined those county parties. We also looked at equivalent Democratic posts and found no similar surge.

"I've never seen anything like this, people are coming out of the woodwork," said J.C. Martin, the GOP chairman in Polk County, Florida, who has added 50 new committee members since January. Martin had wanted congressional Republicans to overturn the election on Jan. 6, and he welcomed this wave of like-minded newcomers. "The most recent time we saw this type of thing was the tea party, and this is way beyond it."

Bannon, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.

Tracking a Wave of New GOP Officers

Note: Hover over the pins for details on the increase or for information about other GOP activism there.

While party officials largely credited Bannon's podcast with driving the surge of new precinct officers, it's impossible to know the motivations of each new recruit. Precinct officers are not centrally tracked anywhere, and it was not possible to examine all 3,000 counties nationwide. ProPublica focused on politically competitive places that were discussed as targets in far-right media.

The tea party backlash to former President Barack Obama's election foreshadowed Republican gains in the 2010 midterm. Presidential losses often energize party activists, and it would not be the first time that a candidate's faction tried to consolidate control over the party apparatus with the aim of winning the next election.

What's different this time is an uncompromising focus on elections themselves. The new movement is built entirely around Trump's insistence that the electoral system failed in 2020 and that Republicans can't let it happen again. The result is a nationwide groundswell of party activists whose central goal is not merely to win elections but to reshape their machinery.

"They feel President Trump was rightfully elected president and it was taken from him," said Michael Barnett, the GOP chairman in Palm Beach County, Florida, who has enthusiastically added 90 executive committee members this year. "They feel their involvement in upcoming elections will prevent something like that from happening again."

It has only been a few months — too soon to say whether the wave of newcomers will ultimately succeed in reshaping the GOP or how they will affect Republican prospects in upcoming elections. But what's already clear is that these up-and-coming party officers have notched early wins.

In Michigan, one of the main organizers recruiting new precinct officers pushed for the ouster of the state party's executive director, who contradicted Trump's claim that the election was stolen and who later resigned. In Las Vegas, a handful of Proud Boys, part of the extremist group whose members have been charged in attacking the Capitol, supported a bid to topple moderates controlling the county party — a dispute that's now in court.

In Phoenix, new precinct officers petitioned to unseat county officials who refused to cooperate with the state Senate Republicans' "forensic audit" of 2020 ballots. Similar audits are now being pursued by new precinct officers in Michigan and the Carolinas. Outside Atlanta, new local party leaders helped elect a state lawmaker who championed Georgia's sweeping new voting restrictions.

And precinct organizers are hoping to advance candidates such as Matthew DePerno, a Michigan attorney general hopeful who Republican state senators said in a report had spread "misleading and irresponsible" misinformation about the election, and Mark Finchem, a member of the Oath Keepers militia who marched to the Capitol on January 6 and is now running to be Arizona's top elections official. DePerno did not respond to requests for comment, and Finchem asked for questions to be sent by email and then did not respond. Finchem has said he did not enter the Capitol or have anything to do with the violence. He has also said the Oath Keepers are not anti-government.

When Bannon interviewed Finchem on an April podcast, he wrapped up a segment about Arizona Republicans' efforts to reexamine the 2020 results by asking Finchem how listeners could help. Finchem answered by promoting the precinct strategy. "The only way you're going to see to it this doesn't happen again is if you get involved," Finchem said. "Become a precinct committeeman."

Some of the new precinct officers were in the crowd that marched to the Capitol on January 6, according to interviews and social media posts; one Texas precinct chair was arrested for assaulting police in Washington. He pleaded not guilty. Many of the new activists have said publicly that they support QAnon, the online conspiracy theory that believes Trump was working to root out a global child sex trafficking ring. Organizers of the movement have encouraged supporters to bring weapons to demonstrations. In Las Vegas and Savannah, Georgia, newcomers were so disruptive that they shut down leadership elections.

"They're not going to be welcomed with open arms," Bannon said, addressing the altercations on an April podcast. "But hey, was it nasty at Lexington?" he said, citing the opening battle of the American Revolution. "Was it nasty at Concord? Was it nasty at Bunker Hill?"

Arizona activist Daniel J. Schultz, who developed the precinct strategy, appears on Steve Bannon's podcast and weekly conference calls with organizers around the country. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Bannon's War Room/YouTube; Network America/YouTube

Bannon plucked the precinct strategy out of obscurity. For more than a decade, a little-known Arizona tea party activist named Daniel J. Schultz has been preaching the plan. Schultz failed to gain traction, despite winning a $5,000 prize from conservative direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie in 2013 and making a 2015 pitch on Bannon's far-right website, Breitbart. Schultz did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In December, Schultz appeared on Bannon's podcast to argue that Republican-controlled state legislatures should nullify the election results and throw their state's Electoral College votes to Trump. If lawmakers failed to do that, Bannon asked, would it be the end of the Republican Party? Not if Trump supporters took over the party by seizing precinct posts, Schultz answered, beginning to explain his plan. Bannon cut him off, offering to return to the idea another time.

That time came in February. Schultz returned to Bannon's podcast, immediately preceding Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who spouts baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

"We can take over the party if we invade it," Schultz said. "I can't guarantee you that we'll save the republic, but I can guarantee you this: We'll lose it if we conservatives don't take over the Republican Party."

Bannon endorsed Schultz's plan, telling "all the unwashed masses in the MAGA movement, the deplorables" to take up this cause. Bannon said he had more than 400,000 listeners, a count that could not be independently verified.

Bannon brought Schultz back on the show at least eight more times, alongside guests such as embattled Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, a leading defender of people jailed on Capitol riot charges.

The exposure launched Schultz into a full-blown far-right media tour. In February, Schultz spoke on a podcast with Tracy "Beanz" Diaz, a leading popularizer of QAnon. In an episode titled "THIS Is How We Win," Diaz said of Schultz, "I was waiting, I was wishing and hoping for the universe to deliver someone like him."

Schultz himself calls QAnon "a joke." Nevertheless, he promoted his precinct strategy on at least three more QAnon programs in recent months, according to Media Matters, a Democratic-aligned group tracking right-wing content. "I want to see many of you going and doing this," host Zak Paine said on one of the shows in May.

Schultz's strategy also got a boost from another prominent QAnon promoter: former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who urged Trump to impose martial law and "rerun" the election. On a May online talk show, Flynn told listeners to fill "thousands of positions that are vacant at the local level."

Precinct recruitment is now "the forefront of our mission" for Turning Point Action, according to the right-wing organization's website. The group's parent organization bused Trump supporters to Washington for January 6, including at least one person who was later charged with assaulting police. He pleaded not guilty. In July, Turning Point brought Trump to speak in Phoenix, where he called the 2020 election "the greatest crime in history." Outside, red-capped volunteers signed people up to become precinct chairs.

Organizers from around the country started huddling with Schultz for weekly Zoom meetings. The meetings' host, far-right blogger Jim Condit Jr. of Cincinnati, kicked off a July call by describing the precinct strategy as the last alternative to violence. "It's the only idea," Condit said, "unless you want to pick up guns like the Founding Fathers did in 1776 and start to try to take back our country by the Second Amendment, which none of us want to do."

By the next week, though, Schultz suggested the new precinct officials might not stay peaceful. Schultz belonged to a mailing list for a group of military, law enforcement and intelligence veterans called the " 1st Amendment Praetorian" that organizes security for Flynn and other pro-Trump figures. Back in the 1990s, Schultz wrote an article defending armed anti-government militias like those involved in that decade's deadly clashes with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.

"Make sure everybody's got a baseball bat," Schultz said on the July strategy conference call, which was posted on YouTube. "I'm serious about this. Make sure you've got people who are armed."

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks to the Macon County GOP while holding an autographed shotgun that was being raffled off. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Video: Macon County Republican Party/Facebook

The sudden demand for low-profile precinct positions baffled some party leaders. In Fort Worth, county chair Rick Barnes said numerous callers asked about becoming a "precinct committeeman," quoting the term used on Bannon's podcast. That suggested that out-of-state encouragement played a role in prompting the calls, since Texas's term for the position is "precinct chair." Tarrant County has added 61 precinct chairs this year, about a 24% increase since February. "Those podcasts actually paid off," Barnes said.

For weeks, about five people a day called to become precinct chairs in Outagamie County, Wisconsin, southwest of Green Bay. Albert, the county party chair, said he would explain that Wisconsin has no precinct chairs, but newcomers could join the county party — and then become poll workers. "We're trying to make sure that our voice is now being reinserted into the process," Albert said.

Similarly, the GOP in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, is fielding a surge of volunteers for precinct committee members, but also for election judges or inspectors, which are party-affiliated elected positions in that state. "Who knows what happened on Election Day for real," county chair Lou Capozzi said in an interview. The county GOP sent two busloads of people to Washington for Jan. 6 and Capozzi said they stayed peaceful. "People want to make sure elections remain honest."

Elsewhere, activists inspired by the precinct strategy have targeted local election boards. In DeKalb County, east of Atlanta, the GOP censured a long-serving Republican board member who rejected claims of widespread fraud in 2020. To replace him, new party chair Marci McCarthy tapped a far-right activist known for false, offensive statements. The party nominees to the election board have to be approved by a judge, and the judge in this case rejected McCarthy's pick, citing an "extraordinary" public outcry. McCarthy defended her choice but ultimately settled for someone less controversial.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, more than 1,000 people attended the county GOP convention in March, up from the typical 300 to 400. The chair they elected, Alan Swain, swiftly formed an "election integrity committee" that's lobbying lawmakers to restrict voting and audit the 2020 results. "We're all about voter and election integrity," Swain said in an interview.

In the rural western part of the state, too, a wave of people who heard Bannon's podcast or were furious about perceived election fraud swept into county parties, according to the new district chair, Michele Woodhouse. The district's member of Congress, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, addressed a crowd at one county headquarters on August 29, at an event that included a raffle for a shotgun.

"If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, it's going to lead to one place, and it's bloodshed," Cawthorn said, in remarks livestreamed on Facebook, shortly after holding the prize shotgun, which he autographed. "That's right," the audience cheered. Cawthorn went on, "As much as I'm willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there's nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American, and the way we can have recourse against that is if we all passionately demand that we have election security in all 50 states."

After Cawthorn referred to people arrested on January 6 charges as "political hostages," someone asked, "When are you going to call us to Washington again?" The crowd laughed and clapped as Cawthorn answered, "We are actively working on that one."

Arizona lawmaker Mark Finchem speaks on Bannon's podcast, and former President Donald Trump speaks at a July rally in Phoenix. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Bannon's War Room/Rumble; CSPAN

Schultz has offered his own state of Arizona as a proof of concept for how precinct officers can reshape the party. The result, Schultz has said, is actions like the state Senate Republicans' "forensic audit" of Maricopa County's 2020 ballots. The "audit," conducted by a private firm with no experience in elections and whose CEO has spread conspiracy theories, has included efforts to identify fraudulent ballots from Asia by searching for traces of bamboo. Schultz has urged activists demanding similar audits in other states to start by becoming precinct officers.

The Number of Republican Precinct Committee Members in Maricopa County Surged After Steve Bannon's Call to Action

"Because we've got the audit, there's very heightened and intense public interest in the last campaign, and of course making sure election laws are tightened," said Sandra Dowling, a district chair in northwest Maricopa and northern Yuma County whose precinct roster grew by 63% in less than six months. Though Dowling says some other district chairs screen their applicants, she doesn't. "I don't care," she said.

One chair who does screen applicants is Kathy Petsas, a lifelong Republican whose district spans Phoenix and Paradise Valley. She also saw applications explode earlier this year. Many told her that Schultz had recruited them, and some said they believed in QAnon. "Being motivated by conspiracy theories is no way to go through life, and no way for us to build a high-functioning party," Petsas said. "That attitude can't prevail."

As waves of new precinct officers flooded into the county party, Petsas was dismayed to see some petitioning to recall their own Republican county supervisors for refusing to cooperate with the Senate GOP's audit.

"It is not helpful to our democracy when you have people who stand up and do the right thing and are honest communicators about what's going on, and they get lambasted by our own party," Petsas said. "That's a problem."

Far-right lawyer Lin Wood faces off with South Carolina GOP chair Drew McKissick. An operative involved in Wood's campaign tackles a protester at a speech by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in Greenville. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: MyrtleBeachSC News/YouTube; Breaking Video/YouTube

This spring, a team of disaffected Republican operatives put Schultz's precinct strategy into action in South Carolina, a state that plays an outsize role in choosing presidents because of its early primaries. The operatives' goal was to secure enough delegates to the party's state convention to elect a new chair: far-right celebrity lawyer Lin Wood.

Wood was involved with some of the lawsuits to overturn the presidential election that courts repeatedly ruled meritless, or even sanctionable. After the election, Wood said on Bannon's podcast, "I think the audience has to do what the people that were our Founding Fathers did in 1776." On Twitter, Wood called for executing Vice President Mike Pence by firing squad. Wood later said it was "rhetorical hyperbole," but that and other incendiary language got him banned from mainstream social media. He switched to Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by deplatformed right-wing influencers, amassing roughly 830,000 followers while repeatedly promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Asked for comment about his political efforts, Wood responded, "Most of your 'facts' are either false or misrepresent the truth." He declined to cite specifics.

Typically, precinct meetings were "a yawner," according to Mike Connett, a longtime party member in Horry County, best known for its popular beach towns. But in April, Connett and other establishment Republicans were caught off guard when 369 people, many of them newcomers, showed up for the county convention in North Myrtle Beach. Connett lost a race for a leadership role to Diaz, the prominent QAnon supporter, and Wood's faction captured the county's other executive positions plus 35 of 48 delegate slots, enabling them to cast most of the county's votes for Wood at the state convention. "It seemed like a pretty clean takeover," Connett told ProPublica.

In Greenville, the state's most populous county, Wood campaign organizers Jeff Davis and Pressley Stutts mobilized a surge of supporters at the county convention — about 1,400 delegates, up from roughly 550 in 2019 — and swept almost all of the 79 delegate positions. That gave Wood's faction the vast majority of the votes in two of South Carolina's biggest delegations.

Across the state, the precinct strategy was contributing to an unprecedented surge in local party participation, according to data provided by a state GOP spokeswoman. In 2019, 4,296 people participated. This year, 8,524 did.

"It's a prairie fire down there in Greenville, South Carolina, brought on by the MAGA posse," Bannon said on his podcast.

Establishment party leaders realized they had to take Wood's challenge seriously. The incumbent chair, Drew McKissick, had Trump's endorsement three times over — including twice after Wood entered the race. But Wood fought back by repeatedly implying that McKissick and other prominent state Republicans were corrupt and involved in various conspiracies that seemed related to QAnon. The race became heated enough that after one event, Wood and McKissick exchanged angry words face-to-face.

Wood's rallies were raucous affairs packed with hundreds of people, energized by right-wing celebrities like Flynn and Lindell. In interviews, many attendees described the events as their first foray into politics, sometimes referencing Schultz and always citing Trump's stolen election myth. Some said they'd resort to violence if they felt an election was stolen again.

Wood's campaign wobbled in counties that the precinct strategy had not yet reached. At the state convention in May, Wood won about 30% of the delegates, commanding Horry, Greenville and some surrounding counties, but faltering elsewhere. A triumphant McKissick called Wood's supporters "a fringe, rogue group" and vowed to turn them into a "leper colony" by building parallel Republican organizations in their territory.

But Wood and his partisans did not act defeated. The chairmanship election, they argued, was as rigged as the 2020 presidential race. Wood threw a lavish party at his roughly 2,000-acre low-country estate, secured by armed guards and surveillance cameras. From a stage fit for a rock concert on the lawn of one of his three mansions, Wood promised the fight would continue.

Diaz and her allies in Horry County voted to censure McKissick. The county's longtime Republicans tried, but failed, to oust Diaz and her cohort after one of the people involved in drafting Wood tackled a protester at a Flynn speech in Greenville. (This incident, the details of which are disputed, prompted Schultz to encourage precinct strategy activists to arm themselves.) Wood continued promoting the precinct strategy to his Telegram followers, and scores replied that they were signing up.

In late July, Stutts and Davis forced out Greenville County GOP's few remaining establishment leaders, claiming that they had cheated in the first election. Then Stutts, Davis and an ally won a new election to fill those vacant seats. "They sound like Democrats, right?" Bannon asked Stutts in a podcast interview. Stutts replied, "They taught the Democrats how to cheat, Steve."

Stutts' group quickly pushed for an investigation of the 2020 presidential election, planning a rally featuring Davis and Wood at the end of August, and began campaigning against vaccine and school mask mandates. "I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery," Stutts had previously posted on Facebook, quoting Thomas Jefferson. Stutts continued posting messages skeptical of vaccine and mask mandates even after he entered the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19. He died on Aug. 19.

Salleigh Grubbs alleges 2020 election fraud while testifying to state lawmakers. She was elected the Cobb County party chair, and she dedicated her first meeting to "the battle for freedom that Americans have before them today." Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: DogEars/YouTube; Cobb County Republican Party/Facebook

The hubbub got so loud inside the Cobb County, Georgia, Republican headquarters that it took several shouts and whistles to get everyone's attention. It was a full house for Salleigh Grubbs' first meeting as the county's party chair. Grubbs ran on a vow to "clean house" in the election system, highlighting her December testimony to state lawmakers in which she raised unsubstantiated fraud allegations. Supporters praised Grubbs' courage for following a truck she suspected of being used in a plot to shred evidence. She attended Trump's Jan. 6 rally as a VIP. She won the chairmanship decisively at an April county convention packed with an estimated 50% first-time participants.

In May, Grubbs opened her first meeting by asking everyone munching on bacon and eggs to listen to her recite the Gettysburg Address. "Think of the battle for freedom that Americans have before them today," Grubbs said. "Those people fought and died so that you could be the precinct chair." After the reading, first-time precinct officers stood for applause and cheers.

Their work would start right away: putting up signs, making calls and knocking on doors for a special election for the state House. The district had long leaned Republican, but after the GOP's devastating losses up and down the ballot in 2020, they didn't know what to expect.

"There's so many people out there that are scared, they feel like their vote doesn't count," Cooper Guyon, a 17-year-old right-wing podcaster from the Atlanta area who speaks to county parties around the state, told the Cobb Republicans in July. The activists, he said, need to "get out in these communities and tell them that we are fighting to make your vote count by passing the Senate bill, the election-reform bills that are saving our elections in Georgia."

Of the field's two Republicans, Devan Seabaugh took the strongest stance in favor of Georgia's new law restricting ways to vote and giving the Republican-controlled Legislature more power over running elections. "The only people who may be inconvenienced by Senate Bill 202 are those intent on committing fraud," he wrote in response to a local newspaper's candidate questionnaire.

Seabaugh led the June special election and won a July runoff. Grubbs cheered the win as a turning point. "We are awake. We are preparing," she wrote on Facebook. "The conservative citizens of Cobb County are ready to defend our ballots and our county."

Newcomers did not meet such quick success everywhere. In Savannah, a faction crashed the Chatham County convention with their own microphone, inspired by Bannon's podcast to try to depose the incumbent party leaders who they accused of betraying Trump. Party officers blocked the newcomers' candidacies, saying they weren't officially nominated. Shouting erupted, and the meeting adjourned without a vote. Then the party canceled its districtwide convention.

The state party ultimately sided with the incumbent leaders. District chair Carl Smith said the uprising is bound to fail because the insurgents are mistaken in believing that he and other local leaders didn't fight hard enough for Trump.

"You can't build a movement on a lie," Smith said.

The Hillsdale County Republican Party's new leaders organized sending buses of people to the Trump rally on Jan. 6. Now, activists dedicated to the stolen election myth are recruiting precinct delegates at regular events. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Jon Smith/Facebook; Debra Ell/Facebook

In Michigan, activists who identify with a larger movement working against Republicans willing to accept Trump's loss have captured the party leadership in about a dozen counties. They're directly challenging state party leaders, who are trying to harness the grassroots energy without indulging demands to keep fighting over the last election.

Some of the takeovers happened before the rise of the precinct strategy. But the activists are now organizing under the banner "Precinct First" and holding regular events, complete with notaries, to sign people up to run for precinct delegate positions.

"We are reclaiming our party," Debra Ell, one of the organizers, told ProPublica. "We're building an 'America First' army."

Under normal rules, the wave of new precinct delegates could force the party to nominate far-right candidates for key state offices. That's because in Michigan, party nominees for attorney general, secretary of state and lieutenant governor are chosen directly by party delegates rather than in public primaries. But the state party recently voted to hold a special convention earlier next year, which should effectively lock in candidates before the new, more radical delegates are seated.

Activist-led county parties including rural Hillsdale and Detroit-area Macomb are also censuring Republican state legislators for issuing a June report on the 2020 election that found no evidence of systemic fraud and no need for a reexamination of the results like the one in Arizona. (The censures have no enforceable impact beyond being a public rebuke of the politicians.) At the same time, county party leaders in Hillsdale and elsewhere are working on a ballot initiative to force an Arizona-style election review.

Establishment Republicans have their own idea for a ballot initiative — one that could tighten rules for voter ID and provisional ballots while sidestepping the Democratic governor's veto. If the initiative collects hundreds of thousands of valid signatures, it would be put to a vote by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. Under a provision of the state constitution, the state Legislature can adopt the measure and it can't be vetoed.

State party leaders recently reached out to the activists rallying around the rejection of the presidential election results, including Hillsdale Republican Party Secretary Jon Smith, for help. Smith, Ell and others agreed to join the effort, the two activists said.

"This empowers them," Jason Roe, the state party executive director whose ouster the activists demanded because he said Trump was responsible for his own loss, told ProPublica. Roe resigned in July, citing unrelated reasons. "It's important to get them focused on change that can actually impact" future elections, he said, "instead of keeping their feet mired in the conspiracy theories of 2020."

A crowd tries to push back cops guarding the back door to a high school theater where the Clark County GOP tried to hold a leadership election. At least one Proud Boy was riling up the crowd. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Veterans in Politics/YouTube; Paul Bodine/YouTube

Jesse Law, who ran the Trump campaign's Election Day operations in Nevada, sued the Democratic electors, seeking to declare Trump the winner or annul the results. The judge threw out the case, saying Law's evidence did not meet "any standard of proof," and the Nevada Supreme Court agreed. When the Electoral College met in December, Law stood outside the state capitol to publicly cast mock votes for Trump.

This year, Law set his sights on taking over the Republican Party in the state's largest county, Clark, which encompasses Las Vegas. He campaigned on the precinct strategy, promising 1,000 new recruits. His path to winning the county chairmanship — just like Stutts' team in South Carolina, and Grubbs in Cobb County, Georgia — relied on turning out droves of newcomers to flood the county party and vote for him.

In Law's case, many of those newcomers came through the Proud Boys, the all-male gang affiliated with more than two dozen people charged in the Capitol riot. The Las Vegas chapter boasted about signing up 500 new party members (not all of them belonging to the Proud Boys) to ensure their takeover of the county party. After briefly advancing their own slate of candidates to lead the Clark GOP, the Proud Boys threw their support to Law. They also helped lead a state party censure of Nevada's Republican secretary of state, who rejected the Trump campaign's baseless claims of fraudulent ballots.

Law, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, has declined to distance himself from the Las Vegas Proud Boys, citing Trump's "stand back and stand by" remark at the September 2020 presidential debate. "When the president was asked if he would disavow, he said no," Law told an independent Nevada journalist in July. "If the president is OK with that, I'm going to take the presidential stance."

The outgoing county chair, David Sajdak, canceled the first planned vote for his successor. He said he was worried the Proud Boys would resort to violence if their newly recruited members, who Sajdak considered illegitimate, weren't allowed to vote.

Sajdak tried again to hold a leadership vote in July, with a meeting in a Las Vegas high school theater, secured by police. But the crowd inside descended into shouting, while more people tried to storm past the cops guarding the back entrance, leading to scuffles. "Let us in! Let us in!" some chanted. Riling them up was at least one Proud Boy, according to multiple videos of the meeting.

At the microphone, Sajdak was running out of patience. "I'm done covering for you awful people," he bellowed. Unable to restore order, Sajdak ended the meeting without a vote and resigned a few hours later. He'd had enough.

"They want to create mayhem," Sajdak said.

Soon after, Law's faction held their own meeting at a hotel-casino and overwhelmingly voted for Law as county chairman. Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, a longtime ally of Law who helped lead Trump's futile effort to overturn the Nevada results, recognized Law as the new county chair and promoted a fundraiser to celebrate. The existing county leaders sued, seeking a court order to block Law's "fraudulent, rogue election." The judge preliminarily sided with the moderates, but told them to hold off on their own election until a court hearing in September.

To Sajdak, agonizing over 2020 is pointless because "there's no mechanism for overturning an election." Asked if Law's allies are determined to create one, Sajdak said: "It's a scary thought, isn't it."

Maricopa GOP Official Scorches Party’s ‘Disgusting’ Role In Arizona Audit

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A Republican official in Maricopa County, Arizona, is again pushing back against former President Donald Trump's unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.

According to Newsweek, Stephen Richer, the county recorder in Maricopa, penned a 38-page detailed letter to his fellow Republicans as he criticized the controversial election audit conducted by Cyber Ninjas, Inc. Describing the audit as "an abomination," Richer outlined a number of reasons why he believes the botched audit is built on a foundation of misinformation, reports Newsweek.

"At this point, I hope my principal motivation for speaking out is abundantly clear: the Ninja audit is an abomination that has so far eroded election confidence and defamed good people," Richer wrote in the letter.

Richer, who admitted that he, too, was a Trump supporter, explained why he initially refrained from voicing his concerns about the audit. Now, he believes it's gotten to a point where he has to say something.

"More than any moral code, philosophical agenda, interest group, or even team red vs. team blue, many politicians will simply do whatever it takes to stay in office." Richer wrote.

He went on to criticize the level of conformity he is witnessing within the Republican Party as he noted that he believes many lawmakers and Republican candidates are supporting the "Stop the Steal" campaign for their own political gain.

"Right now, 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," he said. "It's disgusting."

Although Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann (R) has adamantly defended the audit while claiming that it was needed to ensure election integrity, some Republican officials argue the audit has actually done the exact opposite. Richer also noted that the audit has indicated no signs of substantial or widespread voter fraud.

"After the November 2020 election, appointees from the Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian parties worked in bipartisan groups of three to hand count more than 47,000 votes," he wrote. "Though the County facilitated the hand count, the political party appointees performed the actual counting, not staff of Maricopa County. Those hand-counted votes matched the machine count 100%"

Richer added, "The County then ran another, post-election, logic and accuracy test to make sure the machines had not been disrupted in any manner during the election. The results again matched 100%."

Trumpist Official In Colorado Suspected Of Voting Machine Malfeasance

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Republican operatives are spending their time in the minority ginning up more confusion and bogus anti-democracy conspiracy. The GOP in Arizona are running an excruciatingly incoherent and at times farcical recount of ballots. While it has been called an audit by the people creating theatrics around it, most experts see it as something more akin to dangerous experimental theater. The danger is what it represents to our democracy.

The Grand Junction Sentinel reports there's finally been a break in the Kraken case investigation into a Colorado election system "breach!" Guess what? "Secretary of State Jena Griswold released an order at 10:15 a.m. today calling on Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters to supply surveillance videos and documents showing how the breach occurred, and how security information ended up on a social media post."

According to The Bulwark's Tim Miller—a former communications director for Jeb Bush 2016 (a campaign not known for its socialism)—Peters is a "fervent supporter of Donald Trump and amateur vaccine science aficionado." Miller reports that The Gateway Pundit posted video and screenshot proof that Dominion has remote access to voting machines. The whistleblower who provided this evidence reportedly appears in this "explosive" evidence that Hugo Chavez (or some kind of socialist spider monkey) could have accessed and overturned millions of votes in favor of Joe Biden.

The grainy, shaky video presented a conversation between an election official and a Dominion employee, in which the election official asks a series of leading questions in order to demonstrate how, with the help of someone on the inside, the machine could hypothetically be tampered with over the internet using the BIOS motherboard settings.

Unfortunately, they also left a trace of what they were doing, which actually is a security breach of our election systems.

When the official shared this "bombshell" video with CodeMonkey Watkins they included in it an image of their election system's BIOS password, which is, of course, a massive breach of voting system security.

Peters is not specifically on the hook for this breach of security, but she is the head of the office where the breach took place. According to Miller, the information posted in those screenshots and video was only accessible by a very select group of people "who have passed background checks."

Griswold told the Sentinel: "We have these security protocols in place for a reason. This is a very serious breach in chain-of-custody and security protocols. That's why I will be issuing this order and investigating. On top of that, "If the Mesa County clerk cannot show proof in the chain of custody or if the voting equipment after inspection, if there is anything that comes to our attention, the voting equipment will be de-certified." Decertification of those election machines would force the county to pay up for refitting of all their machines. Trump and MAGA hit the taxpayers again!

Previously, Peters made headlines as an election official promoting the Stop the Steal conspiracy theories leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Back on January 5, the Sentinel reported on a tweet (since taken down) by Peters attacking Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems executive Eric Coomer: "Shame on you! As one that administers elections in my county, you apparently have no idea how it is possible to 1) tabulate more than once ballots favoring a candidate 2) change algorithm in a voting machine (see Eric Coomer from Dominion's Facebook ranks) UR Dirty or ignorant."

Colorado Pols has some more tweets that Peters has since deleted:

  • On Dec. 13, 2020: "Also, the vaccines are troubling in the mechanics in the RNA. I don't want anyone messing with my RNA, my DNA or anything else – MY BODY, my right!"
  • On Jan. 3, 2021: "Their intent is not to "overturn" the election. This was not an election. This was planned fraud on a grand scale. If you refuse to acknowledge that you WILL NOT be re-elected. We need others in your place that uphold the Constitution and preserve our Republic."

While there is an ever-increasing mountain of evidence showing that Donald Trump—along with his fascistic cult of minions, administration officials, and Republican Party officials—attempted to pull off a coup d'etat, the MAGA-minded amongst us continue to believe whatever it is they tell themselves they believe. If we believe in our Constitution as a foundational document laying out the basic legal principals of our democracy, we must hold accountable those who evidence and reality tell us must be held accountable for these crimes.

Tuesday, Aug 10, 2021 · 2:45:50 PM EDT · Walter Einenkel

Peters emailed a statement to the Denver Post:

Saying that citizens of Mesa County have voiced concerns over the election: "I have told them I will do everything in my power to protect their vote. I will share more information once the investigation has concluded."

New Report Provides Further Proof That Arizona Audit Is ‘A Hoax’

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 releasedon 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 over-voting [voting for more than one presidential candidate] (2,009), or 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 percent to five percent 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 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."

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

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Maricopa Republicans Defy State Senate’s Latest Audit Demands

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

The chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has had enough with the Republican-led audit of Arizona's 2020 election results.

On Monday, he slammed the effort as an "adventure in never-never land" as he refused to comply with a subpoena for more records.

"It is now August of 2021. The election of November 2020 is over. If you haven't figured out that the election in Maricopa County was free, fair, and accurate yet, I'm not sure you ever will," Jack Sellers, a Republican and the chair of the Maricopa County Supervisors, wrote to Republican state senators.

The audit, which kicked off in April, has been panned as disorganized and chaotic, and election experts and public officials alike have expressed concern that it has not adhered to election law or procedures.

Still, last week, Republicans on the Arizona state Senate subpoenaed even more records as part of the audit.

But Sellers has defied the request, writing in a letter that, "The Board has real work to do and little time to entertain this adventure in never-never land."

"Please finish whatever it is that you are doing and release whatever it is you are going to release," he added. "I am confident that our staff and volunteers ran the election as prescribed by federal and state law. There was no fraud, there wasn't an injection of ballots from Asia nor was there a satellite that beamed votes into our election equipment."

Among the subpoenas was a call for testimony from a Dominion Voting Systems representative. The election technology company was also asked by GOP state senators to provide "all user names, passwords, pins and/or security keys or tokens required to access, or otherwise relating to any and all ballot tabulation devices."

Dominion's attorney argued that the request was a violation of the company's constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The audit has been dragging on for months, far longer than the 60 days it was initially slated to take. And it's been plagued by reports of incompetence and mismanagement — so much so that the U.S. Department of Justice has warned that the entire endeavor may have run afoul of federal election law.

Congress' House Oversight Committee is now investigating whether the audit is legitimate or merely "an effort to promote baseless conspiracy theories."

The audit was launched in the wake of false ex-President Donald Trump's lie that the election was stolen. It's being run by Cyber Ninjas, a firm owned by a Trump-supporting conspiracy theorist, who was part of the effort to try to overturn Trump's loss with lies of voter fraud.

Doug Logan, the president of Cyber Ninjas, has even appeared in a movie promoting the audit, which was filled with baseless lies and conspiracy theories.

Even some GOP lawmakers in the state have condemned the effort — despite some initially supporting it. As far back as May, one Republican state senator who at first backed the audit said the effort made them "look like idiots."

Republican state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who has pushed for voter suppression legislation, denounced the audit last week.

"I wanted to review our election processes and see what, if anything, could be improved," she tweeted on July 24. "Sadly, it's now become clear that the audit has been botched."

It's unclear when Cyber Ninjas will release a report from the review. To date, the counting process has been completed and the ballots and equipment — including millions of dollars worth of voting equipment that will now be scrapped due to the audit's lack of security — have been returned to Maricopa County.

Sellers urged the GOP state Senate to hurry up and release the report.

"It's time for all elected officials to tell the truth and stop encouraging conspiracies," Sellers wrote in his letter. "Please release your report and be prepared to defend any accusations of misdeeds in court. It's time to move on."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Arizona Senate's Liaison Reinstated With New Authority Over 'Audit' Result

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

In Arizona, Ken Bennett, the state Senate's liaison to its review of 2020 presidential election ballots and procedures in its most populous county, is being reinstated with new authority.

Just days ago, Bennett threatened to resign because key information has been withheld from by the Senate's pro-Trump contractors, led by the Cyber Ninjas firm, whom Bennett also believed could be manipulating their data to mask their errors and fabricate a basis to say Trump had won.

Now, Bennett is returning to a role where he will be able to publicly critique and comment on the Ninjas' "audit," as well as oversee new lines of inquiry that will examine other building blocks of the 2020 election in Maricopa County without any involvement from the Ninjas.

"[Senate] President [Karen] Fann and I are working on a joint statement that will come out today, and it includes me staying on as the Senate's liaison," Bennett told Voting Booth.

While the Republican senators' inquiry has been sharply criticized on many fronts, from hiring inexperienced partisans to audit a highly technical process to providing a backdrop that fuels the Trumpian narrative that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president, Bennett's new role could become something of a silver lining in what has been a darkly clouded process.

Bennett confirmed his return to Arizona reporters late on Wednesday but gave few details. He has previously told Voting Booth that he has wanted to vet the data collected by the Cyber Ninjas, as well as their conclusions, and would publicly dispute their conclusions if not backed up by facts. Considering that pro-Trump legislators and activists in other battleground states have been hoping to conduct similar "audits," the former Arizona secretary of state — who is not on a private partisan payroll — is expected to deflate the conspiratorial claims.

Bennett also wants to independently investigate other aspects of the 2020 election in Maricopa County — with no involvement from the Senate's pro-Trump contractors. There are two main areas of inquiry where a more politically neutral assessment could end up showing Arizonans, and those watching from other states, what matters when verifying votes.

Bennett has said that he wants to retally the results in a process that recounts the votes as they were immediately recorded by ballot scanners, which is the first step in the counting process that follows the voter marking a ballot. That process involves looking at the digital image of every ballot, and then comparing that independent count to the official results. (The Cyber Ninjas team had the ballot images but did not use them. Instead, they pursued a hand count, which was imprecise — prompting a new count of ballots, not votes, to assess errors.)

Bennett has also said that he wants to review whether some return envelopes containing mailed-out ballots were lacking a voter's signature, meaning they should not have been counted. (That review would likely look at digital images of those envelopes). But there also are some reality-based lingering concerns from the Cyber Ninjas' conspiracy-laced testimony to the Senate on July 15, such as whether Maricopa County's vote-counting system was connected to the internet. (The county's auditors have concluded that it was not.)

In the short run, the state Senate's review of 2020's presidential election is continuing, which is discouraging for critics who want to derail the Trumpian narrative that the election was stolen. However, the return of an empowered Bennett, who had been locked out by the pro-Trump contractors for speaking truthfully about their work, is an unexpected development.

There isn't any other Republican in Arizona who is respected by that state's mainstream GOP voters who can try to deliver a message about what matters with counting votes, what can be improved procedurally, and why the process, while not perfect, produced an accurate result. Bennett has never said that Arizona's 2020 presidential election results were illegitimate.

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.