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Arizona 'Audit' Report Likely To Concede That Biden Won In 2020

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

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

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.

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.

Arizona 'Audit' Liaison Threatens to Quit Over Secrecy and Forged Results

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

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 that Cyber Ninjas, the Senate's pro-Trump contractors, have concealed 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 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, I became very concerned that there would be this forced balancing going on," Bennett said.

The tension 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.

"Former Secretary Bennett, a man I know, a man that I consider to be very knowledgeable and a man of integrity, is being punished and excluded from the process because he sought to bring transparency to the process," said David Becker, executive director of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. "He sought to share data, in details from the process, with the public, who are ostensibly paying for this audit."

"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 gives 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. Bennett's team of 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 Cyber 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 Cyber 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 were 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 taking to the auditors, he was locked out of the ballot count at a Phoenix warehouse. Trump held a Saturday rally in the city the next day. Two days later, on Monday morning, July 26, Bennett told KFYI's Harris that he could not continue as Senate liaison.

Bennett said there are serious election administration issues that the review has discovered that need 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.

Insiders Say Arizona ‘Audit’ Team Knows The Data Proves Biden Won

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

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 pedaling 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.

How Samuel Alito Is Returning Jim Crow To The Supreme Court

In recent decades, voting rights progress has consisted of expanding access to a ballot and the ways to cast it—such as online registration, voting from home with mailed-out ballots and other options to vote before Election Day. Those innovations have been widely embraced, especially during the 2020 election in response to health concerns during a pandemic. In the general election, 56 million people voted in a different manner than they had in 2016.

But the Supreme Court's latest major decision on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has imposed new standards that election law scholars say are hostile to the more expansive and convenient voting options that have surfaced in recent years. Even more troubling, the court's conservative majority has done so in a way that is reminiscent of the arguments put forth by last century's opponents of equal voting opportunities for racial minorities.

In Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the court eviscerated the strongest remaining section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), Section 2, which held that election laws and voting rules that had a racially discriminatory impact could be blocked. (In 2013, the court, in Shelby v. Holder, neutered the VRA's sections that allowed federal authorities to block regressive new election laws or voting rules in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.) Perhaps most alarmingly in Brnovich, Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion resurrected a legal strategy embraced by the opponents of last century's major civil rights reforms.

Brnovich held that some discriminatory impacts of an election law do not alone invalidate that law. That standard, put forth in "guideposts" laid out by Alito, means that suits challenging laws and rules that make voting harder must go beyond showing a discriminatory result. Those challenging a law must prove that its authors intended to discriminate—making it much harder to sue and win. Shifting the burden of proof from the result or effect of a law to its authors' intent was a tactic of 1970s anti-civil rights litigants.

But Brnovich went even further by also reviving the states' rights strategy cited by mid-20th-century segregationists. It held that state legislatures could cite an interest in policing voter fraud—which, factually, barely exists—as a pretext to pass stricter new election laws. And the ruling said that it didn't matter if a new law advantaged the party that authored the law.

"Effectively, most of the VRA is now dead," David Schultz, a Hamline University scholar specializing in elections and democracy, wrote in an email.

"The proof issue is critical," he continued. "[First, t]he court gives the benefit of the doubt to states that their laws are valid. Second, the court dismisses mere inconveniences as proof of creating less opportunity. It also dismisses small disparities as minor. And it also imposes a difficult burden on statistical evidence. Finally, even if someone can surmount all this, the court seems to dismiss some burdens by saying in the totality of the circumstances the overall voting system may be fine. In effect, despite the fact that voting is a fundamental constitutional right which is supposed to force the state to prove why its restrictions are valid, it shifts the burden to challengers with a near-impossible argument to make."

Other legal scholars have also written that Brnovich's dark implications are sinking in.

"[E]ach time I read Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the angrier I become," Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine election law scholar, wrote on July 8 for Slate. "I'm angry not only about what the court did but also about how much of the public does not realize what a hit American democracy has taken."

Segregationist Revival

In strict terms, Hasen noted that the Brnovich ruling rolls back "the clock on voting rights to 1982," a date cited by Alito's majority opinion. That date is legally and politically significant. In fact, Brnovich cannot be seen as apolitical. As Schultz noted, "What makes this so bad is that the decision does not look neutral, and it makes the court look even more like a political institution where justices are simply partisan politicians with robes."

The early 1980s were the heyday of Ronald Reagan's presidency. At that time, both Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts held senior positions in the Justice Department, where the Reagan administration not only resisted enforcing federal voting rights law but also sought to weaken the same section of the VRA that is the focus of 2021's Brnovich decision. Today, few may recall that candidate Reagan gave a reactionary states' rights speech in August 1980 at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi—near where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. The murders were one of many events that propelled passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Southern states' rights advocates and their conservative descendants have long resisted broad voting rights—today, during Reagan's day, in the 1960s, and in the earlier Jim Crow era. Congress passed other civil rights laws by the late 1960s, such as in housing and employment. After the VRA's passage, its advocates' early focus was registering voters for 1968's presidential election and dealing with the legacy of exclusion.

Richard Nixon, who won that election, ran on a states' rights "Southern strategy" that conveyed his support for segregationist values. Once in office, Nixon appointed judges vetted by South Carolina's Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, a white supremacist, in exchange for his endorsement over segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer and American University adjunct professor.

By the mid-1970s, Nixon had resigned. But the impact of his judicial appointments was being seen. In civil rights litigation outside the voting sphere, civil rights opponents and conservative judges chipped away at new civil rights laws by changing the burden of proof required by those suing to enforce those laws. The cudgel concerned altering the burden of proof from showing a law's discriminatory effect to proving discriminatory intent. In short, the prosecutorial burdens that Alito revived in Brnovich didn't come out of thin air but were used by segregationists in his formative years as a young Reagan administration lawyer.

By 1980, the reactionary push to alter the burden of proof in new civil rights laws reached the voting sphere. In City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Supreme Court held that Section 2 challenges required proving discriminatory intent—a ruling that contradicted the law's text. At that time, race-based electioneering was returning to GOP circles. In New Jersey's 1981 elections, the Republican National Committee used Jim Crow-like thuggish tactics to try to intimidate Black and Hispanic voters. The Democratic National Committee sued and won a now expired court order that restrained the RNC. (Election lawyers point to the RNC's tactics as foreshadowing the modern Republican Party's voter suppression playbook.)

Some of that backlash also was due to Jimmy Carter's presidency (1977-1981), Sautter said, which enforced another part of the VRA: its preclearance provisions. These sections required states and counties with histories of discriminatory elections to get federal approval before implementing any new election law or rule. (In 2013, the court, in Shelby v. Holder, a majority opinion written by Roberts, gutted the VRA's preclearance provisions.)

In 1982, the 97th Congress reacted to the Supreme Court's Mobile ruling by restoring Section 2's original burden of proof—those who sued only needed to show that a new law's effect was discriminatory. The VRA's 1982 amendments said that courts should consider the "totality of the circumstances" to protect voting rights. The Reagan administration opposed reviving the law's original standard, an effort led by Roberts, as Hasen noted in his recent Slate piece.

"Congress disagreed with the Supreme Court's [1980] interpretation of Section 2, and in 1982 Congress passed a revised Section 2. This revision came despite fierce opposition from the Reagan administration and the president's point person on the issue, John Roberts, who now happens to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court," Hasen writes. At that time, Alito worked in the solicitor general's office, arguing for the Reagan administration in federal court.

In Brnovich, Alito laid out five "guideposts" for courts to judge Section 2 claims, including the harder burden of proof.

"In truth, these are less guideposts and more roadblocks looking to stop plaintiffs at every turn when they assert their Section 2 claims," Hasen writes. "One of the guideposts specifically tells courts to compare the voting restrictions being challenged in a Section 2 case to the burdens of voting as they existed in 1982."

Back to 1982?

What does it mean when a big slice of voting rights law is rolled back to 1982? The first take by scholars like Hasen is that recent voting options—such as allowing early voting on Sundays to accommodate "souls to the polls" drives led by clergy—have little basis for federal protection.

"[I]magine a state passes a law barring early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, because white Republican legislators know that reliably Democratic Black voters often run 'souls to the polls' events to take church-going voters straight to vote after services," he writes. "While a challenge to such a rollback under Section 2 had a good chance of going forward before, how could it survive the 1982 benchmark now, when Sunday voting, and early voting as a whole, was rare?"

Consider the Texas legislature's current machinations to ban the expanded voting options that Harris County—home to Houston—implemented in 2020 to make voting more accessible in the pandemic, such as 24-hour voting centers and mailing out absentee ballot applications. These GOP-led reforms are unfolding despite the statewide victories in fall 2020 elections by Texas Republicans.

"States are [now] mostly free to do what they want with voting and there appears to be little federal remedies or help to protect voting rights," said Schultz. "More than a decade ago, I said we were in the middle of a Second Great Disenfranchisement in America (the first was after the Civil War Reconstruction ended). This decision [Brnovich] is confirmation that the Second Great Disenfranchisement is in full swing, and we can expect more restrictions on voting rights in the years to come."

Brnovich's reach may be even bigger. The way that Americans vote today is completely different from 1982. What is called convenience voting—such as decades of mailing out ballots to every voter in some states, and the options to vote from home or in person before Election Day—did not exist in 1982. Neither did the voting technology and related election rules in wide use today.

"The expansion of voting rights since the 1980s has repeatedly been met with conservative resistance, first in the form of Republican Party initiated so-called ballot security programs and eventually with extreme voter suppression laws," said Sautter. "But the strategy to eviscerate voting rights with an ultra-conservative controlled judiciary goes back to Nixon and the presidential election of 1968. Until the makeup of the Supreme Court changes, progressives will have a difficult time winning these battles."

In the meantime, the best progressives might hope for is passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which restores and fortifies the VRA, which Sautter said would "seriously undermine the rationale of Alito's opinion." That scenario hinges on all Senate Democrats voting to create a voting-right exception to the filibuster rule.

On July 13, President Biden gave a passionate speech where he decried the Brnovich ruling and called Republican efforts to subvert voting rights and election results "21st-century Jim Crow." Biden called on Congress to pass sweeping federal voting rights legislation, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but he did not mention the Senate filibuster.

"Just weeks ago, the Supreme Court yet again weakened the Voting Rights Act and upheld what Justice Kagan called, quote, 'a significant race-based disparity in voting opportunities,'" Biden said. "The court's decision, as harmful as it is, does not limit the Congress' ability to repair the damage done. That's the important point. It puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength."

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.

GOP Senators Block Election Reform -- As States Erode Democracy

For now, Senate Republicans have blocked sweeping election reform. They argued that America's elections are not in crisis and are best run by rules set by states. Meanwhile, in capitals across battleground states, numerous Republican legislators have been claiming elections face numerous threats and have passed dozens of laws, the most aggressive of which curtail voting options, newly police the process, and empower party loyalists at post-Election Day counting stages.

"The Republican leader flatly stated that no matter what the states do to undermine our democracy—voter suppression laws, phony 'audits,' or partisan takeovers of local election boards—the Senate should not act," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and majority leader, referring to Kentucky's Sen. Mitch McConnell and a Republican filibuster that blocked the election reform bill.

"Republican state legislatures across the country are engaged in the most sweeping voter suppression in 80 years," Schumer said. "Capitalizing on, and catalyzed by, Donald Trump's big lie [that he won in 2020], these state governments are making it harder for younger, poorer, urban and non-white Americans to vote."

The deepening divide over voting in America is larger than the For the People Act, the Democrat-sponsored bill that addresses presidential ethics, campaign finance, partisan redistricting and voting rights. Both major parties are vying to change who votes in America and how they cast ballots. Republicans often are seeking a more limited franchise. Democrats are seeking the opposite.

In the Senate on June 22, the GOP argument often reverted to states' rights, which had permitted a litany of voting rights abuses and violence for decades until the passage of strong federal civil and voting rights laws in the 1960s.

"You are imposing a federal mandate and a one-size-fits-all approach that just might not fit well," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, in a speech opposing the reform bill. "We don't know everything best back here [in Washington]."

Voting rights battles are not new, but new ground is being broken in 2021. Seen nationally, Republicans, whose base is aging and shrinking, have been raising the bar for access to a ballot and seeking to segregate voters by party for much of the 21st century. This is especially true in increasingly purple states where the party holds gerrymander-created legislative majorities and dominates the courts.

Democrats, in turn, have been left in more defensive postures where they have railed against the immorality of complicating the process for voters, which can suppress turnout; have sued to blunt new laws that can impede voters; and have worked to increase voter turnout, especially in high-profile contests. On balance, Republicans have been more proactive, and Democrats' responses have been less effective, leaving Republicans with the upper hand in shaping America's strictest voting rules.

That dynamic and history led to congressional Democrats teeing up a massive reform bill comprised of proposals that have languished for years. It also gave congressional Republicans a single target. As GOP senators attacked a handful of progressive voting rights reforms in the For the People Act, they drew upon a strategy that has long been part of their party's "election integrity" messaging.

They criticized the bill's loosening of strict voter ID rules, creating public financing for candidates, and so-called ballot harvesting, the GOP's term for activists and party workers who provide assistance to voters by collecting ballots mailed to and filled out by voters and delivering them to election offices. Senate Republicans recited these objections as talking points and more broadly defended states' rights, despite Democrats' rebuttals that the senators were reviving last century's segregationist arguments.

"Republican leaders say that they like this rigged system… taking us back to the racist efforts that existed before the 1965 Voting Rights Act," said Sen. Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, in one such floor speech. "A violent mob storming the Capitol isn't the only way to attack Democracy."

A Widening Attack On American Democracy

It would be a mistake to characterize the Senate gridlock as just another phase in America's endless partisan battles. Starting in Trump's presidency, many Republicans have widened this playbook to not just attack expanded access to voting but now also to target election administrators and voting systems. That development, whose rhetoric is filled with false claims about stolen votes, is serious because it rattles several foundations of American democracy.

American elections have largely relied on the good faith of election officials. In most cases, these civil servants place public service and overseeing a reputable process before personal and partisan gain. But many career election officials are leaving the field due to the partisan attacks and threats of violence that followed the 2020 election. In addition, the conspiratorial thinking has led many supporters of Trump to believe that the 2020 election is not over. No finality in elections, in turn, delegitimizes representative government and the ability to govern.

"We are watching, once again, the devolution of democracy in the United States," said Stacey Abrams, one of the Democratic Party's foremost voting rights activists, speaking on a June 22 Zoom briefing to promote her new book, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America.

But the problems facing American democracy are bigger than Trump, she said.

"Yes, there's a guy who wanted to win, and he didn't win, and he told a big lie, and there are those who use him as their proxy," Abrams said. "But let's be clear, their [Trump supporters'] anger is about who made the choice; their anger is about who showed up to vote—who did not vote before. Because of COVID-19, we saw… a confrontation with voter suppression the likes of which we have not seen in a generation in the United States. Because of that [response], 50 million people voted by mail because it was too dangerous to go outside."

In election administration circles, the pandemic was historically disruptive. Once 2020's primaries resumed, many states struggled to accommodate voters due to health precautions, poll worker shortages and last-minute logistical challenges. By the fall's general election, however, public officials made extraordinary efforts to offer more options for voters to get a ballot and ways to cast it.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, which tracks voter turnout, 56 million people voted in a different manner in the 2020 presidential election than they had in the 2016 presidential election. Many Republicans in the U.S. Senate and in state legislatures have said the expanded voting options were not normal and must be reeled in (despite the fact that many Republican candidates won 2020 state and federal races).

But Trump's stolen election rhetoric has not just endured in right-wing circles. It has led many red-run states to pass new laws to make voting harder, targeting the early and mail options that Democrats embraced in the 2020 election. And in some states, legislators expanded the power of their party's observers and curtailed the authority of local officials to maintain order during the final vote-counting phase. Simply put, the GOP attack on voting has widened its targets.

"And so we are watching as, state by state, the insurrection that we saw happen on January 6 takes root in our state governments, and state by state, we are watching anti-voter legislation putting up new barriers or tearing down access," Abrams said. "We are watching additional harms being put in place to challenge election workers—people whose only job is to make the administration of elections work. They are being attacked. They are being criminalized. We are watching the subversion of democracy through legislation."

These anti-voting trends can be seen in 10 states that tend to have a large impact on national politics, said Abrams, citing Texas, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas and Oklahoma. "We've had more than 22 states in this year alone adopt more restrictive language," she said.

Post-2020 Impacts Coming Into View

Like all political decisions, new legislation can have unforeseen or overlooked consequences once the white-hot debates subside and laws are implemented.

That dynamic can be seen in Georgia, for example, where Republicans are using little-noticed language from bills passed earlier this year to remove Democrats from county boards of election.

These unseated officials—who, in Georgia, include several Black women who have spent years learning the details of running elections—decide on matters such as weekend polling place hours, ballot drop box locations and other details that affect whether voting is easier or harder. This is an attack on voters by targeting the referees of the process, whereas previously, bipartisan election administration lent credibility and legitimacy to the election outcomes.

A related under-the-radar dynamic has been simmering in Arizona, where the state Senate Republicans have sanctioned a post-election review of ballots from Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60 percent of the statewide electorate. In recent weeks, Voting Booth has reported on the accuracy-related shortcomings of that exercise, especially its hand count of 2.1 million ballots.

A June 22 report co-authored by Trey Grayson, a Republican and Kentucky's former secretary of state, and Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin political scientist, affirmed these observations, saying the Arizona Senate review was run by "inexperienced, unqualified" private firms that are "ill-equipped to conduct it successfully and produce meaningful findings."

But the hundreds of paid workers—mostly middle-aged and older Maricopa County voters who supported Trump—employed in the Arizona state Senate's inquiry think that they are taking part in a process that is patriotic and saving American democracy, as Voting Booth has repeatedly been told in interviews while reporting from Phoenix.

But election auditors have challenged this assumption, pointing out that the Senate review's contractors have not performed crucial comparisons of the hand count of ballots against the building blocks of the official results, which would be essential to the meaningfulness of the inquiry. Moreover, many of these workers are suspicious of the voting process and distrustful of election officials. One hand-count employee was overheard saying, "I hope they are fake ballots, because there are so many [for] Biden."

While it is unclear what kind of report or claims will emerge from the Arizona Senate's review, it is not expected to be anything like a June 23 report by the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee, a Republican-led body, that inventoried and debunked the stolen election accusations made in that state. Nor is anything produced by the Arizona Senate's contractors expected to put doubts about 2020 to rest.

"If the election lives on forever, and the doubt in the electorate grows, the whole institution of election administration is undermined, and the norms that are associated with that [institution] are undermined," said Larry Moore, the retired CEO of Clear Ballot, an election auditing firm, and critic of the Arizona review.

"If you keep discussing [the process] as though you'll end up with a different outcome, you rob the government—the people who won—with the ability to govern. And that is so incredibly corrosive."

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 Arizona Republicans Over Discredited ‘Fraudit’

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

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.

Arizona ‘Fraudit’ Challenged By Experienced Election Auditors


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

A team of seasoned election auditors has challenged the Republicans leading the Arizona Senate's inquiries into the accuracy of 2020's presidential election results to a demonstration where the auditors say that they will conclusively show that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Arizona's most populous county.

The challenge, led by a longtime Republican Party election observer and two technologists familiar with voting systems and vote-counting data, would present the results of every race in any randomly chosen batch of ballots, as generated by Maricopa County's 2020 election data. Those paper ballots would be hand-counted and compared to the electronic totals to attest to the election's results. These paper and digital records are the building blocks of the county's voting system.

"We now have the capability to determine the ballot count and vote results for all of the elections on any batch and any box of ballots that were delivered to the [Senate's contractor, Florida-based Cyber] Ninjas under the [Senate's] subpoena, without ever looking at a single ballot," Tucson's Benny White, a longtime election observer for the Arizona and Pima County Republican Parties, wrote on June 8 in a letter to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and the audit liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Fann and Bennett are Republicans.

"Our proposal will be for the Ninjas to select any unopened box of ballots, provide us with the box number from the label on the outside of the [storage] box and we will produce the results from the public record," White said. "The Ninjas could then count all of the votes on all of the races on all of the ballots in that box, then we could compare the results."

The auditors are seeking to confront and upstage the Senate's pro-Trump contractors whose hand count and related examinations of 2.1 million paper ballots in Phoenix's Veterans Memorial Coliseum may wrap up by mid-June. The contractors have not yet issued any report or preliminary findings as of June 9, although there is an expectation in pro-Trump circles that their findings will cast doubt on the election's outcome. Pro-Trump lawmakers, candidates and activists have been visiting the arena.

The Senate's investigations, nonetheless, have been widely criticized as partisan and amateurish by experts in election administration and policy circles. But its defenders, including Bennett, have said that most Arizona Republicans wanted to see more evidence than the state's official post-election audits have provided.

Bennett did not immediately respond to a request seeking a comment on the auditing team's challenge.

In late May, the same team of independent auditors—comprised of White, who has been a Republican Party election observer for years and served on Arizona's Elections Procedures Manual Revision Committee; Larry Moore, the retired founder and CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified audit firm; and Tim Halvorsen, the retired chief technology officer of Clear Ballot—reported that their initial analysis of Maricopa's 2020 election data found about 60,000 ballots with votes for a majority of the Republican candidates but not for Trump. They also found about 40,000 ballots with most votes for Democrats and for Trump.

Their findings suggested that suburban Republicans rejected Trump, which helped to elect Biden. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60 percent of Arizona's 2020 electorate, Biden beat Donald Trump by 45,109votes. Statewide in Arizona, Biden won by 10,457 votes.

The auditors' efforts stand out because apart from state and local election officials defending the accuracy of Arizona's 2020 election results—and Senate contractors investigating the same election—it appears that nobody else with election auditing experience has obtained the official vote count records from Maricopa County and investigated and sought to publicly verify Biden's state-certified victory.

White said that he has been deeply troubled by Trump's and his allies' attacks on election officials, voting technology, and the rules of voting, all of which have undermined public confidence in elections.

At first glance, their challenge may appear to be an attempt at election theatrics that seeks to blunt another spectacle—the nearly two-month-long inquiries inside Phoenix's old pro-basketball arena. But the challenge is brought by critics who say that they have accomplished what the Senate's inexperienced contractors have so far failed to do, which is use official election records to confirm that the county's electronic tally matched its paper ballots. The contractors have been struggling with the official vote count data, well-placed insiders have told Voting Booth.

Thus, despite millions spent on high-definition cameras and microscopes for scanning ballots and other equipment in the Phoenix arena, which has created made-for-TV optics that have been praised by right-wing media and Trump supporters visiting from other states, the contractors have been struggling to parse the building blocks of the official results—which are key baselines for any legitimate assessment of the outcome's accuracy.

For example, every paper ballot is scanned to start the counting process. A digital image is created that gets analyzed by software that detects votes and compiles a table of those results. Those tables are built into an overall spreadsheet of results, called the cast vote record. The Senate's contractors have not looked at any ballot images, insiders have told Voting Booth. They also have been struggling with the cast vote record, according to others who have been talking with the contractors.

By contrast, the seasoned auditors want to use the cast vote record to make their case by saying what the results are in any randomly selected batch of ballots—and then counting those ballots by hand to affirm the voting system's accuracy.

"There were 10,341 total batches of ballots counted in the Maricopa County 2020 General Election; most batches contain about 200 ballots. What if I could show the count of votes for every candidate in every race on any number of selected batches — without ever opening a box or touching a ballot?" their June 8 letter to Fann and Bennett began. "At a minimum, this would conclusively dispel the growing allegations that the critical file, the Cast Vote Record, may be corrupted. The official results are derived from this file."

"We have analyzed official public records from Maricopa County's 2020 General Election," the challengers' letter continued. "We have debunked the allegation that 40,000 ballots were dumped into the count by reconciling the voted file and certified canvass against the voter registration file. We have carefully analyzed the official Cast Vote Record to find: (1) the Record is complete and accurate and (2) President Trump lost Maricopa County due to the fact that disaffected Republican supportive voters did not vote for him and (3) the disaffection was widespread across all precincts in Maricopa County."

White said that he had not received a reply from Fann or Bennett. Meanwhile, other critics of the Senate's inquiries said that it was time for the Arizona Senate to conclude the exercise and the election's losing side to accept the result.

"[B]y overstating its capabilities, the vendor Cyber Ninjas has let down Arizona Senate Republicans," wrote longtime Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg in an Arizona Republic commentary. "Their haphazard procedures have turned the Audit into the 'audit' and their findings won't be credible, whether they deem the election flawed or not… [T]hey are at the helm of a fatally tainted audit."

"When is this going to end?" asked David Becker, the executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. "There is no amount of facts that will convince people who are living in another reality… The outcome of the election has already been confirmed. What are we doing here?"

Surprise! Trump Lost Arizona Because So Many GOP Voters Shunned Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Political Science Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona Investigation Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona Audit's Major Procedural Flaws Will Create Conflict With Official Tally

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Senate's Hand Count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blurry Process Where Precision Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Yet Tracing Data Entry Errors

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

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

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

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

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

The Likely Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOP Wants To Expand Arizona ‘Audit,’ But DOJ May Shut It Down

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

Arizona's Republican-led Senate is looking to expand its post-election audit of 2.1 million ballots in the state's most populous county, while Arizona's Democratic secretary of state and the U.S. Department of Justice appeared headed to federal court to shut down the post-election exercise.

On Wednesday, May 5, the Senate's liaison to the audit, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, confirmed that the GOP-led Senate is negotiating with a California nonprofit to conduct a new and separate audit of Maricopa County's 2020 fall election votes.

The nonprofit, Citizens Oversight, would conduct an audit based on analyzing the digital images of every paper ballot that is created at the start of the vote-counting process, when election system software reads hand- or machine-marked paper ballots and tallies the vote counts. The nonprofit has been developing its Audit Engine tool for several years and has tested it in a handful of counties in California and Florida and is now using it in Georgia.

"I know our election procedures and overall processes are good enough to prove to somebody if they really lost an election by more than one percent or more, but not by one-third of one percent," Bennett said. "But that's not good enough because that's not precise enough."

Bennett noted that Donald Trump, statewide, lost to Joe Biden by 10,457 votes and 33,359 ballots contained no vote for president. In addition to the ballot image audit, which would reveal marked ballot ovals skipped by scanners—such as voters who circle ovals instead of filling them in—Bennett said that he wanted to hire a firm to review the digital images of absentee ballot return envelopes to see if any lacked a voter's signature.

"I think we can exponentially magnify the level of trust in our elections by doing exactly what we're doing, and even a few things that haven't even been talked about yet," he said, adding he expected that this entire exercise would take "two to three months" to conclude.

An expanded and prolonged audit appears to be on a collision course with the U.S. Department of Justice, which, along with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, is on the verge of going into federal court to try to shut down the unprecedented post-election audit led by partisans and conducted by private firms that have not been certified by federal election agencies.

On May 5, Hobbs sent a letter to Bennett saying that the audit's procedures were inconsistent with the protocols laid out in the state's election procedures, were not being done by "qualified, unbiased counters," and failed "to adequately protect and document chain of custody of ballots." These conclusions came from observers sent by Hobbs, who only were allowed into the site after a court ordered the Senate to allow their presence.

At the same time, the Justice Department weighed in on two fronts. In a letter to the Arizona Senate, Kristen Clarke, the head of the Civil Rights Division, said the use of private contractors could violate federal law requiring ballots to remain in the control of elections officials for 22 months, the Associated Press reported. And the principal deputy assistant attorney general, Pamela S. Karlan, said that the Senate's plans to directly contact voters by knocking on their doors and interviewing them could be illegal voter intimidation.

"If Justice can find a federal judge who agrees, they can shut it down," said Chris Sautter, a Washington-based lawyer specializing in recounts and post-Election Day procedures.

The Eye Of A Growing Storm

The AP reported that the DOJ's "letter came six days after [a coalition of] voting rights groups asked federal officials to intervene or send monitors to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix," where the audit is occurring under tight security by state police. The groups, led by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, have been very critical of Republican-led efforts across the county to pass new laws curtailing voting options and access to a ballot following the 2020 election.

Inside the arena, two recounting procedures could be seen on Wednesday. The first was a hand recount of ballots, where teams of four or five people would put each ballot on an easel-like rotating stand, mark down which candidate (if any) the vote was for—or whether the voter's intent was not clear—and then compile a tally sheet. Bennett said that this process was following Arizona's election procedures manual. However, Hobbs' letter to the Senate president said that this operation "departs from best practices for accurate hand tallying of ballots."

"[A]lthough the aggregate totals of at least two tally sheets must match, there is no guarantee that the counters counted all 100 ballots the same way nor is there a reliable process for ensuring consistency and resolving discrepancies," the letter said.

The second process underway Wednesday was a novel process created by a "failed treasure hunter," as Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office put it in January, who has positioned himself as an adviser to Trump-supporting Republicans. Each ballot card is first placed on a tray below a camera, where a high-resolution photograph is taken. Then the same ballot is placed on a second tray where cameras attached to four microscopes take photographs of printer alignment marks, the marked oval, and borders of the ballot card.

John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist who is a progressive Democrat but has positioned himself as an adviser to Bennett and has been a spokesperson for the audit, said that operation was counting ballots that had been folded as one way to detect forgeries. It was also looking for "bamboo fibers" to prove that 40,000 ballots had been printed in Asia and smuggled into Maricopa County in an elaborate ballot-box stuffing operation—which Brakey said was absurd and lacked evidence, but needed to be disproven.

"The only way you're going to persuade people on changing [their minds] is having facts, and we're on a mission for facts," he said.

In a Tuesday media briefing organized by the National Task Force on Election Crises—a group comprised of 50 experts in election law, administration, security and civil rights—Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser for elections at the Democracy Fund and former Maricopa County election federal compliance officer, said that this line of inquiry was baseless and indicative of an amateur partisan operation.

"There's an assumption [by the audit contractors] that all vote-by-mail ballots would have a fold, but they don't," Patrick said, saying that ballots that are spoiled, such as being torn or stained by coffee, are copied. "That's also not true for provisional ballots or for someone who votes in person."

Ballots also are printed on various paper stock and not all at the same time, she said. "There can be some slight variation in the paper, some slight variation in the ink used. But when it comes down to laying forth a narrative to continue to perpetuate all of the [stolen election] falsehoods and [purportedly] missing information, this is where it gets particularly problematic."

On Wednesday, Bennett said that he joined the audit team after the Arizona Senate president—a position he previously held—hired the initial contractors conducting the audit. He said that he heard and investigated similar conspiracy theories when he was secretary of state, such as false allegations of massive illegal voting by Mexicans crossing the border into Yuma.

"If I, as a public servant, don't go out and address concerns like that, even some that are crazy—if somebody says there's bamboo in these ballots, I may think that's crazy—but if I don't verify, yes or no, I'm just allowing that [narrative to fester]," he said. "I respectfully disagree with people [whom] I trust or respect [who say] that this process lacks credibility, because, to me, it's the exact process that we have to go through to rebuild trust in the minds of the half of the people, this year, [who] think the 2020 election was stolen or a fraud."

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.

How Far Will Democrats Go To Defend Democracy Now?

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

On March 25, the day President Joe Biden held his first press conference and called bids by Republican state legislators to complicate voting "un-American," Georgia's legislature passed, and its Republican governor signed, 2021's most aggressive rewrite of voting rules. That same day in Texas' state legislature, a hearing was abruptly halted on a bill with arguably even more obstructive and punitive provisions before the chairs of its Black and Mexican American legislative caucuses were allowed to participate.

The Texas bill's author and Texas House Elections Committee chair, Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Houston-area Republican, apparently made a procedural mistake—the kind of technicality contained in his bill that would criminalize election officials, poll workers or neighbors who did not precisely follow the bill's new restrictions for absentee voting and its expanded rights for political party observers. The bill barred election officials from removing intentionally unruly partisans.

"This package of bills, along with many others being considered in the Texas House, could have the greatest impact on voting rights since the Jim Crow era," said Charlie Bonner, spokesman for MOVE Texas, a nonprofit championing voting rights for young adults, at a Zoom briefing after the hearing's halt. "Unlike Chair Cain, we don't seek to criminalize those simple mistakes that often happen and will put many people, particularly Black and Brown voters, in jail."

The interruption didn't stop the Texas bill. Another public hearing took place on April 1. As in Georgia and other battleground states—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania—bills to curtail voting options and add unnecessary bureaucracy for election officials are moving through statehouses. But their momentum is having an opposite effect in the nation's capital; it is underscoring a moral imperative and political will among almost all Democrats to pass history-making election and voting reform.

"It is an apocryphal moment, one of those like [before] the 1964 Civil Rights Act, one of those moments where you just feel the change gathering in Washington, in addition to analyzing it," said Norman Eisen, a longtime anti-corruption policy analyst who led a Brookings Institution briefing on Senate Bill 1—the Democrats' reform package—on the day of its first hearing in late March.

Revising election laws after presidential cycles is not new. And it's not the first time each party has tried to do so where it holds legislative majorities. But the GOP push in state legislatures since January is outsized in volume and intensity. Very few of these proposals have been endorsed by the officials who administer elections, whether Democrat or Republican, said David Becker, executive director for the Center for Election Innovation and Research. (In 2020, the center disbursed $64 million in grants to these state officials from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.)

Most unwanted and meddlesome bills are coming from Republican state legislators who, along with some of their constituents, did not like the 2020 presidential election's result, Becker said. Meanwhile, the response from voting rights advocates and Democrats has been as strident.

Georgia's Democratic Party, like the Texas advocates, compared the pernicious aspects of its newest voting law, Senate Bill 202, to the Jim Crow era—which began in the 1890s and lasted through the 1960s across the South. Under Jim Crow, the governing class, including that era's Democratic Party, unapologetically opposedempowering Black people, especially at the starting line for political representation—voter registration.

"This is a sad day for Georgia," said Congresswoman Nikema Williams, Georgia Democratic Party chair. "Senate Bill 202—the most flagrantly racist, partisan power grab of elections in modern Georgia history—is a slap in the face to Georgia's civil rights legacy. After losing elections because more voters of color made their voices heard, [Gov.] Brian Kemp and the GOP are now trying to outright silence Georgia voters by making it harder to cast a ballot and letting partisan actors take over local elections."

The same point was made about the early Republican opposition to Senate Bill 1. The massive bill is a compendium of two dozen separate voting rights, election administration, campaign finance and ethics reform proposals dating to 2007. (Democrats would have to revise the Senate's filibuster rule—ending debate—to pass it. Not all Democrats are on board with that strategy.) In the bill's opening hearing in the Senate Rules Committee, several Republicans recited ex-President Trump's lies about widespread Democratic voter fraud and said S. 1 would sully the purity of the ballot.

"If we actually compare what some people [like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz] are saying in the Senate to what we heard six or seven decades ago, where we would see people aiming to block civil rights legislation, it is very reminiscent," said Rashawn Ray, a Brookings fellow and University of Maryland professor who has studied racial and social inequities, including police brutality. "When we really think about how it relates to the Jim Crow South, we can go back to the 1950s."

"This is how much people actually don't want to see people being able to vote," Ray said. "We have to be very honest. Oftentimes, they don't want to see people of color vote. They oftentimes don't want to see immigrants vote—even people who are legal citizens. We really have to get down to the crux of what is going on. Through all of the noise, that was what I heard in the Senate. That unfortunately, some people, some of our elected officials, don't actually want to see some people really be able to express and embrace what it means to be American."

"What it means to be American" was at the heart of the Jim Crow era. For the ruling class, it meant white supremacy. As historian V.O. Key Jr. explained in his 1949 book based on hundreds of interviews, Southern Politics in State and Nation, these Southerners—politicians, judges, police, businessmen, editorial writers—did not want Black people to have power to make decisions affecting white people. Key called this effort a "disenfranchisement movement."

But is it apt to compare the Republicans' latest state-based moves to the Jim Crow era? Or is a more accurate parallel the GOP's more recent efforts to overly regulate voting with "surgical precision," as a federal appeals court put it in 2016 when describing suppressive laws that were quickly enacted in North Carolina after the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the main enforcement tool of the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Morally, there may not be much difference. But politically and legally, it may matter quite a bit when considering the congressional and executive branch responses in 2021.

"Broadly considered, H.R. 1/S. 1 is a very sweeping election reform bill… They set out a floor, a set of rules that apply to all states for federal elections," said Becker. "Section 5 [of the Voting Rights Act] is a very targeted tool. It is a scalpel. I say this as someone who has enforced Section 5 for many years as a Justice Department lawyer. It is one of the most effective tools in the toolbox of voting rights enforcement that this nation has ever seen."

"That's because it is targeted only at those states that have a history of voter discrimination, and it requires those states to affirmatively request approval for any change [in voting laws or rules] before it can be implemented," he explained. "This means that the law enforcers don't have to go looking for violations. The state, or whatever smaller jurisdiction or county, has to send those [changes] directly to the Department of Justice, and they cannot implement them until they have been pre-cleared… It is not something that necessarily applies to everybody."

Already, some constitutional scholars are arguing that restoring the Voting Rights Act could counter the most regressive laws coming from state legislatures. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act could do this, they suggest, but that 2019 bill has not yet been introduced in the current Congress. Democrats, for now, are focusing on S. 1, the more sweeping bill.

The Early 1960s Versus Today

When President Lyndon Johnson, the first Southern president in decades, finally saw the need for voting rights legislation, he told his attorney general designee, "I want you to write me the goddamnest toughest voting rights act that you can devise."

The heart of that bill, which became the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was the act's Section 5 and enforcement formula in Section 4(b). In 2013, the Supreme Court, in a ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts, threw out the VRA's pre-clearance formula. "There is no denying," the decision said, "that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions."

Many books detail, in excruciating fashion, the violence surrounding that era's voting rights struggle. Local police, long before they dressed in leftover military gear as today, brandished cruder weapons against unarmed men, women and children. Protesters were chased, beaten, fire-hosed and tear-gassed. Bystanders were targeted. People were shot and killed. When charges were pressed, the victims were accused of assaulting the police. Because juries were drawn from rolls of registered voters, cases ended up before all-white juries.

The 1960s voting rights protests focused on the starting line of the democratic political process, voter registration. Since the 1890s, when Jim Crow began with the imposition of poll taxes and literacy tests (and exceptions for white people) blocking Black voter registration was seen, correctly, as the glue holding the South's political system together. The half-dozen years before and after the turn of the century saw the Supreme Court uphold segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson) and Mississippi and Alabama laws that disenfranchised Black voters. Over a decade, hundreds of thousands of Black Americans were cut from voter rolls, a status quo that lasted until the mid-1960s.

The federal government, led by presidents who did not want to interfere, was largely hands off until the mid-1950s. Dwight Eisenhower, the World War II commanding general whose military was integrated and who was president from 1953 to 1961, pushed for a civil rights bill. Early in his presidency, the Supreme Court ordered the integration of public schools in Brown v. Board of Education. But desegregating schools did not lead to Black citizens gaining political power, as the New Yorker's Louis Menand noted in an article that profiled the voting rights legacy that was undermined by the Supreme Court's Shelby v. Holder ruling in 2013. Eisenhower's legislation, which was a watered-down bill, passed in as the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Still, it was the first civil rights law passed since the Reconstruction era after the Civil War, which temporarily enfranchised Black Americans.

But the 1957 Act could not break Jim Crow's hold. While it allowed the Justice Department "to pursue litigation against local registrars who discriminated on the basis of race," Menand noted that the case law precedents at that time required prosecutors to prove intent—what was in the mind of those local officials accused of discrimination. That task was nearly impossible. It was not until after President John F. Kennedy's assassination in late 1963, when President Lyndon B. Johnson took up the dead president's civil rights bill, that the need for a voting rights bill emerged. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned segregation in public—hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and government offices. It passed after the longest filibuster in Senate history. But it, too, did not prevent Jim Crow tools like literacy tests for voters.

When Johnson told Nicholas Katzenbach to draft the "goddamnest toughest voting rights act," his attorney general designee came up with the pre-clearance regime. The covered states, counties and cities, meaning those with histories of racial discrimination in voting, had to gain Justice Department approval before implementing new voting laws or rules. Federal prosecutors no longer had to prove that it was the intent of officials and laws to intentionally disenfranchise. The government could look at the effect of any law, and, as Becker noted from his days as a DOJ Voting Section attorney a dozen years ago, covered jurisdictions had to proactively get approval from the Justice Department.

"The 1965 Voting Rights Act was the most successful piece of civil rights legislation our country has ever seen," said Mimi Marziani, the Texas Civil Rights Project president. "It completely changed who has a seat at the table."

Voting Rights Crossroads

There are important differences between the political and cultural landscape of today and the landscape of the early 1960s through the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August 1965. The violence surrounding integration, which predated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, became a national disgrace. In 1960, the country saw Black students in Greensboro, South Carolina—students from the state's largest all-Black university—mocked and attacked as they sat at a "whites-only" downtown lunch counter. As the disobedience deepened, the violence worsened.

Activists who went south to help with voter registration drives were brutalized and killed. Reporters, photographers and TV crews brought stories and images of the violence to the front pages and TV screens across America and internationally. By the end of the summer of 1964 in Mississippi, 35 churches and 30 other buildings had been firebombed. In that November's presidential election, five deep South states flipped from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. But Johnson won in a national landslide.

Johnson's first elected term as president was a time of deepening upheaval. He escalated troop deployments to Vietnam. Civil rights leaders were told it was not time for voting rights reform. Like all protest movements, there were competing factions. On March 7, 1965, John Lewis and Hosea Williams led a march from a chapel in Selma, Alabama, toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge—named for a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader—on the outskirts of the city. They planned to march to Montgomery, Alabama's capital, but they were met by a sheriff-led posse on horseback whose leader had been told by Alabama Gov. George Wallace to take "whatever steps necessary" to stop them. Like a 1920s lynching, many white people came out to watch.

ABC television crews were there. That night, the network broke into a movie on Nazi war crimes and broadcast 15 minutes of raw footage of police attack, tear gassing, beatings, yelling and screaming to 48 million viewers. Historians say that President Johnson knew that he could not win a Cold War abroad if he could not defeat anti-democratic institutions at home. By the time Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that August, he surely knewthat most of the South was lost to Republicans. But political machinations aside, Johnson put country before party, which no Republican in Congress seems willing to do in 2021 for voting rights and fairer elections.

There are other differences between the early 1960s voting rights struggles and today. In 2021, images of institutional racism—such as the video of George Floyd's killing by a police officer in Minneapolis—rocket around the nation and world in minutes. The protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement are not timid. They seek a deeper reckoning than merely cracking open the door that blocked Black Americans' path to political power in the 1960s: voter registration. Less than one week after Georgia's Gov. Kemp signed Senate Bill 202 into law, protesters pushed two of the state's largest corporations—Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola—to speak out in opposition to the law. Georgia-based voting rights advocates had called for boycotts, a tactic echoing the early 1960s, when businesses across the South learned that losing Black customers was not a good business strategy.

In the early 1960s and early 2020s, the moral case for voting rights and more representative government has similar echoes. But the fine print of each era's obstacles is different, as are the potential solutions. "It's actually hard to compare today to 1965," said Richard Pildes, a New York University election and constitutional law scholar. "Because people too easily forget what that world looked like when something like only six percent of Black voters in Mississippi were even registered to vote, when there was economic retaliation against Black voters who sought to register, when the national government had largely been absent from the field since 1890. And now we are in a world in which Black turnout rates are higher than white ones in some states."

What is the best response to the Republican Party's recent efforts to narrow the options to get a ballot into a voter's hands in swing states and to add unneeded complexities for election workers before counting ballots? Is it passing major federal legislation comprised of democracy reforms that have been called for by Democrats for years? Is it reviving and updating the most successful civil rights tool ever passed, the VRA's pre-clearance, for this century? Is it some combination of the two?

Those on the front lines of battles for more representative government, like Texas' Marziani, quickly said today's demons are the technocratic rules that have ushered forth following the Supreme Court's gutting of the VRA in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling. Yesteryear's club-wielding sheriffs have been replaced by partisans who boast of upholding the purity of elections while pushing provisions targeting voting blocs. They are, as V.O. Key put it 1949, the "disenfranchisement movement."

"What we have been battling in the past 10 years, facilitated… by the Supreme Court and its chipping away at the Voting Rights Act, has been a new effort to pass what at times are called 'second-generation' restrictions on voting," Marziani said. "They are more subtle, I would say, than what we saw in the '50s and the '60s. They tend to be—one of the legal words is facially neutral—so they are not actually saying that they are discriminating, although I have to say that parts of these [2021] bills are probably not facially neutral."

But Marziani also said that there was an emotional and moral charge to today's voting rights battles that have been with the county since its founding—the slow arc of the progress over how inclusionary or exclusionary voting and government would be.

"I think there is an apt analogy; that kind of fundamental struggle against a changing electorate, using the election rules to try to keep yourself in power, is a very similar thing to what we've seen, honestly, several times in America's history."

The country faced a reckoning with electoral representation in the early 1960s. It did not end white supremacy. Nor did it fully empower Black people across the South, although the political and economic gains of recent decades are undeniable. Today, in the early 2020s, another voting rights reckoning is in the air in Washington.

This past March 7, 56 years after the "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, President Biden signed an executive order to "increase access to voter registration services and information about voting" at federal agencies. The White House press office called the order "an initial step." It said, "The President is committed to working with Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which includes bold reforms to make it more equitable and accessible for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote." As was the case in 1965, the open question is how forceful Democrats, including the president, will be.

As Georgia Stifles Black Voters, Virginia Expands Voting Rights

As a mass shooting, possible tornadoes and school closures drew Georgians' attention on St. Patrick's Day, Republicans in its GOP-majority legislature in Atlanta raced to push a massive rewrite of an election bill to "drastically change" the state's voting laws toward passage.

"HAPPENING NOW: Georgia House Republicans led by Rep. Barry Fleming are rushing out a 93-page substitute to SB 202 right before a key committee meeting to try and ram through their anti-voting agenda as part of their unconstitutional attacks on Georgians' voting rights," tweeted Fair Fight, an Atlanta-based voting rights group, on March 17.

"There are nearly 80 voting-related bills about voting+elections in Georgia. Most won't go anywhere. Others keep changing faster than you can read them," tweeted Stephen Fowler, Georgia Public Broadcasting's reporter, echoing the alert.

Such hardball tactics are not unique to Georgia's legislature. Following 2020's election loss, ex-President Trump's supporters are using their power as lawmakers to try to change the rules of voting to their perceived benefit. In Georgia, currently the nation's foremost swing state, the legislative melee also reflects fierce responses from voting rights advocates.

"They got more pushback than they expected," said Andrea Miller, who runs the Center for Common Ground, which advocates for Black voters in the South and coordinated 3,700 phone calls from their districts to the Republican legislators sponsoring the rollbacks, and helped to shepherd 40,000 emails opposing the legislation.

Other groups have also pressed Georgia's biggest employers to oppose the bills—and gained some traction. Some of the most draconian proposals, such as ending no-excuse absentee balloting, automatic voter registration and restricting early voting on Sunday—favored by Black clergy and congregations—are being withdrawn. Rep. Fleming was fired as Randolph County attorney for sponsoring suppressive legislation. But bills regulating voting keep hurtling forward.

"It's such a moving target," Miller said, speaking of the GOP's tactics. "We are seeing every legislative trick in the book. A bill comes over from the Senate. You totally rewrite it in the morning and then have the hearing, the committee vote, that afternoon."

Georgia's voting war is one front line in the national battle over the options to get and cast a ballot. While many Georgia Republicans are reviving old fears about empowering their critics to vote, hold office and possibly make decisions affecting their lives, another key Southern state, Virginia, has taken the opposite course. Since 2020, Virginia Democrats have vastly expanded voting options and rights, embracing the state's growing diversity and setting a different example.

"Virginia's work in 2021 is a model of voting rights expansion for states," said Jorge Vasquez, power and democracy director for Advancement Project, a civil rights group. "Governor Ralph Northam's [March 16] announcement[restoring voting rights to 69,000 ex-felons] is the capstone of a successful legislative session in which advocates successfully passed the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, the most expansive piece of voting rights legislation in the South."

There may be no wider contrast between the politics and polarities surrounding voting rights at the start of the post-Trump era than between Georgia Republicans' efforts to restrict voting and Virginia Democrats' recent efforts to expand the franchise. Since the November 2019 statewide elections in Virginia—which returned a Democratic state legislative majority for the first time in 20 years—the state had adopted several waves of inclusionary reforms.

"Virginia is the gateway," said Miller. "Virginia is the former capital of the Confederacy. So which direction does the South go? Does it follow Virginia? Or does it follow Georgia?"

Virginia's 2020 legislative session, which ended in February before the pandemic struck, passed a catalog of reforms. A longer no-excuse absentee voting period beginning 45 days before Election Day was instituted. The list of documents that would be accepted as voter ID was expanded. Election Day became a holiday. Automatic voter registration would be done at state motor vehicle offices unless residents opted out. A bipartisan redistricting commission was created for 2021. Same-day voter registration would begin in July 2022. It passed the federal Equal Rights Amendment.

In August 2020, a special session to address the pandemic further expanded voting options in Virginia. Registrars were required to contact voters to fix any mistakes they had made when filling out their ballot-return envelopes. A witness signature requirement for returned absentee ballot envelopes was suspended. Those envelopes had prepaid return postage. Drop boxes also were put into use to collect ballots.

"2020 was an incredible year where there were huge changes," said Deb Wake, League of Women Voters of Virginia president. "Before the changes in voting laws, Virginia was… [ranked 49th in the list of states based on how easy it was to vote there]. After the 2020 legislative sessions, we moved to the 12th [easiest state in which to vote]."

In Virginia's 2021 legislative session, which ended in February, most of the emergency responses to the pandemic were made permanent—except for suspending a witness signature on ballot return envelopes. Legislators also passed a state constitutional amendment to re-enfranchise ex-felons—a process that takes several years to enact. (It also abolished the death penalty, legalized recreational marijuana and allowed state health plans to cover abortions.) Gov. Northam is expected to sign all of these measures into law, advocates said.

A state Voting Rights Act was also passed. It bars the "denial or abridgment of the right of any United States citizen to vote based on his race or color or membership in a language minority group." It notably also creates a process where any change in voting rules can be contested—and reversed—if it rolls back prior voting options. This preclearance is akin to what the U.S. Supreme Court removed from the federal Voting Rights Act in a 2013 decision—which led numerous Southern states to quickly enact new barriers for voters.

"With the preclearance requirement of federal law eliminated by the U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia replaced that rule with its own preclearance requirement," wrote Janet Boyd in a March 1 legislative summary for the League of Women Voters of Virginia. "The preclearance rule provides two pathways for a locality to clear changes, either through a process of providing public notice and receiving comments or through approval by the Office of the Attorney General."

"The legislature did flip from Republican to Democratic control in 2019, and that did allow for many of these voting/election laws to pass," said Wake. "One of the things leading to the flip was the redrawing of racially gerrymandered [legislative districts]. … We now have our own VRA [Voting Rights Act], and we have a bipartisan, citizen-led redistricting commission. It's not independent, but it's a huge step forward."

What Happened In Virginia?

Despite the inclusive voting rights legislation, Wake was "not prepared" to call Virginia a blue state. "I can attest that more people are engaged than were before 2016. I also note that the election/voting meetings since the November [2020] election have been full of new faces concerned about voter fraud—and all of their questions and objections fall on the incorrect assertion that there is massive voter fraud. Many people do not understand the system, and many people live in a partisan echo chamber. The challenge is to inform voters in a way that they hear, and [to] accept truths and processes that prevent the thing they fear."

Wake's prescription of informed engagement is precisely what led Virginia's progressives—arguably more than its centrist Democrats—to start focusing on local politics after the 2016 defeat of Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries, and the defeat of its U.S. senator and 2016 vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, in that year's general election.

Miller, who lives near Richmond, said Virginia's political landscape was similar to Georgia's. "People tend to look at Georgia and look at their legislature and say, 'Oh, there's no point in trying to do anything in that state.' Virginia looked exactly like Georgia five years ago."

Virginia is among a handful of states with statewide elections in odd-numbered years. In 2015, the year before the presidential campaign that elected Trump, 61 out of 100 seats in its House of Delegates, its lower chamber, were uncontested. After Sanders' and Hillary Clinton's loss, many progressives, including men and women of color who never held elective office, decided to continue their activism by running for delegate or supporting candidates, said Josh Stanfield, who created a widely signed pledge not to take donations from the state's biggest utility companies.

In November 2017, many candidates—including men and women of color who in 2021 are now running for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general—were elected without the initial support of Virginia's Democratic Party, Miller said. Many of the national groups that were active in 2016 refocused on the state's legislative races in 2017, Stanfield said, which helped boost voter turnout.

"The majority of the increase in voter turnout was anti-Trump backlash," Stanfield said, "but what do we mean by anti-Trump backlash? It could include people who were fed up with xenophobia. It was not necessarily Trump-specific… There was so much more mobilization and organization on the ground. Among the grassroots activists, so many more people were involved."

After the November 2017 election, partisan control of the 100-seat House of Delegates came down to a tie in one contest. On January 4, 2018, a Republican was declared the winner of that race—giving the GOP a 51-49 majority—after the state election board's chair drew a slip of paper out of a bowl.

One year later, federal judges approved a court-ordered redrawing of 26 House of Delegate districts before Virginia's 2019 elections, after a federal judge found that the Republican majority had used race-based considerations when drawing the districts' boundaries after the 2010 census. In November 2019, 70 House of Delegate seats were contested. Democrats won a 55-45 seat majority. Democrats also won a 21-18 seat majority in the state's Senate. (One seat is vacant.)

"One of the things leading to the flip in the legislature in 2019 was the redrawing of racially gerrymandered maps," said Wake. "Besides the party flip—and more importantly—we see increased representation of minorities in Virginia. More women and more Black people are serving as legislators. Some legislators have served time. One is transgender. Some are Muslim. This means better representation, and we see this in the laws being passed."

Virginia's expansion of voting options and redrawing 26 lower legislative districts to be more representative have also led to the most diverse pool of Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governorand attorney general in upcoming party primaries and nominating conventions. There are more women, people of color, and religiously diverse candidates than in any prior election.

"The state's Democratic gubernatorial primary, taking place in June, features the most diverse set of candidates in Virginia's history," noted Jewish Insider. "There's Jennifer Carroll Foy, one of the first Black women to graduate from the esteemed Virginia Military Institute; Jennifer McClellan, a corporate attorney and vice chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus; Justin Fairfax, the current lieutenant governor and just the second Black politician ever elected to statewide office; Lee Carter, a 33-year-old self-proclaimed socialist in the House of Delegates; and Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor once before and has been a Democratic Party fixture since the Clinton administration."

"Virginia has four Black candidates running for governor in 2021. Who saw that coming in 2015?" Miller said. "Maybe the people of Georgia can look at Virginia and say, 'Oh my. Maybe there's hope for us. Virginia did it. Why can't we?' And Georgia has a bigger community of color population than Virginia—much bigger."

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.

Partisan Battles In Swing States Are Costing Democracy Dearly

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

Like endless candidate fundraising, partisan battles over accessing a ballot and voting have become akin to a "permanent campaign" in America's battleground states—where voters often decide which party holds national power.

Not every state's voters determine which party wins congressional majorities and the presidency. But among the states that tip these outcomes, partisan battles over the ease or difficulty of voting have become ongoing features of their political life—bleeding over from completed elections into state legislative sessions and forcing voters and local election officials to pivot as the cycle continues.

In America's 2020 general election, voters had more options than ever to vote—due to state responses to the pandemic. They set turnout records. But partisan fights over voting rules did not stop after Election Day, nor after the Electoral College met, nor after Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

In January, as lawmakers convened in the battleground states with Republican governors and GOP-majority statehouses, Republicans introduced a wave of restrictive voting legislation. Not every bill had traction, but bills rolling back access to a ballot and options to return it moved in Iowa, New Hampshire, Georgia, Arizona, Florida and Texas. In March, Iowa became the first state to enact rollbacks into laws, immediately triggering a lawsuit claiming that the restrictions violated its state constitution's right of equal access to a ballot. Advocates for Latino voters and the Democratic Party filed the lawsuit.

Republicans introduced similar bills in other battleground states with Democratic governors, such as in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin. But unlike in the red-led states where some of the bills may yet become law, these states lack sufficient numbers of Republican legislators to override gubernatorial vetoes. In other words, their efforts attacking voting and undermining confidence in the most democratic of public institutions are posturing mostly intended to placate their base after Democrats swept control of Congress and the White House.

Either way, partisan fights over the options to access and cast a ballot appear to have become an ongoing feature in battleground states. This development is akin to what campaign consultants first coined as a "permanent campaign" during the 1970s, referring to nonstop "image making and strategic calculation." The most disturbing aspects of permanent campaigns, according to scholars, are how they disrupt and distort political representation, governing and now, voting.

"No one planned such an emergent pattern in the general management of our public affairs, yet it now seems to lie at the heart of the way Americans do politics—or more accurately—the way politics is done to Americans," wrote Hugh Heclo, for a joint publication in 2000 from the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute on permanent campaigns.

With fundraising, the endless drive to raise big money skews a candidate's time and attention. With voting, many lawmakers are driven to revise the rules to benefit their party. After 2020, some Democrat-led states, like Virginia, passed several laws expanding ballot access. But many more Republican-led states have sought to make voting harder. These power grabs often ignore warnings from election officials about deliberately complicating the process for voters and election administrators, which is what has been unfolding in Florida over a Republican proposal to ban absentee ballot drop boxes.

Another feature of the permanent voting wars is the nonstop campaigning that now surrounds the rules for casting ballots. In Georgia, for example, which arguably has the nation's most intense post-election battles—after ex-President Trump lost its 2020 general election and its two GOP senators lost in January's runoffs—Democrats and their allies have responded to restrictive GOP bills with lobbying, media, and calls to boycott Republicans' corporate donors. Ahead of the early March NBA all-star game, superstar LeBron James and his More Than a Vote group created a TV ad criticizing the Georgia rollbacks and emphasizing that this is a long-term struggle for representative government.

The GOP efforts in red-led swing states are also striking. Notably, Republican lawmakers are justifying their proposed rollbacks by citing falsehoods about voters and voting. The most activist Republican lawmakers continue to cast doubt on the legitimacy of 2020's presidential results, even after ex-Trump administration officials—starting with former Attorney General William Barr—stated there was no widespread election fraud. The professional organizations for top state election officials have repeatedly said that 2020's general election was the most transparent, secure, and problem-free exercise in decades—from a voting and vote counting perspective. But that hasn't stopped GOP attacks.

Some of these lies have been around for years, such as falsely claiming that the country is plagued by massive illegal voting—voter fraud by Democrats. Other lies are newer, such as Trump's evidence-free claim of millions of stolen votes.

While what unfolds inside statehouses may appear to be inside local political ecosystems, some of the falsehood-filled messaging and strategic calculations are coming from the Republican National Committee and its top partisan allies.

As Mandi Merritt, an RNC spokeswoman, recently told the Washington Post, the national party "remains laser focused on protecting election integrity, and that includes aggressively engaging at the state level on voting laws and litigating as necessary." She continued, "Democrats have abandoned any pretense that they still care about election issues."

On March 8, Fox News reported that Heritage Action, the grassroots front of the right-wing Heritage Foundation—which has, for years, perpetuated a myth that illegal voting is widespread and a blight—"plan[ned] to spend at least $10 million on efforts [media and ads] to tighten election security laws in eight key swing states."

"Fair elections are essential," said Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson. The group's website had links to a February 1 "factsheet" that listed purported problems that largely do not exist—such as failures to update voter rolls. (More than half the states cooperate on this task, including sharing more reliable data than these partisans advocate.)

While Heritage Action's swing-state ads will seek to sound authoritative as they fan fears about voting, its much-hyped "Election Fraud Database" bears scrutiny. Nationally, in 2020's election cycle, where more than 155 million people voted for president—and tens of millions more voted in primaries—Heritage's database only cited five examples of illegal voting by individuals. It cited examples of people illegally signing qualifying petitions for candidates and ballot measures, and also falsifying absentee ballot applications in 2020. But these latter illegal activities were detected by officials and prosecuted, meaning, among other things, that this handful of potentially illegal ballots were caught, not cast. More importantly, Heritage's numbers attest to the fact that illegal voting is very rare and almost always detected before it counts.

But such facts are often lost when more simplistic partisan disinformation and smears race ahead, often amplified by social media sites that elevate incendiary content that attracts readers, which is what advertisers seek. Such propaganda perpetuates fake narratives that mask the real agenda: gaming election results.

"The right-wing is organizing and spending millions to enact voter suppression laws," tweeted Marc Elias, who leads the national Democratic Party's legal team, in response to the Fox News report on Heritage Action's propaganda campaign.

The reality of permanent campaigns to reshuffle voting options and rules in battleground states is yet another sign that an even-handed federal response is vital. Whether the remedy is the Democrats' omnibus election reform bill, H.R. 1, or the narrower restoration of the Voting Rights Act's enforcement provisions, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, remains to be seen. But as Brookings and AEI scholar Hugh Heclo noted a generation ago, the "permanent campaign" is eroding foundational features of representative government.

"[B]y the beginning of the twenty-first century, American national politics had gone past a mentality of campaigning to govern. It had reached the more truly corrupted condition of governing to campaign," he wrote. "It is no exaggeration to use the imagery of true 'corruption' in its classic sense—something much darker than money or sex scandals."

"We can know quite well from history when democratic politics is passing from degradation to debauchery. That happens when leaders teach a willing people to love illusions—to like nonsense because it sounds good. That happens when a free people eventually come to believe that whatever pleases them is what is true."

Arizona Legislators Still Pursuing Giuliani’s 2020 Fraud Fantasy

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

After winning a lawsuit to take possession of all of the 2020 presidential ballots and election equipment in Arizona's most populous county, Arizona's Republican-led Senate is poised to take 2020's post-election brawls into new territory where investigating unproven claims of electronically stolen votes, not widespread illegal voting, will be center stage.

Many Republicans, including Arizona legislators, have voiced their belief that former President Trump was unfairly denied a second term, citingvarious vote-centered conspiracies. In 61 out of 62 post-election lawsuits filed by Trump's allies across the country, scores of federal and state judges rejected those assertions as groundless and lacking proof.

But now that Arizona's Senate has affirmed its authority to investigate the accuracy of 2020's presidential vote count in America's second-largestelection jurisdiction—Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located—the focus has shifted from legislators fanning unproven claims of stolen votes to whether Republican lawmakers will conduct a credible evidence-centered inquiry.

"The Senate has and is doing a 100 percent audit, which is why we fought so hard to have access to all the data and documents," Arizona Senate President Karen Fann wrote on Facebook on March 2. "We are doing extensive research, interviewing, and background checks to make sure we find the best team available… This is and has always been about election integrity and getting answers to our constituents' questions and concerns."

The exercise will not change the election results, which have been certified. Trump lost Arizona by 10,457 votes, a closer margin than in Georgia, where that GOP-led state conducted a manual hand count of all of its presidential election ballots, and then electronically recounted those same paper ballots. It twice confirmed Joe Biden's victory over Trump before certifying the result. The investigation that is taking shape in Arizona could be as thorough as what was undertaken in Georgia, or it could descend into political theater to placate Trump's base.

"As you know, there is no credible evidence for any of the conspiracy theories that have abounded about the 2020 General Election," wroteArizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen on March 3. "If your goal is truly to rebuild public confidence in our democracy, it is imperative that you establish and abide by clear procedures and parameters for the security and confidentiality of the ballots and election equipment while in your custody and ensure independence and transparency should you proceed with any further audit."

A Closer Look At 2020's Closest Swing State?

Immediately after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason's February 25 ruling authorizing the state Senate's subpoenas, the county's supervisors—where four out of five are Republicans—said that they would not appeal. Its election staff began transferring the election materials, starting with 11 gigabytes of activity logs from its hundreds of voting machines.

What soon became apparent was that the senators had been more focused on winning in court than on planning the investigation that they hoped to take on. For example, the Senate had not yet secured a site for truckloads of materials, starting with 2.1 million paper ballots in sealed boxes on 70 pallets, hundreds of voting machines and tabulators, vote count management systems and the related data—digital images of every ballot cast, machine activity logs, and more.

As the first week of March began, election experts in Arizona were skeptical that the exercise would be a serious effort to examine the accuracy of Maricopa County's 2020 results.

"In this case, Sen. Fann and House members are chasing down a rabbit hole that was proposed by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell back in November. Now they're trying to find the evidence," said Benny White, a longtime Republican Party election observer in Pima County, which is not far from Phoenix. "I don't want to talk poorly about my legislators, but I don't know what the hell they are doing. They don't understand election administration at all. They don't understand how these machines work. They don't understand how votes are calculated and aggregated. They are in a political position where they think they have to do something [to respond to Trump supporters]. So they're trying to do something."

Some of White's skepticism came from Fann's prior endorsement of a proposal by a Texas firm, Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG), that had made unfounded claims about the process in Michigan and Arizona. ASOG's "scope of work" said it would "hand count approximately 550,000 of the following paper ballots and scan approximately 55,000 of the following paper ballots… over a 7-10 day period on site in Arizona for a firm, fixed price fee of $10,000."

White and others said that proposal was not serious. A precise audit does not cherry-pick what ballots to examine, he said, and its fee was unrealistically low. Fann later distanced herself from ASOG. While neither Fann nor other Senate Republican spokespeople would speak on the record, several background interviews suggested that the enormity of the actual task before the Republicans was dawning on them.

"My concern is I'm not sure if they know what they're looking for—or looking at," said Tammy Patrick, who served for 11 years as the federal compliance officer for Maricopa County's elections department, has served on a presidential commission for election reform, and now is the senior adviser for elections at the Democracy Fund, a philanthropic organization. "I also don't think they understand the volume of materials they are talking about. You're talking about at least one semitractor load for the ballots alone. What are their security protocols going to be?"

Most of Hobbs' letter to the Senate Republican leaders concerned maintaining a catalog of security and inventory controls for the ballots and machinery, as well as urging the Senate to plan for bipartisan teams to count ballots and be as transparent as possible as it proceeded.

"I implore you to treat your responsibility for the custody, security, and integrity of those items with the same level of vigilance that election officials across this State treat that responsibility," the secretary of state wrote. "I again urge you not to waste taxpayer resources chasing false claims of fraud that will only further erode public confidence in our election processes and elected officials."

What Will They Do? Who Will Do It?

Maricopa County, and Arizona as a state, both have reputations for well-run elections. While no election is error-free, election officials have extensive protocols that test their voting system hardware and software, their voting machine performance, and the vote count's accuracy before and after Election Day—before results are certified. While vote count audits don't review every vote cast, the process includes political parties choosing samples of ballots that are examined by hand, which was done following November's election. In response to Trump supporters' claims of secret manipulation of vote counts—and GOP legislators encouraging those claims—the county hired two national voting system testing laboratories to examine whether their hardware or software had been hacked or hijacked. They found no breaches.

"What's wild in all of this is that all of the voting equipment had logic and accuracy tests, and those logic and accuracy test reports could be reviewed," Patrick said. "The machinery has also undergone the [post-election] forensic test that was done by two federal testing labs. The challenge that I've had with some of this is that voting systems are not just like every other electronic device that's out there. There are some very specific things that you need to understand about voting systems in order to know what you're looking at and what it means."

"There's not a lot of point to what they're proposing," she said, assessing the Senate's probe. "They wanted a forensic report, and they got one. And now that's not enough. Even if they bring in their own specialists, they're not going to find anything, because there is no 'there' there."

As the week progressed, background interviews with reputable experts advising the Republicans said that the Senate investigation, ideally, would have three focal points.

Like Georgia, there would be a full manual hand count of every paper ballot—a massive operation involving potentially hundreds of workers in a giant warehouse. Unlike Georgia, but like the state of Maryland—whose electorate is larger than Maricopa County's—there would be an independent audit of all of the digital ballot images created by scanners. Even though voters cast paper ballots, digital images of every ballot card are what is counted by Maricopa's voting system. Third, there would be an analysis of the system's software and activity logs—detailing every operation by each voting machine—to ensure that the ballot images were correctly read and counted.

These steps, if all undertaken and not marred by predetermined conclusions, would arguably be more comprehensive than what Georgia did to verify its 2020 presidential vote. Where politics would re-enter is when Arizona's Republican legislators have to stand by the results of their process that, in all likelihood, will affirm Trump's loss. Thus, in 2020's two presidential swing states with the closest 2020 margins and histories of electing Republicans for president, the evidence would show that Biden won.

But before that assessment can occur, the Senate has to hire credible contractors and a reputable audit manager—possibly a former state election director like Detroit did before its 2020 general election. Additionally, the legislature's investigation will have to demonstrate the same level of security and inventory controls that are required of local election officials—a point underscored by Hobbs in her letter to the Senate Republican leaders.

"You have stated previously that you believe a further audit by the Senate is critical for the people of Arizona to be able to move forward and trust the 2020 General Election results. I respectfully disagree," she wrote. "But I believe we can agree that proceeding without clear procedures for the security of the ballots and election equipment when they are in your custody, and clear procedures to ensure the integrity, independence, and transparency of the audit itself and the auditors selected, will only open the door to more conspiracy theories and further erosion of voters' confidence in Arizona's elections processes."

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 Trying To Restrict Voting May See Their Schemes Backfire

On February 22, Iowa legislators held a one-hour public hearing on a Republican election reform bill that had been introduced just days before and could achieve what Donald Trump's campaign had failed to do during 2020's election—curtail voting options for perceived Democratic voting blocs.

Iowa's House State Government Committee's first witness was Alan Ostergren, a conservative lawyer whose views typified those backing the legislation.

"This bill has needed improvements," he said, referring to its rollback of early in-person voting (from 40 days last fall to 18 days), ban on election officials sending voters an absentee ballot application, $10,000 fines for county officials and poll workers who err, and harder ballot access thresholds for third-party candidates. "It's also not voter suppression. That's name-calling. … No one ever defines what that term means. It just means that somebody is upset."

The majority of those testifying, however, opposed the bill and were specific.

"The way the bill is currently written will limit the voting options of older Iowans, Iowans with disabilities, Iowans with chronic health conditions, Iowans working multiple jobs and Iowans without reliable transportation," said Amy Campbell, representing the League of Women Voters and Area Agencies on Aging. "The bill does not allow the voter to call the [county] auditor and ask for an absentee ballot request form to be sent to them. Not all Iowans have printers [at home] and have the ability to go to the county seat to request an absentee ballot."

"I'm concerned about the provision… which, in effect, threatens county auditors and ordinary co-workers with fines and jail time for merely asking a disruptive observer to stop interfering with the process," said Emily Silliman, an election observer last year. "I witnessed a serious attempt to shut down the process."

Iowa's legislation is one of the most aggressive responses to 2020's record voter turnout in the presidential election. Iowa saw nearly 76 percent of its voters cast ballots, including 1 million people who voted early or with a mailed-out ballot. Nationally, about two-thirds of voters cast mailed-out ballots (66 million people) or voted in-person before November 3's Election Day (36 million people.) But not every battleground state with a Republican-majority legislature is poised to pass draconian voting bills as Iowa is, where GOP legislators fast-tracked a bill that they expect to be signed into law days after the hearing.

"You heard the majority of the folks who testify asking us to rethink this; slow down," said Iowa Rep. Mary Mascher, the House State Government Committee's ranking Democrat, at the hearing's close. "This has been fast-tracked, and usually that occurs when the majority party decides that they want to push something through quickly without people being able to fully understand what is actually in the bill."

Across the country, as state legislatures approach crossover deadlines, where a bill must pass one chamber to stay in play, election bills—some curtailing voting, some expanding voting—have led to a flurry of activity in a few swing states.

Arizona, which was tagged by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law as having the most anti-voter bills introduced in 2021, had seen the most extreme measures (voter purges, ending early voting, restricting mail ballots) proposed by Trump allies fall by the wayside. But on February 24, its Senate revived a bill that would purge about 200,000 voters from a list of automatic mail ballot recipients. It had failed one week before that when one Republican joined all Democrats in opposition.

Georgia, where two recounts affirmed Trump's loss and two Republican incumbent U.S. senators were defeated in January runoffs—giving Democrats full control in Washington—has also seen a spike in Republican bills to roll back voting options.

As the last week of February began, Georgia's Senate added a new ID requirement for returning a mailed-out ballot. By midweek, other measures with more sweeping restrictions began swiftly moving through its Houseand Senate.

The Georgia Senate passed a bill adding a voter ID requirement on February 23. That step, which adds work for voters and election officials, was backed by "91 percent of conservatives and 55 percent of liberals," according to a January poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But the later House and Senate bills are more punitive, such as imposing wider restrictions on absentee voting, limiting drop boxes for returning ballots, banning giving voters food or drinks as they wait outside polls, and disqualifying provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

"Georgia Republicans once again showed their contempt for voters as two of the worst voter suppression bills since Reconstruction continued to move quickly through the state legislature," said a statement by Fair Fight, a Georgia voting rights group, about the new bills. "SB 241 would end no-excuse mail voting, implement new ID requirements, and add witness requirements for mail voters—in essence, creating one of the most restrictive absentee voting laws in the entire country and resulting in some of the worst voter suppression since Jim Crow."

No Single Republican Narrative

But outside of national battleground states, some GOP-majority legislatures are putting into law some of the same expanded voting options offered in response to the pandemic—the same voting options that are under attack in swing states.

Idaho, a deep-red state where in 2020 about 400,000 voters cast absentee ballots and another 100,000 people voted early, is not changing these voting options. A unanimously passed Senate bill allows local election officials to contact voters if there is a problem with a returned absentee ballot—to fix it. The bill also allows officials to start processing absentee ballots before Election Day, so results can more quickly be tabulated on election night.

In Kentucky, where the Republican-majority legislature recently overrode vetoes by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on bills stripping him of emergency authority (such as ordering state residents to wear masks in the pandemic), bills have been introduced to add four days of early in-person voting, but not to continue its pandemic response of suspending requirements to get a mailed-out ballot.

"I still call it a pro-voter bill. They are doing the best they can with the kind of support they can get, and I feel like they should be commended for that," said Audrey Kline, national policy director at the National Vote at Home Institute, which helps state and local officials to implement voting via absentee ballots. "Obviously, I'd like it if everybody voted like Colorado [with mailed-out ballots], but you have a lot of competing forces [in Kentucky], and some of them are town clerks. If a reform doesn't work for them, it isn't going anywhere."

Similarly, Indiana's House passed a bill to slightly expand early voting hours. (It also backed off a draconian reform: a Senate proposal to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote. It was withdrawn after Indiana's secretary of state, a Republican, determined that requirement was unconstitutional.)

In a handful of states with GOP-majority legislatures and Democratic governors—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina—Republicans do not have sufficient members to override a gubernatorial veto. That means that passed bills rolling back voting options or adding bureaucracy will not likely become law. (Several just-introduced GOP bills in Wisconsin would face vetoes if passed by the legislature, local media has predicted.)

In Republican-led states in the Midwest and Plains, early and absentee voting options that may have been expanded in the pandemic are unlikely to become law, according to Electionline.org. In these states, Republicans who are seeking to roll back voting rights are meeting a mixed response.

The Arkansas legislature passed an anti-voter bill saying that voters who lack ID can no longer sign an affidavit swearing to their identity. That revision "would return us to the pure aspect of voter ID," a GOP lawmaker said. In contrast, in Nebraska, which has the country's only unicameral legislature, only one senator spoke in favor of a bill to curtail mailing out ballots and voting early.

Missouri, a red state where top officials reluctantly expanded absentee voting in response to the pandemic, is reverting to its pre-COVID-19 landscape. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said he expected this spring's municipal elections to take place without expanded no-excuse absentee ballots. "People want to vote in person," he said. But in St. Louis, the Board of Elections told reporters that some voters have asked if 2020's no-excuse absentee voting was still available. It's not.

Stepping back, the most restrictive election reforms appear to be concentrated in a few swing states—led by Trump-supporting legislators—not in all of the 23 states where Republicans control their state legislature and the governorship.

"None of these things fit into a tight neat narrative that Republicans are trying to destroy vote-by-mail," said Kline, when assessing the national reform landscape. "The states and the circumstances are just so unique. You cross the border from one state into another, and you're in a different ecosystem."

Democratic States Also Differ

Similarly, the notion that Democratic-led states are widely embracing an expansion of voting options following the pandemic is also not entirely accurate.

In progressive states like Maryland and Vermont, Kline said legislators have been studying options to expand early and absentee balloting. In Vermont, a Senate committee just passed a bill to mail all voters a ballot for all general elections In Maryland, lawmakers are considering a mix of expanded early and absentee voting.

In bigger states like New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, post-2020 reforms are on a slower track. News reports from New Jersey and Massachusetts suggest that municipalities are transitioning back to narrower pre-pandemic voting options for elections this March and April—which is akin to Missouri. (In Massachusetts on February 24, the House Speaker said he would extend the deadline for expanded voting by mail to June 30, and supported making the option permanent.)

In Connecticut, the state's Constitution would have to be amended to expand voting by mail, a years-long process. Red-led Alabama, by contrast, will extend all pandemic-sparked voting options for all of 2021's municipal elections, including for mayoral elections in Mobile and Birmingham later this year.

So far, 2021 has seen a few local elections, even as most cities will hold primaries and mayoral elections this year. Michael McDonald, the University of Florida political scientist who tracked the daily turnout numbers for early and absentee voters in the presidential election, said that it was too early to know if 2020's embrace of absentee and early voting would continue after the pandemic.

"When it passes, do normal patterns restore? That's the big question," he said.

McDonald, who is finishing a book on 2020's voting patterns, said that legislatures now adopting aggressive election reforms were mistakenly assuming the way that people voted during the pandemic would be "how everything is going to work in the future, and we have to take preventative action to affect future elections."

Many Republicans voted in person after Trump attacked voting by mail, he said, because "if Trump [had] endorsed mail-in balloting, he [might have] had to admit that the pandemic was real." But there was a late surge of Republicans who voted with mailed-out ballots, he said, especially as Election Day approached.

Historically, the biggest impact of voting with mailed-out ballots is to increase turnout for local elections, McDonald said. Thus, legislation to roll back this option—such as in Iowa and possibly Georgia—could backfire on the GOP.

"Interestingly, when you look at the studies, this is where these efforts hurt Republicans to some degree," he said. "The studies find it is more affluent people, higher educated, whiter, who fit the Republican profile, and are the ones who are more likely to be stimulated to vote by all-mail-ballot elections."

Kline raised another issue that could backfire on legislators who are pushing bills to add 'security' measures to the processing of returned mailed-out ballots: those requirements would end up costing county officials more time and money.

"There are costs," she said, citing Florida legislation that would require voters who sign up to automatically receive mailed-out ballots to update their request every two years. (The current law is every four years.) About 5 million Floridians voted with absentee ballots in the presidential election. If it conservatively costs each county $1 to process an absentee ballot request, Kline said that potential mandate could foist millions in new costs onto counties.

"A longer or more complex process costs more money—period," she said. "A couple of years ago, if I could walk up to a Republican legislator and say, 'Hey, I can save you a couple of million dollars on running elections more efficiently,' they would say to me, 'Sign me up.'"

As Kline noted, every state is a different political ecosystem. While not every red state is following Iowa's footsteps, it remains to be seen how far Georgia's GOP legislators will go to subvert voting rights.

On February 24, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state who resisted Trump's call to "find" votes and declare him the winner of its presidential election, tweeted his response to the GOP bills racing through its legislature.

"We are reviewing bills," he said. "Once we see something that prioritizes the security and accessibility of elections, we'll throw in support. At the end of the day, many of these bills are reactionary to a three-month disinformation campaign that could have been prevented."

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