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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

Study: How Online Propagandists Targeted The 2020 Election

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

Partisan disinformation to undermine 2020's presidential election shadowed every step of the voting process last year but took an unprecedented turn when the earliest false claims morphed into intricate conspiracies as Election Day passed and President Trump worked to subvert the results, according to two of the nation's top experts tracking the election propaganda.

At the general election's outset, as states wrapped up their primaries and urged voters to use mailed-out ballots in response to the pandemic, false claims began surfacing online—in tweets, social media posts, text messages, reports on websites, videos and memes—targeting the stage in the electoral process that was before voters. These attacks on the nuts and bolts of voting, from registration to the steps to obtain and cast a ballot, began as "claims of hacking and voter fraud… [that] honed [in] on specific events," said Matt Masterson, who helped lead the Department of Homeland Security's election security team.

"This is a lot of what we talked about with you at CISA [the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] in the lead-up [to Election Day], anticipating that were there were problems experienced, and then in the contested elections, those would be used to blow out of proportion or lie about what was actually taking place," Masterson said, speaking to the nation's state election directors in early February at a winter 2021 conference.

But as November 3's Election Day approached and the vote-counting continued afterward in presidential battleground states, Masterson and a handful of teams working inside and outside of government to trace and track disinformation, and to urge online platforms and sources to curb their false content, saw an unexpected development. The narrowly focused threads that attacked earlier steps in the process of running elections swapped out purported villains and protagonists and became a full-blown conspiratorial tapestry attacking the results.

"They all got combined into one big narrative… one large lie to try to undermine confidence in the election," said Masterson, whose presentation at the National Association of State Election Directors' (NASED) meeting traced this evolution.

"Misinformation is the frontier in election security and election integrity," said Aaron Wilson, senior director for election security at the Center for Internet Security, which tracked 209 cases of misleading or deliberately false attacks on voting, at the same NASED forum.

Early Predictable Attacks

Masterson's and Wilson's presentations were some of the most detailed analyses yet tracing the evolution of propagandistic attacks on 2020's voting process and election administration. The Stanford Internet Observatory, where Masterson is a fellow, will release a full report—including naming the biggest purveyors of 2020 election disinformation, both the platforms and their highest-volume users—later this winter.

Election officials knew they would be targets for partisan misinformation (mistaken claims) and disinformation (intentionally distorted claims) in 2020. Their first lines of defense, following the cyber intrusions by Russia in 2016, were hardening their infrastructure—the computers that run elections—and creating clearinghouses to rapidly communicate about threats and responses among the nation's more than 8,000 election jurisdictions. Masterson and Wilson led efforts within this sphere, where, by all accounts, 2020 saw no major cybersecurity breaches.

But while election officials were pleased with the steps they were taking inside their state and local offices, the outside attacks on the nuts and bolts of voting kept building during the general election. The early attacks were narrowly focused but shrewd, noted Wilson, who said election disinformation's purveyors exploited the public's lack of knowledge of how elections are run. As Masterson noted, the initial wave cited procedural steps to claim voter fraud and hacking.

For example, as voting rights groups sent absentee ballot applications to voters in swing states, posts appeared on social media falsely stating that voters—and dead people—were receiving multiple ballots, Wilson said. As states put up online voter registration portals to assist voters during the pandemic, online posts falsely asserted that voter information could be sabotaged—altered by political opponents to block would-be voters. When early in-person voting began, false claims erupted about when and where to vote, using ballot drop boxes, the results (before there were any), and votes being thrown out.

"A theme that permeated the misinformation that was reported to us was that it really resulted from or took advantage of people's lack of knowledge of how elections are run," Wilson said.

In the week before Election Day and in its immediate aftermath, the volume of misinformation and disinformation increased. Half of CIS's cases emerged in this period. As the process shifted to casting ballots and counting votes, more conspiratorial narratives emerged where the vote-counting process became the target—and the villains were swapped to fit the new storyline.

Masterson offered two examples of this transition. The first showed how ex-President Trump's fervent supporters rapidly embraced the false claim that Trump votes were being disqualified because of the pens they used to mark their ballots. The second example showed how older false claims were updated and expanded in ways not seen in prior election propaganda.

More Than Echo Chambers

The first example was "Sharpiegate," which emerged on November 4, a day after Election Day.

"Sharpiegate was, of course, the claim that using Sharpies [pens] on ballots either invalidated the ballots or the votes weren't counted," said Masterson. "It originated in Arizona. And what you saw was these messages really begin to take off. Of the 100 messages that were shared [on Twitter], they got 200,000 or more retweets, or likes, or furtherances."

Within hours, fact-check organizations like PolitiFact posted responses on Twitter, he said. But those posts barely drew more than 10,000 viewers on November 4 and the next day, whereas the "#Sharpiegate" retweets escalated to 20 times that volume. Masterson said Sharpiegate showed "how quickly a narrative can take off, and despite really good efforts to push back, how fast people will latch onto a false or misleading narrative."

The episode didn't stop there—and showed how the architecture of online communications amplified a patently false claim to an audience primed to receive it.

"It started in Arizona, but it didn't take much time to then have those claims alleged in other states, other jurisdictions, Michigan specifically, even if the same [voting] systems, the same pens, Sharpies, weren't used at all," Masterson said.

Election officials did not sit idly by. The secretaries of state in Arizona and Michigan, and county election departments in those states, all responded with their own tweets on November 4, he said. Their rebuttals took the best form at dispelling misinformation: first stating facts, then addressing the disinformation's claims, and then laying out other information, he said.

Notably, two Arizona NBC TV affiliates reported on the fabricated controversy and posted on its Twitter page, "Sharpies do not invalidate ballots," Masterson recounted, showing slides of the posts. "Those are two local television stations pushing back, offering facts, [yet] along the side there, in the comments, people are basically saying, 'You're lying,' 'You're incorrect,' 'You don't know what we are talking about…' 'You're covering it up.'"

Masterson then turned to his second case study, which showed "the building of the conspiracy or narrative around a fraudulent election."

Hammer And Scorecard Becomes Dominion

Masterson started with a November 2018 post on a social media page for QAnon, which is an increasingly popular and layered far-right conspiracy that, among other things, baselessly accuses leading Democrats of operating pedophile rings and drinking the blood of children. The 2018 post includes "claims or theories—false, incorrect—that DHS [the Department of Homeland Security—where Masterson was a senior adviser for election security] was putting watermarks and isotopes on ballots in order to track those ballots to track voter fraud."

"It was not new to 2020. But it built. It grew. The narrative got more and more complex as it went on," he said. "And 'Ballotgate' became a phrase that started with that tighter conversation around how DHS was going to track voter fraud and crack down on it, and began to be used to describe any claims of any manipulation of any ballots… which then grew into 'Hammer and Scorecard."

"For those of you not familiar, Hammer and Scorecard was a claim that there were two pieces of software that U.S. intelligence had developed to use internationally to rig [voting] systems, and the two pieces of software allowed for the manipulation of the systems in it," he continued. There were several versions of this claim. One said that foreign governments were using the software against Trump. Another claimed that federal officials were using this software against Trump. Another blamed unspecified domestic "bad actors."

The "obviously, demonstrably false" Hammer and Scorecard story drew hundreds of thousands of retweets and shares in the week after Election Day, Masterson noted. By the next weekend, the related traffic on Parler—an unregulated platform favored by Trump supporters until it was taken offline in January—escalated into hundreds of thousands of messages, as traced hashtags. Those conversations then began to blend with claims that Dominion Voting Systems, whose balloting and counting machines were used in a few swing states, were secretly stealing Trump votes.

"Hammer and Scorecard morphs into, instead of just this CIA-, intelligence community-focused theory, to then begin to talk about Dominion and the various conspiracies about Dominion," he said. Theories about unadvertised counting features on voting systems being used by insiders to steal votes have circulated among the political left for two decades, Masterson noted.

"But now they got all combined into one big narrative that used Hammer and Scorecard, and Dominion, and other systems into one large lie to try to undermine confidence in the election," he said, "to the point… [where] there were conversations [by Republican legislators in Arizona] about the seizure of voting systems. That should make any state election official's skin crawl and shudder. Because none of it is true, and yet there's this push to use the lie to undermine the results completely."

More Transparency, More Propaganda

Masterson and Wilson discussed other 2020 trends that had unexpected consequences that fed the stolen election narrative. By many measures—live video streams, public and press viewing areas, partisan election observers—the 2020 presidential election was the most transparent ever. But some of those public images were put forth as false evidence of election theft, they said. Images of ballot drop boxes and storage bins were top examples, where pro-Trump pundits and bloggers claimed that the images showed vote theft in progress.

"The same goes for data," Masterson said. "We have more data available around elections than we've ever had before. I think that's only going to increase. That is, again, a positive, a good thing. But we saw over and over again the misapplication of election data, whether it was election night reporting… [or] vote totals—you know, the claims that there were dumps of votes, even though election officials had messages over and over and over again [about] how the vote count was going to proceed."

More insidious were statistical reports that purported to show vote count irregularities from academics and others who had little experience running elections or that made big assumptions—such as that registered Republicans would only vote for Trump. "I know [MIT election scholar] Charles Stewart and the folks at Stanford [Internet Observatory and its partners] just picked apart all these statistical inaccuracies and claims. But [those making the claims were] using the data to create really good-looking but completely misleading and incorrect charts… to undermine confidence."

Masterson said that foreign adversaries, such as Russia and Iran, both overtly and covertly drew on the domestic disinformation campaigns to fan an already chaotic election—for example, there were reports of Iranian intelligence officials posing as the far-right Proud Boys and sending threatening emails to Democrats.

He praised some statewide election officials, such as Wisconsin's Meagan Wolfe and Georgia's Gabriel Sterling, for being constant presences that debunked disinformation. He said that a constant media presence was needed in 2020 and would be needed in future elections.

"The more avenues that it's coming at people, the more likely they are to both see it and digest it, because they are seeing it [disinformation] from multiple sources," he said. "The response to these claims needs to be a continued broad push of transparency and facts, not recoiling and saying, 'It doesn't matter. It's already too late…'

The Platforms Feint Response

Masterson and Wilson ended their NASED presentations on upbeat notes. But their analyses underscored that online disinformation attacking the voting process was often more effective in its ability to propel cynical partisan beliefs than factual rebuttals.

Immediately after their talk, another little-known aspect to combatting 2020's misinformation emerged. The next panel featured representatives from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They defended how their platforms dealt with the falsehoods on their perches, such as posting labels on posts that were disputed or false, posting voter alerts, and occasionally taking down posts.

When the time for questions came, the very officials who avoided cybersecurity breaches in 2020, who pivoted to voting by mail and early voting in the pandemic, and who presided over America's highest-turnout presidential election sat in grim silence.

"I'll jump in," said Judd Choate, Colorado's elections director. "There was a real concentrated effort to dismiss or undercut all the basic tenets of the way we operate elections."

"We had Sharpiegate. We had attacks on our voting systems and on our election policies, claims of fraudulent votes, dead voters, and so forth, all of which we have the facts. We have the ability and wherewithal to… attack on each one of those claims," he said.

But after Election Day, when counting votes was under attack and new narratives emerged that attacked the accuracy of the results and election's legitimacy, Choate said that the platforms' ban on political ads prevented officials from responding to falsities filling their platforms.

"Colorado, in particular, made several attempts to purchase time on Google, and [we] were rebuffed every time. We were categorized as a political ad. We're clearly not a political ad. We were the facts. We were the trusted voice," he said, adding that Colorado met similar obstacles at Facebook.

"Going forward… we need the ability to be proactive," he said. "And we really didn't have it in this post-election environment."

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.


What Trump’s Attack On Arizona Voters Shows About Our Election Systems

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

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo had heard enough. More than a half-hour into the board's January 27 consideration of a "forensic" audit where two outside firms would assess if its voting system used in Arizona's 2020 presidential election had been infiltrated and the results altered, the former state senator said that his vote in favor of the audit "was a tough pill to swallow."

"We had our presidential preference election, not one complaint," Gallardo said. "We had our primary election in August. Not one complaint. Everyone was happy. We had our general election. No complaint, until a day or two after the general election, when some folks in our community and across this country started looking at the results."

"They were not happy with the result," he continued. "That's quite normal in the world of elections. Folks that are not happy with the results generally do complain. This year, they took it a step further. They continue to spread lies and conspiracies about how our elections are conducted, and now our machines are the target."

Arizona had the second-closest presidential election margin in 2020, a difference of about 10,500 votes between the winner, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump. The margin did not trigger a recount under state election laws, which the state's GOP-majority legislature had changed in recent years to narrow the margin requiring a recount. But in the months since Election Day, Trump supporters, including state legislators, have ramped up their attacks, raising the question of what proof, if any, will convince them of the outcome.

The supervisors governing Arizona's most populous county unanimously voted to begin an audit to determine if its electronic voting system was "accurate, reliable and secure," as the county's election co-director told the board. Meanwhile, in Arizona's state Senate, Republicans who supported Trump have ramped up their attack on Biden's victory and demanded Maricopa County turn over its voting machines and 2.1 million ballots to Senate investigators.

The county has so far refused, even as Trump supporters are urging the Senate to seize the machinery and ballots. Leaders of Trump's legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, speculated in Arizona testimony that Trump votes were secretly turned into Biden votes. Those allegations, in part, led Dominion Voting Systems, which made the county's voting equipment, to sue Giuliani for $1.3 billion. (Dominion has filed 2,912-pages of exhibits detailing Giuliani's false statements.)

This fight in Arizona centers on what evidence could be used to satisfy voters that election results are accurate and legitimate. But the fight is also part of a pattern in battleground states where perpetuating the myth of a stolen election has become the opening move in what may become major rollbacks of voting options.

"Nothing is going to convince them. They're always going to be casting doubt," said Gallardo. "They're using our system; they're using our audit as justification for doing it. How many times did I hear… the legislature, over the last two weeks now, say, 'We need to do an audit so we can introduce legislation?'… They're using this audit to introduce legislation to make it difficult for other people to vote. It's called voter suppression."

Gallardo's assertion that Trump's supporters will never be convinced underscores that one of the top challenges confronting American democracy is identifying what steps will restore public confidence in elections. Beyond debating how officials might counter propaganda attacking the process is a baseline question for those concerned with presenting the facts: Is the most crucial balloting data to verify results being made public?

Evidence of Accurate Vote Counts

Seen from afar, Arizona is a national leader in transparent elections. As Sambo Dul, Arizona elections director, told the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) during its recent winter 2021 conference, every step of the process—from programming the voting systems without being connected to the internet, to the use of hand-marked paper ballots, to pre- and post-election testing of machinery and audits of reported results, including verifying results before its certifies winners—is "aimed at ensuring the security and integrity of our system."

"After each voting location is closed down on election night, their materials go to an audit board," Dul said on February 3. "The audit board reviews the election board materials to make sure that all of the numbers [voters, ballots returned, ballots counted] are reconciled prior to the canvass… And as a final check, we require counties to conduct a logic and accuracy test [on counting scanners] after all of the ballots in the counties have been tabulated."

These steps all occurred in 2020's presidential election, including post-Election Day machinery tests and vote count audits that showed no hint that the results were wrong.

As granular as these steps were, Maricopa County's audit will go further, Scott Jarrett, director of Election Day and emergency voting with the Maricopa County Elections Department, told the county supervisors on January 27. "A forensic audit is a process that will review [the election process], to determine and identify whether our electronic equipment is accurate, reliable and secure."

"It's a multilayered, robust process that will review that it's not susceptible to hacking, and that it wasn't hacked during the November 2020 general election," he said, describing the audit. "We'll also review that there's no malicious software or hardware that has been installed on any of our tabulation equipment or devices. It'll also confirm that our tabulation equipment is not connected to the internet and wasn't connected to the internet throughout the November 2020 general election. But we're going to expand that to be even further [and] go back to when the logic and accuracy tests occurred for the August primary election."

These assessments will be technical and likely hard for the public to follow. Given the political landscape, their conclusions will likely be dismissed by Trump's base. But Maricopa County's forensic audit also may surface too much information without getting to the heart of the matter—which would reveal the most direct evidence that the county's 2020 results were accurate.

Why not? The forensic audit will probe whether the county's computers that processed its hand-marked and machine-marked ballots to count votes were accurately reading those ballots—not recalculating or reassigning votes, which is what the pro-Trump witnesses alleged during Senate's hearings in November.

But what the audit will not do is examine what may be the most important part of the vote-counting evidence trail: the computer files, including images of every paper ballot cast, created to count votes, and the activity logs documenting that process. The county will examine the machinery and software used, but not compare the paper ballots, ballot images and the ensuing vote count. That distinction was confirmed by the county election office's spokeswoman.

"The ballot images and the activity logs should be a public record," said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist focusing on ballot image audits.

How Paper Ballots Are Counted

The latest voting systems, including those used in Maricopa County, do not count paper ballots directly. Instead, computer scanners create a digital image of every ballot card. Those images are then analyzed by software, which creates a grid that correlates ink marks—votes—with each ballot's choices. The resulting tally, a spreadsheet of sorts, is built into the vote count. Formally, that tally becomes what is called the cast vote record.

In mid-2020, lawyers associated with the Florida Democratic Party sued the eight largest counties in that state seeking to force the counties to preserve ballot images as public election records. Since the 1960 Civil Rights Act, all materials used in federal elections must be preserved for 22 months. However, that federal law, which criminalized the destruction of election materials, was written in an era predating today's paper and electronic voting systems.

The Florida counties agreed to preserve their ballot images if there was a 2020 presidential recount—which did not happen. Meanwhile, in January 2021, a Florida law took effect that allows its counties to use ballot images as part of their recount process. (Recounts are not the same as audits; recounts can change election results.) This seemingly arcane and technical fight revolves around a key question: Is all of the data surrounding vote counts a protected public record?

The short answer is no—even though state and federal election officials have been gradually acknowledging that this data is there and crucial. For several years, the state of Maryland has used ballot image audits to verify its results before certifying winners. The soon-to-be-adopted Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which states used as a best practice standard, refer to ballot images but do not urge states to save them. The massive election reform bill introduced by Democrats in Congress, H.R. 1 and its Senate companion, does not update election records retention requirements for digital data.

But, increasingly, election officials, including Republicans being attacked by pro-Trump factions, have been citing digital evidence generated during ballot-processing and vote-counting to push back on conspiracy theories that their elections were fraudulent and illegitimate.

In Georgia, during its second count of all presidential ballots—an unprecedented hand count of 5 million ballots—Gabriel Sterling, the state election operations manager, told the press that his staff was able to use the activity logs in scanners to identify why several thousand votes for Trump were not counted on election night. Basically, some poll workers, after a 15-hour day, failed to transfer the data from the scanners to their county's tabulation system. Those votes were subsequently added to Trump's totals, although he did not win the state.

A Paper And Digital Evidence Trail

There is no guarantee that providing real evidence to hyperpartisans will change minds when their candidate lost. However, not making public—and preserving—the paper and electronic records, data and evidence trail associated with counting votes will only fan more suspicions. Those doubts will emerge when facts about how ballots are counted are obscured.

For example, when Arizona Trump activist Liz Harris went on Stephen Bannon's "War Room" online radio show on February 3, she gave a laundry list of election files and data that she was hoping the Arizona Senate would seize to prove Biden lost. While the list was a fishing expedition seeking targets to boost their stolen election narrative, much of what she sought was irrelevant to counting votes.

"We're looking for election log files, election settings, accounts and tokens, Windows servers and desktops, Dominion equipment, Dominion network access to the logins for the Dominion records. We're looking for Election Systems and Software [another voting system maker]. We're looking for the voter rolls, and most importantly, and I can't stress this enough, access to all original paper ballots including but not limited to early ballots, Election Day ballots and provisional ballots," Harris said. "I'm very confident based on the work… we will find a minimum of 106,000 fraudulent ballots, and I make that statement with great faith."

What's missing from this list are the specific records and related data that were used to count the presidential election's votes in Maricopa County—in addition to the paper ballots, the digital ballot image files of every paper ballot cast, and activity logs from the scanners processing those ballots and tabulating the votes.

During NASED's winter meeting, countering misinformation was the subject of February 4's presentations. State election directors from states with Republican and Democratic majorities were uniformly confident that the 2020 election results were accurate. They said that election officials had done more than ever before to open their processes to public viewing. But they still felt they were burned by partisan disinformation, despite their efforts at transparency.

"I want to talk a little bit about transparency, which is a positive," said Matt Masterson, a former top-ranking federal official who has worked for various agencies on election technology and voting security. "I want to state over and over again… that the level of transparency that election officials offered in this election was far greater than any election that I've experienced. There were more livestreams or updates, more press conferences, more access to the information than ever before."

"And transparency is a positive, but can also be used as a negative, right?" he continued. "We saw repeatedly the use of video and livestreams to make [false] claims about, 'Oh, did you see what he did there? He switched the ballots out.' 'Did you see what she did there?'… Using the data to create really good-looking but completely misleading and incorrect charts, using voter data to claim, 'I'm not saying something happened. But if you look at this, it doesn't appear right.'"

Masterson came down on the side of more transparency. He urged state election directors to counter disinformation by presenting the facts of their administrative processes "as quickly as possible," to then focus on dispelling rumors, and then to offer more detailed analyses.

In Arizona, Trump activist Liz Harris told Steve Bannon that her state "has this stuff intact," referring to its preservation of the paper and electronic records surrounding voting in the 2020 presidential election. "We would be the perfect state to do the deep dive forensic audit."

On that point, Harris was correct. Jarrett, a co-director of Maricopa County's elections, told the supervisors on January 27 that their ballot-marking devices, scanners, tabulators and their accompanying digital files have been sealed and kept in a vault since the November 3 election—including untouched memory cards containing a backup of all ballot images and their votes.

"Our equipment is ready," Jarrett said, referring to the county's audit. "It has not been tampered with. It's still in the same state it was during the election and then the post-election."

Maricopa County's assessment of its election machinery—but not its presidential ballots and vote count—began on February 2.

Reformers Seek Sweeping Changes To Bolster Democracy

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

The Trump presidency is over and the Biden presidency has begun. The 2020 election's legacy will now turn to examining how the institutions and laws that govern voting can be fortified, after a bruising season where Trump attacked the process as illegitimate and enlarged the GOP myth of massive voter fraud.

Normally, after every presidential election, every sector involved in elections issues post-election reports and prescriptions. While Trump's refusal to admit defeat has delayed that process, the emerging analyses and recommendations so far have two focuses. The first concerns the maze of laws and rules governing elections. The second focus is arguably harder to solve, as it concerns the personal and societal factors that allowed the narratives of stolen elections and underlying conspiracies to take hold among tens of millions of Americans—such as 15 percent of Republicans who still support the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

"This anger on the part of some people has been building for a long time, and there can be a separate discussion of why it is that people are feeling frustrated and that leads to a willingness to engage in violence," said Michael Chertoff, former U.S. secretary of homeland security and a leader of the bipartisan National Task Force on Election Crises, which was convened last year as Trump escalated his attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. "But the fuse that lit this particular explosion was a big lie."

"It was the lie propagated by Donald Trump and his supporters that this election was rigged and stolen and fraudulent," Chertoff said, speaking on January 15 as the National Task Force on Election Crises issued its recommendations. "Even though, repeatedly, when evidence was requested, no evidence was provided, and every court rejected these claims. But the big lie nevertheless continued to propagate and reflects a challenge in our society in terms of truth and willingness to trust our [electoral] institutions."

In the short run, Chertoff believes that those individuals who led the lie-based attacks on 2020's elections—Trump, those storming the Capitol, elected officials seeking to override swing-state popular votes, pro-Trump lawyers filing falsity-filled lawsuits—must be held accountable. That near-term step will help revive factual baselines and trust in electoral institutions, he said. But the body's recommendations, like other "what next?" discussions by legal scholars, policymakers, election officials and advocacy groups, concern other foundations of American democracy.

The task force made 28 recommendations in several areas, including: election administration, with regard to how states helped voters both to get a ballot during the pandemic and to ensure their votes were accurately counted; legal reforms, ranging from clarifying federal laws governing the Electoral College and presidential transitions to urging that states modify their post-Election Day procedures to allow more assurances that votes were being counted accurately; and social media platforms, which would do better to delete false posts, not merely add warning labels.

As extensive as this to-do list seems, it is not the full democracy reform agenda. In July 2020, a 25-member expert panel based at Harvard University and the Washington-based Brookings Institution issued a reportcalling for mandatory voting. As María Teresa Kumar, founding president of Voto Latino, who participated in that panel and the bipartisan task force, said, universal voting was one way to dilute the power of the most extreme political factions.

"Universal voting, in countries that practice it, actually tones down the extremism on both sides because it involves everybody," she said. "If there are methods to promote that type of practice in the country, we will see not only fair elections but more participation… with the hopes of toning down that extremism that we are witnessing today."

An even longer-standing reform effort led by voting rights advocates is calling for swift passage of H.R. 1. That 791-page House bill addresses election intricacies, campaign finance and ethics. It is comprised of reforms proposed mostly by Democrats from more than 50 bills that failed to pass during the past decade when Republicans controlled at least one chamber in Congress. A growing coalition of 170 center-left groups are pushing for H.R. 1, even though most of it was drafted before the pandemic dramatically altered how 2020's general election was conducted, including greatly expanding the use of mailed-out ballots and early in-person voting. One day before Biden's inauguration, a version of H.R. 1 was introduced in the Senate.

On the same day, Marc Elias, who led the Democratic Party's voting rights litigation, published his initial ideasbased on the 2020 election. They include "shoring up the weak points in our system that Trump and his allies exploited," such as streamlining post-election certification of winners, improving access to ballots, minimizing bureaucracy surrounding mailed-out ballots, and better audits and transparency to assure voters are not being disenfranchised.

"As we transition to an America without Trump as its president, the days are still dark—an epidemic is raging and the assault on democracy continues," he said. "Although the man will leave the White House, it has become clear that Trumpism will remain, now deeply embedded in the Republican Party. The damage that it has done and, until rooted out, will continue to do to our nation and its institutions and values is structural and will not be easily repaired."

Where To Begin?

The early post-election reports, related briefings and other discussions suggest bold action is needed to counter the damage done to the institutions and procedures undergirding American democracy. Even though Trump and his allies lost 64 out of 65 post-election lawsuits (and gained no votes in the suit they won), the constitutional roles surrounding who regulates elections must be clarified. The steps instituted to help voters during the pandemic have not been codified into law—and may even be rolled back in red-run states. The architecture of online media that spread Trump's stolen election lies remain in place.

Every new presidency has a window to pass a fraction of its agenda. When it comes to dealing with the damage done to America's elections, the emerging question is what steps are likely to most immediately fortify democratic institutions. Put another way, if the bedrock of American democracy was shaken and tested, what steps—possibly beyond what was on the table in 2020's elections—are needed to strengthen representative government?

On January 14, a dozen of the nation's leading constitutional scholars met on Zoom for an Ohio State University forum, "Picking Up the Pieces of the 2020 Election." Two divergent focal points drove the discussion. The first was what to do about the millions of Trump voters who believe that one of the best-run national elections in memory (record turnout, more voting options, more verification of vote counts, etc.) was illegitimate. And second, what should most immediately be done to fortify the laws and structures behind elections to restore public trust?

The country faced a crisis that was bigger than the fine print of election law and procedure, said University of California, Irvine School of Law professor Rick Hasen. Laws and election reforms can only go so far—as both are based on facts and rules of evidence—if people rejected the law, or felt that their identity as citizens had somehow been threatened and required patriotic rebellion.

"There is only so much that election law can do if people are not willing to comply with the rules of the game," he said. "We can structure rules that try to create fair elections and that, if people are willing to believe the truth, should give assurances that elections were conducted in fair ways. But if you've got a significant part of the population [unwilling to believe the truth], led by someone who is spouting lies about the integrity of the election, it turns out it is very difficult to fight against that."

Others said that the county was not quite at the abyss, but agreed that the moment called for remedies other than what many democracy advocates are coalescing around, which was the swift passage of H.R. 1.

"Some of the things in H.R. 1 are good and we should think about them, as well as things that came up in this election related to mail balloting and the like," said Nathaniel Persily of Stanford Law School. "The impact that they're actually going to have on some of the problems that we are seeing in the short term is relatively minimal. You can support gerrymander reform, [party] primary [election] reform and the like, as I do, but I don't think that it's going to respond to our current crisis."

"There are things that can be done now, though, that are worth spending political capital on, like [Washington] D.C. statehood, Puerto Rican statehood, and the like," Persily said, "that I think would have a dramatic effect on the composition of Congress, as well as the Electoral College." He went on to say that Congress must regulate online speech, as it has in other settings depending on time, place and manner, instead of allowing "Google, Twitter and Facebook to be those judges."

Others at the Ohio State University forum were more measured. They pointed to clarifying the constitutional questions involving the Electoral College and state certification of winners. They said that administrative decisions and emergency rules that helped voters during the pandemic should be codified—put into law. They suggested that political parties, especially Republicans, might rein in extremist flanks by revising their rules for primary elections. They agreed American public education lacked a sufficient focus on civics.

Looming overhead during the forum was an unnerving question posed by several scholars. Democrats could use their control of Congress and the White House to impose their vision, as the Republicans have done for years—such as red states imposing barriers to Democratic voting blocs after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. But doing so might further provoke a violence-prone right wing, some scholars said, suggesting that progressives might have to step back to allow moderate Republicans to reclaim control of their party and return to respecting elections.

"Prior to November 3, I thought where we would be now is, conceptually, having the Democratic Party having control of the Senate, control of the House, control of the presidency, [and the leadership] asking itself to what extent it was appropriate, and how could it impose its conception of fair play and fair elections on the system, because it would have the ability to do that," said Edward Foley, who directs Ohio State University's election law program. "This was the moment. Use the power. And just have a new Voting Rights Act and new reform agenda that would come out of the Democratic Party and its values."

"I now think that would be a terrible mistake," Foley continued, "because it will embolden the Trumpian right wing of the Republican Party to say, 'The system is rigged. It's their system. It's not our system. It's not a shared system. And we're not going to play by your rules. We're not going to play this game.'" Foley said that Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell needed "to build a bilateral conception of what America needs by way of an electoral system that both sides can buy into and accept. It can't be one side's vision. It can't be the other."

The possibility of ceding ground to Republicans to get their post-Trump party to heed facts, and to follow the law and evidence in elections, disturbed Franita Tolson, a University of Southern California Gould School of Law professor. She said such a response lent false credibility to years of Republican lies that elections were fraudulent unless Republican candidates emerged victorious.

"This agreement that we have to appease those who believe in election security [to overly police the process], while also expanding access to the ballot, to me, it just seems like an odd starting place because it gives credence to this idea that on the election integrity side that we have an equal problem there—similar to the problem that we have with access to the ballot," Tolson said. "I may be in the minority here, but I actually don't think that's a good starting point. I think that to the extent that we are worried about people questioning the legitimacy of this election, we have to stop pretending that there are problems with the legitimacy of this election. This is a narrative that's been building, really, for over the past two decades."

Clear Frames And Goals

These big questions and frames offer ways to assess post-election recommendations. In the meantime, other key voices have yet to weigh in.

In presidential battleground states, election officials have yet to submit reports to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and to private foundations about how they used millions in grants to better conduct elections during a pandemic, said Tammy Patrick, a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises and senior adviser to the elections program at the Democracy Fund.

"The election itself was a raging success, in the midst of a raging pandemic and some of the worst rhetoric around the integrity of elections that the Republic has ever seen," said Patrick, who counseled against fast federal action, such as passing H.R. 1, despite its many laudable elements—including reliable federal funding.

"There's so much going on," she said. "If the states take the false narrative of the 2020 election as a reason or a way to implement regressive law [as GOP-majority legislatures in swing states may do], I think we will have to have some sort of baseline federal legislation get passed in order to make sure that all Americans have some semblance of equal access to the ballot."

Meanwhile, others, such as Stanford's Persily, said now was not the right time to talk about election intricacies, especially with Trump's upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.

"Now's not a time to be talking about ballot drop boxes and absentee ballot signatures, when… the basics of American democracy and government are under assault," he said. "I believe the Biden folks when they say that they are worried that a trial sometime soon after he takes office will make it very difficult for the Senate [to focus elsewhere]."

In other words, the odds that constitutional or electoral reforms will emerge quickly depends on how the impeachment unfolds—including whether or not Republicans vocally reject Trump's false claims about election fraud—and the outcome, which could include barring Trump from running again for federal office. In the meantime, influential players will keep weighing in.

"It is difficult to overstate the danger that this kind of violent rhetoric poses for our democracy—not only to election officials themselves and the future willingness of Americans to help run our elections [as poll workers], but to the stability of our system," said Trevor Potter, a Republican, ex-Federal Election Commission chair and founder of the Campaign Legal Center.

"Are we ruled by voters and laws, or by force and violent threats?"

Karl Rove Signals GOP Donors To Push Rewrite Of Election Laws

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

Hours after President Biden declared that "democracy has prevailed" during his inaugural address, longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove urged Republicans to pressure GOP election officials to create "a model election code" and change the two voting options that led to the 2020 presidential election's record turnout.

"Republicans should...encourage GOP secretaries of state and state lawmakers to develop a model election code," Rove wrote in a January 20 commentary for the Wall Street Journal titled "The Republican Future Starts Now."

"The job of proposing electoral reforms shouldn't be based on the unsupported claims of widespread fraud peddled by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell," Rove continued. "Instead, the goal should be to suggest measures that restore public confidence in our democracy. How do states with extensive mail-in and early voting like Florida and Texas get it right?"

Rove's commentary comes as Republican-majority legislatures in battleground states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona have proposed bills or convened hearings to review the laws that allowed people to vote early in person or with mailed-out ballots in 2020.

"Whenever Karl Rove writes a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the history of it suggests that Democrats should pay careful attention," said David Daley, author of Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy. "Because the Wall Street Journal is where Republicans can signal to their donor class their key projects."

In March 2010, Rove penned a Journal commentary openly discussing the GOP's REDMAP project, which targeted 107 state legislative seats that "would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats." REDMAP succeeded, creating GOP majority legislatures and congressional delegations in the otherwise purple states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Alabama.

The website of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model bills for social conservatives and economic libertarians, has not yet promoted election reforms on its website. However, ALEC linked to the Conservative Action project, which posted a defense of the GOP lawmakers who opposed certifying the Electoral College slates from Arizona and Pennsylvania. The expanded use of voting via mailed-out ballots and early voting must be examined, it said.

"The 2020 election was conducted in an unprecedented manner: largely by mail, and in a way that overwhelmed the capacities of many states. It is not at all unreasonable to review the manner in which votes were counted," said the Conservative Action Project memo, which was signed by more than 100 activists and organizations. "Indeed, if the goal is to restore faith in future elections, then a comprehensive review and analysis to determine what went wrong, what went right, and what is in need of reform should be a critical next step."

Daley, whose prior book, Ratf*cked, profiled REDMAP and its impacts on the past decade's political battles and extreme politics, said Rove's commentary was a warning sign.

"Whenever Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal, it not to be a public intellectual but to put ideas in front of the Republican donor class," he said. "It fits perfectly with much of the Republican strategy on voter suppression."

"So much of it sounds reasonable," Daley continued, referring to the suggestion that a model election code be developed and embraced. "How can you be opposed to a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission that is going to step back and ensure that our elections are free, fair, and secure? Except, that's not actually their intention, because we just had an election that was free, fair, and secure. And [Sens.] Hawley and Cruz and 130-plus Republicans in the House voted to decertify [the popular vote results and Electoral College slates from] Pennsylvania and Arizona—even after a Republican governor [in Arizona] signed off on certification."

Already, Republican legislators in 2020 battleground states held hearings where they are badgering statewide election officials —some elected Democrats, some career civil servants — about decisions they took last fall that made it easier to vote with absentee ballots.

For example, on Thursday in Pennsylvania, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, was pressed by Republican representatives for advising county election officials to count the returned mailed-out ballots of people who forgot to put their ballots in a secrecy sleeve. The state's Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the "naked" ballots should be disqualified.

"You disagree with the decision that was rendered by the Supreme Court?" Rep. Ryan McKenzie, a Republican, asked Boockvar.

"It doesn't matter whether I disagree with a decision rendered by the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court's rule governs," she replied. "But what I would say is, and maybe this is part of your question, do I think that is the right approach for voters for making sure that every eligible voter's vote counts? No, I'd love to see the legislature change that law and say, 'Look, if a voter makes a mistake that does not have anything to do with their eligibility or their qualifications, such as a naked ballot, that vote should still count."

The Thursday legislative hearing was one of 14 that are slated in Pennsylvania to review voting laws and administrative rules that were in effect during the 2020 election. A separate GOP-sponsored proposal would create districts for electing state Supreme Court judges. If put into effect, it could become a judicial gerrymander to recast Pennsylvania's appellate courts—including the Supreme Court.

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

The Lies That Drove Trump’s Mob Still Linger

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

Eight days ago, allegations of illegal and fraudulent voting in Pennsylvania and other swing states where President Trump lost led his supporters to storm the Capitol. The mob came after a Trump rally, where the president recited numerous falsehoods that long have been debunked.

It was a stunning spectacle. More than a dozen Republican congressmen rose and condemned the violence. Then, as if the cause of the rampage lay elsewhere, they opposed certifying Pennsylvania's votes by reciting many of the same allegations that Trump uttered that day—atop innuendo that Democrats had widely cheated.

"To sum it up, Pennsylvania officials illegally did three things," said Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC). "One, they radically expanded vote by mail for virtually any reason. Two, they removed restrictions when a ballot could be sent in. And three, they removed signature verification on those very ballots."

Budd did not mention that Pennsylvania's Republican majority legislature had approved the election reforms that laid the ground rules for 2020's election. Nor did he note that the Republican National Committee had pushed Pennsylvania's Republicans to vote with absentee ballots—and hundreds of thousands did.

Instead, Budd and other Republicans said that the election was illegitimate because Democratic officials—such as Pennsylvania's secretary of state—issued rules to make it easier for voters and election officials to manage in a pandemic. They said the Constitution had been violated because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had agreed with those steps. Only state legislatures could set election rules, they said, making a novel argument that ignored decades of election law and court rulings.

"I rise in support of this objection and to give voice to the 249,386 men and women of Ohio's 6th Congressional District," said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH, "who have had their voices silenced by the rogue political actors in Pennsylvania, who unilaterally and unconstitutionally altered voting methods to benefit the Democratic candidate for president."

"Secretaries of state and state supreme courts cannot simply ignore the rules governing elections set forth in the [U.S.] Constitution," he fumed. "They cannot choose to usurp their state legislatures to achieve a partisan end, Constitution be damned."

These representatives were joined by others who said that Trump's mob was "shameful," "unacceptable" and "un-American." Yet they went on to recite many of the same claims that Trump made before his mob acted. These claims filled the 60-plus lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies since the election—claims federal and state judges have overwhelmingly rejected as baseless and lacking in evidence.

Had these Republicans learned anything from the rampage? When the debate ended well past midnight, 138 Republicans voted to reject Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes. Their dissents did not stop the chamber from accepting the state's Electoral College votes. Nor did it prevent a joint session of Congress later that morning from certifying Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 2020 election's winners.

Yet the 138 votes, and the slippery arguments or misrepresentations that preceded them, are a dark sign of the times. When one-quarter of House members either lack sufficient knowledge of how elections are run or cling to specious arguments to overturn results, the undercurrents driving Trump's mob are still present. Looking ahead, voting rights advocates are starting to see these sentiments resurface as a new wave of anti-voting legislation in red-run state legislatures.

"We're deeply concerned the post-election lawsuits are now morphing into state-driven voter suppression schemes," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, speaking during a press briefing during Georgia's runoffs on January 5. "These lawsuits failed universally… Now we see lawmakers seeking to exploit this moment [and] institute new restrictions on measures such as [repealing] no-excuse absentee voting."

Clarke is partly referring to a proposal by Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to reel in absentee voting. The 2020 election had overwhelmed local election officials, he has said, adding that future voting options needed to be streamlined. Record numbers of Georgians voted by mailed-out ballots in 2020, which was part of the wave that elected two Democratic U.S. senators and delivered a surprising Biden-Harris victory.

Raffensperger had been attacked by Trump as a RINO—Republican In Name Only—and pressured by Trump on January 2 to alter the certified vote count so Trump would emerge as the victor. On Thursday, the Trump campaign withdrew its suits in Georgia on the eve of scheduled court hearings. Raffensperger issued a detailed press release that noted Trump folded just before his legal team had to present evidence of illegal voting and rigged elections.

"On the eve of getting the day in court they supposedly were begging for, President Trump and [Georgia Republican Party] Chairman David Shafer's legal team folded Thursday and voluntarily dismissed their election contests against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rather than submit their evidence to a court and to cross-examination," the secretary's release began.

"However, even in capitulation, they continue to spread disinformation," it said. "The President's legal team falsely characterizes the dismissal of their lawsuits as 'due to an out of court settlement agreement.' However, correspondence sent to Trump's legal team prior to the dismissals makes perfectly clear that there is no settlement agreement. The Trump legal [team] voluntarily dismissed their lawsuits rather than presenting their evidence in court in a trial scheduled for tomorrow in front of Cobb County Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs."

The statement said that the "withdrawals came after Secretary Raffensperger sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday containing point-by-point refutation of the false claims made by the President and his allies. Late last night, Congress accepted Georgia's slate of electors without objection, as no Senator joined in [Republican] Congressman Jody Hice's objection to Georgia's electors."

Few Republicans probably read Raffensperger's memo as they sought shelter from Trump's mob. However, in the other chamber, Georgia's Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock a day before, said she could no longer oppose her state's certification of the presidential vote. The storming of the Capitol had changed her mind. The same could not be said of nearly one-third of the House.

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.

What Really Happened In Those Historic Georgia Runoffs -- And Why

Georgia voters are on the verge of sending two new Democratic senators to Washington as the finale of a presidential election season that has historically recast Georgia's political identity and will yield a Democratic Senate majority with a new mandate for Joe Biden's presidency.

Rev. Raphael Warnock was 40,000 votes ahead of Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbent, with more than 98 percent of an estimated 4.5 million ballots counted by early Wednesday. With most of the uncounted ballots in metro Atlanta counties, where 75-to-80 percent of an increasingly diverse electorate voted Democratic, Georgia is sending a Black minister to the U.S. Senate, a major historical achievement.

"We were told we couldn't win this election, but tonight we proved that, with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible," Warnock told his supporters after midnight. "I am so honored by the faith that you have shown in me, and I promise you this: I am going to the Senate to work for Georgia, all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for."

Shortly before 2 AM Wednesday, the other Democrat in a runoff election, Jon Ossoff, pulled ahead of Sen. David Perdue, the Republican incumbent, as returns came in from populous metro Atlanta counties. While some rural counties had yet to finish reporting their counts, election officials said the majority of the remaining votes would favor Democrats.

"Yes, that's correct," Gabriel Sterling, a top state election official and a Republican, told CNN late on Tuesday, discussing the remaining uncounted votes. "It's really an irony because in the '60s and '70s, that [Atlanta region] was the hotbed of the Republican takeover in Georgia."

"We fully expect" to win, the Ossoff campaign said in a statement. "The outstanding vote is squarely in parts of the state where Jon's performance has been dominant."

Warnock's margin of victory exceeded the state's legal threshold for a recount. However, the Perdue-Ossoff race could be headed for a recount if its margin was less than 0.5 percent of the total votes cast. With 98 percent of the votes counted early Wednesday, Ossoff was ahead by nearly 13,000 votes.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told CNN that he estimated that 4.5 million votes were cast in the recount, making the recount trigger about 22,500 votes. The last votes to be counted will be 17,000 overseas and military ballots that can arrive as late as Friday, he said.

Early on Wednesday, Perdue's campaign issued a statement claiming that they won and said it would use "every available resource and exhaust every recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted." If no recount were triggered, Perdue would have few options.

A Historic Finale to 2020

Should both Democrats prevail, the impact on the nation's political life and federal governance cannot be underestimated. On virtually every major issue that Democrats care about, the Biden administration would have been met with resistance had the Senate remained a Republican-led body. Once Georgia's senators are seated, the body will have a 50-50 split between parties, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be a tie-breaker, giving Democrats control over the Senate agenda, committee assignments and administration's appointees, including judges.

Those ramifications will play out after the Trump administration leaves office on January 20. On Wednesday, the Trump administration and its allies are expected to try to block Congress's certification of the 2020 Electoral College votes. Trump's allies will claim that the 2020 election was stolen, as they have in 63 lawsuits that have been filed in state and federal courts to challenge the results in swing states where Trump lost. Trump and his allies have lost all but one of those lawsuits, often due to lack of vote fraud evidence.

On Tuesday night, Trump and several high-profile supporters—his White House spokeswoman and a Fox News host—tweeted the Georgia runoffs were fraudulent. Their claim was baseless because while there were some election administration problems on Tuesday, no observer or credible source reported any vote-forging chicanery. Every top statewide official in Georgia, including the governor and election director, is a Republican. If anything, the state has been very aggressive in investigating voter fraud in 2020. It has found almost no wrongdoing.

Trump's antics should not detract from the historic achievement seen in Georgia. The state emerged as a national political battleground in November after Biden's surprise victory. The apparent victory of two Democrats in a runoff that set voter turnout records affirmed that its political landscape was undergoing historic change. The heart of that transformation was the result of years of effort by grassroots organizing led by the Black community, but more recently expanding into other communities of color and the state's newest residents.

Some pundits outside Georgia will credit Trump's attacks on the state's election system and top elected officials—for not manipulating the count to ensure that he won—as the top reasonwhy insufficient numbers of Republicans did not vote in the runoffs. But that analysis is not the full story. The runoffs had near-presidential election turnout levels, which showed that Georgians in both parties were engaged. What the Trump-centric analysis omits are the unprecedented efforts by communities of color to unite to turn out voters in November and in the runoffs.

Old-line groups, such as the Georgia county-level NAACP chapters, found themselves working with tech-savvy organizers who had tens of thousands of volunteers from across the country. Frontline groups were supported up with post card, phone bank and texting campaigns. In the state's urban and rural communities, Black sororities, fraternities and community organizations partnered with new groups of younger activists and organizers. While the Senate runoffs set records for spending on political advertising, the grassroots efforts turned out voters across the state. In short, for the first time in many years, Georgians could see their votes mattered.

In coming days, there will be numerous analyses and reports affirming these trends. On CNN early Wednesday morning, campaign data analysts noted that Biden's 12,000-vote victory over Trump was a floor, or a baseline, for Democrats to prevail in a statewide race. With 150,000 or more votes yet to be counted, Warnock's margin was more than three times that size.

Smart analysts like CNN's Harry Enten noted that Warnock didn't just win in Atlanta's suburbs—where many moderate Republicans voted for Biden. Warnock's percentages in rural counties often was equal to, or exceeded Biden's percentages, by several points. Warnock's campaign, like many grassroots groups, targeted and turned out overlooked voters of color. Those rural counties are still mostly run by elected white Republicans, but their political complexion is changing as non-white voters are discovering that they have power.

While the coming days may see partisan Republicans accuse Georgia's election officials of running fraud-ridden Senate runoffs and even file litigation to challenge the results, there's little indication that those efforts will succeed. Trump's allies lost every lawsuit filed before Tuesday's runoffs. State law requires county officials to certify the results by January 15. The state must certify the election by January 22—two days after Biden's inauguration.

In Warnock's speech early Wednesday, he called on all participants in political life to start working together to help ordinary people solve life's problems.

"In this moment in American history, Washington has a choice to make; we all have a choice to make," he said. "Will we continue to divide, distract and dishonor one and other, or will we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Will we play political games while real people suffer or will we win righteous fights together, standing shoulder to shoulder, for the good of Georgia, for the good of the country?"

Details Of Trump's Georgia Extortion Scheme Provoke Calls For Criminal Probe

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

President Trump told Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he "needs" the Georgia Republican to immediately find enough votes for Trump to be declared the state's 2020 election victor. Raffensperger repeatedly refused to do so, telling Trump in an hourlong call on Saturday that he had lost the election and that his claims of illegal voting were ill-informed and based on bad data.

"I have to find 12,000 votes," Trump said, referring to President-elect Joe Biden's 11,779-vote margin that Georgia certified after counting the ballots three times. "What are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know, we have that in spades already."

"Mr. President, you have people that submit information and we have our people that submit information," Raffensperger replied. "And then it comes before the court and the court then has to make a determination. We have to stand by our numbers. We believe our numbers are right."

"Why do you say that?" Trump countered. "I mean, sure, we can play this game with the courts, but why do you say that? … I know this phone call is going nowhere other than, other than ultimately, you know. Look, ultimately, I win, okay? Because you guys are so wrong."

Their conversation was first reported by The Washington Post, which published the audio and a transcript, and may expose Trump to state and federal statutes that bar "criminal solicitation of election fraud," as the Georgia legal code puts it. The immediate impact of Trump's bid to recast 2020's election results will be in political circles. The call came days before runoffs in Georgia that will decide the U.S. Senate majority, and days before Congress will ratify 2020's Electoral College vote.

Trump's interference in Georgia, the state in 2020 with the slimmest margin between him and Biden, immediately revives the charges of election interference that led to his impeachment. Trump was impeached after tying foreign military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation in the business activities of Biden's son.

"We now have irrefutable proof of a president pressuring and threatening an official of his own party to get him to rescind a state's lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place," said Bob Bauer, a longtime election lawyer and senior advisor to president-elect Joe Biden, after the call became public.

"Absolutely right," tweeted Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School constitutional scholar. "No choice. Failure to open a criminal investigation of this 'perfect' call would be an inexcusable dereliction of duty."

Trump will be holding a rally in northwest Georgia on Monday in a region where Republican voter turn out for the Senate runoffs has lagged behind the Democrat turnout in blue epicenters. On the call with Raffensperger, Trump threatened to release "a new tape" showing ballot box stuffing from a suburban Atlanta county that he called "devastating." How much Trump's attacks on Georgia Republicans will undermine GOP turnout on the runoffs is an open question. Trump's attacks on Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, have not helped the party's two Senate candidates, other Georgia GOP leaders have said.

Trump's extortion-laden phone call also adds an uncertain element to the growing swath of right-wing House and Senate members who planned to challenge the Electoral College slates in battleground states when Congress convenes to ratify the 2020 results. The call with Raffensperger revealed that Trump's post-election team has prepared new analyses to contest the accuracy of the votes in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The president boasted that these reports were done by accountants, which was a telling admission. It was not likely to be accurate as analyses done by former election officials and election administration experts.

Trump's Bullying

Trump dominated most of the call with Raffensperger. He started by saying that he "won" in Georgia and that "anywhere from 250-300,000 ballots were mysteriously dropped into the rolls." Trump said the center of the alleged illegal activity was in Fulton County, the largest jurisdiction in metro Atlanta. "We're going to have an accurate number over the next two days with certified accountants," Trump said.

Trump said "about 4,502 voters who voted… weren't on the voter registration list." He said, "You had 18,325 vacant address voters. The address was vacant and they're not allowed to be counted." He said that 904 voters had a post office box number, not an address. "You had out-of-state voters," he continued. "They voted in Georgia but they were from out of state." He said that "dead people voted, and I think the number is close to 5,000 people."

Trump said that his team found the dead voters "by going through the obituary columns in newspapers." He said that his team also reviewed U.S. Post Office data—presumably the national change of address database; which lists heads of households and not every resident. These kinds of data sources would not identify every legal voter in the state because they are not definitive.

Raffensperger listened and simply replied that these claims had been brought up in lawsuits and that none of them were found by judges to have a factual basis.

"Well, I listened to what the president has just said," the Georgia Republican said. "President Trump, we've had several lawsuits and we've had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. Um, we don't agree that you have won. And we don't—I don't agree about the 200,000 number that you mentioned."

After saying that his office has spent hours briefing Georgia legislators, Republican members of Congress, and done three vote counts—including an unprecedented hand count—Raffensperger and his staff rebutted most of Trump's scenarios.

"Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong," he said.

Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Trump campaign lawyers said that Raffensperger's office was not sharing all of the voter data that it had—and tried to pressure the secretary into providing it. Raffensperger's attorneys said the state was not obligated to share confidential information in its voter files. That data, such as Social Security numbers and other unique identifiers, is used to verify voter's identities and to ensure that no fraudulent ballots are cast.

Trump's attorneys did not like that response. At one point, Trump implied that Raffensperger could face federal charges for not assisting with Trump's review, which Trump kept saying would reveal massive illegal voting.

"You know what they did and you're not reporting it," Trump told Raffensperger. "You know, that's a criminal — that's a criminal offense. And you know, you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan [Germany], your lawyer. That's a big risk."

Trump also said that Atlanta counties were "shredding" ballots. Raffensperger's staff replied that their office had investigated and that those were ballots from prior elections. Federal law requires all election records be kept for 22 months.

"Mr. President, the problem you have [is] with social media – people can say anything," Raffensperger said, discussing the ballot-shredding charge.

"Oh, this isn't social media," Trump replied. "This is Trump media. It's not social media… Social media is Big Tech. Big Tech is on your side. I don't even know why you have a side, because you should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican."

"We believe that we do have an accurate election," Raffensperger responded.

"No, no you don't. No, no you don't. You don't have. Not even close," Trump said. "You're off by hundreds of thousands of votes… I'm notifying you that you're letting it happen. So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is more than we have because we won the state."

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.