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Honest GOP Officials In Arizona And Florida Show How To Debunk Election Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arizona Template


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning Against Autocracy, Biden Urges Senate To Drop Filibuster, Pass Voting Rights

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

President Joe Biden implored the Senate to reject the filibuster rule and pass landmark voting rights legislation on Tuesday, saying that recent efforts by pro-Trump Republicans to suppress voters and subvert the popular vote were out of step with American history.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will make a turning point in this nation’s history,” Biden said, speaking at Atlanta University Center in Georgia. “The issue is will we choose democracy over autocracy? Light over shadow? Justice over injustice? I know where I stand… The question is where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?”

“There’s one thing every senator, every American should remember,” Biden continued. “History has never been kind to those who sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights… It will be less kind to those who side with election subversion. So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered? The consequential moments in history present a choice.”

Biden’s Tuesday speech was his most forceful yet in support of passing sweeping new federal legislation that would fortify the right to vote after a decade where Republican-majority state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed majority have acted in their respective spheres to roll back voting options and federal authority to defend voting.

There are two bills before the Senate. The Freedom to Vote Act, would, among its provisions, blunt state-led efforts to restrict mail-in or absentee voting—a widespread response to 2020’s most popular way that Democrats voted, make Election Day a holiday, and block redistricting that dilutes minority representation. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the Justice Department’s authority under the Voting Rights Act to overrule new laws or procedures that limit participation in jurisdictions with histories of electoral discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the Justice Department’s enforcement powers in 2013.

The bills have repeatedly passed the House but have run into roadblocks in the Senate, where the Republicans have not even allowed debate to begin. Biden said that intransigence, as well as the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes for a debate to proceed, have degraded the body’s character and held voting rights hostage to a power-hungry minority.

“The filibuster is not used by Senate Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart,” Biden said. “The filibuster has been weaponized and abused. While the state legislative assault on voting rights is simple; all you need in your [state] house and senate is a pure majority [to pass bills.] In the United States Senate, it takes a supermajority, 60 votes, even to get a vote.”

“State legislators can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities,” he continued. “If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority. Today, I’m making it clear, to protect our democracy I support changing the Senate rules—whichever way they need to change—to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.”

It is unclear whether Biden will be able to convince the foremost Democratic holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, to carve out an exception in the Senate’s filibuster rules for voting rights legislation. The White House hopes to force the issue by next Monday, January 17, which is the federal holiday honoring civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Earlier in his speech Biden said pro-Trump legislators, in statehouses and Congress, were bent on taking the country into an era where authoritarian rule would overshadow representative democracy. He explicitly accused the GOP’s Trump faction of resurrecting white supremacy.

“Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion,” Biden said. “It’s no longer about who gets to vote [the mid-20th century’s struggle centered around voter registration]. It’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote, and whether your vote counts at all.”

“It’s not hyperbole. This is a fact,” he continued. “Look, this matters to all of us. The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them; simple as that. The facts won’t matter. Your vote won’t matter. They’ll just decide what they want, and then do it. That’s the kind of power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies.”

Wisconsin Is New Front Line In Trump Republicans' War On 2020 Election

As COVID-19 swept the country in March 2020, Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to postpone the April 7 presidential primary. But Republican state legislators aligned with President Trump and, denying the severity of COVID-19, sneered, sued, and won in court hours before the polls were to open. That fray left Wisconsin's 1,850 municipal clerks who administer elections, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which guides the clerks, frantically scrambling.

"I was given a cardboard box with a roll of paper towels, six pairs of rubber gloves, a couple of bottles of what looked like Everclear [grain alcohol], and a roll of painter's tape and a half a box of masks—all of which were open," Municipal Clerk Vicki Terpstra of Spring Green, a village in central Wisconsin, recalled at a November 9 state legislative hearing on 2020 election administration. "That's what we received in April, after I had to let go of all of our poll workers.

"What ensued became a national model of how not to conduct in-person voting in a pandemic. Terpstra told the Joint Legislative Audit Committee she tried "to reach out to anybody I can find to figure out how to make this work, and the Elections Commission was there for us; they're doing their best to help us boots on the ground." She said, "I don't know how many people in this room or on these committees have actually worked as a poll worker… But my legislature failed me, as well as it failed all the other clerks, the boots on the ground that are doing the work."

Terpstra's remarks came during the public comment section of a hearing that was not intended to praise the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) for helping 3.3 million people to vote in 2020's presidential election, including a record number who cast mailed-out ballots. Instead, the Republican-majority legislature was using an October report from the body's auditors — one that affirmed Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump — to attack the agency and perpetuate doubts about the election.

"I find it absolutely repugnant that nobody [WEC commissioners] could show up" today, fumed state Rep. John Macco, a Republican eyeing a 2022 run for governor, addressing WEC executive director Meagan Wolfe. Moments before, she said that the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report was filled with errors, in part because it did not allow the WEC to respond to mistaken assumptions and findings — as has been the legislative bureau's practice in every audit since its founding in 1965.

"It's also worth repeating that no major errors were identified that could have changed the outcome of the election," Wolfe said. "Now I plan to take you through some of the key sections of the LAB's report."

Wisconsin has become the new front line in the disinformation campaign by pro-Trump Republicans to delegitimize Biden's presidency by casting doubt on his election and attacking election officials and protocols that assisted voters during 2020's pandemic. The presentation of a flawed report on November 9, which criticized the WEC but did not mention that COVID-19 concerns drove its guidance to clerks like Terpstra, was the latest chapter in a long saga where Wisconsin Republicans have targeted elections for partisan gain.

But what sets the latest episode apart is deliberate amnesia by pro-Trump partisans who know the history and facts — because they were there. It was Wisconsin's GOP that created the WEC in 2015 to replace a bipartisan election oversight board that was composed of retired state judges. The same legislative leadership that did not reconvene after the pandemic struck to adopt emergency measures to respond to COVID-19, unlike many red-run state legislatures. And these legislators are questioning the very election that returned them to their statehouse posts.

"A big lie does not take shape on its own, but must be carefully built upon a scaffold of lies," observed Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in his new book that details Trump's authoritarian gambits to attack Biden during the 2020 campaign and efforts to overturn Biden's victory, both of which prompted Trump's impeachment.

Smears And Power Grabs

Such a "scaffold of lies" could be seen in one of the most scurrilous attacks on the WEC, an attack that also highlights another aspect of the disinformation campaign underway in Wisconsin and other battleground states. Elected Republicans are abusing their authority by making allegations of illegal voting in forums where there is no requirement to present fact-based evidence, unlike a courtroom with rules of evidence, and there is no penalty for intentionally lying.

In Racine County, Wisconsin's fifth-most populous, Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, an elected Republican, and his deputy, Michael Luell, have gone on social media and held press conferences to claim that at least eight 2020 presidential ballots cast at a nursing home were fraudulent. They cite family members who said that their relatives were incompetent to vote. (Under Wisconsin law, only courts can revoke a voter's registration for mental incompetence.)

The officers have said the ballots are indicative of a wider fraud and demanded a statewide investigation—impugning the 3.3 million ballots cast in the election. And they blamed the WEC for suspending a state law requiring special election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (These accusations ignore the fact that the GOP-authored statute that created the WEC allows it to issue such directives. Election officials also conducted routine audits and recounts that affirmed the results, and Trump's campaign didn't seek a statewide recount.)

In normal times, the nursing home incident — if it occurred — would be handled proportionately. Police would press charges, which the sheriff has not pursued. Instead, Schmaling has said that the WEC's commissioners (three Republicans, three Democrats) should be charged with felonies for violating a state law that required election deputies to assist voters in nursing homes. (After COVID-19's outbreak, state health officials ordered all nursing homes closed to visitors.)

Josh Kaul, Wisconsin's attorney general and a Democrat, has ignored the sheriffs' call for prosecutions. But the Wisconsin assembly speaker, Republican Robin Vos, has not. Initially, Vos called for the WEC executive director to resign. Wolfe has not. More recently, Vos said felony charges are warranted. And there's more.

In June, Vos, following the example set by Arizona's pro-Trump Republicans, launched a 2020 election review, and appointed a retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, to lead it. In October, Gableman told reporters that he "doesn't understand" how elections work. More recently, Gableman told legislators that he would pursue the issues raised by the Racine County sheriffs.

In November, one of Wisconsin's U.S. senators, Ron Johnson, another pro-Trump Republican, cited the audit bureau report and said the legislature should ignore the governor and WEC and take over administering Wisconsin's federal elections. This power-grabbing suggestion, however glib, is following Trump's template for partisan propaganda, disinformation, and anti-democratic authoritarian rule.

"I want to stress this is not normal," said David Becker, founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, which organized a letter in support of Wolfe signed by more than 50 bipartisan state election officials. "It is not normal for a sheriff, in a county, in a state, to hold a Facebook press conference about alleged election crimes and not follow up on them."

"If there's a legal law enforcement reason to suggest that there's a crime, what would happen is there would be an arrest, and an arraignment or indictment and a prosecution. That is not happening in this case—and I think it's pretty clear why," said Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department Voting Section attorney. "It's because these claims have no evidence to support them. A taxpayer-funded sheriff [is] doing this. An audit bureau, who, rather than going through its normal process and allowing for a review of procedures, [is] putting things out [that are] roughly timed with some other disinformation about the election in Wisconsin."

Taken together, such history-denying and boundary-breaking behavior is tearing at the institutions and civil servants who try to uphold American democracy, he said.

"I think there's no way to overstate the danger we're in," said Becker, whose nonprofit just conducted a poll finding that about two-thirds of the Republican electorate still believe that the 2020 election was stolen and there were problems with voting. "This is as dangerous a moment for American democracy as the Civil War and perhaps worse. We have a situation where a majority of one of our two major parties believes without any evidence that elections are stolen because they're sincerely unhappy with the results."

"There's no one in the United States that hasn't experienced a bitter electoral disappointment in the last five years or so," Becker continued. "But elections matter, and they have consequences, and there's always a winner and always a loser. And our system has always depended on people putting country over party, country over themselves."

No End in Sight

Wisconsin's 2020 presidential primary was a GOP-fueled disaster. Public health efforts were thwarted. Poll workers vanished. Voter turnout fell. The state's 1,850 municipal clerks faced immense chaos. In cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay, only a handful of polls opened. Voters often waited for hours, including several dozen voters and poll workers who later contracted COVID-19.

The WEC sought to prevent a debacle in the fall by shifting to mailed-out ballots, which Trump's allies also sought to block in court. No Republican legislator at the Joint Legislative Audit Committee's November 9 hearing recited 2020's troubled chronology. Instead, they attacked the WEC. Only Wolfe, several Democratic lawmakers and voter advocates called out the denials and revisionist history.

"What was the Elections Commission to do there—deprive the residents of the right to vote?" asked the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Matt Rothschild, after the auditor chastised the WEC for helping nursing home voters without explicit legislative approval. "Not only was this the prudent thing to do, the [WEC] staff was in a legal bind because Gov. Evers and the Department of Health Services had declared a public health emergency prohibiting nonessential individuals from going to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

But history, facts, and prudence have no place among Wisconsin's pro-Trump Republicans. On Monday, November 15, former Republican Lt. Gov. and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch sued the WEC to stop it from allowing municipal clerks to use ballot drop boxes, move polling places, and suspend the statute sending special election deputies into nursing homes.

"Wisconsinites are sick and tired of unelected bureaucrats intentionally ignoring the law," Kleefisch said. "The lawsuit forces WEC to clean up their act prior to administering the 2022 election."

On Wednesday, November 17, Timothy S. Ramthun, a Republican assemblyman, proposed a resolution to decertify Wisconsin's presidential election results.

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.



The Democrats' Roadmap To Electoral Victory Was Drawn In Georgia

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

Corey Shackleford knew he could rely on Georgia's Prince Hall Masons—named after the freed slave who created the civic-minded group's first Black chapter in 1784. "We're in those corners of the state, those rural areas, where others don't normally go. But we are there."

Shirley Sherrod, whose Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education has been active since the 1960s, trusted the young women on her staff to reach rural voters—even during a pandemic. "I really allowed them to take this program and just go, and it worked."

And Keith Reddings, who leads Georgia's Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and lives in Brunswick—where three white men killed Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, in February 2020—knew neither he nor his members could be idle in the 2020 election. "I've been in movements for quite a while. You get these waves where you're involved; you can be involved."

Their comments are from an oral history of the grassroots organizing across Georgia that led to the state's historic voter turnout and election of Democratic candidates for president and the U.S. Senate. The e-book, The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections, recounts the mindsets, values, tactics, challenges and solutions that coalesced in 2020 in a 21st-century voting rights triumph.

"What happened in 2020 in Georgia was the manifestation of coming together, setting ego to the side, and saying that we can be much more effective and efficient if we work together through coordination, collaboration and communication," said Ray McClendon, the Atlanta NAACP political action chairman and a co-author of the e-book. "Once that happened, we became a much more effective group."The campaign's organizers built on this model with some success in November 2021's elections, and hope to deploy this model across the South in 2022's federal midterm elections. Georgia's GOP is trying to copy this template by opening community centers in Black neighborhoods.

The Georgia Way, which was co-authored by this writer, features the voices of three dozen organizers from an array of civic and civil rights organizations serving Georgia's communities of color. Together, they made a determined effort to reach out to their communities in a coordinated and unprecedented manner. They did not start by focusing on voting, but first listened, validated, and sought to meet local needs. Those efforts prompted thousands of people not on any political party's radar—or contact lists—to vote in 2020's elections.

"Your work just didn't revolve around voting, but around other issues that people cared about, that mattered to them, and impacted their lives," said Dr. Gloria Bromell Tinubu in her interview with Sherrod in The Georgia Way, which Tinubu also co-authored. "That is really the crux of relational organizing—that you have a relationship with people outside of the formal voting process."

Building Toward 2020

Inside the NAACP, Masons, Black fraternities and sororities (known as the Divine Nine), and civil rights groups, the leadership knew the 2020 election was going to be pivotal. Many leaders in these volunteer posts recalled their frustration after 2016's presidential election, where voter turnout among communities of color was disappointing. The next big election, Georgia's 2018 governor's race where Democrat Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp, showed there was a deep vein of civic engagement to be tapped. But activists and voters had to be engaged.

"I started to understand what we needed to do going forward," said Richard Rose, the Atlanta NAACP president, who noted that 77 percent of Georgia's Black voters lived in 19 of the state's 159 counties. "What I did know was that people were willing to help. Young people were willing to give up their time. Members of various fraternities, sororities and the Masons were willing to help. But it was fragmented."

The advent of 2020 brought a series of focusing events. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, the once-a-decade U.S. census got underway. Rose and many others were concerned their communities would be undercounted. One obstacle little noted by the media was food insecurity—hunger. People who were worried about their next meal had no patience for the census or voting. That reality led groups like the NAACP and others to step up food giveaways. Those settings led to relationships where people were later informed about vaccines and planning to vote.

"We used those food distributions and the long lines to try to get people to respond to the census," recalled Bobby Fuse, a civil rights activist. "Out of that came this idea of feeding people at Thanksgiving and encouraging them to come back and vote in the runoff… See, all of this is about celebrating while we're in the midst of this [challenging] thing."

The pandemic, social distancing requirements, and a local legacy of poor health care among lower-income communities in the state forced the organizers to be innovative.

"Coming into the pandemic, we did have to be innovative because the old gathering, meeting, marching was not safe," said Omega Psi Phi's Reddings. "So different organizations, different groups, came up with different strategies to get the word out. There were billboards. There were buses that went around from city to city with voter information. There was phone banking where brothers and sisters would get on the phone, and they would make call after call. There were email blasts, caravans, motorcades."

While Black voters form a major part of the Democratic Party's most reliable base — with 85 percent routinely voting for Democrats across the South, according to the Center for Common Ground's Andrea Miller — this grassroots outreach had little logistical or financial support from the Georgia Democratic Party, several organizers emphasized.

"This was not necessarily a Georgia Democratic Party operation," Fuse said. "Without being offensive, I'd like to say that the majority of our funding and resources came from outside any political party. And it came directly from these nonpartisan grassroots organizations with whom we interacted—and boy, did we interact."

Many voters eyed by the coalition's organizers have long been overlooked by the major political parties, and these voters don't consider themselves members of any party, Miller said.

"The voters that we called, unfortunately, haven't really been called by anybody," she said. "They haven't been called by candidates. They haven't been called by political parties. So, they stopped voting, which means they're not going to be called by candidates, political parties."

There were several mindsets that emerged and shaped the outreach. The pandemic forced groups to innovate. Local organizing was prioritized. Hiring local campaign workers, including teenagers who knew where and when to find voters, was preferable to out-of-state volunteers. Teaching members of families and congregations to use online media was a necessity at first but evolved into an opportunity that expanded campaigning.

"COVID-19 really helped the younger generations to connect with the older generations," said Tiffany Carr of the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education. "I know for myself and my family, my mom will always call on me and my brother and ask, 'How do you work Zoom?' 'How do I join this virtual meeting?' 'How do I get on Facebook?' 'How do I do this and how do I do that?' So, it really opened the door for the older generation to learn more about technology and to see how convenient it is and how quickly you can reach a lot of people at one time."

The leaders from the various groups spoke of enlisting their members and reaching out to their communities—in rural areas, in cities, and in colleges and universities. They often let young people be the frontline. They created events that set a tone and were highly visible, but kept the messaging personal. They used different media that various age groups were familiar with.

"We invited our undergraduates, and we pushed that information out to them," said Sigma Gamma Rho's Celestine Levanne. "We didn't leave anyone of voting age out of this conversation, from our 18-year-olds to our 100-year-olds. Everyone got that information and if, for some reason, they couldn't vote, they had that information to give to a relative or a church member. So, again, it was about making sure they understood their rights."

"We had to be intentional about setting the atmosphere," said the Masons' Marvin Nunnally. "We built momentum, we kept building and building the audience, but more importantly, what we kept doing was working on their minds. And that was the beauty of all this moving around: the food, the music, the motorcycles [and motorcades]… It all played a role."

As November's U.S. Senate election headed to January's runoffs, the Center for Common Ground—which by that fall had 40,000 volunteers across the country writing postcards to Black voters in Southern states, and also sent hundreds of thousands of text messages and made tens of thousands of phone calls—turned its full attention to the runoff.

By then, the numerous frontline efforts were well positioned to use the center's various data-driven tools—for identifying eligible voters, reaching them by postcard (if their phone numbers weren't correct in political data lists), or by text or phone, as well as by going door to door.

"What was most impressive was the organizations working together rather than in competition, and each of us really using our strengths," the Center for Common Ground's Miller said. "Our strength is building out the digital tools and platforms and that is what really made the difference, and making sure we weren't duplicating efforts—that we were covering the entire state instead of 40 groups working in the city of Atlanta."

"That's what worked in 2020 and 2021," the NAACP's McClendon said, referring to the Senate runoff's results and unexpectedly high turnout in Black communities in Georgia and Virginia that were targeted in November 2021's general election. "That result was the result of several years of deciding that it was the time for us to coalesce, and manifest through the efficiency and effectiveness of collaboration. Now we are ready to ramp this up across several battleground states to get ready for 2022."

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.

2021 GOP Turnout Proves Better Ballot Access Benefits Both Parties

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

Making access to a ballot and voting more accessible does not necessarily help Democrats and hurt Republicans, despite conventional political wisdom to the contrary, as the November 2 election clearly demonstrated.

In Virginia and New Jersey, which both held statewide elections and where state officials had instituted more ways for voters to vote—early and on Election Day—Republicans turned out in record numbers.

In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected governor by nearly 80,000 votes, defeating the former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who ran a lackluster campaign. In New Jersey, incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, was leading by 15,000 votes, with the uncounted ballots in Democratic strongholds.

But, as Jonathan Last noted in The Bulwark, "challenger Jack Ciattarelli found an extra 300,000 Republican votes that weren't there for the GOP candidate in 2017. Murphy is going to hang on to win, but the story is the Republican turnout."

Analysts will offer many reasons for Democrats' showing. But expanding ways to vote should not be among them, election experts said, even though former President Donald Trump has been attacking easier access since mid-2020 when many states expanded voting options in response to the pandemic.

"One myth that both parties completely agree on is that high turnout always benefits Democrats," said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Research and Innovation. "It is an article of faith among both Democrats and Republicans that this is true and yet it is completely false."

"We see repeatedly that it's completely false in places like Florida and Ohio, which had extensive mail, early in-person, and Election Day voting, record turnout in 2020, [and] record margins for Republicans," Becker continued. "In places like Virginia and New Jersey yesterday, [where it was] easy to early vote, easy to mail vote, [there was] record turnout [and] over performance by Republicans."

Becker's point underscores that it is the candidates and their messaging, not making voting harder for perceived blocs, that is and should be the determining factor in voter turnout. That view, however, is at odds with many pro-Trump legislators who have led post-2020 efforts to curtail voting options after their candidate lost the presidential election a year ago.

"You actually don't change the political dynamic significantly," Becker said. "You just make things better for voters to make their voices heard."

A Closer Look at Virginia

Virginia's 2021 election broke turnout records for statewide elections. A closer look suggests that many Republicans and Democrats differed on when they voted. More Democrats than Republicans voted before Election Day, either with mailed-out ballots or at an early in-person site. More Republicans, in contrast, voted on Election Day, when two-thirds of the election's voters cast ballots.

While Virginia's Democratic-majority state legislature passed numerous voting reforms earlier this year that were intended to make voting easier for its base, it is also true that expanding early voting meant that fewer people would be voting on Election Day—which made Tuesday's voting more expeditious.

But tinkering with the rules of voting will not deter a motivated electoral base., said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer specializing in recounts and an American University adjunct professor.

"All these reforms were written by Democrats to increase Democratic turnout," he said. "The Democratic turnout was not bad. It's just that the Republican turnout was through the roof. Youngkin did better than Trump ever did in these areas that Trump opened up. Trump got people to vote who had never voted before and Youngkin surpassed him by quite a bit."

Organizers seeking to turn out young and infrequent voters in the state's largest communities of color said that many voters were not interested in McAuliffe, who defeated two Black women in the primary and sided with fossil fuel interests as governor but more recently sought to portray himself as an environmentalist.

"Only 15 percent of our voters age 18 to 39 showed up in early voting," Andrea Miller, executive director of the non-partisan Center for Common Ground, said. "They were not having it. They were saying, 'We're not voting for the lesser of two evils.' In my mind, that was a progressive and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of color] protest. And young people didn't vote at all."

So, even though Virginia's legislature adopted 2021's more expansive set of pro-voter reforms, their ticket didn't compel voters to take advantage of easier ways to vote. On the Republican side of the aisle, voters faced no obstacles.

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.

Is Virginia Prepared To Debunk 'Voter Fraud' Lies In Governor's Race?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Virginia, Organizers Are Turning Out Overlooked Voters Of Color

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

After 2020's election, Virginia adopted more pro-voter legislation than any state, from expanding access to starting to amend its constitution to enshrine voting rights. But these reforms have not been enough to turn out voters in this fall's statewide elections, where the top-of-the-ticket Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are close in polls but seen as underwhelming.

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How Celebrities Are Connecting With Their Hometowns To Boost Progressive Candidates

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

For most Americans, the elections that have the greatest impact on their lives are not at the top of the ticket. The most impactful offices often are state legislators and county and local officials, which is where the Hometown Project resides. Since its inception, the project has helped 125 candidates for these offices by connecting them to celebrities who grew up in their districts: the celebrities' hometowns.

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Cyber Ninjas Got Audit All Wrong -- Including 300,000 Miscounted Ballots

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

Late last month, pro-Trump contractors working for the Arizona Senate Republicans reported that Joe Biden had not only won the 2020 election but also gained votes, while Trump lost votes in their count. But an independent analysis released Tuesday of the Cyber Ninjas-led hand count, the basis of its results, has found inaccuracies involving more than 311,000 ballots — a 15 percent error rate.

The same analysis also found that the contractors had double-counted 22,821 ballots, which is more than twice the size of Biden's victory margin in Arizona's 2020 presidential election.

"This is proof that the Cyber Ninjas' [presidential] vote count wasn't real," Larry Moore, a co-author of the analysis, told the Arizona Republic. The Phoenix-based paper first reported the analysis after filing public records requests and suing to obtain the Senate's audit records, which were released late on Friday.

Moore is part of a three-person team of retired election auditors and data experts who have used public records to confirm and explain Trump's loss in Arizona. He founded Clear Ballot, a federally certified election audit firm, and was assisted by Benny White, a Republican data analyst from Tucson, and Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot's retired chief technology officer.

Doug Logan, Cyber Ninjas CEO, did not respond to the Arizona Republic's request for a comment on Tuesday. Previously, Logan has rejected analyses by the trio of election auditors, saying they were criticizing ballot inventory and vote-counting work that was unfinished.

Incompetence Revealed, Innuendo Debunked

The 300,000-plus incorrectly counted ballots are from a 695-page report prepared by Randy Pullen, the former Arizona Republican Party chair and a professional corporate accountant, that listed — side by side — figures from five different ways that the Senate's investigators attempted to inventory paper ballots and count presidential votes from 1,634 storage boxes.

The outside auditors found that figures from 706 storage boxes were off by 25 or more ballots, when compared to Maricopa County's official election records. They found the Cyber Ninjas had no record of more than 167,000 ballots in the storage boxes. They found an additional 144,000 ballots where the number of hand-counted ballots in storage boxes did not match subsequent machine counts of the ballot inventory. They found Pullen's hand count totals apparently double counted nearly 23,000 ballots. Their report, posted on their blog, has pages containing highlighted errors in all of these categories of auding mistakes.

"Our initial analysis… completely discredited any comments made by Pullen or Doug Logan about the accuracy of the Senate 'forensic audit,'" the analysts October 12 blog said. "Pullen now says the report he submitted, and [Arizona] Sen. [President Karen] Fann subsequently submitted to the [Arizona] Attorney General when she asked for a criminal investigation of everything the Ninjas have been saying, was only preliminary. Since it is the only report of the extended audit that has been released to the public, we are now going through that report in detail to see how it stacks up against the official results. The answer is not very well."

The disclosure that the Cyber Ninjas most-detailed report cannot account for 15 percent of the votes on 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County is the latest in a series of analyses that have debunked the claims put forth by the state Senate's privatized 2020 election investigation.

On October 6, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican elected in 2020, issued an analysis that debunked 12 of the most inflammatory allegations by the Cyber Ninjas team — after they reported that Joe Biden defeated Trump. Those conspiratorial claims drew wide coverage on pro-Trump media and lent momentum for copy-cat "audits" in other states.

The county's explanations revealed that the Cyber Ninjas did not know basics about election administration, which involves a series of interlocking systems and records that range from authenticating a voter's identity and eligibility, to how mailed-out ballots are tracked and inventoried, to how vote counts are tabulated, to how vote-count records and databases are archived. In these and other categories, the contractors have attacked the accuracy of the election and incorrectly portrayed the voting and vote-counting process as flawed.

"Based on our preliminary review of voters found in the Senate's data, we cannot substantiate Cyber Ninjas' conclusions based on the use of a third-party data set," Richer's analysis said, in response to a claim that 23,344 voters—more than twice Biden's victory margin—did not live at the address in their voter file. (The Cyber Ninjas used a commercial address directory, which their report to the Senate said could not find more than 80,000 voters in the county).

"No voter should be denied their right to vote because they are not in a commercial database," Richer continued. "In Maricopa County, we rely on the voter's affirmation of their residential address until we are informed otherwise by the voter or by another trusted resource like the United States Postal Service or the National Change of Address report. A real-time database that tracks the day-by-day movement of every person in the state or in the nation does not exist."

There have been other recent reports that also attest to the Cyber Ninjas' incompetence as election auditors and highlight that this exercise was a made-for-media spectacle designed to perpetuate Trump's false narrative that the election was stolen. For example, Voting Booth reported that the March 2021 contract between the Senate and the Cyber Ninjas did not require the firm to produce a precise report of vote counts, but only an "attempt" to do so.

Emerging from the critiques of the Cyber Ninjas' work are telltale markers, as other bad-faith partisan investigations get underway in other national battleground states, such as in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Audits by election professionals take a few days to a few weeks, not five months like the Cyber Ninjas, who covered up mistake after mistake—all the while delaying their final report as pro-Trump media kept claiming the election was stolen.

"The official results announced last November were correct then and they are still correct today," the independent auditors Tuesday blog entry concluded.

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.

Trumpist Diehards Still Question Biden’s Victory in House Oversight Hearing

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

Pro-Trump Republican congressmen repeatedly questioned Joe Biden's victory in Arizona's 2020 presidential election in a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Thursday -- despite testimony from Maricopa County's top elected Republicans that their election results were accurate and that 2020 saw the best-run presidential election in years.

"I was asked who won [the presidential election] in Arizona. I don't know," said Rep. Andrew Biggs (R-AZ) "We've not resolved the issues that took place."

"It's somehow wrong for Republicans to raise legitimate questions when we had an election that was fraught with irregularities and potential fraud," said Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA).

The House hearing was called to discuss the "audit" of the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona and "threats" to American democracy by copycat efforts in other battleground states. It yielded little new information about the review sanctioned by the Arizona state Senate but did highlight the voices of locally elected Republicans who rejected Trump's stolen-election claims.

"I want to start by saying that the election of November 3, 2020, in Maricopa County, was free, fair, and accurate," said Jack Sellers, who chairs the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. "They executed a secure, accurate, and efficient election… during a worldwide pandemic."

Sellers also observed that "a small yet loud minority" had pushed the state's Senate to launch an outsourced review led by pro-Trump contractors with no prior election auditing experience. The Senate's investigators went looking for problems that would somehow validate and perpetuate Donald Trump's unproven claims of a stolen election, said Sellers, and Arizona's legislative leaders would not listen to facts.

"During the last 10 months, I've learned a lot about people," Sellers continued. "I was naive in thinking I could sit down with our state Senate leadership and explain the answers to their questions and accusations, and we could put this uncertainty behind us and move on."

Bill Gates, a Republican election lawyer and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors vice chair, expanded on Sellers' remarks and noted the corrosive effect of the "audit" on democracy.

"It was the most scrutinized election [result] in the history of Maricopa County," Gates said. "Election experts said that. Machine counts confirmed it. Hand counts confirmed it. The court system reconfirmed it, and our residents were happy, too. We did a poll of 80,000 of our voters and 90 percent of them said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the election."

"Unfortunately, some in our party see it differently," Gates continued. "They have attacked the work that was done by our elections workers in Maricopa County, and they have fanned the flames of conspiracy. And this willingness to do so, unfortunately, is what led to the first non- peaceful transfer of power in our country's history [on January 6]. And unfortunately, Arizona has been at the center of this attack on our American ideals."

Gates noted that events since Election Day have led to a national pattern where many Republicans, led by Trump supporters, have cast doubt on contests that the party lost. Those attacks, Democrats on the House panel said, have become a pretext for altering state laws to make voting harder, and to try to give state officials new authority to overturn the popular vote.

"Even though Joe Biden won Arizona, by 45,000 votes [in Maricopa County], 20 members of the Arizona legislature signed a resolution asking Congress to disregard those results and seat a slate of Trump electors," Gates recounted. "That was, without a doubt, a staggering refusal to follow the will of the voters."

"The problem we have [is] Donald Trump refused to accept the results," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). "And unfortunately, we have one of the world's great political parties which has followed him off of this ledge of this electoral lunacy. And it's dangerous for democracy."

The House hearing disclosed few new details about the Arizona Senate's review led by the Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO, Doug Logan, was invited to speak but did not appear. The Cyber Ninjas also have not complied with the panel's demands for documentation related to the review.

On September 24, the Cyber Ninjas' team told Arizona legislators that Biden won the election, and even gained votes, while Trump lost some votes. However, the investigators released little documentation of their vote counts, and also raised many questions about technicalities that they claimed called into question tens of thousands of votes.

The hearing became a spectacle where congressional Republicans repeatedly ignored the Cyber Ninjas' conclusions about Biden's victory, and instead cited bureaucratic issues that the only speaker defending the Senate's review said would not have changed the election's result.

"It would not change that outcome—correct," said Ken Bennett, the Arizona Senate's liaison to the audit and a former Arizona secretary of state. "Did the audit show that Mr. Biden got more votes than Donald Trump in Maricopa County? Yes, the audit shows that."

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.

Big Liars Cling To Conspiracy Theories After Arizona 'Audit' Debacle

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

"Truth is truth and numbers are numbers," said Arizona Senate President Karen Fann on September 24, as she summarized the most important finding in the long-awaited report from the pro-Trump contractors hired to assess the accuracy of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, where two-thirds of Arizonans reside.

That bottom line -- yes, Joe Biden won, and his vote totals had increased while Donald Trump's totals had fallen -- was noted by almost everyone following American politics except for the people who arguably needed to hear it the most: Trump and his base of true believers.

"Yesterday we also got the results of the Arizona audit, which were so disgracefully reported by those people right back there," Trump said at a Georgia rally, pointing to the press as attendees cheered. "We won on the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn't believe!"

"We call on each state to decertify… Decertify… DECERTIFY… [their 2020 presidential results]," yelled Republican Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, at a pro-Trump rally outside legislative chambers after the Senate's contractors reported that Biden won Maricopa County by 45,469 votes. (The official results showed Biden beating Trump by 45,109 votes countywide and 10,457 votes statewide.)

Despite the unexpected affirmation of the accuracy of Maricopa County's voting system, other parts of the reports revived and expanded previous conspiratorial claims. There were claims that more than 20,000 ballots might have come from wrong addresses—making the ballots uncountable. Or additional thousands might have come from voters who might have moved away, or people might have voted twice. Another Senate contractor, CyFIR, a cybersecurity firm, said that county election employees were seen on video in what might be images of them erasing key computer records from the 2020 presidential election.

Fann concluded the hours-long hearing by releasing a letter calling for Arizona's attorney general to investigate the alleged data erasure (which county officials deny) and other alleged problems. Fann said that further hearings would be held on the 2020 election.

Schism Between Reality and Fantasy Grows

The reaction by Trump and his base to the Senate's 2020 review, which has sparked copycat efforts in other swing states, underscores that these exercises have always been more about cultivating doubts about unpopular election results for partisan gain than about settling the lingering questions held by the most loyal supporters of a losing candidate.

One need look no further than coverage of the base's reactions by anti-Trump Republicans such as Charlie Sykes, editor of the Bulwark, whose newsletter on September 27 said, "If you have been living in a bubble of naivete or denial, you might have imagined that the results of the Cyber Ninja[s] audit in Arizona would usher in a New Era of Sobriety in our politics. Fat chance."

Still, there are some corners in the world of politics and elections where facts matter and conducting transparent audits where the methodologies and findings are fully released is the standard for credibility. The Cyber Ninjas still have not released their full data sets (they still are fighting public records requests in court), which has led many experienced election officials to comment that the public cannot trust anything they claim—including saying that their results from their controversial hand count was as close to the official results as they reported.

"Cyber Ninjas has no expertise in election audits, so it's no surprise that the methodology of their report makes it impossible to validate their findings," said Matthew Weil, Bipartisan Policy Center elections project director. "Real auditors show their work. Despite finding almost no change in the overall vote totals from 2020, they have succeeded in degrading faith in the results of a free and fair election and delaying discussions of real reforms to improve the voting experience."

Voting Booth, along with a team of experienced election auditors, obtained a draft copy of the Cyber Ninjas' report three days before its presentation in the Arizona Senate and worked on a section-by-section analysis that debunked its false claims and evidence. That analysis was shared with numerous reporters in Arizona and nationwide and election policy analysts as a baseline for their ensuing coverage.

The Cyber Ninjas' draft report insinuated that tens of thousands of voter registrations and paper ballots might have been illegitimate, forged, or even illegal. (In some cases, their final report rolled back or increased the number of voters and ballots that they alleged were questionable by several thousand, but they didn't change the evidence cited.)

The attacks on voter registrations, for example, were based on imprecise commercial data, not on government records used in elections. The forged ballots accusation indicated that Cyber Ninjas didn't know that ballots are printed for voters after they arrive at vote centers on Election Day. Under a microscope, the lines on those ballots appear less crisp than the lines that appear on mailed-out ballots, which are printed by an industrial press weeks ahead of an election.

Nonetheless, the Cyber Ninjas included recommendations for legislative action that are consistent with decades of GOP efforts to put partisan constrictions on voting and intimidate Democratic Party voters, based on clichéd false claims of fraudulent voting. Their legislative recommendations also included authorizing a new private election review industry, which would perpetuate their business model.

"The real reason the GOP is abetting Trumpist conspiracy theories is to justify restrictive voting rights laws, keep the base fired up for the [2022] midterms and lay the groundwork for letting partisan actors step in to influence the outcome of close elections," said Marc Elias, one of the Democratic Party's top lawyers, in an email touting his analysis of Arizona's 2020 review.

Whose Cover-Up?

While most Americans will not delve into the election administration details of Maricopa County's 2020 presidential election or the claims and evidence cited by the Cyber Ninjas, one of the foremost takeaways by pro-Trump contractors was the accusation that Maricopa County was caught destroying key evidence in February 2021. Election officials replied that their staff was archiving data, one of many responses and explanations offered via live tweets.

However, it appears to be the Cyber Ninjas who have been covering up their work and data—even after they issued their report. There were filings and hearings in two Arizona courtrooms on September 24 and 27 over the Cyber Ninjas' refusal to provide public reports, including the complete ballot and vote counts, to the Arizona Republic and public-interest groups. Their refusal is important, because that data will likely reveal the extent of the Cyber Ninjas' incompetence and underscore that Arizona-style "audits" should not occur elsewhere.

"They should never be hired again to do this by anybody," said Benny White, a longtime election observer for the Arizona Republican Party, lawyer, and part of the team of experienced auditors who have been using 2020 public election records to debunk the Senate's review. "They're incompetent, and they lie about what they've done."

White's comments come after reviewing a handful of the tally sheets included in the Cyber Ninjas' report. His team has spent months to identify how many ballots and votes are in each batch and storage box from the election.

"It's very difficult to discern where they got their numbers from," he said, pointing to several columns where spreadsheet fields are blank. "My question is: Why is there not better data there for everything?"

What unfolded between late April and mid-August was a pattern in which the Cyber Ninjas changed the review's focus—moving the goal posts—from retallying the presidential and U.S. Senate election totals to attacking voter rolls and mailed-out ballots and flagging possible cybersecurity issues.

Their early blunders are briefly noted in Volume II of the Cyber Ninjas' report, in a discussion of "quality controls." The report said that "all [handwritten] Tally sheets originally aggregated in the first three weeks of counting were re-entered in the new forms," meaning they had to be redone. Those sheets, which grew to more than 10,000 pages, then had to be entered into an Excel spreadsheet at computer terminals. The report said overhead video cameras were used to catch data entry typos. "The primary function of these cameras was to… demonstrate irrefutable evidence that the data entered was accurate."

By late June, the Cyber Ninjas knew that the hand count's results had differed from the official results by thousands of votes, Voting Booth was told at the time by insiders. The contractors never released the hand-count results and, throughout the summer, went to court to oppose releasing their records to the press. In early July, the state Senate purchased machines to count the number of paper ballots—not their votes—as a way to try to understand what was wrong with the hand count. Until they presented their report on September 24, the contractors never discussed the machine count results.

Meanwhile, White and his colleagues, who had been working for months to hold the Cyber Ninjas accountable, believe that the Cyber Ninjas panicked in late June. That was why they began a machine count of the number of ballots (not votes) in hope of finding new pro-Trump evidence, he said. Instead, that tactic backfired as it confirmed the number of ballots and votes and left no room for speculation about Biden's victory.

At that point, the Cyber Ninjas announced that they had to expand their investigation, which the Senate president allowed—and they revived the longstanding GOP strategy of attacking voter rolls, by alleging that there were tens of thousands of illegitimate voters and thousands of forged ballots. These claims and their specious evidence, all debunked on the eve of the final report's release, involved volumes of votes larger than Biden's margin of victory.

Above all, perhaps one statistic from the Cyber Ninjas' report stands out as an indicator of their lack of expertise as auditors. In the presidential election, they reported counting 2,088,569 ballots. In the U.S. Senate race they reported counting 2,088,396 ballots in the U.S. Senate race—a difference of 173 ballots.

This is a basic auditing mistake; there should be no difference in the number of ballots counted in the same election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Evidence Republicans Rejected Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Audit Cyber Ninjas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOP Senators Block Election Reform -- As States Erode Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Widening Attack On American Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-2020 Impacts Coming Into View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions Flare Among Arizona Republicans Over Discredited ‘Fraudit’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Pressure Inside And Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona ‘Fraudit’ Challenged By Experienced Election Auditors


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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