Arizona’s Dangerous Path

Terry H. Schwadron

May 31, 2021

The crazed, if amateur inspection of Maricopa County votes is bound to come to an end before long, but not before spreading to other states and setting a dangerous path for democracy.

The big question is not how flawed the inspection or “audit,” as it is being erroneously termed is — that the inspection has proceeded badly seems a consensus at this point.

Rather, we ought to start focusing on what we all are supposed to do with its inevitable conclusion doubling down on the pre-determined outcome that there were millions of fraudulent ballots.

We should expect that self-appointed election warriors for Donald Trump are going to find the “evidence” they need to show that votes were ignored, changes, flooded from China or whatever wacky explanation it takes to show that an improper popular vote favoring Joe Biden over Trump. Then what?

— From the many, varied accounts, the outcome cannot really change the results of the county or state votes from last November because those have been certified by local supervisors, by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, and the Electoral College votes by Congress. But when Cyber Ninjas, the company hired by the Republican-majority State Senate announces that they magically have found that substantial fraud where no recounts previously found it, there will be a lot of noisy trouble. And it will be repeated in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states where Republicans are still re-chewing election results.

— For openers, we’re going to hear a whole lot of amplified whining about the Big Steal, now claiming “scientific” results from this strange inspection that is raising many, serious, procedural questions. Whether any of it is justified, it will further the country’s political divide and service to make future elections into circuses of never-ending challenge.

— Arizona, and other states who join in, are inviting a confrontation with the U.S. Justice Department, which sent written to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann to warn about “potential non-compliance with federal laws,” including, among other issues, whether ballots are being “adequately safeguarded.” So, set yourself for a federal-state showdown over election laws.

— And, because the process has opened and compromised actual voter machines, the makers of those machines are going to force counties and states that participate to buy new machinery, more or less at $3,000 a pop, or costing each state more than $100 or $150 million.

The Process Stinks

The one conclusion we already know is that people who know election audits think this inspection process in Arizona is unsupportable by its own procedures.

The mechanics of the Maricopa County assessment have little in common with traditional attempts to ensure the accuracy of a vote. There is very little transparency or public access to the count, and workers are looking into wild conspiracy theories, reported the FiveThirdEight politics website. “The state Senate that ordered the process is calling it an audit, and all the ballots are being recounted, but it’s not really an audit or a recount — it’s a partisan inquisition.”

Among the various findings across many articles and comments from election officials::

— Cyber Ninjas out of Florida has never conducted an election audit before, and apparently is loose in handling actual ballots. Its CEO, Doug Logan, has previously promoted election fraud theories, and Twitter deleted his social media accounts. The Arizona Mirror also reported that Logan authored a document on former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell’s website with untruthful allegations of fraud concerning Dominion Voting Systems, arguing the false claim that Dominion Voting Systems has links to the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

— Cyber Ninjas, in turn, hired Pennsylvania-based Wake Technology Services Inc., a company that also previously had no election experience other than being hired by Rudy Giuliani to come up with possible fraud outlines in Pennsylvanis, Wake was in charge of the hand recount of Maricopa County ballots until it walked away a couple of weeks ago.

— The audit is being funded through partisan sponsors including MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and a nonprofit set up by a reporter for One America News Network, which has been given exclusive access to livestream from the audit site.

— State laws stipulate that vote audits must be transparent and include more than one political party; this one does not. They must also be conducted under the supervision of election officials; this does not. Forensic audits — where the systems and machines used for recording and tabulating votes are checked to make sure they’re operating properly — include call for strict rules about custody; this does not. Generally, audits are run by the independent, bipartisan Election Assistance Commission; no one involved in Arizona is certified.

— The inspection has included multiple examinations using UV light to seek bamboo in the paper as purported evidence that Asian countries dumped ballots for Biden in the county. Not only is the process weird, but the logic here is non-existent or to find secret watermarks that conspiracy theorists believe the Department of Homeland Security placed on legitimate ballots to differentiate them from fraudulent ones.

— Elections expert Jennifer Morrell, invited by the Arizona secretary of state to observe, said in a Washington Post essaythat “The idea of a government handing over control of ballots to an outside group, as the state Senate did when hiring a Florida contractor with no elections experience, was bizarre . . . But it was so much worse than that. In more than a decade working on elections, audits and recounts across the country, I’ve never seen one this mismanaged.”

— The Republican in charge of elections in the county, Stephen Richer, has slammed the “wildest election conspiracy theories” behind the Cyber Ninjas firm running the recount, noting among other things that they only focus on president and senator, which were both won by Democrats, and not, for example, his own race. The state Secretary of State has been equally critical.

Messiness on Order

Put it all together, and what messiness we have had to date looks to be dwarfed by what’s to come.

Let’s just assume for a moment that, justified or not, the inspection turns up a purported conclusion that favors Trump. Can you imagine what Trump and every Republican state organization in the country are going to do with that. We’re already so consumed with this Big Lie stuff that we can’t get a bipartisan agreement to look at the Jan. 6 insurrection, we have trouble focusing on needs for infrastructure and coronavirus, we are overwhelmed with voter suppression measures across the map to keep Democrats from winning again. We will be adding barrels of kerosene to that fire.

We have achieved undertaking a process that “indulges the fantasies of the most extreme political fringe while ignoring the fact that there is zero evidence of any election fraud to warrant such intense scrutiny,” as FiveThirtyEight said. “The result will almost certainly not be the greater transparency Republican state senators claim they seek. The review — and others like it — may instead further erode trust in our elections.”

Now we have Trumpers running for those very offices to run and review state elections; just this weekend, Texas was finalizing rules making it easier to overturn unwanted election results. How’s your confidence level in fair elections?

We have chain of custody rules and standards in such audits for a reason — to make them credible, and to build confidence in our elections. This Arizona project is doing the opposite. Because the normal requirements of an audit or a recount aren’t being followed, the results can’t be trusted. Repeating it in other states just invites voting and elections not to the liking of a majority party to be rejected and subjected to partisan review.

Arizona is creating a dangerous and slippery road for our American experiment.




Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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