In Arizona election audit, GOP fraud fantasies continue – Reuters
PHOENIX – (AP) – On the floor of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Sir Charles Barkley once dunked basketballs and Hulk Hogan fought King Kong Bundy, 46 tables are arranged in neat rows, each with a Lazy Susan in the middle.
Sitting at the tables, several dozen people, most of them Republicans, spend hours watching the ballots pass by, photographing them or inspecting them closely. They are count them and verify to see if there are any signs that they were surreptitiously transported from South Korea. A few weeks ago, they were holding them under ultraviolet rays, looking for a watermark that was supposed to be a sign of fraud.
This is Arizona Partisan and Extraordinary Audit of 2020 Election Results in the state’s most populous county – ground zero for former President Donald Trump and a legion of his supporters who refused to accept his loss in Arizona or other battlefield states. These ballots were counted before and certified by the republican governor. Much of the country has evolved.
And yet, in this aging arena, Republicans are looking for evidence to support claims they already believe.
This effort has alarmed voting rights advocates, election administrators and civil rights lawyers the US Department of Justice, which last week demanded confirmation of compliance with federal security and anti-bullying laws. President of the Senate Karen Fann responded on Friday by telling the ministry he had nothing to fear.
“They lost and they can’t get over it,” said Grant Woods, a former Arizona Republican attorney general turned Democrat under Trump’s presidency. “And they don’t want to get over it because they want to keep sowing. Doubt about the election.
The 2.1 million ballots were already counted by election officials in Maricopa County in November, validated by a partial manual recount and certified by Governor Doug Ducey. Two additional audits did not confirm any problems. No evidence of fraud sufficient to invalidate Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona and Maricopa County has been found.
Yet counters are paid $ 15 an hour to examine each ballot, examine the folds, and take close-up photos for machine-marked ballots and bamboo fibers in the paper. The reason appears to be to test a conspiracy theory that a South Korean plane delivered counterfeit ballots to Phoenix Airport shortly after the election.
When the recount began, the ballots were viewed under ultraviolet light to verify watermarks. A theory popular with QAnon followers is that Trump secretly watermarked the mail-in ballots to catch cheating.
There is no watermark on the ballots in Maricopa County. The effort has since been scrapped.
Despite their obvious partisan biases, auditors insist that they can be trusted because they are running an independent and transparent operation. Yet they recruit from right-wing groups. They tried to block access to the media. They have fought in the courts not to disclose the written procedures they use to count votes and protect ballots. They lost.
And we don’t know at all who pays and how much it costs. Taxpayers, through the Senate operating budget, contributed $ 150,000, but the CEO of the small business conducting the audit acknowledged that this will not cover the costs.
Fundraisers, one from the conservative One America News Network and one linked to Patrick Byrne, a former CEO who promoted election plots, are raising hundreds of thousands more.
Critics call the undisclosed private funding a huge red flag – the audit could be funded by foreign governments or people with a vested interest in the outcome, such as staunch Trump supporters.
Ken Bennett, former Republican secretary of state who liaises the Senate with listeners, dismissed growing criticism.
“I think Republicans can count the votes on the ballot just as well as Democrats or Libertarians or Independents,” Bennett said.
The audit has its own Twitter account and it has put on a Trumpian air, deploying hyperbole and outspoken attacks on Democrats and journalists.
“THE BIGGEST AUDIT OF THE GALAXY CONTINUES !!” the account tweeted on May 4.
This is all made possible by the GOP-controlled State Senate, which issued an unprecedented subpoena demanding access to all ballots and the machines that counted them in Maricopa County, which is home to the region. of Phoenix and 60% of voters in Arizona.
After months of court battles with the GOP-controlled County Oversight Council, which maintains the election was well organized, the Senate secured the ballots. This happened despite repeated checks and a manual count of a sample ballot that showed the results to be correct.
Fann, the Republican President of the Senate, again insisted on Saturday that the audit had nothing to do with Trump and everything to do with the large segment of GOP voters whom he convinced he did indeed have. won, despite the lack of evidence.
“Everybody keep saying, oh, there’s no proof and it’s like, yeah, well let’s do the audit and if there’s nothing there then we say look, there was nothing there, ”Fann said. “If we find something, and that’s a big if, but if we find something, then we can say, OK, we have some evidence and now how do we fix this.”
The ballots were handed over to Cyber Ninjas, a small cybersecurity firm whose president, Doug Logan, is a Trump supporter who shared extravagant conspiracy theories about the election.
This concern continues to the meters themselves. Anthony Kern, a former Republican state lawmaker who was pictured in restricted areas outside the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection of January 6, has been spotted several times while counting the votes.
The audit recounts only the presidential race and the US Senate competition, two competitions won by the Democrats. Top-down ballot races, where Republicans have performed best, are not considered.
The operation was slowed down by errors and operational problems. On the first day, a reporter noticed counters using blue pens, which are prohibited in counting rooms because they can be read by machines. This prompted a court order requiring only red or green pens.
Staffing has also been a problem. Despite promises that an army of counters is imminent, only about a third of the 46 count tables are in use.
Thursday afternoon, only 16 counting tables and 12 photography tables were in service, divided into teams of red, blue, green and yellow.
The fastest tables spent about 6 seconds per ballot. A particularly slow green table spent 20 seconds or more on each one. So much time elapsed between batches of ballots that at one point half or more of the counters were doing nothing.
The Senate rented the Colosseum for four weeks in an audit that was supposed to last “about 60 days.” But with a week before listeners have to leave the arena for a series of high school diplomas, only about 10% of the ballots have been counted.
Bennett said the count could continue into July.