While 2020 presidential election results have already been certified across the country, one Arizona county, driven by the false claims of election fraud, has been focused on a recount that local leaders on both sides of the aisle say is politically motivated.
In Maricopa County, where President Joe Biden’s margin of victory clocked in at just over 2%, an audit of the general election results is being performed by the Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas, which is owned by a former President Donald Trump supporter who has promoted the claims of fraud. The recount was launched in April after Trump’s repeated lies about fraud, and the Arizona Senate president, Karen Fann, subpoenaed ballots and voting machines for the audit.
Biden won the state of Arizona with a slim margin of about 10,000 votes, or 0.3%.
This week Republican leaders in the state’s largest county pushed back against the recount and Trump’s misleading and false claims about the Arizona election, calling the process “a grift disguised as an audit.”
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Here’s what to know about the recount in Maricopa County:
Why is it happening?
Republican senators in Arizona launched the audit process after they questioned the results of the general election in Maricopa County, where Biden defeated Trump by 45,109 votes.
Despite the Republican governor of the state, Doug Ducey, and county officials certifying the results of the election, Republicans in Arizona have continued to push the claims spread by Trump of election irregularities in the state, where Biden was the first Democrat to win a presidential election in over two decades, and in Maricopa County.
Trump has taken the recount as a boost to his claims and has used it to falsely state he was the true winner of the election that was stolen by Democrats. But Fann has said the purpose of the audit is to highlight issues to be addressed in future elections rather than challenge the results of 2020.
Any result from the audit will not change the outcome of the 2020 election.
How does the recount work?
The audit consists of a hand recount of all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County’s general election. The process is taking place at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.
Auditors have said they are focusing on attempting to recount all the ballots, examining voting machines to determine if there was any error and reviewing voter information for potential fraud.
Cyber Ninjas is overseeing a subcontractor conducting a ballot inspection process that may be inspecting ballots for watermarks or bamboo fibers. They also are looking for folds in the ballots and other aspects of gauging a ballot’s authenticity.
One person helping coordinate the audit, John Brakey, noted that there were allegations on social media that ballots were being sent in from Asian countries, where he said bamboo fibers are used in the paper. There is no evidence to support these claims. The allegations that forged ballots can be detected by looking for watermarks or bamboo fibers are being spread by far-right conspiracy groups.
Officials have raised concerns about a lack of transparency from Cyber Ninjas about the recount process, including how they are handling the ballots and sensitive information.
Additionally, the Department of Justice raised concerns about the potential illegality of some of the methods Cyber Ninjas intended to use. Originally, the company said in its work plan to the Senate that it would be reaching out to voters through a “combination of phone calls and physical canvassing” to “collect information of whether the individual voted in the election.”
Pamela Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, said this process raises concerns about voter intimidation, which is illegal under federal law. The plan to canvas voters was suspended indefinitely as a result of the DOJ’s concerns.
It’s also not clear where the money to pay for the audit is coming from, beyond $150,000 that is known to come from taxpayer dollars. A number of private donations are also funding the recount, but officials have not said where the money is specifically coming from.
What is the current status of the audit?
The audit has been plagued by delays. In April, auditors said the recount would be complete by May 14, the date through which they had leased out the coliseum. But at that point, the venue where votes were being counted was set to host a number of high school graduation ceremonies, and the audit was paused and ballots were transported to another location.
When the audit was paused, just 24% of the votes had been processed.
Misinformation surrounding the audit has circulated on social media, fueled by false claims made by Trump and his allies. Claims have falsely alleged that the recount uncovered tens of thousands of fraudulent votes and that auditors found watermarked ballots, which is a conspiracy theory with ties to the far-right QAnon.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Maricopa County or Arizona.
“The 2020 elections were run w/ integrity, the results certified by the county & state were accurate, & the 2 independent audits conducted by the County are the true final word on the subject,” wrote Maricopa County’s Twitter account in a tweet on Friday.
What is the response to the audit?
Officials on both sides of the aisle have condemned the Maricopa County audit as an attempt at promoting baseless election fraud claims without benefiting Arizona’s elections systems and warned that it could set a dangerous precedent for future elections.
This week Maricopa County officials, including members of Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is led by a Republican majority, told Fann in a letter that the auditors are “way in over their heads.”
“(W)e express our united view that your ‘audit’, no matter what your intentions were in the beginning, has become a spectacle that is harming all of us. Our state has become a laughingstock. Worse, this ‘audit’ is encouraging our citizens to distrust elections, which weakens our democratic republic,” they wrote.
Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer slammed Trump on Monday over his statement falsely alleging the audit uncovered that the county’s database had been deleted.
Wow. This is unhinged. I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now.
We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country.
This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5. If we don’t call this out… pic.twitter.com/5tDy1wsZg6
“The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!” the Trump statement read. “This is illegal and the Arizona State Senate, who is leading the Forensic Audit, is up in arms.”
Richer called Trump’s statement “unhinged.”
“I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now,” he tweeted. “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country.”
Former clerk of the Superior Court for Maricopa County Chris DeRose, a Republican, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month that “no good can come” from the audit, pointing out that two independent auditors had already found that votes were counted properly.
“How could anyone expect a partisan process to yield a result more accurate and trusted than the one administered by professionals of all parties following established rules?” DeRose wrote.
Contributing: The Arizona Republic, The Associated Press
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