Right-wing media is abuzz with talk of the ongoing “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, home to more than half the state’s population, and the efforts by the Republican state Senate to continue investigating the election.
On Thursday, the audit leaders gave a presentation to state Senate President Karen Fann (R), claiming to have found discrepancies in the results — but that they would also need more time, and to embark on other investigatory methods such as canvassing voters at their homes.
The Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, however, countered in a statement that the auditors were “portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections,” and had “dropped bombshell numbers that are simply not accurate.” (Previously, a Washington Post reporter watching the recount observed that the audit volunteers were following a process that “sets them up to make so many mistakes.”)
The Associated Press also reported on Friday that election officials across Arizona have only found 182 cases of potential voter fraud, in which problems were seen to have enough evidence to refer them to investigators for review: “So far, only four cases have led to charges, including those identified in a separate state investigation. No one has been convicted. No person’s vote was counted twice.”
The audit doesn’t just spread conspiracy theories — it is the product of them
The individual running the auditing company, Doug Logan, has previously shared hashtags and memes on Twitter to doubt the election result. Logan has since deleted his Twitter account, and maintains that his personal views are separate from the work his firm, Cyber Ninjas, is doing on the audit.
The audit has also been heavily promoted by the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, and QAnon influencers have been found working with Arizona state senators and audit leaders. Audit mania has also led to online theories that Donald Trump would be “reinstated” as president, though there is no such constitutional mechanism in existence.
Now, calls for nullifying the 2020 election result — stemming from the Arizona audit’s purported findings — are being promoted again by such fringe outlets as The Gateway Pundit and John Solomon’s Just The News.
Only the audit’s side has been presented in the July 15 “hearing” — with no questions allowed
Unfortunately, providing a thorough examination of all the claims that have been made thus far can be rather difficult due to the nature of this public meeting — because it was not really a legislative hearing as a person might normally think of one, with members of both parties present and able to ask questions. Instead, only a single side was even allowed to present its view, with no opportunity for any sort of cross-examination of the claims being made.
The Arizona Republic reported:
While the meeting on Thursday unfolded in a packed committee hearing room at the state Senate, it was not a hearing of any committee. The only lawmakers questioning Logan and others working on the audit were Fann and Petersen.
Democrats said they were not invited to sit in and ask questions but were only offered seats in the audience, which they declined.
Fann said whenever a final report is issued, the bipartisan Judiciary Committee will discuss it.
(Unfortunately, even as the Republic’s article explained this issue, it still used the term “hearing” multiple times starting in the second paragraph until explaining the partisan nature of the meeting only at the 25th paragraph.)
The county shot down the allegations
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors provided a live-tweeted rebuttal of the meeting, along with further explanations offered into the evening hours. The board has a Republican majority but has previously spoken out unanimously in calling for the audit to end, and it issued a letter in May that debunked a whole series of allegations already being leveled by the audit organization. (The letter also pointed out errors in how the audit had added up the various ballot paperwork, as well as in navigating computer files that the auditors falsely claimed had been deleted.)
In this instance, the board thoroughly disproved an allegation that the auditors presented on Thursday, a claim that 74,000 more “mail-in” ballots existed than there had been actual mail-in ballot delivery records, and which has gotten possibly the most traction with right-wing media coverage of the meeting.
In this instance, the board thoroughly disproved an allegation that the auditors presented on Thursday: the claim that 74,000 “mail-in” ballots existed for which there had been no corresponding delivery records, which has received possibly the most traction with right-wing media coverage of the meeting.
Among other rebuttals offered by the board:
- The county did not change its signature-matching requirements, despite allegations by the auditors that they’d been totally relaxed.
- While the auditors complained that no anti-virus updates had been run on the machines since 2019, the county answered that “we cannot update our systems through security patches” because that would alter the systems from when they were first certified. “That is why we maintained an air gapped system,” the county adds, meaning the machines were kept unconnected from the internet.
- The auditors resurrected a long-debunked claim that the use of Sharpie markers provided by the county at early-voting centers caused ink to bleed through the paper and interfere with other votes. However, as the county explained yet again, the two sides of the ballots are printed so that votes would not be aligned over each other, and this has been verified repeatedly in tests. (However, this claim still got a lot of play in right-wing media back in November — and it is continuing to get exposure once again.)
That didn’t stop One America News, the audit’s biggest boosters
The audit has been promoted and fundraised for by One America News, in an effort to spread the “forensic audits” nationwide and further allegations to delegitimize the 2020 election. (Previously, OAN personality Pearson Sharp even predicted that the audits will uncover such massive corruption that they could lead to the executions of potentially tens of thousands of people.)
In OAN’s live coverage of the July 15 “hearing,” correspondent Christina Bobb claimed that among the “pretty explosive revelations” to have come out, the most notable one was the allegation that over 74,000 “mail-in ballots” did not have corresponding records of having been mailed out.
OAN anchor Natalie Harp opened her evening broadcast with an outraged monologue that “Democrats want us to believe” that Trump could have lost Arizona in 2020, after he’d previously won the state in 2016.
“Don’t think so,” Harp said. “Truth will out, and so it is.
Harp then spoke with Bobb, with the two discussing the “Sharpiegate” issue. Bobb then spoke of the various ideas circulating about what to do with these findings, between those Republicans who wanted to look forward to the next election as compared to those who wanted to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election. (The latter, of course, is absolutely impossible.)
Harp then spoke with the state Senate’s recount liaison, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who defended auditors’ plans to go door-to-door asking people if they had voted, which U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has warned could violate laws against voter intimidation.
“No one is obligated to even open the door and talk to us,” Bennett said. “But if they're willing to do so, I think we can ask a lot of questions that would help clear this up.”
Harp also justified the door canvassing by invoking the specter of the supposed 74,000 excess “mail-in” ballots.
Newsmax presented the audit as justifying Trump’s attempts to nullify the 2020 election — and to prepare for 2024
Other right-wing media outlets got in on the act, too. Newsmax host and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer discussed the purported 74,000-vote discrepancy with the network’s White House correspondent Emerald Robinson, who called it a “chain-of-custody issue.”
Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield also discussed the Arizona audit with former Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, who claimed it as a justification for the campaign’s various efforts to have Republican state legislatures or former Vice President Mike Pence discard the election results.
“Well, the Republicans owe Donald Trump and America one hell of an apology,” Ellis said. “For the Republicans, from Mike Pence to Doug Ducey to Brian Kemp to Brad Raffensperger, and the spineless, weak Republican leadership across the state legislatures, to not care about this and to be so weak between November 3 and January 20 — that is absolutely the only reason that this corruption was allowed to persist, and the false certifications be given to Congress and counted on January 6.”
Following their conversation, Stinchfield declared Trump to be the rightful president, and said that Republicans should prepare to take action in future elections — demonstrating the ways in which the Big Lie and the right-wing media cover-ups of January 6 serve to provide a basis for stealing the 2024 election, after the failure to do so in 2020.
“Let me tell you something, folks, we are not going to stop covering this,” Stinchfield said. “When I tell you my stomach churns — I've got a president in Bedminster, New Jersey, right now who deserves to be in the White House, in my opinion. This thing is an absolute disaster, and it better not happen again in 2022, if Republicans are smart, and God forbid 2024.”
Fox News host Sean Hannity asked about a “remedy” to the last election
Fox News host Sean Hannity also hosted a discussion of the audit with law professor Alan Dershowitz and Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett.
Jarrett also claimed that “it's good to conduct a comprehensive audit by qualified, independent experts.” But in fact, as the county has pointed out, the people conducting the audit are not officially certified to handle election equipment. As a result, the county now has to replace the machines at a cost of millions of dollars, due to their having been in the unqualified auditors’ possession.
Steve Bannon continues his war on election officials — and his campaign to replace them in time for 2024
Former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon has previously promoted state-level “forensic audits,” along with a fantasy that they will lead to the “decertification” of the 2020 election. Bannon has also pushed rhetoric that has driven the harassment of election officials across the country, causing some of them to leave the profession.
Bannon spoke on Thursday with Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who is now running for Arizona secretary of state. Finchem, who has previously shared QAnon propaganda on social media, was reportedly present outside the Capitol on January 6 and tweeted in support of the rioters’ claims about a stolen election. After the two castigated the Republican county board members who have spoken against the audit, Bannon then promoted both Finchem’s campaign as well as his efforts to recruit candidates to run for election offices in other states.
“We have conservative secretaries of state candidates in Michigan, in Georgia, in Nevada, Arizona — I don’t think we’ve got one in Wisconsin yet, but we’re working on it,” Finchem said. “So, these are individuals who are dedicated to restoring integrity in the election system, because right now, Maricopa County is a hot mess.”
“It’s a disgrace, is what it is,” Bannon answered. “Like Fulton County [Georgia] is a disgrace, Philadelphia’s a disgrace, Detroit’s a disgrace, Milwaukee’s a disgrace. This is a disgrace, but they’re not going to pull it over. We’re going to get to the bottom of it.”
And make no mistake about what Finchem and Bannon mean by “restoring integrity in the election system” to “get to the bottom of it”: Overturning the next presidential election, after they failed to do it the first time.