How GOP could steal the 2022 election by using recount in Arizona's Maricopa as a template for other states
It has been more than four months since Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Despite being overruled by the House, the Senate and the judiciary, pro-Trump supporters still believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential election and will stop at nothing to prove that he did. While other attempts have failed, the audit of Maricopa County in Arizona could provide them with the template and motivation necessary to challenge results nationwide.
The third audit was widely slammed by local Republican officials, but pressure from the State Senate meant it had to be done. It has since become a key bone of contention between local and state GOP officials. But amidst the infighting and outlandish claims, there is real concern that the audit could be rigged to show Donald Trump won the election there. New stunning details of the process have been revealed, causing alarm not just for Arizona voters, but everyone nationwide.
An investigative piece by Slate has detailed how the GOP is doing exactly what it claimed the Democrats did -- stealing the election. It called the outcome of Trump winning "more and more likely", which could spur pro-Trumpers to recount other closely contested states. This is the inside story of the recount of Maricopa County, which has so far been vastly seen as a distraction than a real threat to democracy.
What's happening in Maricopa County?
Before we look into how the recount is being done, here's some background. Trump won the county in 2016 and was leading there until quite late in 2020. With that in mind, the GOP has targeted the votes as a prime example of the Democrats stealing the elections. Earlier this year, the Arizona State Senate ordered a full-hand recount and audit of the votes and took possession of all 2.1 million ballots and nearly 400 election machines through a subpoena.
The machines and ballots were then handed to Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity firm with no real experience in election auditing. Activists claim that the group was hired because its CEO, Douglas Logan, has frequently tweeted conspiracy theories claiming Trump won. ABC reported that Senate President Karen Fann says she can't recall how she found the firm.
Cyber Ninjas is now running the audit, which is partly being funded by taxpayers. The Arizona Senate put up $150,000 in funding, but the real cost is rumored to be in the millions. Despite being widely decried, the group is on the case and the controversial recount has thrown up some ridiculous theories so far. From ballots being shipped from China, to claims that the database was destroyed, the audit has so far thrown up several bizarre headlines. But behind those dramatic claims, lies a partisan process that could see the results flipped.
How the GOP is changing the results
The Slate article highlighted three tactics that the Cyber Ninjas and the Senate are using to flip the results. The first is funding. There's no report on where the additional funds for the audit are coming from. Reportedly, the Cyber Ninjas are raising the money from anonymous third-party donors, which could indicate that private entities have a stake in the results, not the public. There's no money trail, which is the first major alarm bell.
The second is the auditors picked. Slate found that the "counters have been drawn mainly from the ranks of the grassroots Republican Party, and the few who have been identified publicly are self-described partisans." One of those counters, Elouise Flagg told CNN, "I think Donald Trump won the election - firm believer. I hope we come to a point where we're happy with the results and truth is told." Another is former Republican state legislator Anthony Kern, who has been spotted at the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. He was also on the ballot as an elector for Trump, but has since been removed as a counter "due to optics", but other partisan counters remain.
To make matters worse, Slate reported that the process used to count the votes seemed "almost designed to create errors." Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told Slate, "this has been designed in a way to create this doubt and to be able to put out misinformation and not be honest with the public about what they found." She added, "a really key piece of any audit is that you can replicate your results, and they’re creating results that are not going to be replicable by anyone else who wanted to do the same thing again."
Here's how that's happening. Normally, two counters, under the eye of a supervisor, tally ballots in batches of 10 at a time. Their results must agree, and any discrepancies in each batch must be resolved by a bipartisan board before they are added to the count. Instead, Cyber Ninjas are employing a vastly different method. Their method involves "batches of 50 ballots, swinging around on a Lazy Susan, as three people speed-read votes in the presidential race and the US Senate race."
That process has worried Bennie Smith, a Democratic Tennessee election official who had traveled to Phoenix to advise the auditors. "Everybody’s got about three and a half seconds to watch two races," he said, adding that under those conditions even he would be making mistakes. As a result, Smith says he expects the end result to be "wildly different from the count." Adrian Fontes, the Maricopa County Recorder said, "spinning these Lazy Susans around and only giving these folks three seconds per ballot and then discounting one of the three folks, and those numbers, means that they’re going to get wildly different numbers that are going to be wholly unverifiable."
Finally, there's the process of flagging ballots for a secondary examination. Observers are flagging almost any ballot that looks suspicious - folded in half, or has the appearance of food stains. The Arizona elections manual states that these ballots must be included in the count, and to observers that seems to be happening, but only after being flagged and categorized. As Slate said, "ultimately, this paper analysis process adds another way for auditors to ultimately claim the official election count was incorrect and that Trump may have won. Even if the recount itself isn’t wildly off, at the end of the day there will be a pile of suspicious Cheeto-stained and folded ballots that could match or exceed the very slim margin of Biden’s victory."
A template for other states
"There’s no positive outcome for this," Jennifer Morrell the secretary of state observer said. And that's all Republicans will need, to continue sowing seeds of doubt. While it may be insufficient to overturn the 2020 results, if the GOP can raise suspicions enough, they might be able to convince voters that they are the better choice in the 2022 midterms. It could also provide the ideal impetus for Republicans to call for audits in other closely contested counties, despite many like Maricopa having already done several official audits.
Trump supporters, including Trump himself, are pushing for the audit in what they see as "the first domino to fall in a series of events that returns him to the White House." Trump himself has called for a similar audit in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire - all states (barring NH) which Biden flipped in 2020. Maricopa County is simply a template, one that could be replicated enough times to raise questions and ultimately sow real doubt in the integrity of America's elections. With the 2022 midterms, and Trump's potential run in 2024 on the line, that doubt could be all that the Republicans need, along with a handful of voter restriction laws.