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What's behind Arizona's weird, arbitrary and very partisan “audit” of the 2020 elections?

Donald Trump's attempt to overcome his loss in the 2020 election was a cocktail of ridiculousness and threat in equal parts. On the one hand, a seated president actively encouraged efforts to destroy American democracy – including an attack on the US Capitol. On the other hand, the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference was one thing that happened.

So it probably should come as no surprise that months after Joe Biden's 2020 election victory and swearing-in as president, Trump loyalists in Arizona are engaging in the same absurd anti-democracy that fueled the last few weeks of Trump's tenure by scrutinizing everyone in the greatest County of the state cast ballot.

The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate has no power to overthrow the 2020 elections. Indeed, the Constitution does not provide any mechanism for contesting a presidential election once the winner has taken office. However, the Senate can summon the 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots that Biden won by more than 2 percentage points in 2020.

The conditions of this “audit” seem to destroy confidence in the process. The leading company doing the GOP testing is a Florida security company called Cyber ​​Ninjas that has no experience with elections. However, Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber ​​Ninjas, has in the past spread pro-Trump conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

A screenshot of a tweet from Doug Logan's Twitter account, which has since been deleted.

AZ Mirror via Archive.org

After a state court ordered cyber ninjas to disclose the conduct of this so-called audit, a subcontractor found that the process included weighing ballot papers, examining them under a microscope, and examining the "thickness or feel" of individual ballots, to identify "questionable ballots" to be reviewed by a "senior forensic examiner" and then "removed from the stack and sent for further analysis".

And then there is a huge mystery about ultraviolet light.

As part of the audit, employees must place ballot papers “under UV-B and UV-A sources” in accordance with a document that sets out the procedure for checking ballot papers in order to compare the illuminated ballot papers with “representative samples”. It is not at all clear what exposure to ultraviolet light will do to the ballots – a coalition of electoral professionals has asked the Justice Department to send observers to oversee this questioning test, and one of their concerns is that “not only ultraviolet light Has causes Paper deteriorates, but it also leads to a deterioration in the grades on paper parts. "

Even so, Trump reportedly "talks all the time" about how these UV lights could reveal something that will undermine Biden's victory.

It's all nonsensical when you're the kind of person who has a tendency to ask critical questions like, "Are these cyber ninjas people really up to it?" or "So what should the UV light do?" However, if you are the kind of person to ask such questions, you are not the target audience for this audit either.

Pro-Trump branches like One America News Network (OAN) and Newsmax are breathlessly reporting how, in the words of Arizona GOP Chairman Kelli Ward, this trial “will be the first domino to fall, and then others will States investigate irregularities, anomalies, errors and possibly outright fraud that has happened. Trump himself is promoting the test, claiming that the Democrats are trying to stop it because "it won't be good for the Dems".

In other words, the real purpose of the test seems to be to feed Trump's big lie – the misconception that the 2020 election results are fraudulent.

How is this "audit" carried out?

Nothing about the processes used during this GOP-led audit inspires confidence that reliable results will be achieved, including the fact that the audit is taking place in the first place. There is simply no reason to suspect widespread fraud in the 2020 election, and even many senior officials in the Trump administration admit it. In the words of former Attorney General Bill Barr, there is no evidence of "fraud to the extent that could have led to a different election result".

While the Senate contributed $ 150,000 to fund the exam, much of the funding came from unknown sources or fundraisers run by right-wing organizations. OAN raised money for the effort.

Incidentally, this dubiously funded audit came after Maricopa County carried out its own hand-count of all ballots cast in 2020 and hired two independent companies to test its voting machines. These impartial investigations found no evidence of fraud or other serious problems in the 2020 elections.

An essential part of the GOP audit consists of weighing ballot papers, examining them under a microscope and under UV light, observing the “feel” of individual ballot papers and checking whether the ballot papers are folded in a suspicious way. In a document that explains, for example, how to identify suspicious ballot papers, ballot reviewers are asked to determine "the presence of a visible crease" on every ballot paper cast on election day and "the absence of a visible crease" on any other day “To be determined.

The idea seems to be that those who cast their ballots in person do not fold the ballot paper, while those who cast their ballots in the mail do.

In addition to identifying “questionable ballot papers” based on such strict criteria as the weight of the ballot paper or the folding of the ballot paper, the check also includes a recount of the ballots from Maricopa County – although it is not clear whether ballots that are classified as “questionable”, are included in this recount.

As part of the recounting process used by the GOP audit, three different “counters” are assigned to each ballot slip. Each ballot is shown to a team of three counters who then create their own numbers of how many votes were cast for each candidate. Once 100 such ballots have been counted this way, the numbers on the three counters are compared to see if they match.

If the three counters match, the stack of 100 ballot papers is counted. However, if one counter does not match the other two, it appears that the ballots will still be counted until the offending counter does not match the other two counters by three or more votes.

For example, if two counters agree that 48 of the 100 votes cast in a given batch of ballot papers were for Trump, it appears that 48 votes will be credited to Trump, even if a third counter believed he got only 46 votes – however, in fairness, ballot papers where one of the three counters did not match the other two are marked to indicate this disagreement.

The press was completely excluded from observation of this so-called audit at various times – although the Pro-Trump-OAN is allowed to broadcast the process live. Elsewhere, reporters were allowed to hop on and off after revealing information that embarrassed the GOP.

Ryan Randazzo, a reporter from the Republic of Arizona, tweeted a picture showing a former Republican state official reviewing the ballot papers. Shortly afterwards, he was told that his press privileges had been revoked – exam organizers claimed Randazzo had been kicked out because his picture contained a picture of a ballot paper.

However, Randazzo's tweet revealed a serious problem with the exam. Former lawmaker captured by Randazzo, Republican Anthony Kern, lost his seat in the 2020 election and should become a member of the electoral college if Trump had won Arizona.

In other words, Kern is taking part in an examination of an election in which he ran for two separate public offices. It's a conflict of interest. A candidate who was rejected by voters in 2020 has a fairly obvious interest in undermining confidence in the 2020 election.

In another incident, a CNN reporting team was confronted with three men in outfits that resembled police uniforms when another man wearing a cyber ninja badge accused the CNN crew of "trespassing". The three uniformed men weren't really cops.

In other words, the audit relies on dark money to fund a dodgy recount where ballots can be classified as "questionable" for the thinnest of reasons. Reporters meanwhile have only limited access to the entire process. And they can apparently be kicked out to reveal information that makes the audit seem even more suspicious.

What's wrong with the UV lights?

Perhaps the greatest mystery of this whole circus is why exactly the auditors shine UV light on individual ballots.

At a news conference last week, a reporter asked Ken Bennett, a former Republican Secretary of State who is liaising with the Arizona Senate on the review process, what the UV lamps are used for. His answer was anything but edifying.

“The UV light looks at the paper. And is part of several teams involved in evaluating the paper, ”Bennett initially told reporters. When asked what the purpose of this process was, he replied, "Personally, I don't know."

One possibility is that the UV light is tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory. According to Jen Fifield of the Republic of Arizona, shortly after the November election, QAnon supporters claimed that former President Donald Trump and others had secretly watermarked postal ballot papers to prove fraud did not actually exist.

Another theory is that the UV light could be used to scan for fingerprints – some conspiracy theorists claim that if fake machine-printed ballots were cast in 2020, those ballots would not have fingerprints like a ballot that was processed by an actual voter.

A third theory, also put forward by Fifield, is that the UV light can be used to look for signs that a ballot has been folded.

In any case, the whole thing is bizarre. Republicans are unlikely to expose these ballots to UV light for no reason. But so far no one has been able to get a straight answer as to why they are doing this.

It's all very silly, but it's also very scary

The GOP's audit is such a clown show that it is tempting to dismiss it as some sort of Trumpian spectacle that gets a lot of press attention but ultimately does nothing.

While Republican leaders can't answer very basic questions about her exam – like what the UV rays are for – one Republican leader was pretty clear about what she wanted to achieve after taking the exam.

"How can we get electoral integrity back into our system, and that's what it was all about," Senate President Karen Fann told a local radio host last week. She added that the purpose of the audit is "to get answers so we can fix issues and make sure the next elections are safer, cleaner and smoother."

In other words, the obvious purpose of this test seems to be to find “problems” with the state's electoral process that the GOP can “fix” with laws – laws that may be similar to voter suppression laws that Republicans already have passed in Georgia or Florida.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Arizona lawmakers have introduced nearly two dozen bills designed to make voting in the state difficult. This includes 14 postal ballot bills and a strict voter ID bill.

No sane person could take the GOP's 2020 election scrutiny seriously in Arizona. However, the target audience for this audit is not reasonable people. It is Trump's most undeniable supporter – both inside and outside the Arizona state legislature.

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