I watched Arizona’s unprecedented election audit – here’s what’s happening

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

Happy Thursday,

I’m writing from Phoenix, where I’m spending the week covering a remarkable GOP audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa county, home to the majority of Arizona’s registered voters.

The audit, which is unprecedented in US elections, is being watched with alarm around the country. Experts say it is a non-credible effort to fuel doubts about the 2020 race. And there’s some evidence similar efforts could pop up elsewhere.

Maricopa county has already conducted multiple audits of the 2020 race and confirmed the results. The firm hired by the GOP-controlled Arizona senate has little experience in election audits, and experts are deeply concerned its methodology is unreliable and will only lead to more doubt about the results of the 2020 race in Arizona. The CEO of the firm, called Cyber Ninjas, supported baseless conspiracy theories about the election. The effort also appears to be receiving considerable outside funding from Trump allies who tried to assist in his efforts to overthrow the election results.

Related: Why a filibuster showdown in the US Senate is unavoidable

The audit is taking place in a coliseum on McDowell Road here in Phoenix that used to be home to the Suns, the city’s basketball team (its nickname is the Madhouse on McDowell). For all the attention around the audit, the thing that stood out to me the most when I watched it up close on Tuesday was how slow and sleepy things were. Of the 46 tables in the arena, less than half were filled with people counting. Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state who is serving as the senate’s liaison to the audit, said officials hoped to have more counters in the arena soon, but temporary workers were undergoing background checks.

Audit counters are divided into several teams and wear colored shirts to denote which they are a part of (there’s pink, blue, green and yellow). Three members of each team are at each table and mark down what’s on the ballot as it rotates on a lazy susan around the table. The whole process isn’t quick – I timed one table counting 29 ballots in three minutes on Tuesday.

Once a batch of ballots is counted, a designated person at the table makes sure the tallies of all three counters match. The ballots then are moved over to a second station, where workers photograph them and put them through a device resembling a scanner. The purpose of this station appears to be to verify the authenticity of the ballots. It reportedly relies on dubious technology from Jovan Pulitzer, an election conspiracy-theory advocate, that purports to verify the authenticity of ballots by checking the paper folds and ink. Auditors are also reportedly looking for traces of bamboo in the ballot paper, an echo of a baseless conspiracy theory that ballots were smuggled in from Asia. Even some people helping with the audit are skeptical of Pulitzer’s technology.

“This guy is nuts,” John Brakey, an election transparency advocate who was brought in to help with the audit, told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s a fraudster … It’s ridiculous that we’re doing some of this.”

Outside the stadium, I noticed a small tent with about five supporters that had signs supporting the audit. It was surrounded by signs that said “expose voter fraud” and that labeled the Republican-controlled Maricopa county board of supervisors, which objected to the audit, “enemies of the nation”. I sat down in one of the lawn chairs they had set up and asked them what exactly they hoped the audit would achieve, especially since the county had already audited the ballots.

“We are pretty certain that Biden did win something. He won the most out of state votes, he won the most non-registered votes, he won the most double votes and people out of state, and all of that,” said Kelly Johnson, a retired lawyer from Huntington, California, who traveled to Phoenix to support the audit. There’s no evidence of Arizona or elsewhere of widespread voter fraud or other malfeasance.

I followed up by asking Johnson if he would accept Biden won Arizona and the election if the audit showed that was true. “Personally, yes,” he said.

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