Several (possibly illegal) missteps and the embrace of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories within an audit of ballots cast in Maricopa County, Arizona, for last year’s presidential election have led to one lawmaker, initially in favor of the inquiry, to describe the situation as “embarrassing” and “ridiculous.”
The audit itself, several commentators have noted, gives undue credence to the “big lie,” the false notion that the presidential race was “stolen” by supposed election saboteurs in order to help Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump last year. Trump himself is reportedly paying close attention to the outcome of the Arizona audit, hoping that its outcome will help reinstate him as president of the United States even though he still wouldn’t have enough electoral votes to defeat Biden.
Most people view the audit, which is being conducted at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona, as being unnecessary and a waste of time and taxpayer money. State- and county-wide audits have already been conducted, yet the Arizona legislature, which is run by Republicans, ordered yet another audit, run by a cybersecurity company called Cyber Ninjas, to pore over Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots cast last November.
The company has zero experience in conducting such audits, and its founder, Doug Logan, has espoused pro-Trump and QAnon ideals, including using the phrase “Stop the Steal” in social media to signal support of unsubstantiated and false claims of election fraud in the 2020 race, which immediately puts into question the independence of his firm’s actions.
Much like its founder, Cyber Ninjas has shown it’s willing to investigate unfounded conspiracy theories that many ardent Trump supporters have put forward. The company, for example, is scanning every ballot with ultraviolet light, looking for watermarks that were never placed on them. It’s also searching documents for traces of bamboo, indicating the company has endorsed a racist theory that alleges fake ballots were brought in from China in order to help Biden win the state.
However, the actions taken by the firm, and others like them, are not what some Republican lawmakers apparently had in mind for the audit.
“It makes us look like idiots,” State Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican who voted in favor of the Cyber Ninjas’ audit of ballots, said to The New York Times.
Boyer seemed to express regret for his vote to allow the audit to proceed.
“Looking back, I didn’t think it would be this ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to be a state senator at this point,” he said.
The audit — and the embarrassment it appears to be causing among some lawmakers — doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. Now entering its third week, the counting of ballots will soon have to be halted, as other organizations have events scheduled at the venue where it’s taking place. Counting will presumably restart after those events, mostly high school graduation ceremonies, finish up.
Even then, the audit could last into mid-June, said Ken Bennett, liaison between lawmakers and Cyber Ninjas.
Ballots will have to be stored in the meantime, though it’s unclear as of right now where or how ballots will be kept safe, another issue that critics have also brought up about the audit in the past few weeks. The overall lack of security in storing ballots has resulted in the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, writing a letter to Arizona lawmakers demanding to know details of how the audit was being conducted.
Karlan also rang alarm bells over the possibility that the audit was targeting voters of color.
“Past experience with similar investigative efforts around the country has raised concerns that they can be directed at minority voters, which potentially can implicate the anti-intimidation prohibitions of the Voting Rights Act,” Karlan wrote. “Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future.”