'Botched': Arizona GOP's ballot count ends, troubles persist

PHOENIX (AP). Arizona Republicans' partisan review for the 2020 election results was hampered by a contractor who broke rules regarding counting ballots. Experts warned that the work could be dangerous for democracy.It was not getting better when the auditors stopped counting and returned the ballots. The only auditor leader with significant election experience was kept out of the building. He then went on the radio to announce that he was quitting. Hours later, he reversed his decision. For violating the rules, the review's Twitter accounts were removed. One conservative Republican senator withdrew support for the review, calling it a failure. The lead auditor confirmed the long-held suspicion that the work was almost entirely funded by Trump supporters who were involved in spreading false narratives about fraud.This happened almost 100 days after the start of a process that was supposed take approximately 60 days," said Senate Republicans. It's far from over. Now, contractors are producing a report that can take several weeks to complete.This turmoil casts doubt on what backers call a "forensic audit", but experts and critics claim it is a flawed and partisan process.There is no hope of salvaging the audit at this stage, stated Sen. Paul Boyer in May, the first Republican senator to speak out against it. It's impossible to recover because they have failed at so many points.Boyer's opposition was less isolated last weekend, when Sen. Michelle Ugenti Rita, another Republican and one of the strongest advocates for stricter voting laws in the Legislature, admitted that the Trump audit had been botched.Ugenti Rita tweeted that she wanted to look at our election processes and determine if there were any improvements. It's now clear that the audit was a failure.Continue the storyThis review will include a hand count, analysis of voter data, and a review on ballot-counting machines. Cyber Ninjas is leading the review. He is a software security consultant who has no experience in elections before Trump tried to reverse the 2020 results. Doug Logan, its owner, supports the conspiracy to spread false information about the vote count in battleground state.Logan announced Wednesday night that $5.7 million was contributed to him by political groups headed by prominent Trump supporters, including Sidney Powell and Patrick Byrne. This figure is far more than the $150,000 that will be paid to the Senate.Logan stated that he approached the review objectively, and that his personal views were irrelevant. Logan was still seen in The Deep Rig (a conspiracy film that claimed the election was stolen by Trump). They were granted access to certain areas of the ballot-counting operation. This included the secure area where the ballots were kept.The integrity of the review was further compromised when Ken Bennett, a Republican Secretary of State whose election experience gave credibility to the operation and who had given data to outside experts without authorization, was locked out of the building where audit was taking place.Bennett said to a conservative talk-radio host he was leaving because he was not expected to approve the findings. He later stated that he wasn't quitting. Karen Fann, the Republican Senate President, said Bennett will have full access all audit work areas, procedures, data, and data.The Cyber Ninjas hand count of the ballots did not match the official count for the county. A third count was ordered using paper-counting machines. This time, the total number of ballots, but not the winners, was tallied. The results have not yet been published.The timeline for the final report, which was most recently due in July, continues to slip.The Maricopa County stonewalling is the reason supporters of this effort claim. Republican leaders in the county refuse to cooperate and claim that competent auditors have all they need to complete the review of the vote count.It is regrettable that the county has been stubborn, Republican Senator Warren Petersen, who chairs the Judiciary Committee which issued subpoenas recently stated. This doesn't foster trust. It slows down things. It can make things more difficult.Twitter suspended audit-related accounts this week, including the official Arizona account for the Arizona review and many others looking for similar reviews in other states. Twitter spokesperson stated that the accounts were suspended because they violated the Twitter rules regarding platform manipulation and spam.The U.S. Justice Department has warned any state looking to perform an Arizona-style review to be sure to comply with federal law. Federal law requires that officials keep and preserve election records (including ballot materials) for at least 22 months.Officials from the Justice Department had earlier notified Arizona officials about the federal requirement. The Justice Department has so far not taken any other public action than the letter. A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment further this week.The idea that this effort will build confidence in elections is being promoted is false, according to Tammy Patrick, a Senior Advisor at the Democracy Fund who is also a former Maricopa County election official. They would be lying if they claimed that this was true.The operation started off with a rough start. One journalist noticed that workers were using blue pens, in violation of an essential rule of election administration. Near ballots, blue and black pens must be prohibited. This is because they are the colors that voters have instructed to use. Workers can manipulate the count by using these pens.A former Republican state legislator who lost his reelection bid, and who would have been a Trump voter to the Electoral College if Trump had won, was one of the workers who counted the ballots. They searched for conspiracy theories and used ultraviolet light to examine ballots. Also, high-resolution photos were taken to search for evidence such as bamboo fibers within the paper.The audit process and its final results could be used to undermine public confidence in our electoral systems nationwide, thus enabling the disenfranchisement million of Americans, stated Ralph Neas, a civil right advocate and civil rights lawyer who wrote a report about the audit's flaws at The Century Foundation. These are serious threats to democracy, and must be stopped immediately.___Christina A. Cassidy, Atlanta Associated Press reporter, contributed to this report.