Directly outside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum near downtown Phoenix, the Crazy Times Carnival wraps up an 11-day race on Sunday, a show of thrill rides, games and food stalls that made headlines. Arizona State Fair this year.
Inside the Colosseum, a Republican-ordered exhumation and examination of 2.1 million votes in the state’s November election is heading into its third week, an exercise that has become the lodestar of voting theorists rigged – and shows no signs of coming to an end.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs noted the carnival’s presence outside the Colosseum when she questioned the competence and objectivity of the review last week, expressing concern over the ballot security inside during an apparent search of what has become a spectacle of a very different kind. .
There is no evidence that the narrow loss of former President Donald J. Trump in Arizona’s fall presidential election was fraudulent. Nonetheless, 16 Republicans in the state Senate voted in favor of subpoenas in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and two-thirds of the state’s vote in November, for an audit to show Trump without reserved that their fraud concerns were taken seriously.
Just a week ago, officials said the review would be complete by May 14. But with that deadline within a week, only 250,000 of the county’s 2.1 million ballots have been processed through the manual recount that is at the heart of the review. Said Ken Bennett, a liaison between those conducting the review and senators on Saturday.
At this rate, the manual recount wouldn’t be complete until August.
The delay is just the latest snag in an exercise that many critics say destroy voters’ confidence in the election, not restore it. Since the state Senate first ordered it in December, the review has been hampered by controversy. Republicans dominate the Maricopa County Supervisory Board, which oversaw the county elections. They said it was fair and correct and opposed the review.
After a week marked by growing accusations of partisan cunning, mismanagement and even potential illegality, at least one Republican supporter of the new tally has said it can’t end soon enough.
“It makes us look like idiots,” State Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican from suburban Phoenix who supported the audit, said on Friday. “Looking back, I didn’t think it would be that ridiculous. It is embarrassing to be a state senator at this point.
Civil rights activists say political fallout is the least of concern. They say the Arizona review is emblematic of a broader effort by pro-Trump Republicans to undermine faith in American democracy and transfer control of the elections to supporters who share their platform.
“This subpoena and audit is no different from what is happening with a number of nationally pushed bills that essentially take fair and objective processes and turn them into partisan political bodies,” said Alex Gulotta. , state director of All Voting Is Local, a national voting rights group. “It’s not an aberration. It is a window into the future where some people would like our elections to take place. “
Mr Bennett, former Republican secretary of state and former gubernatorial candidate, said the companies hired to carry out the overhaul plan to hire more temporary workers to speed up the count. But its conclusion is still weeks away.
Later this month, workers will have to suspend work and move all of their operations – workstations, imaging equipment, stacks of uncounted ballots that cover much of the Colosseum’s floor – into a storage elsewhere in the building to make way for a high school wave. long-scheduled graduation ceremonies for the week of May 17.
In an interview, Bennett said no storage sites had been selected, but was optimistic that the manual count would be completed soon.
“When we come back we will have the last week of May and the whole of June, but I don’t think it will take that long,” he said. “The hand count should be done in mid-June.”
Senators have presented the review as a way to reassure those who supported Mr. Trump’s baseless claim that his loss of 10,457 votes in November was the result of a rigged election. While this will not change the outcome of the election, they said, it could dispel any doubts about its results.
But doubts about the real goal blossomed when Karen Fann, the Republican president of the state Senate, hired a Florida company, Cyber Ninjas, to lead the review. Its chief executive had promoted on Twitter a conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump’s loss in Arizona was the result of rigged voting machines.
Journalists, election experts and representatives of the Secretary of State, whose office is responsible for the Arizona elections, struggled to obtain permission to observe the exam, while far-right cable company One America News raised money to finance it and was given wide access to the debates.
Partisan allegations exploded after it was revealed that a man who had been hired to recount the ballots, former State Representative Anthony Kern of Arizona, was a leader of the local movement ” stop the steal ”and was photographed on the steps of the US Capitol during the January 6 riot in Washington. Mr. Kern had been on the Maricopa ballot, both as a Republican candidate for state representation and as a pro-Trump presidential voter.
The review was heavily criticized last week by the Arizona Secretary of State and the Federal Department of Justice, who separately cited widespread reports that the mishandling of ballots and other material electoral threat to permanently spoil the official results of the vote. The Justice Department noted that federal law requires that the file be kept intact under penalty of fine or imprisonment. Some of the more serious questions concern the management of the exam.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said on Wednesday the exam was conducted with uncertified material and the ballot counting rules were “a significant departure from standard best practices.” .
She wrote: “While conspiracy theorists undoubtedly applaud these types of inspections – and perhaps provide financial support because of their use – they do nothing other than further marginalize professionalism and l ‘intention of this’ audit’. “
After his allegations drew a number of death threats from Trump supporters, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered state police protection last week from Ms. Hobbs, a Democrat.
The Justice Department raised concerns about the protection of ballots and also questioned whether another aspect of the process – a plan to go to voters’ homes to verify that they had actually voted, as shown voter registers – could violate federal laws or intimidate voters.
In her response to the ministry, Ms Fann defended the review, saying it was being conducted under “comprehensive and rigorous security protocols that will fully preserve all physical and electronic ballots, tabulation systems and other election materials.” .
But she appeared to stray from plans to personally interview voters, saying the state Senate “had decided several weeks ago that it would postpone this component of the audit indefinitely.”
Ms Fann said in a letter Friday that the Justice Department’s concerns were “misplaced” and that strict rules protecting documents and equipment were in place. On Saturday, Bennett said the concerns about the integrity of the process were “completely unfounded, and I believe they come from people who have always decided they don’t want the audit at all.”
Ms Fann, who had remained largely silent on criticism of the review, opted last week to hold a public defense. Appearing in an interview with the Phoenix PBS news briefing, she applauded One America News’ role in supporting the review and said the Senate had no role in choosing Mr. Kern or others. people who counted the votes.
“I don’t know why he’s there or how he got there, but he was one of the people who was selected, and that’s what it is,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing, to be honest.”
And she said the news media had exploded concerns about the journal’s objectivity and management out of proportion.
“They are talking about conspiracy theories,” she said, referring to reports that the journal is examining ballots for evidence of bamboo fibers and baseless watermarks seen as signs of fraud. “But I’m telling you what, there’s almost a reverse conspiracy theory to belittle this audit.”
She suggested that her support for the review would be proven at the end.
“I think we’ll find irregularities that are going to say, you know what, there are so many dead who voted, or so many people who voted who don’t live here anymore – we’re going to find them,” she said. “We know they exist, but everyone keeps saying, ‘You have no proof.’ Well, maybe we’ll get the proof out of that so we can fix those holes. “
More common is the idea that the review has become an alarming exercise to undermine confidence in the US election.
Election law expert David J. Becker, founder of the Center for Election Administration and Research in Washington, said Ms Fann’s assurances about the integrity of ballots and other records seemed unlikely to satisfy the Ministry of Justice. Justice.
“There is no doubt that the contamination of ballots and records is an ongoing problem that raises serious concerns about federal law,” said Becker, a former lawyer with the voting rights section of the Ministry of Justice. “We’ve never seen anything like it before, where random efforts allow an unknown foreign entrepreneur to start digging through the ballots. I think it’s pretty clear that the answer does not resolve concerns about the integrity of the ballots. “