Documents obtained by American Oversight and reported on by Rolling Stone reveal that in early December 2020, election-denying activists pushed Arizona state legislators to use untested technology to scan and toss out “invalid” ballots, thus handing the state’s electoral votes to then-President Donald Trump.
The emails, sent days before members of the Electoral College were set to cast their votes for president, also included members of Trump’s legal and campaign team and appear to be a precursor to the discredited “audit” of Maricopa County ballots that the Arizona Senate would later launch. Many of the emails were sent by Phil Waldron, the retired Army colonel who shared a PowerPoint outlining measures for overturning the 2020 election results with Trump allies and congressional offices in the days before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Text messages previously uncovered by American Oversight indicated that Senate President Karen Fann had consulted with Waldron prior to hiring the inexperienced firm Cyber Ninjas to conduct the “audit.”
Included on Waldron’s emails to Arizona lawmakers were Bernard Kerik, an adviser to Trump’s legal team and an ally of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, as well as former Trump administration official Emily Newman and Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, both of whom were involved in advancing baseless voter-fraud claims and lawsuits seeking to overturn results.
On Dec. 8, 2020, Waldron sent an email to state Rep. Mark Finchem — a vocal Trump supporter and major proponent of false voter-fraud claims — that included a “base research doc” on Arizona voting data. Kerik and Ellis were copied on the email, along with Russell Ramsland, the co-founder of Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG), which was behind that month’s debunked report on election fraud in Antrim County, Mich. Lawyer and lobbyist Katherine Friess, who was involved in the Antrim “audit,” also appears to have been added to the email.
Waldron then sent an email with the “Arizona data reporting” to Finchem, state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, Kerik, and Newman, outlining technology he claimed could detect fraudulent ballots. Waldron advocated obtaining images of the ballots, which his team would run through “optical scanning technology” that would “allow us to pull invalid votes out of the totals ‘By Candidate’ so that your state can certify normal elections and potentially not have to take extra legislative action.” Records previously obtained by American Oversight show that Borrelli then forwarded the email to all Arizona Senate Republicans.
Three days later, Waldron sent another email to Finchem, Borrelli, and state Sen. Eddie Farnsworth regarding the purported scanning technology. Waldron attached hundreds of pages of affidavits from election conspiracy theorist and treasure hunter Jovan Pulitzer, including about the ballot inspection technology he said he designed. Pulitzer, who claimed that fraudulent ballots could be detected by the absence of certain folds in the paper and was the likely source of the theory that fraudulent ballots containing bamboo fibers had been shipped from Asia, was copied on the email along with Ramsland and others.
In the email, Waldron falsely said that “scanned images are public records” in Arizona and that his team should “need no authoritative release requests” to access them. Waldron also suggested that his “local consultant and advisor” Lyle Rapacki, a conservative activist who has claimed that “demonic” forces led to Joe Biden’s win and who was also copied on the email, could travel to Maricopa County to load images of the scanned ballots onto a hard drive for inspection.
Less than a week after receiving this email, Farnsworth joined Fann in issuing a subpoena demanding that Maricopa County turn over all of its ballots, voting machines, and other records so that the Senate could conduct an “audit.”
Among the records obtained by American Oversight were communications between Arizona Sen. Kelly Townsend and Michael Bowman, president of ALEC Action, the advocacy arm of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. In a November 2021 email, Townsend asked Bowman for advice on which ALEC committee would be best to discuss “election integrity” with. Bowman responded that Townsend should talk with ALEC’s “Process Working Group,” which was meeting in San Diego the following month.
Last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected the state Senate’s broad use of legislative privilege to withhold records from the “audit” from public release in American Oversight’s lawsuit. And on Thursday, Cyber Ninjas and its CEO Doug Logan are scheduled to sit for a deposition regarding the firm’s failure to turn over public records to the Senate. Read more here about our ongoing investigation into efforts to sow doubt about the 2020 election in Arizona.
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