Efforts to undermine the 2020 election results in Arizona led to the state Senate’s sham “audit” of votes cast in Maricopa County, which furthered lies about voter fraud and galvanized Big Lie proponents to undertake similar election-undermining exploits in other states. While officials claimed the review was designed to restore confidence in election integrity and expose purported fraud, documents uncovered through American Oversight’s public records litigation pointed to its origins in baseless conspiracy theories and post-election efforts to subvert the results of a free and fair election.
Below are additional details from American Oversight’s review of more than 80,000 pages of “audit”-related records released by the Arizona Senate in August 2021 in response to our ongoing lawsuit. The records include communications of state Sen. Kelly Townsend about the scheme to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by appointing false, pro-Trump Arizona presidential electors, as well as emails from Senate President Karen Fann regarding her selection of the firm Cyber Ninjas to conduct the “audit.”
The documents contain a December 2020 letter signed by Townsend, who had just been elected to the state Senate, addressed to then-Vice President Mike Pence asking that he “not accept” Arizona’s valid electors during the Jan. 6 congressional certification of the election results. It’s unclear whether Pence received the letter, but Townsend’s letter appears to be similar to one sent by state Rep. Jake Hoffman the day before the certification that, as reported recently by the Arizona Republic, also asked the vice president not to accept the state’s electoral votes.
Townsend’s letter is dated Dec. 31, 2020. That same day, she shared it in an email to Ron Hooper of the nonprofit U.S. Term Limits and investor Bradley Rotter and asked for feedback. Rotter replied, copying conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi as well as someone named Phil Cannon: “Please meet Corsi Undergrounder Phil Cannon who can get your letter to Keith Kellogg who is the Natl Security Advisor to the VP.”
The letter to Pence also referenced the “alternate slate of electors” sent by Arizona on Dec. 14, 2020, the day Arizona and multiple other states submitted forged electoral certificates to Congress, seeking to overturn Biden’s victory by falsely claiming their states’ electoral votes went to Trump.
On Jan. 5, 2021, Townsend introduced a resolution in the Arizona Senate to revoke Biden votes and appoint the alternate electors, among whom were Hoffman and Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward. That same day, Townsend followed up on her email with a link to the resolution, writing, “This resolution to appoint the alternate slate of electors is prepared and ready for the election audit findings, should they result in what I expect to happen.” In December, state Senate leaders had issued subpoenas to Maricopa County demanding the release of ballots cast, voting machines, voter rolls, and other election information.
The records obtained by American Oversight also reveal that the office of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks — a congressman from Alabama who on Jan. 6 gave an inflammatory speech to Trump supporters outside the White House — was actively seeking information that could be used to challenge election results. On Dec. 22, 2020, a Brooks staffer emailed Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem indicating that the office was “putting together a master memo on the valid grounds” for objecting to the Electoral College certification.
The staffer also asked Finchem for a memo detailing “allegations of fraud and other election irregularities” from a meeting involving Rudy Giuliani that had been held on Nov. 30 in Phoenix. Later that day, a Townsend staffer sent a copy of Townsend’s resolution to Brooks’ office, asking to be notified once it was “submitted to Congress.”
On Jan. 5, Finchem circulated another letter addressed to Pence regarding the “reclamation of Electoral College Electors from Arizona,” signed by Finchem, Townsend, and other Arizona House and Senate members. State Sen. Sonny Borrelli forwarded the letter to Phillip Jauregui, the head of the conservative advocacy organization Judicial Action Group, writing: “Mark has the most updated list” — likely referring to the list of lawmakers signing the letter and resolution. Jauregui, who is based in Birmingham, Alabama, was later invited to the July 2021 election integrity call that included numerous election deniers across the country, including Finchem, Townsend, Brooks, and Brooks aide Madison Engelking.
On Dec. 13, 2020, in response to a constituent who demanded that the state Legislature “decertify” the election results, Arizona Senate President Fann said that she had met with a “nationally accredited constitutional attorney” and that lawmakers needed evidence of “clear fraud.”
“With respect to the US Constitution Article 2 and 3 provisions,” Fann wrote, “we spent an hour and a half with a nationally accredited constitutional attorney which was extremely interesting and I learned a lot. He stated that the ‘plenary clause’ allowing us to convene ourselves with a simple majority applies ‘when there is no clear winner of an election.’”
The records do not indicate the name of the attorney who spoke with Fann, but the idea that state legislatures, rather than the popular vote, could determine the winner of the election was frequently espoused by Trump allies. In a now-famous memo prepared around that time, Trump-allied lawyer John Eastman outlined a plan for Pence to reject the results from states with “dual slates of electors,” writing that Article II granted state legislatures “the plenary power to determine the manner for choosing presidential electors.”
In her email, Fann added that there had “been no proof provided to the courts” of significant voter fraud, but that the Senate was “committed to pursuing these claims” through an “audit” of Maricopa County, and referred to Jan. 6 as a deadline for altering the election’s results. “We are hoping any substantiated information from any state regarding voter fraud can be brought and verified by January 6th, 2021 when congress convenes to give the final ‘blessing’ on the election. That would be one of our last options to make a difference in the outcome of the 2020 election.”
In response to a July 2021 press inquiry from a far-right media outlet, Fann provided details about the process of hiring the firm Cyber Ninjas to conduct the election “audit,” which had begun in April.
Fann told the reporter that early in the process, she had asked the Federal Election Commission for a list of “certified forensic election auditors,” a designation that does not appear to exist. Cyber Ninjas had no election experience prior to the “audit,” and is not one of the two firms accredited by the Election Assistance Commission to certify voting machines; earlier in 2021, those two firms had been hired by Maricopa County to perform an audit of voting equipment and confirmed that the votes had been counted accurately.
Fann described reaching out to “people in other states who were already talking about audits” and asking contacts for recommendations. “It was part of this process that [Cyber Ninjas CEO] Doug Logan’s name came up along with many other referrals,” Fann wrote. “I was told Mr Logan was the gentleman working with the issues in Atrium [sic] County and Fulton County.”
Fann was likely referring to Michigan’s Antrim County, the home of a debunked report on fraud. But it is unclear from the email whether she is referring to Pennsylvania’s Fulton County — where the firm Wake TSI, which later joined Cyber Ninjas’ audit team in Arizona, conducted partisan audits of election equipment — or to Georgia’s Fulton County, home to Atlanta and a target of voter-fraud conspiracy theories. But the mention of efforts in other states to dig up evidence of purported fraud is yet another illustration of how activists and conservative allies across the country were often working together, with the same contractors and election conspiracy theorists. American Oversight is investigating similar efforts to undermine faith in our democracy in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas.
In other emails to constituents who complained that the election had been compromised, Fann often referred to the Trump legal team’s efforts and the hunt for evidence of significant fraud.
In an email sent Nov. 29, 2020, Fann wrote, “We have to show some credible evidence for ‘fraud’ before the courts or anyone else can do anything. I have asked the Trump legal team MANY times to please bring us their proof of fraud so we may act on it. To date they have not provided any proof.”
On Nov. 30, she wrote, “We have asked the Trump team to please supply the information to us and to please file a lawsuit so we can address this properly according to state laws. To date this information or lawsuit has not been provided in writing.”
To date, American Oversight has uncovered more than 100,000 pages of records from Arizona’s election “audit.” Previous findings — including Fann’s claim that she had received a personal call from Trump thanking her for her efforts — are available here. Our investigation is ongoing, and we are continuing to pursue the release of records held by both the Senate and Cyber Ninjas. Read more about that litigation here.
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