Five months after the start of the Arizona Senate’s partisan “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results, officials have said that the much-delayed final report on the operation’s purported findings will be released on Friday, Sept. 24.
Throughout those months, public reporting and documents uncovered by American Oversight have pointed to the “audit” team’s worrisome election inexperience, the dubious cast of election-denying characters propping up the effort, and the harmful partisan and democracy-undermining intent that underpinned its initial undertaking.
In late July, American Oversight published a report on the initial findings of its investigation of the Senate’s “audit.” Drawing from news stories and documents obtained in the course of American Oversight’s litigation for related records, the report outlines major issues that undermine the credibility of the election review and any of its conclusions.
Since then, tens of thousands of additional records were released to American Oversight by the Arizona Senate that provide further evidence of the involvement of non-credible actors and of the partisan nature of what officials have defended as an independent election review. American Oversight has updated its report with those findings, and has compiled a list of the key state and national officials, election-deniers, and allies of former President Trump who have played a role in the Arizona Senate’s election “audit.”
As detailed in the update, despite officials’ claims that the “audit” is an independent exercise meant to reassure voters of election integrity, communications from the weeks after the election show Arizona state legislators replying favorably to emails from constituents who advanced, without evidence, conspiracy theories about voter fraud. Text messages sent by spokesman Randy Pullen in early 2021, including one in which he said the election review would “impact 2022,” also point to the review’s clear partisan bent and its predetermined conclusions.
The records released late last month show that “audit” leaders were also in touch with election-deniers in other states, from California to Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. This includes former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who was hired by the Wisconsin Assembly to conduct an investigation into the 2020 election. And an “election integrity” call featuring a number of well-known election-deniers includes an agenda that focuses on similar efforts in other states.
In addition to the involvement of prominent election conspiracy theorists like Shiva Ayyadurai — who signed a contract with the Arizona Senate to review signatures and ballot images — “audit” officials were also frequently in touch with Trump allies and lawyers. The records show that as far back as December, Pullen was in touch with Reince Priebus, former chair of the Republican Party and former Trump chief of staff, as well as with Jeff DeWit, a Trump campaign official who appears to have been relaying messages to and from the former president. Senate President Karen Fann told a constituent in late 2020 that she was in frequent touch with Trump’s legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, and another Trump lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, was serving as a conduit for funds sent to contractors.
The records also provide new information about the costs of the “audit,” including $400,000 that went to private security contractor Law Enforcement Specialists, paid by Guardian Defense Fund — the same nonprofit used by state Rep. Mark Finchem to help pay for his legal defense following his appearance at the Jan. 6 rally, and for which Pullen serves as treasurer. And there are yet more indications that top officials were aware of problematic canvassing operations that were being undertaken in various counties, including Maricopa.
More details on these findings are available here. In addition, American Oversight is still waiting for the release of public records in the possession of lead “audit” contractor Cyber Ninjas. Despite a court order for their release, Cyber Ninjas last week told the Arizona Senate that it would not be turning over the bulk of the records until after the final report is finished, denying the public the full transparency it is entitled to.
As Arizonans anticipate that final report on the “audit,” any conclusions put forward on Friday by the Senate or its contractors have already been compromised not just by those contractors’ inexperience, but also by the partisanship, anti-democratic motivations, and deference to conspiracy theorists that infected the sham election review from the beginning.
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