Delegates from roughly a dozen states have made the pilgrimage to Arizona in hopes of replicating the state Senate’s partisan election audit, but legal and political barriers will probably keep them from succeeding.
From the beginning, staunch supporters of the events transpiring at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, or the Madhouse on McDowell, have looked at Arizona as the “first domino to fall.”
Now, as the work of Cyber Ninjas and other independent contractors begins to wane, Republicans from other states are trying to carry the torch forward.
Audit spokesman Randy Pullen confirmed that visitors from 13 states — Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have visited Arizona to see the first-of-its-kind exercise, but he also told a pool reporter it was as many as 17 states.
Arizona Capitol Times requested a complete list of audit visitors from the state Senate, but did not immediately receive documents.
Liz Howard, the senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Project, said states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin – three of the closest margins of victory for President Joe Biden over Donald Trump in November – have made the most noise about bringing “partisan reviews” to their states. However, she said it is absolutely untrue that if, as conspiracy supporters content, widespread fraud is found the election results can be decertified.
“I am unaware of any state law – anywhere – that would allow for an election to be overturned months after it has been completed,” she said, adding that the people making these claims still have not provided any evidence in court or otherwise of such wrongdoings.
Christina Bobb, a partisan personality on pro-Trump network One America News, has given new life to that theory of decertification.
She said on her Instagram page that Arizona would be that first domino, suggesting that other states are trying to follow suit because three states are needed “to raise a constitutional question.”
Whether that is true is open to debate, but Bobb’s credibility as a journalist is in question. She worked in the Trump administration, did consulting work on his legal team over election lawsuits last year and has acted as a liaison between Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, public records and previous reporting shows.
While there’s no legal route to decertification, Howard said other states are looking to mimic Arizona’s audit to try to use a new review as justification for future election legislation.
“I think that that conspiracy theorists are pushing for these partisan reviews because they are unhappy with the election outcome and they cannot accept the election outcome that they don’t like,” Howard said. “We are seeing legislators across the country, again, on a partisan basis, use ‘The Big Lie’ and the false allegations of fraud that President Trump made that have been repeated by others, to pass legislation to make it more difficult to vote.”
Howard said that’s already happened in several states, and has been attempted in others, including Arizona. A recent Brennan Center report showed that “at least 14 states enacted 22 new laws that restrict access to the vote” this year through May 14.
Tammy Patrick, former federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said she’s worried about so many states lending legitimacy to the Arizona audit. Patrick is now a senior adviser to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that advocates for the U.S. democratic system.
“I’m just concerned every time I see a picture that they post or a tweet that comes out from the individuals conducting this exercise because they’re furthering this narrative that is undermining the very foundation of our democratic processes,” Patrick said.
She said lawmakers are perpetuating falsehoods that the 2020 election can somehow be overturned despite there being no legal path to do so and ignoring the fact that hand counts and audits have already been conducted.
“Our foreign adversaries are sitting back and just gleefully watching Americans eat their own,” Patrick said. “We don’t need to have foreign adversaries attack our elections because we’re doing it ourselves.”
The U.S. Justice Department appears to be trying to get ahead of any move to replicate Arizona’s review in other states. On June 11, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the department planned to scrutinize post-election audits to make sure they “abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters.”
Garland also said the DOJ would publish guidance on the criminal and civil statutes that apply to these reviews.
“Many of the justifications proffered in support of these postelection audits and restrictions on voting have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both this administration and the previous one, as well as by every court – federal and state – that has considered them,” Garland said.
Garland’s statement rankled several audit-faithful Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who threatened for the second time to lock up Garland and others from the department if they interfered with the audit.
“You will not touch Arizona ballots or machines unless you want to spend time in an Arizona prison,” she tweeted June 11. “Maybe you should focus on stopping terrorism. The Justice Department is one of the most corrupt institutions in the USA.”
For the record, Arizona legislators cannot arrest the U.S. attorney general.
Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich also responded, accusing Garland of posturing and warning him to back off.
“We stand ready to defend federalism and state sovereignty against any partisan attack or federal overreach,” he wrote in a letter June 14.
The letter was his first public show of support for the audit and was seen as a campaign move given his recent announcement seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Kelly.
Another hurdle for some of these other states is that their laws and political makeup won’t allow them to directly copy Arizona’s audit.
Georgia state Sen. Brandon Beach, who visited the audit, admitted his Legislature cannot pull a similar maneuver.
“We don’t have the power because we’re not going to get 29 senators to sign a petition to call for a special session,” he told a conservative outlet this month, adding that he and others may try to put pressure on Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Georgia has already held a statewide recount of all nearly 5 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election, which upheld the results and found no evidence of widespread fraud.
A Republican candidate hoping to unseat Kemp in the 2022 election made his way to Veterans Memorial Coliseum earlier this month to lend further credence to events and hoping to use it to bolster his gubernatorial run. Vernon Jones, a long-time Democrat who announced he was switching to the Republican Party on January 6, had no problem growing accustomed to how those involved with the audit have treated the local media providing daily coverage. He got testy with an Arizona Republic reporter, which quickly went viral over his inability to answer questions and repeatedly cut off questions from being asked.
Jones is one of many polarizing figures who have pledged fealty to Trump in their hopes of winning longshot elections in their home states.
If any state has the potential to take over Arizona’s reins it appears to be Wisconsin. Four of its state lawmakers visited the Arizona audit with approval from state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. At the end of May, Vos hired three retired police officers to help a state committee review the 2020 election.
The Wisconsin delegation was joined by former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018 after a litany of scandals, including accusations of blackmail, violent sexual abuse and campaign finance violations.
Howard, who was one of several observers Secretary of State Katie Hobbs selected to view the processes on the Coliseum floor, said everything about this is dangerous to democracy.
“People that are promoting ‘The Big Lie’ are running for secretary of state,” she said, mentioning a Michigan candidate and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, as two examples. “I’m very concerned about this.”
She said her time as an observer solidified her suspicions that the contractors had no idea what they were doing, and is concerned over the possibility of this repeating elsewhere because she does not think it’s a legitimate audit.
“I have worked on post-election recounts and audits with election officials for going on a decade now. What they’re doing at the Coliseum is not a recount and it’s not an audit,” she said, adding that “it would be funny if what they’re doing wasn’t so scary.”
“It really does look and feel like you are with Lucy and Ethel at the Chocolate Factory,” Howard said, referencing one of the most iconic comedy bits from “I Love Lucy.”