Arizona’s 2020 Vote ‘Audit’ Will Magnify Election Doubts

Republicans in Arizona’s senate are about to conclude a two-month recount of votes cast in the 2020 election in Maricopa County, where strong Democratic turnout helped secure President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state. Although previous audits found no evidence of fraud, the recount’s architects forged ahead. They took possession of 400 voting machines and 2.1 million ballots, hired a firm with no electoral experience to oversee the audit, and used dubious tactics to try to unearth wrongdoing.

Their effort can’t change the outcome of the presidential election, but it has heightened doubts among Republicans nationwide that the vote was rigged. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who was part of a broad, bipartisan coalition of officials who helped make the 2020 election secure, has been an outspoken opponent of the audit. That has made her a target of recount supporters and helped persuade her to run for governor. In a recent interview in Phoenix, she told me she intends to keep criticizing what she calls the “fraudit.” Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Tim O’Brien: Attorney General Merrick Garland recently said that the Arizona audit is simply a disinformation campaign that will undermine democracy. You have had a front-row seat. Do you share that opinion?

Katie Hobbs: Absolutely. We have known from the beginning that the folks involved in this exercise have a highly partisan agenda. The CEO of the company that was hired, Doug Logan, has said on the record that he believes Donald Trump won Arizona with no evidence at all to back that up. They have no election experience or auditing experience and they’re, they’re making this up as they go along. But they’re also using it to continue to spread disinformation about the 2020 election.

TOB: In that context, what do you think of some of the methods that have been used thus far in this audit?

KH: Well, I certainly don’t think highly of their methodology. Nothing that we’re seeing here inspires confidence that any results that they put out will be valid or credible. Starting with the highly partisan nature of the folks involved in running this. We had to go to court to force them to produce the procedures that they were following to conduct this so-called audit. We also had to force the level of transparency that exists with having independent election experts in the room to observe, as well as allowing reporters in there. And they’ve been touting this transparency with the 24/7 video access, but there were many parts that weren’t on video. So the fact that the equipment was locked in a room that there was no video feed is problematic.

TOB: You’ve said you’re worried that voting machines will no longer be usable after this audit, correct?

KH: In general, if the chain of custody of election equipment is lost — and it has been irreparably lost in this situation — it shouldn’t be used in future elections.

TOB: And the auditors have also moved Maricopa County ballots out of state to Montana, right?

KH: It is unclear what is in Montana, but to my understanding it’s not actual ballots. I believe it is hard drives with ballot images. Either way, it’s concerning. We don’t even know what security measures are in place to protect this data, wherever it is. We don’t know what they’re doing with it. There’s so many concerns. It would take hours to list them all.

TOB: Where do you think the audit itself is going to end up?

KH: It sounds like they’re wrapping up the work and that they expect to have a report sometime in the next several weeks. What I can say with confidence is that they’ve created an atmosphere that’s prime for cooking the books. We believe that starting out, they had an objective that they wanted to get to, and that this audit will not produce a valid result.

TOB: And what is that objective?

KH: To continue to undermine the integrity of our elections. To perpetuate the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, which is damaging to our democracy in and of itself. It lays the groundwork for the loser in any election to demand this kind of audit. Even if you take out all of the dangers to democracy, this is consuming time and resources that right now should be focused on preparing for the 2022 election. I think it’s also so important to emphasize that we have post-election auditing already built into the process. There’s a period of time that people can bring evidence to court if they think something happened. And those periods of time have all passed and there was no evidence [of fraud] and the losers cannot just continue to do this. It’s like you lost the Super Bowl and kept trying to do replays after the game is over.

TOB: Do you think Republicans in other states are taking a look at Arizona right now with a mind to mounting their own challenges?

KH: Absolutely. We have people who have hosted legislators and other officials from other states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia. I think people from the state of Washington are here right now. I think the folks who spearheaded this effort were looking at where they could get a foothold, and Arizona happened to be the place that worked out for them. But they’re certainly writing the playbook here to bring this to other states. We’ve been having conversations at the national level with other secretaries of state and election officials who are very concerned about this and the ways that it will continue to undermine the public’s confidence in our elections. And how do we stop it?

TOB: Do you have confidence that the state legislature is going to be a reliable forum for addressing this issue?

KH: This so-called audit is being led by the Republican majority in our state legislature — 15 of the 16 senators in the majority voted to hold the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt for not complying with the audit.

TOB: And that’s a Republican-dominated board.

KH: Yeah. They were voting to hold their Republican colleagues in contempt. And so, no, I don’t have confidence that the current legislature would pass any laws to make it harder to do this kind of partisan, post-election rehash.

TOB: The legislature has also taken steps to weaken your own supervisory powers.

KH: There’s this overreach across the country of partisan legislatures against pretty much nonpartisan election officials doing their job, taking the election procedures out of their hands. But in my case it’s even beyond that. It’s a blatant retaliatory attack on me and my office, because the way it’s written in the bill that’s being debated right now is that it would end when my term ends.

TOB: You’ve also had protesters outside your home and you’ve received death threats. Does it surprise you that it’s gone that far, and how do you feel about your own personal safety?

KH: I’m fine. I stay off social media, so I don’t read the daily attacks. But it is concerning. I was elected to the legislature in 2010, and the level of partisan rancor has continued to escalate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it worse than this last year, both in our legislature and just in general. This atmosphere is toxic and it makes it really hard to get anything done. People deserve better government than that.

TOB: How do we get better government than that?

KH: It’s really, honestly, one of the reasons I’m running for governor. Right now this kind of partisan divide is out of touch with Arizonans and with Americans. In the case of this election fraudit, calling it what it is — even if you’re a Republican, even if you know better, but you’re silent because you’re too worried about the political consequences. I’m out here taking all the heat for it, but this is not a real issue and people want leaders who are going to get to work and solve real issues.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Timothy L. O'Brien is a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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