“This is a huge win for the November 3rd Movement to get to the bottom of the 2020 election,” said Boris Epshteyn, former Trump special assistant who has followed the effort in Arizona. He said, “The next step is to have a full audit and review of all counties in Arizona, including a full review in Maricopa County.”
The Arizona state GOP held a watch party to unveil the report, and several candidates for governor throughout the day questioned the validity of the 2020 state election results. The same thoughts and statements have spread across states, fueled by Trump’s lies and unsubstantiated claims about the election.
For months, Trump has been fixated on reports on the 2020 election results and is particularly interested in the Republican efforts in Arizona. During media appearances and speeches at events, Trump made the questioning of the 2020 election result a big rally and even called it the “crime of the century”. Behind the scenes, Trump received regular updates from aides and allies on the details of the Arizona accountants’ findings and closely followed coverage by the right-wing media.
Months of work and millions of dollars went into producing a report that electoral experts – including Democrats, Republicans, and non-partisan officials – strongly oppose conspiracy theories to election due to the impromptu processes of review, the inexperience of those who run them, and their promotion. They said the fact that the final vote from the report closely follows the actual official results doesn’t change the fact that it should be dismissed.
“The real finding is that this was a colossal waste of time,” said Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat now running for governor, in a brief interview Friday. “And anyone considering replicating it in their state or taking further action based on this report should not be considered a serious leader.”
Trump watched coverage of the Arizona hearing from his resort in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida and was kept informed of the results by staff members, according to a spokesperson. In statements, Trump welcomed the exam as “a great win for democracy and a great win for us”.
“The voters are demanding it,” said Trump’s spokeswoman Liz Harrington. “It’s the number one problem we’re hearing.”
Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election and efforts to undermine the results, said a Trump adviser, “will never be dropped. I think he believes it, and number two is a rally point for the base. Many of his followers believe in that. ”
According to a September CNN poll, 78 percent of Republicans say Biden didn’t win and 54 percent believe there is evidence.
And that despite major missteps in the election test – and in the end no smoking weapon. At a hearing for the final release of the report, Doug Logan – the founder and CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the company hired by the state’s Senate to carry out the work – attributed some of the missteps to either inexperience or a lack of cooperation from Maricopa County.
One of these allegations came from Logan in July, with approximately 74,000 ballots returned without a record. That wasn’t true: the vast majority of those ballots were personal pre-votes, and Logan and his team simply didn’t have the experience to understand how different types of ballots were categorized. “That wasn’t an intentional discrepancy, it was just something that wasn’t immediately clear at the time,” Logan said at the hearing on Friday.
“The fact that they spread this misinformation is out there,” Hobbs said. “And no matter what they say to trace it, people believe that this is the real information.”
Even so, Logan conceded that his counting numbers are remarkably close to the official results. “The ballot papers that were given to us to be counted [at their counting site] correlate very closely with the official election results, ”he said during the hearing.
But Trump’s allies are pushing ahead. State Representative Mark Finchem – whose campaign for the Arizona Secretary of State was supported by Trump – immediately called for an exam for Pima County, the state’s second largest county that is heavily democratic.
In interviews, Trump’s allies said their focus was not on the vote counts themselves, but rather on the number of ballots the report denies for reasons like the possibility of a voter dropping out of the district area code – which the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Twitter does addressed. Trump allies accused the media of misinterpreting the results of the review, and Trump in a statement promised to discuss the report at his rally in Georgia on Saturday.
Election officials point out a number of issues with the screening from the start: The Arizona screening used secret, shifting processes that were inconsistent with those used by legitimate election screening in the past. Logan had no previous experience with elections and promoted conspiracy theories that were repeated by Trump before the review and appeared in a film about the conspiracy of the stolen elections while the review was taking place. The entire process was largely paid for by nonprofits allied with Trump and tied to the Stop the Steal movement.
“This was a sloppy process from the start, a process that was constantly changing,” said Jennifer Morrell, an electoral review expert who served as an observer of the process for the Arizona Secretary of State. It was “carried out by individuals without the skills and knowledge and expertise not only in auditing but also in election administration,” she said.
They warn against taking the conclusions of the report at face value and point out specific errors. According to the experts, many of the findings of the report, such as the allegation of ballots cast from previous addresses or “potential” voters who voted multiple times, are rooted in an amateurish understanding of elections and a desire to anticipate the results.
In particular, the report’s reliance on a commercial database to provide information about the residency status of voters was inappropriateness, they said.
“For verifying a person’s residence, eligibility and place of residence in the weeks leading up to 2020 election day, I think this is probably not a reliable source,” said Barry Burden, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s electoral research center.
“By saying there are tens of thousands [of potential problems] and there is an error rate here that does a really disservice, and a competent election reviewer would not make such a claim, ”reiterated former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican.
Burden and Grayson, who jointly drafted a report on Arizona review issues earlier this year, and Morrell based their comments on a draft final report that circulated late Thursday. Maricopa County, which has a Republican majority on the county council and a Republican chief electoral officer, also denied much of the report after a preliminary review and during Friday’s hearing, calling the results “either deliberately misleading or terribly ignorant.”
“The whole premise of the project, the basics and the preparation, are just off the mark. So I think we shouldn’t take much away from the conclusions and ultimately discourage other actors and other states from doing such a thing, ”said Burden.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this report, the name of Liz Harrington, spokeswoman for former President Donald Trump, was misspelled.