For weeks, election professionals and Democrats have consistently called the Republican-backed review of November voting results in Arizona a fatally flawed exercise, marred by its partisan cast of characters and sometimes bizarre methodology.
Now, after a week in which leaders of the review suggested they had found evidence of illegal behavior, top Republicans in the state’s largest county have escalated their own attacks on the effort, with the county’s top election official calling former President Donald J. Trump “unhinged” for his online comments falsely accusing the county of deleting an elections database.
“We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer,” the official, Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder and a Republican, wrote on Twitter. “As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5.”
Three times, the county has investigated and upheld the integrity of the November vote, which was supervised by Mr. Richer’s predecessor, a Democrat.
It is not the first time Republicans in county government have been at odds with the Republicans in the Legislature over the review of the vote. But Mr. Richer is among various Republicans in Maricopa County sounding like they have run out of patience.
The five elected supervisors, all but one of whom are Republicans, plan to meet on Monday afternoon to issue a broadside against what Republican sponsors in the State Senate have billed as an election audit, which targets the 2.1 million votes cast in November in metropolitan Phoenix and outlying areas. The planned meeting follows a weekend barrage of posts on Twitter, with the hashtag #RealAuditorsDont, in which the supervisors assailed the integrity of the review.
Those posts followed a letter from the leader of the audit, State Senator Karen Fann, implying that the county had removed “the main database for all election-related data” from election equipment that had been subpoenaed for review. Mr. Trump later published the letter on his website, calling it “devastating” evidence of irregularities.
The supervisors’ Twitter rebuke was scathing. Real auditors don’t “release false ‘conclusions’ without understanding what they are looking at,” one post said, ridiculing the allegation of a deleted database. Nor do real auditors “hire known conspiracy theorists,” a reference to the firm hired to manage the review, whose chief executive has promoted theories that rigged voting machines caused Mr. Trump’s loss in Arizona.
Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the board of supervisors, issued a statement calling the suggestion that files were deleted “outrageous, completely baseless and beneath the dignity of the Arizona Senate,” which ordered the audit. In an interview, he said the meeting on Monday would refute claims in the letter from Ms. Fann, the Senate president.
“Basically, every one of our five supervisors said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Mr. Sellers said in an interview on Sunday. “What they’re suggesting is not just criticism. They’re saying we broke the law. And we certainly did not.”
The real target of the accusations, he said in the interview, “are the professionals who run the elections, people who followed the rules and who did an incredible job in the middle of a pandemic.
“A lot of the questions being asked right now have been answered,” he said of those challenging the November results. “But the people asking them don’t like the answers, so they keep on asking.”
At issue is the Maricopa County vote. But Ms. Fann’s letter raises the prospect that an exercise dismissed by serious observers as transparently partisan and flawed could become a potent weapon in the continuing effort by Mr. Trump and his followers to undermine the legitimacy of the vote in Arizona, and perhaps elsewhere.
The review has no formal electoral authority and will not change the results of the election in Arizona, no matter what it finds.
One poll by High Ground, a Phoenix firm well known for its political surveys, concluded this spring that 78 percent of Arizona Republicans believe Mr. Trump’s false claims that President Biden did not win the November election. A recent Monmouth University poll found that almost two-thirds of Republicans nationally believe that Mr. Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election. More than six in 10 Americans overall believe that he did.
Beyond the dispute over supposedly deleted files, Ms. Fann is also pressing the county and the manufacturer of its voting machines, Dominion Voting Systems, to release passwords for vote tabulating machines and county-operated internet routers.
Dominion, which has been fighting a series of election-fraud conspiracy theories promoted by Trump supporters and pro-Trump news outlets, has said it will cooperate with federally certified election auditors. But it has spurned the firms hired to conduct the Arizona vote review, whose track record in election audits is scant at best.
Maricopa County officials have refused to turn over router passwords, which the auditors say they need to determine whether voting machines were connected to the internet and subject to hacking. County officials say past audits have settled that question. The county sheriff, Paul Penzone, called the demand for passwords “mind-numbingly reckless,” saying it would compromise law enforcement operations unrelated to the election.
The election review was born in December as an effort by Republican senators to placate voters who had embraced Mr. Trump’s lie that Mr. Biden’s 10,457-vote victory in the state was a fraud. Maricopa County, where two-thirds of the state’s votes were cast, was chosen in part because Republicans refused to believe that Mr. Biden had scored a 45,000-vote victory in a county that once was solid G.O.P. territory.
What once seemed an effort to mollify angry supporters of Mr. Trump, however, has become engulfed in acrimony as Ms. Fann and other senators have steered the review in a decidedly partisan direction, hiring as its manager a Florida company, Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive had previously suggested that rigged voting machines caused Mr. Trump’s Arizona loss.
An accounting of the review’s finances remains cloudy, but far-right supporters, including the ardently pro-Trump cable news outlet One America News, have raised funds on its behalf. Nonpartisan election experts and the Justice Department have cited troubling indicators that the review is open to manipulation and ignores the most basic security guidelines.
Most Arizona Republican officials who have spoken publicly have doggedly supported the review. But State Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican from a suburban Phoenix district evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, made headlines last week after saying that the conduct of the review made him embarrassed to serve in the State Senate.
Senator T.J. Shope, another Republican from a Phoenix swing district, has been more circumspect, saying he believed Mr. Biden’s election was legitimate but that he had been too busy to follow the controversy. But in a Twitter post on Saturday, he wrote that Mr. Trump was “peddling in fantasy” by suggesting that the county’s election records had been nefariously deleted.
The Maricopa County vote review has been forced to suspend operations this week while the Phoenix work site, a suburban coliseum, is cleared out to host high school graduations. Mr. Sellers, the chairman of the board of supervisors, said he hoped the supervisors’ effort to refute the review’s claims on Monday would be the end of the affair.
“It’s clearer by the day: The people hired by the Senate are in way over their heads,” his statement said. “This is not funny; it’s dangerous.”
Author: Michael Wines
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News