Arizona Republicans on Friday championed the results of their extraordinary partisan election review — which again affirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in Maricopa County — and called for similar examinations around the country.
“We need to do bigger audits on every election, just to make sure that everybody’s following the rules,” said Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, boasting about how many lawmakers from other states had visited the site of the ballot review.
Fann and state Sen. Warren Petersen, also a Republican, listened to hours of testimony from third-party contractors including Doug Logan, CEO of the lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas, as they cast doubt and suggested their work had turned up evidence of improprieties including illegal votes and deleted election files.
But experts and critics say the supposed findings confirm what they already knew: that the hired contractors were inexperienced and failed to use industry best practices, while misunderstanding and misconstruing the basics of election administration and Arizona election code. And with the proliferation of Arizona-inspired efforts spreading around the country, experts say there’s real damage being done to trust in elections.
“They’re doubling down on some of the things that have already been refuted. And just continuing to give oxygen to things that are untrue,” said Tammy Patrick, a former Maricopa County elections official who is now a senior adviser at Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that aims to improve American elections.
“They’re simply taking routine election administration processes and attempting to cast what they don’t understand as suspicious,” said Liz Howard, senior counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Howard was appointed by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to monitor the review and spent weeks in Phoenix observing the Cyber Ninjas do their work.
“It’s unreasonable to assume that this isn’t unintentional,” she added.
Both Howard and Patrick said the auditors’ findings — which were circulated in a draft on Thursday night, before being presented in a livestreamed event on Friday — made it clear they didn’t understand basic election administration.
For example, contractors reported that there were possibly thousands of out-of-state and out-of-county voters, as well as hundreds of dead voters who cast ballots in November, numbers they calculated by comparing voter rolls with commercial data lists.
Patrick said that such data was poorly vetted, and that political groups who had used commercial mailing lists had at times ended up sending mailers out to people’s pets, because someone, for example, had once signed their cat up for a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine.
Howard agreed that commercial data was unreliable for this purpose and added that there are also valid reasons a voter would be associated with another address but still be an eligible voter in Maricopa County, like students.
Contractors also alleged that election files had been deleted, something Maricopa County tweeted they "strongly" deny, noting they have additional records but that the state Senate had never requested them.
Experts and critics say the impacts of the review, however, are just beginning.
Arizona Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, who initially backed the review but pulled his support in February over concerns for how it was progressing, said he believes it will make legislating on elections harder.
“I think now you’re going to see a hundred or two hundred election bills next year and no one is going to listen to the experts,” he told NBC News on Friday.
He added that he has spoken to voters who have either left the Republican Party or stopped voting altogether because they don’t have faith in the election.
Around the country, too, experts see the propagation of Arizona-style ballot reviews. Texas launched a “forensic audit” of four counties on Thursday night, just hours after former President Donald Trump called for it. Similar reviews are underway in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Speaking of those legislators from other states who visited the review, Patrick said: "They’re using it as justification and reasoning to promote this sort of activity in states across this country.”
Asked how he’d advise lawmakers beginning a ballot review in their states now, Boyer said he’d urge them to have bipartisan, expert-informed reviews.
“Trust the professionals. They’ve been doing it for decades. They know what they’re doing. Make sure that anybody you hire doesn’t already have their mind made up. We can’t actually call this an audit. This is a partisan investigation,” he said of the Arizona review. “Ironically, it’s going to sow even more distrust when the claim, if you can believe it, is they’re trying to create more confidence.”