Arizona auditors near finish of hand recount as out-of-state GOP pilgrimages continue

Arizona’s problem-plagued audit has finished its hand recount of most of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County last November, with just braille ballots and those that had to be duplicated because they were damaged left to count, an audit spokesman said Monday.

Randy Pullen, a spokesman for the audit commissioned by state Senate Republicans, said auditors are now looking for an attorney who can read braille. About 50,000 braille ballots were cast in last year’s election.

The near-completion of the hand recount doesn’t mean the partisan-driven audit is over, though: Auditors are also going through an examination that they say is intended to gauge ballots’ authenticity. Auditors have not detailed exactly how that examination is being conducted.

Jeff Ellington, the CEO of Runbeck Election Services, the company that manufactured Maricopa County’s ballots, said in an interview Monday that he has no idea what auditors are looking for on the ballots they are examining. He said his company looked at its ballots under ultraviolet lights after seeing auditors do so weeks ago, “trying to figure out what they could possibly be looking for.”

“It’s not being disclosed what they’re looking for, what those processes are, and that’s frustrating,” Ellington said.

“You’re left to speculate on what they’re doing,” he said. “You’re watching the live feed on the video, you’re left to speculate as to what they’re actually trying to accomplish.”

As the audit progresses, its venue — the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix — has seen visits from a growing roster of pro-Donald Trump Republicans, including Pennsylvania lawmakers who said they would seek a similar audit of their own state’s results.

Josh Mandel, a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, tweeted a video of himself on the audit floor Monday.

And on Friday, GOP officials and candidates from several states trekked to the Coliseum. Among them were several Republican lawmakers from Wisconsin, in a trip that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had approved, and former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 after being accused of blackmailing a woman with whom he was having an affair and is now attempting a comeback as a Senate candidate.

Republicans from Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah also toured the audit grounds Friday, according to an Arizona Republic account of who has visited the audit site from out of state.

And Republican lawmakers from Georgia — another state where GOP elections officials have repeatedly said there is no evidence to support Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud, and where audits have found no evidence of wrongdoing — also visited Arizona last week.

Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann — whose Republican caucus launched the audit — and state Sen. David Gowan were on the audit floor for about 45 minutes Monday but did not speak with reporters there.

Arizona’s so-called audit of the 2020 election results of Maricopa County, the home of Phoenix, has been plagued by problems.

The audit is being conducted by a Florida-based company called Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive officer, Doug Logan, had previously pushed Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election on social media. The company, and the state senators who commissioned the audit, have not offered a full account of who is funding the audit or the companies involved in conducting it.

It has been broadcast by the pro-Trump propaganda outlet One America News, which has also solicited donations for the audit. OAN reported last week that huge numbers of ballots were missing — triggering a wave of aggregated reports by pro-Trump conspiracy websites. But Pullen, the audit’s spokesman, told a pool reporter Monday that reports of hundreds of thousands of missing ballots are “crazy.”

Experts have said the auditors are ignoring standard procedures for post-election reviews and are following processes that could introduce errors and bias into the results of their count.

The GOP-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and county recorder Stephen Richer — the Republican tasked with administering elections, who was himself elected in 2020 — have harshly condemned the audit. Supervisors called it a “sham.” Richer, in a CNN op-ed last month, condemned “laughably inaccurate” claims made by the audit team.

Nationally, some Republicans have similarly criticized the Arizona proceedings.

“What is happening in Maricopa County is not an ‘audit,’ ” Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming said Friday on Twitter. “It is an effort to subvert democracy.” Cheney was ousted from her role as the No. 3-ranking House Republican in part because of her criticism of Trump and the GOP’s embrace of lies about the 2020 election.

“She ain’t wrong ya know,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, another outspoken Republican opponent of Trump’s election lies, tweeted Saturday about Cheney’s comments.

As some Republican officials continue to deny the reality that President Joe Biden defeated Trump in 2020, the Justice Department is planning to monitor post-election audits “to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech Friday.

“Some jurisdictions, based on disinformation, have utilized abnormal post-election audit methodologies that may put the integrity of the voting process at risk and undermine public confidence in our democracy,” Garland said.