Nation/World

Draft report of Republican-backed ballot review in Arizona confirms Biden’s victory by a wider margin than certified

PHOENIX — A draft report of the election review in Arizona’s largest county by supporters of former President Donald Trump found that President Joe Biden did indeed win the 2020 presidential contest there, an embarrassing end to a bizarre quest to find evidence supporting Trump’s false claim that he lost because of fraud.

The final report was scheduled to be released Friday afternoon, the result of a months-long partisan review funded in part by taxpayers. The draft document began to circulate Thursday night showing the results of the review’s chaotic hand count of all 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix. The tally in the draft document showed a net gain of 360 votes for Biden over the official results.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s office provided the draft to The Associated Press. Republican Senate President Karen Fann said in a text message the document was “a leaked draft from three days ago,” but did not dispute its authenticity. She would not say if the vote tally in the draft had changed over the course of the week, saying she had signed a nondisclosure agreement.

Whatever the final count cited in the report, it has no bearing on the official, certified reports in Maricopa County or Arizona. Two previous election reviews conducted by nonpartisan professionals according to industry standards also found that Biden won both.

Still, for many critics the draft’s tally underscored the dangerous futility of the exercise, which has helped fuel voter skepticism about elections and spawned copycats audits around the country.

“This was an audit in which they absolutely cooked the procedures,” said Ben Ginsberg, a prominent Republican election attorney. “This was Donald Trump’s best chance to prove his case of the election being rigged and fraudulent and they failed.”

Maricopa County’s government is controlled by a Republican-majority board, which has condemned the review as a scam.

“This means the tabulation equipment counted the ballots as they were designed to do, and the results reflect the will of the voters,” said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, a Republican. “That should be the end of the story. Everything else is just noise.”

Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw the Maricopa County election office during the 2020 election, said that political noise is the true purpose of the review.

“They are trying to scare people into doubting the system is actually working,” he said. “That is their motive. They want to destroy public confidence in our systems.”

The draft claims a number of shortcomings in election procedures, suggested the final tally still could not be relied upon and recommended several changes to state law. But the review previously made a series offalse allegations that have since been retracted about how the election was handled in Maricopa County.

“Unfortunately, the report is also littered with errors & faulty conclusions about how Maricopa County conducted the 2020 General Election,” Maricopa County officials said on Twitter.

Election officials say that’s because the audit team is biased, has no experience in the complex field of election audits and ignored the detailed vote-counting procedures in Arizona law.

Two of the recommendations in the draft report stood out because they showed its authors misunderstood election procedures — that there should be paper ballot backups and that voting machines should not be connected to the internet. All Arizona ballots are already paper, with machines only used to tabulate the votes and no election equipment is ever connected to the internet.

Despite being widely mocked, the Arizona review has become a model that Trump supporters are eagerly pushing to replicate in other swing states where Biden won. Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general sued Thursday to block a GOP-issued subpoena for a wide array of election materials. In Wisconsin, a retired conservative state Supreme Court justice is leading a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 election, and this week threatened to subpoena election officials who don’t comply.

None of these reviews can change Biden’s victory, which was certified by officials in each of the swing states he won and by Congress on Jan. 6 — after Trump’s supporters, fueled by the same false charges that generated the audits, stormed the Capitol to try to prevent certification of his loss.

The Arizona review did not uncover a single example of fraud, but the draft report continues to make misleading assumptions about the reliability of the election that Trump amplified in a series of statements — claiming it demonstrated “fraud.”

For example, the review checked the names of Maricopa County voters against a commercial database and found that 23,344 reported moving before ballots went out in October of 2020. But election experts note those databases can be riddled with errors and that many voters move to temporary new locations while still legally voting at the address they are registered at, such as deployed members of the U.S. military.

“A competent reviewer of an election would not make a claim like that,” said Trey Grayson, a former Republican Secretary of State in Kentucky.

Barry C. Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison noted that the draft report makes several errors by seizing on statistical aberrations that have simple explanations.

“They wonder why there are certain number of voters in this category or why they can’t explain something that’s happened,” Burden said on a call organized to rebut the review’s allegations. “That probably reflects their lack of knowledge, lack of experience and lack of competence as much as any real problems, inconsistencies or stray errors that may be happening in the election system.”

The election review was run by Doug Logan, the CEO of a cybersecurity firm called Cyber Ninjas that has never conducted an election audit before. Logan previously worked with attorneys and Trump supporters trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and appeared in a film questioning the results of the contest while the ballot review was ongoing.

Logan and others were scheduled to make their presentations to two Arizona senators Friday afternoon.

The review has a history of exploring outlandish conspiracy theories, dedicating time to checking for bamboo fibers on ballots to see if they were secretly shipped in from Asia. It’s also served as a content-generation machine for Trump’s effort to sow skepticism about his loss, pumping out misleading and out of context information that the former president circulates long after it’s been debunked.

In July, for example, Logan laid out a series of claims stemming from his misunderstanding of the election data he was analyzing, including that 74,000 mail ballots that were recorded as received but not sent. Trump repeatedly amplified the claims. But they had innocuous explanations.

Arizona’s Senate agreed to spend $150,000 on the audit, plus security and facility costs. That pales in comparison to the nearly $5.7 million contributed as of late July by Trump allies to finance the audit.

Maricopa County’s official vote count was conducted in front of bipartisan observers, as were legally required audits meant to ensure voting machines work properly. A partial hand count spot check found a perfect match.

Two extra post-election reviews by federally certified election experts also found no evidence that voting machines switched votes or were connected to the internet. The Board of Supervisors commissioned the extraordinary reviews in an effort to prove to Trump backers that there were no problems, but Fann and others backing her partisan review were not convinced.

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Associated Press writers Johnathan J. Cooper in Phoenix and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed. Cassidy reported from Atlanta.

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