Arizona’s partisan election audit is backed with millions of dollars from rightwing groups intent on laying the groundwork to influence future contests.
This week a senior county Republican dismissed the ballot review as an ‘adventure in never-never land’ as he rejected a subpoena from Arizona state senate Republicans.
“It is now August of 2021. The election of November 2020 is over,” Jack Sellers, who leads the board that oversees elections in the county, wrote in a scathing letter. “If you haven’t figured out that the election in Maricopa County was free, fair, and accurate yet, I’m not sure you ever will.”
He added: “The reason you haven’t finished your ‘audit’ is because you hired people who have no experience and little understanding of how professional elections are run.”
This follows weeks of embarrassing revelations, the suspension of the audit’s Twitter account and one of its early supporters describing the process as botched.
But the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said it would be wrong to dismiss the work of the Cyber Ninjas, a private company hired by state senate Republicans to review millions of votes cast in former President Trump’s 2020 election defeat.
‘The Cyber Ninjas have a tiny amount of money that’s coming just from the state Senate in Arizona, but the vast proportion of it, something like over $5 million, comes from contributors who are basically national conspiracy theorists who are aligned with former President Trump,’ said Mayer.
Her new report published by the New Yorker yesterday links the audit with conservative power players.
They include the Heritage Foundation and donors such as Overstock founder Patrick Byrne, who gave $3.2 million to the effort, and the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
She added: ‘The audit itself, which people think of as a clown show, as you said, is actually not that funny when you look at it closely, because what it’s trying to do is overturn a certified American presidential election, and the forces that are pushing that, and this is what I was sort of looking at, include a number of – a whole array of very prominent national conservative groups, people that you don’t ordinarily think of as involved in flaky conspiracy theories.’
She said they were trying to exploit distrust of the election to influence the 2022 midterms.
The issue of election reform and fraud has become one of the key dividing lines in American politics.
Trump supporters continue to insist he was robbed of reelection.
But while Republicans are pushing to tighten voting rules around the country in what they claim is an effort to fight fraud, Democrats see an attempt to tighten rules and disenfranchise millions of voters.
In the new report, Ralph Neas, who has been involved in voting-rights battles since the 1980s, when he was executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, described the Arizona audit as a ‘farce’ – albeit one with ‘extraordinary consequences.’
‘If they come up with an analysis that discredits the 2020 election results in Arizona, it will be replicated in other states, furthering more chaos,’ he said.
‘That will enable new legislation.
‘Millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, helping Donald Trump to be elected again in 2024. That’s the bottom line.’
It was not just about 2020, he said, but about retaking the House of Representatives and the presidency.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, who tracks the flow of dark money in American politics, said a’ flotilla of front groups’ had taken on the issue.
One of the leaders of the movement, says the report, is the Heritage Foundation, one of the most prominent conservative think tanks, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit that develops model law for state legislators.
They have been working on drawing up new laws to impose voting restrictions, says the report.
Campaign groups have spotted an opportunity. Last year, the Judicial Education Project rebranded itself as the Honest Elections Project.
FreedomWorks, best known for opposing the reach of government, is now campaigning for more regulation of voters with the National Election Protection Initiative.
And there are new arrivals such as the Election Integrity Project California.
What they have in common, according to the report, is funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which wields an $850m endowment.
Its website says it works to promote a ‘common belief in the self-worth of individuals, the inherent dignity of work and the need to reduce government dependence.’
Public records reportedly show that it has spent $18m since 2012 on supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.
Another key player in Arizona has been Jake Hoffman, who runs a digital marketing company Rally Forge, that works closely with Turning Point, a conservative youth organization.
Last year the Washington Post revealed how Rally Forge had paid teenagers to post propaganda messages on social media, ranging from claiming coronavirus numbers were inflated to arguing that mail-in ballots would cause fraud.
The company has been banned from Facebook and Hoffman has been banned from Twitter.
Last year he won election to the state House of Representatives and is now vice-chair of the Committee on Government and Elections, reportedly working with the Heritage Foundation on election law.
Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, which is the campaigning arm of the Heritage Foundation, singled out Hoffman for praise at a private gathering outside Tucson.
‘We’re moving four more through the state of Arizona right now . . . simple bills, all straight from the Heritage recommendations.’ she said according to video obtained by the New Yorker.
She later justified the collaboration in a statement sent to the magazine.
‘After a year when voters’ trust in our elections plummeted, restoring that trust should be the top priority of legislators and governors nationwide,’ she said.
‘That’s why Heritage Action is deploying our established grassroots network for state advocacy for the first time ever. There is nothing more important than ensuring every American is confident their vote counts—and we will do whatever it takes to get there.’