For Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters, the Republican-led Arizona Senate’s “forensic audit” of more than 2 million ballots last November offered a chance to prove election fraud, or even overturn Joe Biden’s victory. Right-wing media were enthralled by the ballot counters’ often bizarre practices, including hunts for ballots made of bamboo fibers and suspicious ballot folds that would supposedly indicate Democratic election theft.
But more than four months have passed since the initial date the report on the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County was first promised, and the audit’s supporters are getting restless. The ballot count ended this summer and the ballot-counters even held a two-month reunion on Wednesday night. A number of issues have delayed the report, including a COVID-19 outbreak that infected the head of audit operator “Cyber Ninjas” and two of his employees.
State Senator Wendy Rogers (R), whose advocacy for the audit has turned her into an up-and-coming figure on the national Republican fringe, this week acknowledged critics who have called the audit, in her words, “fake” and “not real.” Rogers claims the final report will be delivered to the Arizona state Senate next week.
“YOU WILL LOVE THE ARIZONA SENATE SOON EVEN THOUGH SOME ARE MAD AT US NOW,” Rogers wrote on Telegram, a social media app favored by Trump supporters.
But as the audit’s supporters await the long-promised report, they have started to dabble in other half-baked investigations. Now they’ve seized on another conservative report that makes the audit’s quest for bamboo fibers look downright scientific.
Last week, Arizona activist Liz Harris released a “grassroots canvass report” that purported to prove massive election fraud in November. In Harris’ telling, more than 173,000 ballots weren’t actually counted in Maricopa County, while 96,389 “ghost votes” with no identifiable voter behind them were created.
Harris even claimed to have discovered specific bogus addresses behind mail-in ballots, photographing vacant lots she claimed had served as the home for phantom voters. But experts and Maricopa County officials say the report is riddled with errors, and so flawed that she’s had to change the photo on the cover page of her report.
In Harris’ telling, volunteers using voter rolls fanned out across Maricopa County to investigate voter registration information. The report was quickly embraced by right-wing media outlets and Trump allies, with far-right blog The Gateway Pundit trumpeting its “explosive findings.”
State Rep. Mark Finchem (R), a promoter of QAnon conspiracy theories whose bid to become Arizona’s Secretary of State was endorsed Monday by Trump, cited Harris’ report in an appearance on One America News.
“It’s pointed to more than election-systems fraud,” Finchem said. “It’s pointed to voter roll fraud.”
Interviewing Harris on his podcast, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon pointed to the cover of the report, which Harris claimed showed a vacant plot of land that couldn’t legally have registered voters.
“It’s an empty lot where two votes came from!” Bannon said. “Such a heckle.”
Despite Trumpworld’s embrace of Harris’ document, she has kept her methodology mostly a secret. The instances where Harris has revealed the data behind her claims, it’s been easily debunked.
Harris didn’t respond to a request from The Daily Beast to see the data behind her claims, and reportedly refused to share her data with the Arizona Republic. In a joint statement, the county’s Recorder’s Office and the Assessor’s Office said Harris had “refused” to provide them with information they could use to investigate her allegations of voter fraud.
Garrett Archer, a data analyst at Phoenix TV station ABC15 who has tried to puzzle out the report’s methodology, said Harris also declined to share her evidence with him.
“I could write a book about many problems there are here,” Archer, who previously worked as an elections analyst for Arizona’s Secretary of State, told The Daily Beast.
Even the cover picture of empty lots that Bannon praised has come in for criticism. The first version of the report Harris published featured a location she claimed was an empty lot. But in their statement, the Maricopa County officials disputed that description, saying the land in fact holds a house with four legally registered voters.
Harris soon changed the report’s cover picture to a new empty lot. But the county officials disputed that claim, too, saying the land had previously housed a mobile home. The voter registered at the mobile home voted from a temporary address, according to the officials, meaning Harris’ picture of an empty field didn’t prove any election misdeeds.
“They made a mistake on their cover sheet, so there’s a chance that there’s mistakes in the actual data,” Archer said.
While Harris’ methodology remains obscure, it’s clear that her volunteers didn’t actually interview every voter in the county. Instead, they appear to have taken a small subsection, then multiplied whatever voter roll discrepancies they found to arrive at their tally of hundreds of thousands of missing or illicit ballots.
“They just make these broad-brush assumptions without contacting the county and going through their data to see what could have happened,” Archer said.
As for the audit report itself, Trump supporters awaiting its results have at least a week more to wait. Defending the audit last month, Rogers went on the offensive, saying critics should be more focused on trying to organize similar efforts outside of Arizona.
“For those saying the Arizona Audit Results are taking too long, I can tell you they are coming faster than 49 other states,” Rogers wrote on Telegram.