Fringe conservative activists are trying to take Arizona’s absurd and aimless election audit circus nationwide as part of a flailing effort to keep conspiracies about the re-election bid Donald Trump lost alive. Now, two long-shot Republican primary challengers against incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp are demanding a new audit in Georgia—a state that has had more than its fair share of Stop the Steal shenanigans—with vocal support from one of the original organizers of the doomed cause.
Arizona’s ongoing clown show of an audit, which is re-examining votes in Maricopa County—carried by President Joe Biden on his way to a narrow statewide victory last fall—is hardly a model recount. Plagued by errors and run by a Florida cybersecurity company whose CEO promoted election-fraud conspiracy theories, the process has become a headache even for some Arizona Republicans, who released a letter this week panning it as an anti-democratic grift.
But whatever headaches it may be causing for mainstream Republicans, it’s also breathing new life into the Stop the Steal movement and giving fringe politicians a cause to rally around. Nowhere is that dynamic more palpable than Georgia, one of the original breeding grounds for far-right mythology about 2020 voter fraud.
Earlier this month, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia helped stake out the call for new Stop the Steal chaos in her state: She called for an audit while quote-tweeting Kelli Ward, the chair of Arizona’s Republican Party and a staunch defender of the state’s increasingly batty process.
“If @JoeBiden won the election then there is no need to worry,” she tweeted. “Besides it’s the people, who are the tax payers [sic], who PAY for the elections. And PAY for the ballots, voting machines, and salaries. So why be afraid of transparency??? Election integrity matters.”
Those calls have since gathered steam with lesser-known but possibly even more fringe figures in Georgia politics.
One of the loudest voices demanding an audit of Georgia’s 2020 election is Vernon Jones, a former state politician currently running an unlikely Republican primary bid against Gov. Kemp. “If Mr. Kemp refuses to demand an audit, then I will when I am elected to replace him,” Jones tweeted earlier this week.
Jones has previously worked closely with far-right conservative activist Ali Alexander, who organized some of the earliest Stop the Steal rallies. After the 2020 election, Jones and Alexander shared a stage in Georgia alongside fringe Trumpist lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell. During that event, Wood falsely claimed the election had been stolen, and urged rally-goers to protest outside Kemp’s home until he came out and ordered an investigation into the election. ("Then he can resign, and as far as I am concerned, they can lock him up,” Wood said of Kemp.)
Alexander, who could not be reached for comment for this story, has been notably absent from on-the-ground activism after his role in organizing the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. But last week on Telegram, he signaled a return, announcing that “I’ll be in Georgia next week. Game on.”
On Wednesday, Jones held a sparsely attended press conference to make his new call for an audit official. Beforehand, he encouraged attendees to fill out an RSVP form about themselves. The form, notably, asked for contact information and asked if respondents would opt in for text messages.
Alexander heavily promoted Jones’ press conference and shared the RSVP form for it on his Telegram and Gab accounts (Alexander has been banned from a host of mainstream social media companies for spreading election misinformation and conspiracy theories).
The RSVP form Jones used for his press conference also appears to be linked to a lawn care company, according to cybersecurity researchers John Scott-Railton and Jeremy Kennelly. After investigating a company name that appeared on the Google form shared by Jones, Scott-Railton and Kennelly said they were reasonably confident the form was generated with a Google apps account associated with the Iowa-based company, Lawn-Tek.
It wouldn’t be the first time the business or its employees appeared to get wrapped up in 2020 fantasies. A Lawn-Tek email in the name of one of the company’s co-owners, Joel Northrup, was also used to register a Dec. 2020 website, fightfortrump.us, which redirected visitors to Alexander’s StopTheSteal website calling for states and members of Congress to overturn election results.
Neither Northrup nor Lawn-Tek responded to repeated outreach from The Daily Beast asking about the link between the form and the company. Reached for comment, Jones asked The Daily Beast to contact his spokesperson, who did not return a request for comment.
Kandiss Taylor, a Baxley, Georgia, teacher who’s running a similar long-shot bid to unseat Kemp in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, has launched her own effort to force an audit of the vote in Fulton and Chatham counties, which govern Atlanta and Savannah. On Wednesday, she mailed Georgia state representatives an affidavit demanding that one of two candidates conduct a similar operation in Georgia. The choices acceptable to her were telling: Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel affiliated with a cybersecurity company Allied Security Operations Group who testified as a witness for Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Michigan; or Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, a treasure hunter and inventor of a barcode scanner involved in the Arizona audit.
In a phone interview, Taylor told The Daily Beast that she’s been taking advice from Arizona activists who helped launch the state’s election audit, including Republican congressional candidate Josh Barnett. (Barnett did not return a request for comment via his campaign website.)
“Two weeks ago is when I contacted Arizona and they started helping me,” she told The Daily Beast.
Even as she works to restart the cause in her own state, Taylor said, she’s returning the favor to Republican activists who want to keep challenging the election in theirs.
“I’ve had other states reach out to me, GOP members saying we want this in our state, what did you do, can you help me. We’re all collaborating together. It’s a full grassroots movement in our battleground states that had Dominion to get them audited,” she said.
Trump supporters have repeatedly criticized Dominion Voting Systems, which provided election systems in a number of battleground states, and leveled false accusations that the company’s products tilted the election to help Joe Biden, leading to lawsuits from Dominion’s owners.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the tenuous grasp on reality enjoyed by virtually everyone involved, it’s not clear that an Arizona-audit is even possible in the Peach State.
Due to the states’ varying government powers, Georgia’s would-be auditors couldn’t copy Arizona’s audit if they wanted to, a spokesperson for Georgia’s Secretary of State told The Daily Beast. Arizona legislators have subpoena power, which they’ve used to compel the release of ballots and documents in their audit. Georgia’s state government has no such powers, and would have to pass entirely new legislation to convene such a recount.
Further, Ari Schaffer, a spokesperson for Georgia’s Secretary of State, told The Daily Beast, Georgia has already audited its vote.
“Unlike in other states, every single ballot in Georgia was already hand-audited following the election,” Schaffer told The Daily Beast. “The audit confirmed the result. Then every ballot was recounted by machine. The recount confirmed the result. Any audit that is conducted fairly, impartially, and with accepted procedures will show the same result.”
Indeed, the audit calls are particularly odd because Georgia has already been through an unusual number of verification efforts to authenticate the results of the election. State officials conducted three recounts that saw the Georgia Bureau of Investigation mobilized to verify the signatures of voters. No fraud of any significance was found, but in a phone call leaked to the press, President Trump leaned on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to help him “find” enough votes to win the state after the election.
Matt Mashburn, a member of Georgia’s State Electoral Board who said he’s still spending four to five hours a day in his volunteer position dealing with the fallout from the 2020 election in November, noted it’s not just fringe activists who have asked for an Arizona-style audit.
“There’s some mainstream longtime party members that’ll say it but then when you ask them what does that mean, they’re not as enthusiastic,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s a nice slogan but no one has ever described what it means, what they want done, how they want it done and who’s gonna pay for it.”
States, he noted, have tight budgets and would have to make tough choices about cuts in order to pay for a continuing quest to find fault with the election Trump acolytes insist on claiming he won. But there’s no end in sight.
“What parks do you not want to fund?” Mashburn asked. “What libraries do you not want to open to do this?”