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Maricopa County's partisan ballot review in final stages

Arizona election audit reaches final stages
Arizona election audit reaches final stages 07:29

The ongoing partisan review of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, is entering its final stages after just under two months. The county's 2.1 million ballots have been recounted by hand, except for the braille ballots, which are now undergoing a "paper examination" by workers. 

Earlier this year, Arizona Senate Republicans took possession of the ballots and 400 election machines by subpoena. Arizona had already audited its ballots and election equipment and found no issues with the 2020 election results. President Biden won the state by 10,457 votes, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Arizona since 1996. 

The audit in Maricopa County won't change the results of the 2020 election, but it has already had widespread impact in amplifying unfounded doubts about the election. The effort has inspired conservative lawmakers and activists in other battleground states to call for a similar recounting of ballots, despite thorough reviews of the election that have repeatedly found no evidence of widespread fraud. 

Lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Wisconsin are among those who have visited the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where the counting is taking place, to take notes on how to potentially replicate audits in their states. 

The Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors called for the audit to end last month and the board's GOP chair Jack Sellers called it a "sham process." 

"Finish what you're calling an audit and be ready to defend your report in a court of law," Sellers said.

"This has nothing to do with going back and trying to change the results of the November 2020 election," Ken Bennett, a former GOP secretary of state and the Senate's audit liaison, previously told CBS News. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann has said the process is about ensuring the election was run properly. 

The audit's official Twitter account said the paper ballot examination is expected to be finished by June 26. Bennett told reporters earlier this month that workers will examine "anything to do with the authenticity of the ballot." 

Their methods have included looking at the folds in mail ballots as a way of checking whether the ballots were actually mailed — even though not every mail-in ballot is folded, as one former Maricopa elections official noted. Workers are also checking to see if there was a hand-marked device that filled in an oval rather than a printer and whether alignment marks on the front and back were "aligning as authentic ballots should." The audit's findings are expected to be released in a report later this summer.  

Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week the audit is "based on disinformation" and "may put the integrity of the voting process at risk and undermine public confidence in our democracy." Announcing an expansion of the civil rights division, Garland said the department would scrutinize post-election audits "to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters."

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is running for the U.S. Senate, fired back with a letter Monday saying Garland's comments "displayed an alarming disdain for state sovereignty" and vowed his office "will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our State Senate's audit to reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections."

Former President Trump has been cheering on the audit in Arizona and encouraging other states to follow its example. 

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, GOP state Senators Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush, along with state Representative Rob Kauffman, who chairs the judiciary committee, traveled to the audit site in Phoenix to observe the process and met with Arizona lawmakers at the state capitol. 

The trio was part of over 60 members of the state assembly who had written a letter to U.S. senators in December urging them to object to the certification of Pennsylvania's results. Mr. Biden won Pennsylvania by 80,000 votes.  Mastriano attended Mr. Trump's "Save America Rally" in Washington on January 6. 

After their Arizona tour, the Pennsylvania lawmakers said they hoped to begin a similar process in their state. State Senator Dave Argall, who chairs the government committee, supports the idea, telling the Capital-Star that "This is the best path forward to address the legitimate concerns of the large majority of my constituents who voted to re-elect President Trump, as well as all Pennsylvanians." 

But replicating the Maricopa audit would be a difficult feat in Pennsylvania — and not just because the governor is a Democrat. State Republicans are split on whether to proceed. State GOP Representative Seth Grove, who chairs the government committee in the House, does not support an audit, though he signed the letter objecting to the certification of results. 

"The PA House of Representatives will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election," he tweeted. "We are focused on fixing our broken election law to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat."

Grove argued that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives had already authorized an audit through the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee back in November, but the committee rejected it. Instead, Grove introduced legislation earlier this month overhauling elections in the state. 

Mr. Trump has been ramping up pressure on other GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania, threatening a primary challenge for Senate President Pro-Tempore Jake Corman.

Georgia

Georgia state Senators Burt Jones and Brandon Beach, who were stripped of committee assignments after pushing to overturn the election results, also traveled to Phoenix to observe the audit. At a state party convention earlier this month, Jones bashed Republican Governor Brian Kemp for not calling for a "forensic" audit of the election. State Party Chair David Shafer and former state Representative Vernon Jones, who is challenging Kemp, also toured the Arizona audit venue.

Georgia conducted three recounts, including one by hand, and found no evidence of widespread fraud. Mr. Biden won the state by 12,000 votes, becoming the first Democrat to win there since 1992. 

Trump supporters did win a court order to have 147,000 absentee ballots unsealed for review in Fulton County, the state's largest county. But in issuing the order, Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero stipulated that the ballots must remain in the custody of county election officials — a contrast with the audit in Arizona, which took the ballots out of the traditional chain of custody. The review would do nothing to change the results of the election, which has already been certified. 

The timing of the count has yet to be determined. Last month, Fulton County, the county board of elections, and the county clerk all filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge is expected to hold a hearing next week. 

Wisconsin

A group of Wisconsin state lawmakers traveled to Phoenix last weekend. A state representative who went to Phoenix told WisPolitics she isn't sure that the state's Legislative Audit Bureau has the authority to conduct an audit like the one in Arizona but believes one is warranted. In December, Mr. Biden was certified the winner of Wisconsin, by 20,682 votes.

"Listen, we need to restore integrity as we have huge numbers of individuals that have questions about a process that's become highly politicized," state Representative Janel Brandtjen said of Wisconsin's elections.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced last month that he's hiring police officers to investigate Wisconsin's presidential election. 

Michigan

State lawmakers from Michigan have not visited Arizona, but conservative activists are calling for a "forensic audit" in the state. The Michigan Conservative Coalition says it will deliver more than 7,000 affidavits to lawmakers on Thursday demanding a statewide audit of Michigan's 2020 election. Election officials in Michigan have already conducted more than 250 election audits, which confirmed the 2020  results: Mr. Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes, more than 14 times greater than Mr. Trump's margin of victory in 2016. 

But conservative activists in Michigan, many whom embraced election conspiracy theories after Antrim County initial unofficial results incorrectly showed that Mr. Biden had won the traditionally red county. 

A human error caused the county's tabulators to incorrectly communicate the election results to the county's central election management software. When the equipment was reprogrammed, the results found that Mr. Trump won the county by nearly 4,000 votes and a hand recount of the ballots later confirmed that result. 

Rosanne Ponkowski, president of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, told CBS News that the issue in Antrim County caused a lot of people to lose faith in the elections. She insisted that the goal of the audit is to restore voter confidence and not to overturn the 2020 election results in Michigan. But she still believes Mr. Trump won the state.

"I feel in my heart that he did and I say that only because I witnessed first hand the enthusiasm in the people that came out, against all orders not to, to attend his rallies," Ponkowski said. She questioned how Mr. Biden could have won due to his relatively small crowd with former President Obama in Detroit just days before the election.

"I find it overwhelming that all of those people were hiding in their basements somewhere and all came out to vote for Mr. Biden," Ponkowski said. 

Michigan's GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike told The Detroit News that he believes a review of the election done by the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee has been "equal (to) or more robust" than what's happening in Arizona. Still, he said that he's "planning on watching carefully what occurs and what comes out of the Arizona process. ... We'll see where that might lead." 

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