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Analysis

Bad-faith Election Audits Are Sabotaging Democracy Across the Nation

There are legitimate election validation procedures routinely used by election officials to count votes and check results, but that’s not what these partisan fiascos are.

August 4, 2021
Election Audit
Jeff Swensen/Getty

This piece was first published in The Hill.

When Justice Louis Bran­deis referred to the states as “labor­at­or­ies of demo­cracy” almost a century ago, he was look­ing at the way reforms can be tested in indi­vidual states, and the effect­ive ones can spread through­out the coun­try state-by-state. Unfor­tu­nately, when bad ideas spread in this fash­ion, they can be used to under­cut demo­cracy itself.

Take, for example, the so-called “elec­tion audit” in Mari­copa County, Arizona. While this partisan review of elec­tion results drags on, the effort to unearth nonex­ist­ent evid­ence of wide­spread voter fraud is spread­ing to other parts of the coun­try. Under the guise of ensur­ing “elec­tion integ­rity,” Repub­lican activ­ists doggedly pursue new evid­ence that the 2020 elec­tion was stolen. They continue to contort science and logic on the taxpay­er’s dime, even as we approach the Biden admin­is­tra­tion’s seventh month in office. This is madness. And it must stop.

Yet recently, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastri­ano (R) announced plans to conduct a Mari­copa-style elec­tion review of his state’s 2020 elec­tion results, request­ing access to ballots and elec­tion equip­ment from three counties, includ­ing Phil­adelphia. In fact, this would be the Senat­or’s second such partisan review this year. Just after the elec­tion, Mastri­ano hired Wake TSI, a company with no veri­fi­able elec­tions audit­ing exper­i­ence, to review the ballots of Fulton County, Pennsylvania. Rather than prov­ing elec­tion fraud, the invest­ig­a­tion — funded by a group led by notori­ous Trump-affil­i­ate Sidney Powell — found that the elec­tion was “well run.” Further, the so-called “audit­ors” mishandled the elec­tion equip­ment and taxpay­ers may now need to pay for new voting machines.

Similar efforts are under­way in Wiscon­sin, Michigan, and Geor­gia. As the report we’ve just released with Protect Demo­cracy details, these attempts are each at differ­ent stages, but they have a common origin: all are the handi­work of people who claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 elec­tion.  

In Wiscon­sin, the state assembly has tapped Michael Gable­man — a former state Supreme Court justice and Trump supporter who has falsely claimed errors in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion process may have affected the final results — to lead its partisan invest­ig­a­tion of the 2020 elec­tion results. 

In Michigan, a firm called Allied Secur­ity Oper­a­tions Group, which has a history of spread­ing false claims about the elec­tion, was given access to Antrim County voting machines. The result­ing “report” was riddled with inac­curacies and false­hoods.

And in Geor­gia, VoterGA Founder Garland Favorito is seek­ing access to all mail ballots in Fulton County. He is propos­ing to have them inspec­ted under the same premise and using the same untested meth­ods deployed in Mari­copa County, which purports to detect fraud by examin­ing folds in the ballots under ultra­vi­olet light. Dubbed “kinematic arti­fact detec­tion tech­no­logy” and inven­ted by self-proclaimed “treas­ure hunter” Jovan Pulitzer, this prac­tice not only has no scientific support, but the ultra­vi­olet light can damage paper and any mark­ings on it

These polit­ic­ally motiv­ated fias­cos mark a radical depar­ture from legit­im­ate elec­tion valid­a­tion and audit­ing proced­ures routinely used by elec­tion offi­cials to count votes and check results. 

During every elec­tion cycle, elec­tion offi­cials use processes designed to be trans­par­ent, object­ive, and secure — with safe­guards in place to guard against human error and bias. In the instances when an external process audit is warran­ted, gener­ally accep­ted audit­ing guidelines provide clear stand­ards for ensur­ing objectiv­ity and avoid­ing conflicts of interest.

The efforts being under­taken in these states fail to meet these basic stand­ards. They are not designed to main­tain ballot or equip­ment secur­ity or obtain accur­ate results. They are designed to stoke mistrust in the 2020 elec­tion and in elec­tions to come. 

Elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion experts have declared the 2020 elec­tion “the most secure in Amer­ican history.” The facts over­whelm­ingly show that the results were fair and legit­im­ate. Our demo­cracy can only survive so long as the voters whose candid­ate didn’t win can trust our elec­tions. These sham audits are meant to destroy that trust.