Arizona’s latest ‘recount’ being run by secretive partisan group
WASHINGTON – More than five months after the 2020 presidential election, and after numerous attempts to overturn the results, former President Donald Trump has seized on a new avenue to try to call the outcome into question: a hand recount of 2.1 million ballots cast in Arizona’s largest county.
Several advisers said the former president has become fixated on the unorthodox process underway in Phoenix, where the GOP-led state Senate took ballots and voting equipment from Maricopa County and turned them over to Cyber Ninjas, a private contractor whose chief executive has echoed claims that the election was fraudulent .
“He talks about it constantly,” said one person who recently visited Mar-a-Lago , speaking on condition of anonymity .
Trump’s embrace of the Arizona effort — which he and his allies claim will prove that the election was stolen — has come amid mounting anxiety among election officials that similar partisan vote counts could become the norm.
“I’m very concerned this has ramifications for every state in the country,” Kim Wyman, a Republican who serves as secretary of state in Washington state, said in an interview. “This is politicizing an administrative process with no real structure or laws or rules in place to guide how it goes.”
In Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, a GOP election official who has clashed with Trump, tweeted that the Arizona recount is “another step in undermining confidence in elections. This process is neither transparent nor, likely, legal.”
The endeavor in Phoenix has been pilloried for abandoning state guidelines intended to make recounts fair, and for allowing the rules to be set by a private contractor who promoted claims that the election was stolen.
Cyber Ninjas has fought efforts in court to disclose its procedures and placed tight restrictions on media and independent election experts who wish to observe the recount. Longtime election officials who have gotten a glimpse through a livestream have expressed shock at how little the contractors are disclosing about basic processes — for instance, how workers are determining voters’ intent as they review ballots.
And the funding and organization for the effort are enmeshed with a network of figures who have promoted Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged.
Maricopa County officials and election experts have watched the process unfold with dismay.
The five-member Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which includes four elected Republicans, agreed to conduct two new election audits that concluded in February, which confirmed the accuracy of the November count showing that Biden won the county by more than 2 points.
Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the board, said in an interview that he is concerned that the private contractors seem to lack basic knowledge of Arizona election procedures. “It’s very disconcerting,” he said, adding that he is convinced that Maricopa had a “fair, efficient and honest” election.
Election officials nationwide have expressed astonishment at the murkiness of procedures employed by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based firm .
Cyber Ninjas sought to keep documents describing its procedures under seal, arguing that they are “trade secrets.” Media access to the count has been extremely proscribed — and at times barred completely — even as the pro-Trump One America News network (OAN) was given rights to livestream the event.
The livestream shows dozens of people wearing different-color shirts handling and examining ballots, but it is not clear who was hired to serve as ballot counters or what kind of training they received.
On Thursday, several national voting rights advocates sent a letter to the Justice Department, expressing concern that the ballots are “in imminent danger of being stolen, defaced, or irretrievably damaged” and asking that federal monitors be sent to Phoenix “as soon as practicable.”
“The idea that there are whole tables not being watched just blows me away,” said Scott McDonell, the county clerk in Dane County, Wis.
The effort to examine ballots with ultraviolet, or UV, lights has spurred particular enthusiasm among Trump supporters — and particular worries among election officials.
The purpose of the lights remains murky. OAN reported Monday that the lights were being used “to search for ballot watermarks and weed out phony ballots.” That prompted Maricopa County to release a fact sheet noting that the county’s ballots do not bear watermarks.