Okay. Buckle up for today's BradCast special coverage. Seriously. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
As you've almost certainly heard by now, the Republicans in the Arizona state Senate have contracted [PDF] a rightwing tech outfit with no experience in elections or voting systems --- calling themselves Cyber Ninjas --- to oversee an unusual, controversial hand-count audit of the 2.1 million hand-marked paper ballots cast in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona's 2020 Presidential and Senatorial elections. Apparently, the only elections the Senate GOP believe may have been stolen by Dominion Voting Systems tabulation computers or by stuffing ballot boxes were the two statewide elections each won by Democrats for the first time in decades.
The Florida-based Cyber Ninjas are being paid $150,000 tax-payer dollars for this post-election investigation, while collecting an unknown amount of dark money from unknown sources. They have, to date, kept the entire process pretty much a secret, locking out the public and media alike from overseeing the (at least partially) tax-payer funded process inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The only window into the process for the public, by and large, up until now, have been from 9 video cameras streaming wide shots from different angles of whatever is going on on the main floor of the arena.
The Cyber Ninjas' leader, a guy by the name of Doug Logan, had promoted false, often ludicrous and evidence-free claims of fraud following the 2020 election, asserting that the election must have been stolen from Donald Trump. So, of course, the Arizona GOP Senate hired him to run this effort. In this case, the results in question in Maricopa --- a state which Biden reportedly won by just over 10,000 computer-scanned votes (less than half of a percentage point) --- were certified by the five-person GOP-majority Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (4 Rs and 1 D), the state's Democratic Sec. of State and Arizona's Republican Governor. It's only the state's far-right GOP Senate --- and millions of Trump supporters --- who believe the election must have been stolen for Joe Biden.
Still, some GOPers have their doubts. And we're always in favor of the public being able to check the results of hand-counted paper ballots for themselves whenever there are any questions --- justified or not --- regarding the results of any election, so that all voters can have confidence in the reported results. That is critical to the survival of American democracy. That said, such processes, particularly when they are tax-payer funded, must be open, transparent, overseeable and completely public processes. This process being carried out in Maricopa has decidedly not been that. With the Cyber Ninjas firm even arguing in court that their forensic processes must be kept a trade secret, just like the computer voting machine companies they (and we, for many years!) have complained about.
With no media allowed in (until a court order seems to have finally loosened that up a bit as of last night), there has been little if any information available to the public as far as what the hell is going on. The only reporter who seems to have gained access had signed up as an observer to work a 6-hour shift on Day 1 and discovered the counters were using blue pens --- which can be used to mark or spoil ballots. Following her complaints, they have been swapped out for red and green pens which cannot be read by the optical scanners. Beyond that, we've received little or no information on the process or progress of the count from public observers or media.
But we've had an inside track since the start of the count. And on today's show, we've got two long-time election integrity advocates who have been inside the Coliseum to observe over the last several days, one of them has been there since Day 1.
JOHN BRAKEY, Director of AUDIT USA, is actually working along side AZ's former Republican Sec. of State Ken Bennett --- as of now anyway, as Bennett serves as the Senate GOP's liaison to the count. Brakey, a longtime election integrity champion and transparency activist, is largely the only one involved in the effort who has experience with post-election audits and recounts. He's a Tucson-based Democrat, but has long fought for public oversight in elections across the country and joins us on the show today.
We're also joined by RAY LUTZ, Founder and Exec. Director of San Diego-based Citizens' Oversight Projects, which has helped organize and oversee many post-election audits over the years --- particular of electronic digital ballot images created by scanners when ballots are initially tallied. He spent the last several days inside the Coliseum, observing the count, by invitation of Brakey, until he'd decided he'd "seen enough" and headed back home to California last night.
Both explain what they have seen, what the secret process actually is (as far as they have been able to understand it); some of the positive elements that may come out of this exercise; and a number of very serious concerns they each share about the process, particularly when it comes to the lack of transparency for how the operation works, the lock out of media and the public, the lack of publicly disclosed running totals of the count (as in actual recounts) or comparisons to the initial tallies, and more.
In Brakey's case, he's taking action to try and improve the process. He tells us he filed a Public Records Request today with the Maricopa Board of Supervisors (which has long opposed this exercise) for the original counted vote records of the batches of ballots now being examined in the 15,000 seat arena. His hope is that the Cyber Ninja group, for their part, will publish their own daily results at the same time, so that there can be at least some public oversight of the process. That remains a work in progress, he explains. But Brakey --- who is receiving no money for the work (unlike pretty much everyone else involved in it) and has refused to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (as the Ninjas had initially asked) --- asserts that he is happy to talk about everything that he has seen and is prepared to walk away from the project if transparency is not quickly improved.
"That's what I'm doing here. I'm criticizing. I'm on them," he explains, after pushing to allow media in for several days. "I want you to know they have media in there right now. They have two people, they have a pool camera. They were nervous and I said, 'Don't be. This is the media. Give them what they need.' I want them to have the same access that they would get in [a public Maricopa County recount], and I'm fighting for that, and I'm winning."
For his part, Lutz says he had already grown somewhat frustrated with the lack of transparency, and decided to leave after observing for about two days. He details the complicated, incredibly slow, table-by-table, ballot-by-ballot effort that is being carried out. After he initially estimated the process they were using would take about 15 months to complete, Lutz explains that changes made to simplify the process have brought the task down to one that could be carried out in about a month, unless additional counting shifts are added. That, even though the group is supposed to have completed the entire effort just over two weeks from now, on May 14th.
"This group came in with no experience at all," Lutz says today, "with a lot of new-fangled ideas about how it would work. Apparently no one did any basic math to work out how long it would take. Now they're sitting here with a real big problem on their hands."
"I have to say, it looked like more of a big show than anything else when I first saw it," he says, referring to the color-coded tables and t-shirts being worn by workers, before explaining some of the efficiencies that have been implemented since the counting began. "Now, I have to say that a lot of what I see there is appropriate and pretty good in terms of their fencing off the ballots and how they keep them under control." Still, he is worried about what happens to the tally sheets being created at each individual table, because those are not being shared publicly and are being handed to someone who enters the numbers into a computer --- correctly or otherwise. "What we normally want to have --- and Citizens Oversight has watched many, many of these audits --- we want those sheets to be scanned immediately and published so they can't be altered, because those tally sheets now become just like ballots, but even more so, because they're the accumulation of all the ballot tallying."
He's also critical of the particular hand-count process being used which, he believes, may have an error rate of 1 to 2%, in order to somehow confirm the accurate tabulation of an election that was decided by less than one half of one percent. And we all discuss the unusual efforts by workers to do things like examine ballots under microscopes and with a UV light (apparently to look for bamboo fibers, suggesting the paper came from China, or to find a lack of creases in mailed-in ballots, suggesting the ballot box was somehow stuffed). Lutz also details the effort to take meticulous measurements of the size and thickness, as well as high-def photos, of each ballot, as part of some unclear process to determine whether they are real or fraudulent.
Yes, it's somewhat as nuts as it sounds. But voters are allowed to be nuts, if they like. Locking out the public from the process, however, remains a very serious concern, and leads to some heated exchanges, to say the least, on today's special BradCast coverage...offering a unique and exclusive look inside the Maricopa County, AZ "audit/recount".
"Somebody's going to throw the gauntlet down, and I'm throwing the gauntlet down," Brakey asserts under my questioning about oversight concerns. "And I guess if they don't want to do that, then I guess there's going to be a separation, and all of a sudden I'm going to be on the outside. And maybe that's what has to happen. Because I know that transparency is the solution. We're going to keep improving this process, or I'm outta here," he vows.
As noted, buckle up for this one. You've been warned...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)