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Trump supporters focus on 'issues' with election, not the final result, as Arizona ballot review falls flat

It remains to be seen how long baseless concerns about vote counts will continue to undermine the election process.

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Ben Cotton (from left), the founder of CyFIR, Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, and Randy Pullen, the audit spokesman, present the ballot review results to the Arizona Senate in Phoenix on Sept. 24, 2021. David Wallace/The Republic

It remains to be seen how long baseless concerns about vote counts will continue to undermine the election process.

Published Updated

Ben Cotton (from left), the founder of CyFIR, Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, and Randy Pullen, the audit spokesman, present the ballot review results to the Arizona Senate in Phoenix on Sept. 24, 2021. David Wallace/The Republic

Reporters from international news outlets flew in to Phoenix to watch from a makeshift press box as volunteers unpacked, inspected and repacked boxes of Maricopa County’s ballots inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

They weren’t the only outsiders transfixed by the recount of 2.1 million ballots ordered by Republicans in the Arizona Senate.

GOP lawmakers from at least 18 states trekked to the desert during triple-digit heat to study the process, pose for pictures, battle members of the mainstream press and help push former President Donald Trump’s baseless concern for a stolen election.

“I like this approach in Arizona because it is scientific,” said Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican, after he visited the coliseum in June. 

Arizona’s unprecedented undertaking was a curiosity to many, but notably less so to one group: Arizona’s state senators.

The election review, started almost singlehandedly by Senate President Karen Fann at the behest of Trump, his allies and some members of her own caucus, was barely discussed at private GOP Senate meetings during the 2021 legislative session.

Even as the review drew elected officials from around the country, briefings for GOP senators focused on legislation and other matters.

One GOP senator who supported a ballot review and a legislative hearing after the 2020 election said Fann wasn’t “having any caucus meetings or anything about it. It’s just kind of out there.” 

Ken Bennett, whose job as liaison was to update the Senate, said Fann, R-Prescott, rarely asked him for briefings, and almost no one else ever did.

“Had she invited me to a caucus meeting and explain things, I would have,” he said. “But that never happened.”

In a four-month investigation, The Arizona Republic dug into the election review by examining text messages, emails, public records and court records, many made public after the news outlet sued the state for access.

Republic reporters spoke to decision-makers, consultants, staff, contractors, campaign aides and others tied to the review of the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Maricopa County. Some talked on the record about their experiences, while others spoke on the condition they not be identified in order to speak candidly about private conversations. 

Few people were needed to trigger the ballot review, and the idea quickly found support among those eager to believe Trump had won Arizona. 

Outside the Senate, strident social-media messaging, aggressive fundraising and friendly coverage by conservative media outlets created an echo chamber supporting the ballot review. It left their audience with the impression the effort would reveal the fraud Trump insisted happened.

The ballot review received plenty of other media coverage as well, providing powerful motivation for donors in both corners of American politics.

Democracy in Doubt series Part 1: White House phone calls, baseless fraud charges: The origins of the Arizona election review

To many conservatives, Arizona’s political theater served as a welcome distraction from the aftermath of the election, the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by Trump’s followers, and from the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration.

The review helped stoke imagined grievances over 2020 and offered a key test for Republicans wanting Trump’s blessings moving forward.

From the outset, it appeared more about political messaging than any serious recount. And at the end, the contractors merely raised questions, made no allegations of fraud and didn't challenge the final outcome.

It had little connection to transparency or ensuring broad public confidence in elections.

Former Arizona lawmaker Anthony Kern sits in the audience watching Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen during a hearing about the Maricopa County recount at the Arizona Senate in Phoenix on July 15, 2021.
Former Arizona lawmaker Anthony Kern sits in the audience watching Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen during a hearing about the Maricopa County recount at the Arizona Senate in Phoenix on July 15, 2021. Joseph Cooke/The Republic

Champions for the ballot review

One America News, the far-right network favored by Trump, especially after Fox News called Arizona for Biden early on election night, wound up with wide-ranging access to the activities in the arena and to the officials overseeing the review. 

“It was only done because they were willing to … make the (video) feed available to everybody free,” Bennett said, relating what he was told. “If anyone else would have offered to do that first, whether it was CNN or azcentral or anybody else, it could have easily been them.”

But OAN stood apart from other news organizations for other reasons.

Listen to the story: Find the audiobook version of the article below.

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Christina Bobb, one of OAN’s broadcast personalities, organized speakers who complained about voting issues in a meeting headed by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, on Nov. 30 in Phoenix. She also worked to reverse the election results in Arizona.

Email records show Bobb, a lawyer, provided documents to Fann on behalf of Giuliani in December, when Fann was considering what to do about reviewing election results.

She also was part of a fundraising effort to help underwrite the ballot review. Bobb urged her OAN viewers to donate to Voices and Votes, an organization she heads, to help pay for the ballot review in Arizona and elsewhere.

Photos: Arizona Senate wants to seek more Maricopa County election records

Other news organizations, including The Arizona Republic, had to bring in lawyers to negotiate access to the proceedings in the coliseum. Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the Florida company that oversaw the review, sought in April to require reporters to commit to working 30 hours as volunteers on the review to gain access, without allowing them to record the proceedings.

One America News host Christina Bobb sits  between Gateway Pundit correspondent Jordan Conradson (right) and independent journalist Michael Gavlak during a meeting about the Arizona Senate's ballot review in Phoenix on July 15, 2021.
One America News host Christina Bobb sits between Gateway Pundit correspondent Jordan Conradson (right) and independent journalist Michael Gavlak during a meeting about the Arizona Senate's ballot review in Phoenix on July 15, 2021. Joseph Cooke/The Republic

Rod Thomson, Logan’s friend and spokesman, advised Logan and others at the time that such restrictions would be “spun against us as setting up unreasonable barriers to media being observers. We say we want them, but we really don’t, type of thing.”

Bobb, meanwhile, had unrivaled access.

Former state lawmaker Steve Montenegro, in text messages to Senate liaison Randy Pullen, lauded Twitter accounts linked to the ballot review that attacked reporters and those critical of the "audit."
Former state lawmaker Steve Montenegro, in text messages to Senate liaison Randy Pullen, lauded Twitter accounts linked to the ballot review that attacked reporters and those critical of the "audit." Arizona Legislature

The ballot review had other reliable cheerleaders.

The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing website with a long history of trafficking in fabricated news, covered the review with characteristic attacks on other media outlets and stories that were untrue.

There were Twitter accounts linked to the ballot review that attacked reporters and, in a low moment, mocked the death of a political activist’s dog.

Those who wrote and shaped some of the caustic tweets were affiliated with The America Project, the organization run by Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. 

One of the people who helped coordinate tweets is Patrick Weaver, a man whose online biography said he worked in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

Another was former state lawmaker Steve Montenegro, a Republican whose political career imploded in 2018 after the disclosure of his racy text correspondence with a female junior legislative staffer, who also sent him a topless photo.

At the time, Montenegro dismissed the matter that stood in contrast to his standing as a married Christian minister as “false tabloid trash.” As part of the ballot review, Montenegro weaponized Twitter and viewed reporters as the enemy. 

“Media is feeling the heat,” Montenegro said in a May 2 text to Randy Pullen, the co-liaison to the ballot review who was a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and former treasurer of the Republican National Committee. “Seeing how effective the Twitter account is defending the audit and messaging, Also fundraising.”

The spectacle galvanized fundraising in a non-election year, although it's still unclear how much money private organizations claiming to support the Arizona ballot review raised in 2021.

But the review was a boon for the state’s political parties.

By July 2021, the Senate’s lease in Veterans Memorial Coliseum had ended, but the process was not over. The work continued in the Wesley Bolin Building, an exhibit hall on the property that did not have air conditioning and leaked during the monsoon rains, leaving water pooling on ballot boxes.
By July 2021, the Senate’s lease in Veterans Memorial Coliseum had ended, but the process was not over. The work continued in the Wesley Bolin Building, an exhibit hall on the property that did not have air conditioning and leaked during the monsoon rains, leaving water pooling on ballot boxes. Mark Henle/The Republic

Still more counts and some surprising leaks

Despite the efforts to present the ballot review as necessary and credible, word of mistakes seeped out, and those with election auditing experience took note.

By late June, Cyber Ninjas’ workers had made their way through a recount of the votes on 2.1 million ballots. Then they started to reopen boxes and recount ballots, comparing them with the numbers the county gave them.

As the Senate’s extended lease in the coliseum ended, the process was not over.

The state fair board allowed the work to continue in a large exhibit hall on the property without air conditioning — one that was not meant to be occupied in the desert summer.

Conditions inside the building were oppressive. Even with swamp coolers running, Ken Matta, an observer with the Secretary of State’s Office, said he recorded an average temperature of 87 degrees with an average humidity of 59%.

Democracy in Doubt series Part 2: 'Asked to do something huge': An audacious pitch to reverse Arizona's election results

Election auditing experts watching the process included Larry Moore, the retired founder of Massachusetts-based Clear Ballot Group, an elections-technology company used in nine states, including Florida and New York.

Moore, who viewed Cyber Ninjas as unqualified, monitored the ballot review from afar. 

Working with Benny White, a Pima County Republican who had run for recorder there, and Tim Halvorsen, the retired chief technology officer at Clear Ballot, Moore offered an audacious challenge to test Cyber Ninjas’ accuracy.

They said they could break down the candidate-by-candidate vote totals in any box Cyber Ninjas picked without even looking inside it.

Maricopa County reports ballots by precincts, not by the box they were packed inside. Moore’s team reverse-engineered a tally for each box. It offered an instant, relatively granular check on disparities from the certified results.

Fann ignored Moore’s offer, but Bennett found it tantalizing.

Bennett had long been denied information about the hand count tally.

Arizona election review: A look at the key players in the 'audit'

On July 12, Moore and White “sent to the Senate a very detailed reconciliation of how many ballots they thought were in each box,” Bennett said. “And it intrigued me greatly whether the count we were coming up with was anywhere close to that count.”

The next day, Fann said Cyber Ninjas’ hand count totals were different from the county’s, and she ordered a box-by-box machine count of the ballots. It would be overseen by Pullen, a former national GOP operative whom Fann and others consulted about the review long before he was publicly identified with it in May. This count would tally how many ballots were in each box but not try to determine who got how many votes. 

Bennett asked Pullen to describe how the new count would be independent of the company's count, but Pullen didn’t.

So Bennett took matters into his own hands.

“I’ve already assumed in my mind that the only reason you would do a third count is if the first two counts didn’t match,” Bennett said.

He managed to get 24 box totals from the hand count from some of the workers. And even though the Senate and Cyber Ninjas had prohibited anyone involved in the ballot count from giving out results before the final tallies were ready, Bennett reached out to Moore and White.

“I got on a Zoom call with Larry and his two guys, and we discussed that some of them matched and some of them didn’t,” Bennett remembered.

Moore said in that 24-box sample, the Senate’s machine counts nearly exactly matched his group’s figures that replicated the county's final canvass. Such a result made clear Cyber Ninjas' hand recount could be checked.

After news got out that Bennett was sharing data, he was treated like a pariah.

On July 23, Bennett drove from his home in Prescott to the fairgrounds. When he got there, he said, a volunteer told him Pullen had suspended him indefinitely.

“I returned to Prescott and started thinking through what had transpired,” Bennett recalled. “I eventually concluded that if I was going to be excluded from the rest of the audit, and I was no longer the liaison, I eventually came to the position that I would resign.”

Bennett called Fann, but she didn’t answer. The next morning, he was about to announce his move in a radio interview when Fann called him. 

“Please don’t resign. Stay on as liaison,” she said, Bennett recalled.

“Karen,” he said, “I have to have access to the data, to the workspaces and to the procedures.”

“She says, ‘We’ll work something out over the next day or two,’ and based on that commitment, I switched on the fly.”

It took three days to hammer out a mutual statement they agreed upon.

How we got here: An Arizona audit timeline

Privately, Fann wasn’t happy with Bennett.

In a July 28 text to someone identified in her phone as “Leila,” Fann indicated her frustration with Bennett.

“He’s (mad) because he wants access to all the data now and I told him no,” Fann said. “The audit is not complete and we shouldn’t be interfering with their job. The guy can’t help himself with wanting to be the center of attention.”

Conditions inside the Wesley Bolin Building at the state fairgrounds were oppressive, with an average temperature of 87 degrees and an average humidity of 59%.
Conditions inside the Wesley Bolin Building at the state fairgrounds were oppressive, with an average temperature of 87 degrees and an average humidity of 59%. Mark Henle/The Republic

As details about Bennett’s situation trickled out, something else was leaking as well: the roof of the exhibit hall.

Matta showed up on July 23 a few hours after Bennett had headed back to Prescott.

It was pouring outside.

Matta noticed a bucket inside the building. And then another. And then another.

“That was the first clue the roof was leaking,” he said.

He saw water dripping from air ducts in the ceiling.

Ballots are normally kept sealed in a vault for 24 months after an election in case of any election challenges that might come under state law. The county’s ballot tabulation machines, worth millions, were in the rain-sodden building.

Matta examined the pallets of boxes, stacked in rows along the side of the room. On one pallet, he saw a pool of water sitting atop the sealed boxes.

When Matta pointed it out, the workers treated it as if it was no big deal. They covered the boxes in plastic and started to move the pallets to drier spots. Pullen said that day that no ballots or machines were damaged.

But Matta said their reaction demonstrated an overall lack of care throughout the process. “That’s what makes me the maddest,” he said. “Those are our ballots.”

Former President Donald Trump spoke at the Turning Point Action event at the Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. It was Trump's first post-presidency visit to Arizona.
Former President Donald Trump spoke at the Turning Point Action event at the Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. It was Trump's first post-presidency visit to Arizona. David Wallace/The Republic

Trump returns to Arizona, doling out special praise

Trump returned to Arizona on July 24 for the first time since losing his reelection bid. The ballot review, and what the former president would say about it, loomed over the rally.

Turning Point Action, a Trump-friendly organization based in Phoenix, hosted the event, which gave the nearly 5,000 conservatives packed in the Arizona Federal Theatre a chance to hear from many of the Republicans seeking their votes next year.

From the outset of his rambling remarks that lasted nearly two hours, Trump name-checked nine Republican state senators whom he thanked for pushing the ballot review. One by one, the senators basked in the applause.

“We’re gathered here in Phoenix to show our support for election integrity and for the brave and unyielding conservative warriors in the Arizona state Senate,” Trump said. “You’ve created a movement all over the country. This is now starting all over the country.

“Today, I want to send our profound and everlasting gratitude to every Arizona Republican who had the fortitude and the backbone to defy the lying media.”

Trump singled out Fann for special praise. “She’s been brave, she’s been strong,” he said. 

“I predict when the votes come in,” Trump continued, “I think they’re going to be so horrible that she’s going to go three steps further than she ever thought she’d have to.”

Trump also pressured Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who didn't attend the rally. 

“Hopefully, he’s going to do what everybody knows has to be done,” Trump said of Brnovich, who is running for the U.S. Senate in a Republican primary where Trump’s endorsement could be decisive.

Two other candidates that day helped remind conservatives of Trump’s enduring primacy in GOP politics and the ballot review’s related importance.

Trump returns to AZ: Predicts ballot review will vindicate him and attacks Doug Ducey

Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, an enthusiastic Trump supporter and former anchor for Fox 10 KSAZ-TV, received a thunderous ovation that impressed the former president. Two months later, Trump endorsed her and noted her commitment to what he cast as election integrity.

Former Fox 10 KSAZ-TV anchor Kari Lake received a thunderous ovation at the Turning Point Action event in July 2021. It impressed former President Donald Trump, who two months later endorsed her run for governor.
Former Fox 10 KSAZ-TV anchor Kari Lake received a thunderous ovation at the Turning Point Action event in July 2021. It impressed former President Donald Trump, who two months later endorsed her run for governor. David Wallace/The Republic

State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, a candidate for secretary of state who spent years building a political brand tied to measures that make voting harder, felt the  sting from the crowd. She had criticized how the ballot review was carried out and was booed off the stage.

Doug Logan (center, back turned), the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, and other members of the ballot review team present their reports. Senate President Karen Fann (top center) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen (top left) presided in the Senate chambers at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Sept. 24, 2021.
Doug Logan (center, back turned), the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, and other members of the ballot review team present their reports. Senate President Karen Fann (top center) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen (top left) presided in the Senate chambers at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Sept. 24, 2021. David Wallace/The Republic

The final act: ‘We do have some work to do here’

Workers at the state fairgrounds loaded the nearly 2.1 million ballots onto trucks and returned them to the county July 29, marking the close of a more than three-month process of reviewing ballots and other election equipment.

The review offered few signs that it had changed minds about the 2020 election and the way future ones will be conducted in a deeply divided state. 

On Sept. 24, Fann convened a final hearing. It held little suspense after the top-line results had leaked the day before.

The team led by Cyber Ninjas found Biden had won by a net 360 more votes than reported in the 2020 certified results.

Democracy in Doubt series Part 3: As Trump's hold on Arizona politicians tightened, one state senator said 'no'

Fann spent little time during the nationally watched proceeding going over that finding. Nor did she press Logan to reconcile his specific differences from the certified results.

Fann, however, gave Logan and others hours to raise doubts about the county’s election procedures, from verifying signatures on ballot envelopes to the security of its tabulation systems to reconsidering the scale of mail-in voting altogether.

They pointed to the lack of access to the county’s routers as a critical piece of missing evidence.

But after months of intimating widespread fraud, and allowing Trump and his voters to cling to it as well, Cyber Ninjas’ 115-page report never claimed any. A movement that started in November claiming vote-switching by machines favoring Democrats and widespread votes from dead and illegal voters settled well short of those false allegations.

The report identified thousands of ballots it considered problematic, mainly from people who had moved. It suggested a plurality of those involved registered Democrats but couldn’t offer a breakdown of how those votes would have affected the final tally for the candidates.

Biden win confirmed: Arizona Senate leaders confirm Biden win but call for further review of election procedures

That conclusion seemingly mattered little to those who had been the strongest advocates for the review.

In a series of statements throughout the day the report was released, Trump said the review had unearthed “incomprehensible Fraud at an Election Changing level.” He called for Arizona to decertify its election results and used Arizona’s exercise as a model for others to follow.

Several hundred supporters of the ballot review showed up at a rally outside the state Capitol, some carrying signs saying their votes were stolen. They said they still thought Trump had won.

At least two men wore camouflage fatigues carrying firearms. One had a shoulder patch for the Three Percenters, an anti-government paramilitary group. 

At an Oct. 7 congressional hearing about Logan and Cyber Ninjas in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., asked U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who won Arizona.

Far-right brawler: Andy Biggs, under scrutiny after Jan. 6 riot, has long history on conservatism's fringes

“We don't know because as the audit demonstrates very clearly, Mr. Raskin, there are a lot of issues with this election that took place,” Biggs testily replied.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington on Oct. 27, 2021, that he didn't know who won the 2020 presidential election in Arizona.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington on Oct. 27, 2021, that he didn't know who won the 2020 presidential election in Arizona. Joshua Roberts/Reuters pool via AP

Election analysts react: 'We knew they made the numbers up'

While Cyber Ninjas reported results similar to the county's, many questioned the numbers. A review of the underlying data by one group of election analysts found the company had fudged its numbers by thousands of ballots. They concluded the numbers the Cyber Ninjas reported to the Senate could not be verified or replicated.

Moore and White, who were with the group checking Cyber Ninjas’ work, estimated the company incorrectly tallied about 312,000 ballots and double-counted about 23,000 others. 

They based their analysis on the Senate’s own machine count of ballots overseen by Pullen, which nearly matched the county’s certified results. Moore and White called the Cyber Ninjas' numbers “fiction” and a “hoax.” 

“We knew they made the numbers up because the discrepancy was so large between the Senate’s machine count and the Ninjas’ hand count,” Moore said. “The vote counts (for each candidate) could not be accurate.”

In November, Moore and White's group, known as The Audit Guys, published a final review of the Cyber Ninjas' hand count data. 

Their analysis was based on the nearly 80,000 images of tally sheets that reflected Cyber Ninjas' tallies for every vote, which the Senate made public after demands by The Republic.

“We have tried dozens of ways to include and exclude various boxes and batches to arrive at those precise figures and have been unable to replicate their announced results,” The Audit Guys report said.

Moore said the Cyber Ninjas' claim that Biden gained 99 votes and Trump lost 261 votes in the recount was political theater designed to give the hand count undeserved credibility.

5 things: What to know after the release of Cyber Ninjas' Maricopa County election audit report

The scene at the ballot review at Veterans Memorial Coliseum was captured in a live video feed that was streamed on azaudit.org, but few details were discernible.
The scene at the ballot review at Veterans Memorial Coliseum was captured in a live video feed that was streamed on azaudit.org, but few details were discernible. via azaudit.org

Fight for transparency plays out as review drags on

The proceedings at the fairgrounds were livestreamed, but video shots of a distant work floor didn't provide full transparency. Much about how the election review was conducted remains secret.

Lawsuit: Republic takes Senate, Cyber Ninjas to court for audit records

The Republic sued the Senate and Cyber Ninjas in June for records such as emails, texts and other communications related to the ballot review. The news organization first requested the documents from the Senate and Cyber Ninjas through the Arizona Public Records Law but was rebuffed.

A left-leaning political nonprofit made a related public records request.

Many documents released in a continuing legal battle over public records were heavily redacted. A judge in a court challenge brought by The Arizona Republic in June is weighing what should be made public.
Many documents released in a continuing legal battle over public records were heavily redacted. A judge in a court challenge brought by The Arizona Republic in June is weighing what should be made public. Arizona Legislature

The Republic argued, and a trial court judge agreed, that documents related to the election review are public records because it was conducted under the direction of the Senate, a public body.

Records released: Audit Twitter accounts, Cyber Ninjas contract dispute and other details revealed in new documents

Cyber Ninjas, which was performing a core governmental function funded in part by state taxpayer dollars, was required to maintain public records related to the work and make them available to the public, the judge ruled.

Attorneys for the Senate and Cyber Ninjas have appealed multiple judges’ decisions, and many documents remain inaccessible to the public because of claims of legislative privilege.

The fight for those public records continues in the Arizona courts. 

Sen. Karen Fann addresses the media inside the state Capitol in Phoenix after Maricopa County ballot review results were released on Sept. 24, 2021.
Sen. Karen Fann addresses the media inside the state Capitol in Phoenix after Maricopa County ballot review results were released on Sept. 24, 2021. Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/The Republic

'Suspicions are raised and questions are asked without answers'

Benjamin Ginsberg, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represented the George W. Bush and Mitt Romney presidential campaigns, said Cyber Ninjas had produced “no credible evidence” of widespread fraud.

“To me, the legacy of it is, even with the playing field tilted, they still couldn’t come up with anything,” he said.

Barry Burden, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who researches election administration and public opinion, said Arizona’s ballot review doesn’t appear to have accomplished its stated goals.

“The purported reason for doing these reviews is to boost public confidence, especially among people who voted for Donald Trump and have some skepticism about the election results,” he said.

“But instead, it’s review after review where suspicions are raised and questions are asked without answers, and it looks like for all the millions of dollars and months that were put into Arizona in Maricopa County, it’s only going to foster additional reviews and projects.” 

Experts speak: Data in audit report shows Cyber Ninjas' hand count is 'fiction,' election analysts say

A recent national poll found nearly one-third of Americans believe Biden won in 2020 only due to fraud, a unfounded but bleak view held by 73% of Republicans.

“The increase of distrust in the American system appears to be linked to the persistence of ‘the big lie,’” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement with the poll. “The fact that this belief continues to get oxygen is having a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on faith in our fundamental democratic processes.”

For her part, Fann still hasn’t let go of 2020.

Former Recorder Adrian Fontes, Arizona AG Mark Brnovich's office meet over 2020 election
Adrian Fontes, the Democratic former Maricopa County recorder, was interviewed in November by investigators from Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office about the 2020 election. The probe came after the state Senate’s partisan ballot review.
Audio: Adrian Fontes' campaign staff

Fann sent Brnovich, Arizona’s top prosecutor, a letter noting the state needed to better verify signatures and maintain voter rolls. She gave him the Cyber Ninjas’ report to consider any additional investigation, putting the onus for any further fallout squarely on him. In November, his office questioned Adrian Fontes, the former Maricopa County recorder, as part of a probe about the election. 

The Senate’s activities cost state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. County taxpayers, meanwhile, will spend about $2.8 million to replace election equipment used in only one federal election cycle and rendered insecure due to the ballot review.

'What's happened to Karen?' Audit puts spotlight on Senate president after decades in office

From the president’s seat in the Senate chamber, Fann indicated election-related legislation would be introduced in the legislative session that begins in January. 

“We do have some work to do here,” she said at the close of the three-hour hearing.

“At the very least, what I think can come out of this is that we need to do audits to some extent. We need to do bigger audits on every election just to make sure that everybody is following the rules.”

Former Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri, center, listens during a Board of Supervisors meeting about the ballot review on May 17, 2021. He resigned in early November after secretly recorded audio of him speaking poorly of his colleagues was leaked to a website that publishes far-right information.
Former Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri, center, listens during a Board of Supervisors meeting about the ballot review on May 17, 2021. He resigned in early November after secretly recorded audio of him speaking poorly of his colleagues was leaked to a website that publishes far-right information. David Wallace/The Republic

Fallout: A resignation, a primary challenge, a party divided

It’s unclear how long Trump’s loss, and the split between those who acknowledge it and those who don’t, will divide Arizona Republicans. It remains to be seen how long baseless concerns about vote counts will continue to undermine the election process.

While the ballot review boosted the political and financial fortunes of some Arizona politicians, others gained unwanted scrutiny.

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri’s political fortunes collapsed

The Republican had easily won reelection to the county Board of Supervisors in 2020 and was thought to be eying a possible congressional run.

Board Chairman Jack Sellers passed him over for the county board’s vice chair position, going instead with Supervisor Bill Gates.

Sellers cited concerns about Chucri’s time constraints — while in office, Chucri also headed the Arizona Restaurant Association, an influential group that represents the industry.

Chucri, who had met with Giuliani after the election, suspected a different reason.  

He was the lone vote on the board late in December against suing the Senate to try to block its subpoenas. As the majority-Republican board tried to present a united voice against a partisan process, Chucri spoke about his differences bluntly in private conversations.

“That one vote, right, cost me from being the vice chair — which, I don’t give a s---,” he said in a conversation secretly recorded by leaders from We the People AZ Alliance.

That group helped lead the efforts to garner support among state and local leaders for the ballot review and unsuccessfully tried to recall the supervisors. 

Democracy in Doubt series Part 4: 'You’ll get nothing out of this': Partisans with limited experience stumble through gaffe-prone 'audit'

In September, Gateway Pundit published snippets of Chucri’s profanity-laced conversations with the leaders days before the ballot review findings were made public.

In the audio, Chucri perpetuated the unfounded claims that dead people had voted. He indicated there was “multifaceted” fraud that remains without evidence.

He said Sellers and Gates, who both won narrow races, feared a ballot review: “What would happen in those two races?” Chucri said with a conspiratorial tone.

State Sen. Paul Boyer, LD-20, and former state Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale.
State Sen. Paul Boyer, LD-20, and former state Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. David Wallace and Michael Chow/The Republic

After the audio went viral, Chucri offered his “heartfelt apologies.”

“The comments I made were during a very turbulent time,” he said in a written statement. “There was no cover-up, the election was not stolen. Biden won.” 

He resigned from office Nov. 5.

The other county supervisors — Jack Sellers, Bill Gates, Clint Hickman and Steve Gallardo — have gained a measure of vindication.

Glendale Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, who opposed holding the county board in contempt in the only vote on the ballot review, faces a primary challenge. It comes from Anthony Kern, the former state representative who was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and was among those inspecting ballots at the coliseum.

Boyer should pay for his disloyalty, Trump instructed his followers. In a statement in July, Trump said, “Boyer has been nothing but trouble” while Kern is “a strong and highly respected challenger.”

Stephen Richer (left), the Republican Maricopa County recorder who defeated Democrat Adrian Fontes, largely backed the county’s election procedures used by the man he beat.
Stephen Richer (left), the Republican Maricopa County recorder who defeated Democrat Adrian Fontes, largely backed the county’s election procedures used by the man he beat. David Wallace/The Republic

Stephen Richer, the Republican Maricopa County recorder who defeated Fontes, a Democrat, largely backed the county’s election procedures used by the man he beat.

Read the letter: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer's letter to President Donald Trump

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer voiced contempt for conspiracy theorists and called former President Donald Trump "El Presidente" in a text message to county Supervisor Clint Hickman on Feb. 18, 2021.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer voiced contempt for conspiracy theorists and called former President Donald Trump "El Presidente" in a text message to county Supervisor Clint Hickman on Feb. 18, 2021. Maricopa County

He criticized Trump’s allies for the ballot review and tried to marshal wider resistance to it, even urging two top aides to Ducey to sign on to a letter decrying it after Trump had heaped praise on the Senate for launching it. That effort flopped. 

In text messages and emails to his peers, Richer voiced contempt for conspiracy theorists.

“Court rulings don’t matter to these people,” Richer wrote in a text message to Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman on Feb. 18. “As you rightly noted, this is religious. And El Presidente is the lord and savior.

“I had somebody flat tell me that I was an idiot for believing that the machines weren’t connected to the internet, and that she KNOWS they were. How am I supposed to deal with that?”

It's unclear how long Richer and other county supervisors will endure a backlash from the Republican Party's Trump loyalists.

State Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, now a candidate in the secretary of state race, also was in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6 for the “Stop the Steal” rally and had been in direct communication with organizers during that period.

He helped spread Trump’s discredited claims of election fraud from its earliest days and pressed repeatedly for a legislative hearing on irregularities cited by Giuliani. 

With the ballot review in Maricopa County complete, Finchem called for expanded action. “We need to Audit Pima County,” he wrote on Twitter. He baselessly claimed 35,000 votes were “in question from multiple sources & I want answers.”

Trump rewarded Finchem’s loyalty with his coveted endorsement in a race that had scarcely started

“Mark was willing to say what few others had the courage to say,” Trump said in his announcement. 

In October, Finchem, a man once mocked for his Western apparel, appeared onstage at a Trump rally in Iowa wearing a cowboy hat.

The ballot review also elevated the stature of state Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Republican from Flagstaff and retired Air Force pilot who has lost four runs for Congress.

She was one of the ballot review’s most outspoken supporters and traveled around the country to crusade for similar exercises. In emails to supporters, she demanded a "perp walk" for those responsible and pleaded for cash.

“The only way we will get the word out about the Audit, and the truth of it, is to get it out ourselves — and that takes money,” one said. Later, she issued a letter saying “all 50 states need to be forensically audited” with dozens of lawmakers from all over the nation, from Idaho to Indiana, and Michigan to Mississippi.

Kelli Ward, Arizona Republican Party chair, speaks to the public outside the state Capitol in Phoenix on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.
Kelli Ward, Arizona Republican Party chair, speaks to the public outside the state Capitol in Phoenix on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/The Republic

The Arizona Republican Party under Chair Kelli Ward leveraged the ballot review to raise funds for itself.

In a text exchange on May 24, 2021, Senate President Karen Fann and Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward discuss questions coming from "national republican people" about Republicans making money off the ballot review.
In a text exchange on May 24, 2021, Senate President Karen Fann and Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward discuss questions coming from "national republican people" about Republicans making money off the ballot review. Arizona Legislature

Some Republicans complained the money raised under the banner of the review never actually helped pay for it. Through September, the Arizona GOP pulled in $2.2 million, according to its latest federal fundraising report. By comparison, in the same period two years earlier, the party had collected less than $877,000.

No groups are known to have hit the jackpot better than the Trump-affiliated political-action committees Save America and Make America Great Again. Together, they raised more than $92 million in the first half of the year.

Republicans weren’t alone in cashing in on the ballot review.

The Arizona Democratic Party, under the helm of state Sen. Raquel Terán of Phoenix, battered Republicans for pursuing the review and hit up Democrats for money, too. The party reported raising nearly $2 million in federal funds through September. At the same point in 2019, the Democrats raised $1.3 million.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat running for governor in 2022, became a fixture on national news. She condemned the ballot review from start to finish. She and her staff faced death threats over it.

And her campaign hauled in money. The financial fortunes of individual candidates in Arizona won’t be publicly known until financial reports are due in January.

Biggs, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and other Republicans involved in the “Stop the Steal” rallies remain under scrutiny by the special House committee examining the Jan. 6 riot.

Bennett seems to be wandering in a political no-man’s land. He is viewed warily by the review’s most ardent supporters and viewed as an accomplice to fraud by those who opposed it. 

His political future — if there is one — is unclear.

“I didn’t do this for a political future,” the Prescott Republican said with a laugh. “And I’m not trying to roll it into one.”

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is running for governor, speaks at a news conference on Nov. 4, 2021.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is running for governor, speaks at a news conference on Nov. 4, 2021. Megan Mendoza/The Republic

Two months later, he confirmed he is considering running for office in 2022.

 “I have contemplated the secretary of state position … and the state Senate seat up here,” he said. “Those have come into my mind. It seems like in today's political climate, being a candidate almost contaminates, if that’s the right word, everything you do.”

Rep. Rusty Bowers, Arizona House speaker, poses for portraits in front of his painting of Cottonwood Wash and sculpture of the late Snowflake Sen. Jake Flake at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Oct. 20, 2021.
Rep. Rusty Bowers, Arizona House speaker, poses for portraits in front of his painting of Cottonwood Wash and sculpture of the late Snowflake Sen. Jake Flake at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Oct. 20, 2021. Patrick Breen/The Republic

Another year, another session

In January, Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, will open another legislative session as the leaders of their respective chambers.

Bowers, who resisted being pulled into a partisan ballot review, survived a recall effort after several rounds of protests outside his home.

He largely tuned out the review and said he is focused on the upcoming legislative session in a House of Representatives that is expected to have 10 new members.

Fann remains part of the changing political landscape. She announced in early November she will retire from the state Senate after next year.

She will leave transformed. Once a lawmaker unfamiliar to most Arizonans, she's become a political hero to Trump supporters, recognized even while shopping in California.

“Now,” a friend of hers said, “everywhere she goes, she gets a standing ovation.”

Includes information from Arizona Republic reporters Robert Anglen and Jen Fifield.

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