Push to review 2020 votes across US an effort to ‘handcuff’ democracy | US elections 2020


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Conservative activists across America are pushing efforts to review the 2020 vote more than six months after the election, a move experts say is a dangerous attempt to continue to sow doubt about the results of the 2020 election that strikes at the heart of America’s democratic process.

Encouraged by an ongoing haphazard review of 2.1m ballots in Arizona, activists are pushing to review votes or voting equipment in California, Georgia, Michigan, and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the powerful speaker of the state house of representatives recently hired ex-law enforcement officers, including one with a history of supporting Republicans, to spend the next three months investigating claims of fraud. At least one of the officers hired has a history of supporting GOP claims. The announcement also came after state officials announced they found just 27 cases of potential fraud in 2020 out of 3.3m votes cast.

The reviews are not going to change the 2020 election results or find widespread fraud, which is exceedingly rare. Nonetheless, the conservative activists behind the effort – many of whom have little election experience – have championed the reviews as an attempt to assuage concerns the 2020 election was stolen. If the probes don’t turn up anything, they will only serve to increase confidence in elections, proponents say.

But experts see something much more dangerous happening. Continuing to review elections, especially after a result has been finalized, will allow conspiracy theories to fester and undercut the authority of legitimately elected officials, they say. Once election results are certified by state officials, they have long been considered final and it is unprecedented to continue to probe results months after an official is sworn in. It’s an issue that gets at the heart of America’s electoral system – if Americans no longer have faith their officials are legitimately elected, they worry, the country is heading down an extremely dangerous path.

“It is either a witting or unwitting effort to handcuff democratic self-governance,” said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Research.

The efforts also come at the same moment that Republican legislatures around the country are pushing new restrictions to restrict voting access. Unable to point to evidence of significant fraud, Republican lawmakers have frequently said that new restrictions are needed to restore confidence in elections.

In New Hampshire, activists have tried to co-opt an audit in the 15,000 person town of Windham to try and resolve a legitimate discrepancy in vote totals for a state representative race. They unsuccessfully tried to pressure officials there to drop experienced auditors in favor of Jovan Pulitzer, a conspiracy theorist reportedly involved in the Arizona recount who has become a kind of celebrity among those who believe the election was stolen. Even though the experienced auditors have found no evidence of wrongdoing, activists have continued to float baseless theories of wrongdoing in a Telegram channel following audits.

“Nothing today is showing evidence of fraud. Nothing today is showing evidence of digital manipulation of the machines,” Harri Hursti, an election expert and one of the auditors, said this week, according to WMUR. “It’s amazing how much disinformation and dishonest reporting has been spreading.”

Activists are also pressuring officials in Cheboygan county, Michigan to let an attorney affiliated with Sidney Powell, a Trump ally who brought baseless lawsuits after the election, conduct an audit of election equipment. The chair of the board of commissioners told the Detroit News he could not recall a more contentious issue debated before the board in more than two decades.

The Michigan efforts prompted a letter from the state’s top election official, who warned the clerks in Cheboygan and Antrim county – another hotbed of conspiracy theories – that boards didn’t have authority to order audits and not to turn over election equipment to unaccredited outside firms, the Washington Post reported. Michigan conducted more than 250 audits after the 2020 race that affirmed the results.

Dominion voting systems, which sold equipment to the state, also warned that counties may not be able to use machines in future elections if they turned them over to uncertified auditors.

“We have every reason to want transparency,” Jocelyn Benson, the state’s top election official, said in an interview. “But that’s not what this is. This is about an effort, as has been proved time and time again by the actions of these individuals, in Arizona and elsewhere, this is an effort to actually spread falsehoods and misinformation under the guise of transparency.”

San Luis Obispo county in the central coast of California has been another target for calls for an audit. During a meeting earlier this month, officials played hours of recorded messages calling for an audit, including one asking whether Tommy Gong, the county’s clerk and recorder, was a member of the communist party.

Activists are also targeting Fulton county, Georgia, another place that was at the center of Trump’s baseless election attacks last year. Earlier in May, a local judge said that an group led by Garland Favorito, who has reportedly pushed conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the JFK assassination, could inspect absentee ballots, though in a key break from the Arizona review, the judge made it clear that the actual ballots would have to remain in county officials’ custody. Georgia has already manually recounted all of the ballots in the state, which confirmed Joe Biden’s win over Trump last year.

Even in Arizona, the crown jewel of the audit movement, activists may have plans to do even more auditing after the current review of 2.1m ballots wraps up. Republicans are finalizing a plan to use untested software to analyze images of ballots, the Arizona Republic reported Friday.

“Rarely do the losers believe the they have lost, but historically those who fell short graciously concede once all legal channels are exhausted,” said Tammy Patrick, a former election official in Maricopa county who now serves as a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund.

“The proliferation of these actions undermine and erode the very foundation of election integrity and our adversaries need only sit back and watch as we chip away at our democratic norms. We should be telling the American voter the truth – the election had integrity, real audits and recounts were done, court challenges heard.”



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