Bad-faith election audits are sabotaging democracy across the nation
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.
Matthew Germer and Gowri Ramachandran coauthored the report, Partisan Review Efforts in Five States, along with other election administration experts at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, the R Street Institute, and Protect Democracy. Germer is an elections fellow at the R Street Institute, and Ramachandran is counsel in the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program.