A reporter watches an audit of Maricopa County, Ariz., ballots cast in the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, on April 29. The ballots were examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, which was hired by the Arizona State Senate. (Rob Schumacher / The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

A reporter watches an audit of Maricopa County, Ariz., ballots cast in the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, on April 29. The ballots were examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, which was hired by the Arizona State Senate. (Rob Schumacher / The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

Editorial: Wyman right to object to Arizona ballot audit

An authority on election integrity, Washington’s secretary of state sees red flags in a rogue recount.

By The Herald Editorial Board

If you’re wondering why a rogue and nonbinding audit of ballots in Arizona should concern voters in Washington state — and really, voters throughout the United States — Kim Wyman is seeing all kinds of red flags.

Wyman, of course, is Washington’s secretary of state, responsible for overseeing elections, registering voters and working with the state’s 39 county-level auditor’s offices, which run elections. Wyman, reelected in November to a third-term, served 12 years as Thurston County auditor and before that was that county’s elections manager for eight years. She’s also the only Republican serving in a statewide-elected office in Washington.

And she’s viewed as a nationwide authority on election integrity and security. In the run-up to the 2020 election amid the pandemic, Wyman and her office were in high demand for guidance among fellow U.S. election officials, advising all 50 states on vote-by-mail and related issues, drawing on Washington state’s long experience with mail-in ballot elections. Even while encouraging vote-by-mail, Wyman urged that states move forward with caution to protect election security and accuracy.

Not surprisingly, she was sought out for comment by The Washington Post regarding the ongoing and unorthodox recount and audit of 2.1 million election ballots from Maricopa County, Ariz., where ballots for Joe Biden outnumbered those for Donald Trump by 2 percentage points, and helped give Arizona’s electoral college votes to Biden, adding to his margin of victory.

Claiming concern for election integrity — but also certainly stinging from Trump’s loss — Republicans in Arizona’s state Senate ordered the audit at taxpayer expense of $150,000, but also funded through considerable private donations. A Florida-based cybersecurity contractor — with the confidence-inspiring name of Cyber Ninjas — was hired to examine and recount ballots and inspect voting equipment.

From the start, however, doubts and protests were raised about the claimed experience and nonpartisan credentials of Cyber Ninjas, the transparency of the audit and what was intended in conducting the recount at all.

“I’m very concerned this has ramifications for every state in the country,” Wyman told The Post, regarding the Arizona audit. “This is politicizing an administrative process with no real structure or laws or rules in place to guide how it goes.”

Wyman’s concerns are valid. Among the issues already cited in The Post and elsewhere:

News media access to observe audit activities has been severely limited and was initially denied by the state Senate. Those officials have now allowed one local reporter at a time to sit in the bleachers of the arena where the audit is ongoing.

Among the problems cited by one reporter from that vantage point: Ballot inspectors were seen using blue pens while examining ballots, instead of the required red pens, which are supposed to be used because vote-counting equipment would ignore any errant marks in red ink.

As part of the “bipartisan” team inspecting ballots, the effort allowed a former state lawmaker on the floor, Anthony Kern, a vocal Trump supporter who was present in Washington, D.C., during the U.S. Capitol riot and had tweeted after the election, “I know this election was filled with irregularities, no-transparency adjudications and even outright fraud.”

Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive is a Trump supporter, has no previous experience in ballot recounts or audits and has no certification from the bipartisan federal Election Assistance Commission, as were two companies hired to test election equipment and software after the election. Needless to say, their reviews found no irregularities.

Cyber Ninjas’ inexperience was also clear after it announced it planned to use UV light to inspect ballots for watermarks to authenticate them, until its officials were told that Arizona ballots don’t have watermarks.

The audit, of course, won’t change the results of the election, even if the former president — who is said to be fixated on the recount — hopes its the first in a line of dominoes. It won’t be, but Trump has relied on less to argue his Big Lie that the election was stolen from him.

So, what’s the danger in allowing such a recount?

Rather than foster voters’ confidence in elections, the haphazard, unprofessional and partisan endeavour can only further erode trust in election administration and in the state and county authorities who run our elections.

“Every time in the future the party in control loses, they will use some post-election administrative process to call it into question, and people will no longer have confidence that we have fair elections,” Wyman told The Post.

Nothing of value, no insight into election procedures or even areas of legitimate reform can come from this flawed and nakedly partisan review.

Other Republicans, including an election law attorney and former clerk for the Maricopa County Superior Court, writing in The Post, called for the audit to end.

“How could anyone expect a partisan process to yield a result more accurate and trusted than the one administered by professionals of all parties following established rules?” wrote Chris DeRose.

Our elections rely on procedures and practices that direct recounts by machine and by hand, that test and certify equipment, that check ballots and signatures against verified lists of voters and that review and certify elections. Further challenges like those authorized by Arizona’s Senate Republicans — subject to far less scrutiny and integrity — will only devalue future elections and sap voters’ confidence that their ballot has been counted and its choices made part of the record.

“Right now, in the heat of the moment, this probably feels really good for a lot of people frustrated with the results,” Wyman told The Post. “But it undermines confidence in fair elections, at a core foundational level. And it’s going to be hard to recover from it.”

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