What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Exploring the ‘unprecedented,’ secretive efforts to review millions of ballots in Arizona

Though the 2020 presidential election is six months behind us, a review of nearly 2.1 million ballots in Arizona's largest county is currently underway, ordered by the state's Republican-led Senate. Stephanie Sy explores the growing controversy and what it means for our democracy with Tammy Patrick of the non-partisan Democracy Fund.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Although the 2020 presidential election is six months behind us, a review of nearly 2.1 million ballots in Arizona's largest county is currently underway.

    Stephanie Sy explores the growing controversy and what it means for our democracy.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Thanks, Judy.

    We explore the questions and concerns around the Maricopa County review ordered by the state's Republican-led Senate with Tammy Patrick of the nonpartisan Democracy Fund. She previously served as a Maricopa County election official for more than a decade.

    Tammy, thank you so much for joining us.

    I just want to remind viewers that Joe Biden did beat Donald Trump here in Arizona in November. But, like the former president, many Republicans here have been calling that outcome into question really since Election Day.

    Is that the basis of this recount?

  • Tammy Patrick:

    I believe that it is the basis of the recount.

    And it's an unfounded basis, because Arizona already audited their ballots, and they have already done all their hand-counting and made sure that, in fact, it was the correct outcome. It's been standard process and procedures in Arizona for more than a decade.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    So, this is really a process that was because the Republican-led Senate in Arizona decided they wanted to do this. But is it an unprecedented review? And is it legal?

  • Tammy Patrick:

    We have never seen anything like this in our country before.

    And I reached out to individuals that deal with democracy issues and elections globally, and they have never seen it. So, it truly is unprecedented. And we have used that word a lot in the last 15 months.

    Not only is it the case the Senate has stepped forward earlier this year and asked for a forensic audit to be done of Maricopa County voting equipment, which was done and found no issues. They found no fraud. They found no problems.

    Then the Senate went to court and asked to obtain the actual ballots that were voted in Maricopa County. That is something that is outside of any statute in the entire country as to how this should play out, what rules and regulations and guidelines need to be followed.

    And so we truly are in unchartered waters.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And we learned that the Justice Department, an official there has sent a letter to the Arizona Senate Republicans, concerned that there may be violations of federal law here.

    But in any case, they were able to obtain millions of Arizonans' ballots, Maricopa County, the largest county, most populous in Arizona. They also turned over voting machines. They then turned those ballots and machines over to a private contractor called Cyber Ninjas.

    Tammy, what do we know about Cyber Ninjas and what they're doing with these ballots and equipment?

  • Tammy Patrick:

    So, I have been working in this space for almost 20 years now, and I was not familiar with Cyber Ninjas, nor was anyone that I'm associated with or that I know.

    So, there were a lot of questions to ask. We started asking those questions weeks ago. And it took a court order to get and obtain some of the procedures and policies that are being done right now down at the Veterans Coliseum.

    This is really important for people to understand that, under normal circumstances, everything that happens to your ballot is publicly available as far as what the rules and guidelines are. The laws are laid out. The procedures manual in Arizona lays out how are audits to be conducted, how are votes to be counted.

    But this is something outside of that. So we obtained the procedures, and there were a lot of things included in there that raised many questions for election experts. And, also, it was very questionable about what was omitted or what was excluded in those documents.

    So there are a lot of unanswered questions here. And, unfortunately, those conducting this review have, in fact, called for the courts to maintain a secrecy around the materials and their processes. They have put parameters around who can observe that are extralegal and extraordinary in the election space.

    Normally, we want individuals to observe and be able to be the eyes and the ears of the voting public in the room to be able to ensure that there's integrity to the process.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Well, Tammy, what is the potential damage to election integrity here? Are other states looking at Arizona to follow its playbook here?

  • Tammy Patrick:

    We have seen in the last couple of days issues percolating around the country, with grassroots organizations now calling into question the outcome and the legitimacy of the elections in their own state, whether it was individuals in New Hampshire or California or elsewhere, where they're now saying they, too, want a forensic audit, like Maricopa County.

    And it's critical to understand this is not about individuals and election officials wanting to not be transparent about our elections. That's the core of a healthy democracy. It's about having the election certified and validated and then moving on and moving forward, and not continuing to relitigate and rehash, literally, the elections.

    The other challenge here is that the public has not been told the truth. They have not been told the truth that last year was the most secure, most observed, most transparent, most audited election in U.S. history with the most number of voters. That is the truth.

    It had integrity, and we should have confidence in it. But, instead, they have been fed mis- and dis-information that's been propagated on social media and within echo chambers in chat rooms to call into question existing laws, spurring legislators to take these types of activities, like we're seeing in Arizona with this review, and other legislators to introduce legislation to change the options that voters have in their states.

    And this is happening all across the country, hundreds of bills being introduced to change the options that the voters have in those states.

    Unfortunately, there's only one or two very good, positive stories to tell, like in Kentucky, where they had bipartisan bills to codify some of the changes they made last year to give voters new options. But more often than not, it's being used to restrict what voters can do in order to make their voices be heard.

    And I hope voters are paying attention. All across the country, remember this moment. Remember what your legislators are doing when you personally go and try and vote by mail or try and vote early in person and find out that the rules have changed.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The latest rules to change, of course, in Florida, with Governor Ron DeSantis there signing what voting rights advocates say is a restrictive voting law.

    Tammy Patrick with the Democracy Fund, thank you so much.

  • Tammy Patrick:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment