Experts warn against ‘sham election audits’ movement | Tuesday Morning Coffee

July 20, 2021 7:18 am

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks during a Capitol news conference on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 (Capital-Star photo).

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.<br<
Experts from four national nonprofits — the Brennan Center for JusticeProtect DemocracyFair Fight Action and States United Action — gathered last week at an online panel discussion to examine the latest worrisome trend in undermining democracy: illegitimate election recounts.

As Darrell Ehrlick, of our sibling site, The Daily Montananfirst reported, all four experts warned that conspiracy theories, disinformation and outright lies can spread through social media and other means to undermine legitimate elections. Those spreading the disinformation also prey upon people who might be unfamiliar with the process of government, they warn.

Protect DemocracyFair Fight Action and States United Action have also launched a new website ( to help people understand the differences between real election audits and “fake” or “sham” audits, Ehrlick noted.

All four speakers at last week’s event agreed that the audit taking in place in Maricopa County, Ariz., is not credible — because of the lack of experience of the company conducting it, the methods that are being used, and the lack of transparency. They also said that other auditing, recounting and canvassing done through the State of Arizona long ago confirmed the election’s legitimacy.

Instead, they say the Arizona “audit” is just the beginning of what is likely going to be a growing trend that will pit career election officials against politicians and start-up companies claiming to be able to conduct forensic and large-scale audits. The speakers warned that without better public education, Americans could become confused about, and lose confidence in, what is actually a very safe, secure and — above all — accurate election process.

Moreover, the “spillover” effect from the recount in Arizona is giving momentum to groups in several states, including Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin to audit election results that were certified and validated months ago.

Voters line up at a polling place on Election Day. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, officials in two of three counties targeted in a planned ‘forensic’ investigation of results of the 2020 general election and 2021 primary, are pushing back against that effort.

Late last week, York County Commissioners – two Republicans and one Democrat – responded to a letter from state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, which requested that York, Tioga, and Philadelphia counties –  provide election documents, materials and equipment for that investigation, the Capital-Star’s Cassie Miller reported.

York County officials questioned the legality of Mastriano’s request, and noted that participating would likely result in the decertification of the county’s election equipment, according to the Associated Press.

The letter from York County came just a day after officials in Tioga County said they would not comply with Mastriano’s request. The GOP lawmaker had given counties until July 31 to respond.

Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors hired by the Arizona senate, June 9, 2021, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, Arizona.

During last week’s discussion, Joanna Lydgate, founder and chief executive of States United Action, said that the Arizona Senate audit is being led by a group called “Cyber Ninjas,” which is not accredited and lacks experience in election auditing.

Moreover, the audit is only focused on Maricopa County, not other counties, and there’s been no examination of the entire ballot — for example state races — just an evaluation of the presidential tallies, Erhlick reported.

“The voters have spoken, it’s just that these politicians don’t like what the voters said,” Lydgate said.

The concern among some officials is that as the fear and disinformation spreads, it will lead others to take action that could mirror the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

“The specifics differ from state to state but they are all based on the lie,” Lydgate said. That lie has been that the elections were unsafe or even riddled with fraud.

The new website also has tools for tracing the individuals and groups that are behind the audit efforts in the different states, as well as the money they are raising.

“This is an intentional disinformation strategy to undermine democracy,” Erosa Osa, the research and policy director for Fair Fight Action, said, according to Ehrlick. “They’re weaponizing sham election reviews.”

Despite the lack of evidence of genuine voter fraud, lawmakers in Arizona have used that disinformation and the concerns to which they have given rise to pass more restrictive voter laws.

The Arizona Legislature also has taken power away from the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees statewide elections.

“Not since the Jim Crow era have we seen such blatant tactics,” Osa said. “The more times we hear something, even those things that have been debunked, the more likely we are to believe it. That’s why we have to repeatedly push back and debunk these.”

She added that the challenge for media is to debunk the disinformation without also unintentionally amplifying the message.

“The use of even the term ‘audit’ is an attempt to make it seem legitimate,” Gowri Ramachandran, the counsel for election security at the Brennan Center said, according to Ehrlick.

According to Ramachandran, industry-accepted audits look much different, including a wide sampling of ballots, setting out a transparent list of auditing characteristics. That includes how many ballots will be sampled and from where they are taken. Also, observers and participants from many different organizations and political affiliations are asked to participate.

“This firm already claimed the 2020 election was stolen before it started conducting the audit,” Ramachandran said. “It’s totally lacking in competence and legitimacy. This doesn’t look anything like a real audit.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
With a new approach to passing laws, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature are now looking to limit the state’s top health official through the constitutional amendment process. The latest effort to avoid a gubernatorial veto comes from Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Fayette, who announced plans for an amendment in a Friday memo to colleagues that would curtail the Pennsylvania secretary of health’s emergency powers, Marley Parish reports.

Former state Rep. Rick Saccone, of Allegheny County, who lost a nationally watched race for Congress in 2018, and who was photographed outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, is eyeing a Republican bid for lieutenant governor in 2022, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

Faculty and grad students at the University of Pittsburgh will continue their unionization push with a vote to join the United SteelworkersCity Paper also reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Bob Lewis, a columnist for our sibling site, the Virginia Mercurylooks at the GOP’s test-marketing of its anti-crime agenda in the Old Dominion.

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney won’t declare a state of emergency over rising gun violence in the city, the Inquirer reports.

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, has called for blocking federal funding for PennDOT if it tolls roads and bridges, the Post-Gazette reports.

Workers at a Dauphin County nursing home are among those planning to walk off the job for one day next week to protest starting pay and staffing levelsPennLive reports.

During a stop in the Lehigh Valley on Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf highlighted a Bethlehem business incubator that’s helping small businesses to grow bigger, the Morning Call reports.

The Citizens’ Voice focuses on a summer school that’s helping students make up for learning loss during the pandemic.

City & State Pa. goes deep on state Rep. Ed Gainey’s, D-Allegheny, campaign for Pittsburgh mayor.

PoliticsPA rounds up GOP fundraising in the race for U.S. Senate, with candidate Sean Parnell, of Pittsburgh, taking in $560K during the second quarter, while Kathy Barnette, of Montgomery County, reported raising $595K.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County will offer mobile ticketing starting next monthWESA-FM reports.

Illinois blazed the trail for voting from jail — will other states follow suit? takes up the question.

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What Goes On
11 a.m, Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Joint hearing of the Senate Appropriations and Education committees.
1 p.m., G50 Irvis: House State Government Committee, Subcommittee on Government Operations; public hearing on emergency procurement.
2 p.m., Landenberg Pa.: House Democratic Policy Committee; hearing on the economic impact of the mushroom industry.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
12 p.m.: Golf outing for Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Harrisburg mayoral candidate Wanda Williams
Hit both events, and give at the max, and you’re out $10,000 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
It’s a little overcast this morning as I write, so here’s a blast of sunshine from singer/songwriter Armandhino. It’s “Regueira Praiana.”

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link
Baltimore got past Tampa 6-1 on Monday. The Os are still entirely awful, but a win’s a win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.