PHOENIX (AP) – On the floor of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Sir Charles Barkley once thumped basketball and Hulk Hogan fought for King Kong Bundy, 46 tables are arranged in neat rows, each with a Lazy Susan in the center.
At the tables sit several dozen people, mostly Republicans, who spend hours watching ballots spin past, photographing them, or inspecting them closely. They count them and check to see if there are any signs that they were flown hidden from South Korea. A few weeks ago, they stopped them from ultraviolet light and looked for a watermark that was rumored to be a sign of fraud.
This is Arizona̵
And yet, Republicans in this aging arena are searching for evidence to support claims they already believe.
The effort has alerted spokesmen, election administrators and civil rights lawyers at the US Department of Justice, which in the past week demanded a confirmation that federal legislation on security and anti-intimidation is being followed. Senate President Karen Fann responded Friday by telling the department that it had nothing to worry about.
“They lost, and they can’t get over it,” said Grant Woods, a former Republican Arizona attorney who became a Democrat during Trump’s presidency. “And they will not get over it because they will continue to sow doubt about the election.”
The 2.1 million ballots were already counted by Maricopa County election officials in November, validated in a partial hand count and certified by Gov. Doug Ducey. Two additional revisions confirmed no issues. No evidence of fraud sufficient to invalidate Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona and Maricopa County has been found.
Counters are still paid $ 15 an hour to examine each poll, examine leaflets, and take close-ups looking for machine-labeled ballots and bamboo fibers in the paper. The reason appears to be to test a conspiracy theory that a South Korean plane delivered false polls to Phoenix airport shortly after the election.
When the recount started, the ballots were viewed under ultraviolet light to check watermarks. A theory popular with QAnon supporters says Trump secretly watermarked mail ballots to catch cheating.
There are no watermarks on ballot papers in Maricopa County. The effort has since been abandoned.
Despite their obvious biased prejudices, the auditors insist that they can be trusted because they are running an independent and transparent operation. Yet they are recruiting from right-wing groups. They tried to block media access. They fought in court not to disclose written procedures they use to count votes and keep ballot papers safe. They lost.
And it is completely unclear who pays for it and how much it costs. Taxpayers through the Senate operating budget flipped $ 150,000 in, but the CEO of the small company that led the audit has acknowledged that it does not cover costs.
Fundraisers, one from the conservative One America News Network and another tied to Patrick Byrne, a former CEO who promoted election conspiracies, raise hundreds of thousands more.
Critics call the unpublished private funding a giant red flag – the audit could be funded by foreign governments or people with a share in the result as avid Trump supporters.
Ken Bennett, a former Republican secretary of state who serves as the Senate’s liaison to the auditors, rejected growing criticism.
“I think Republicans can count votes by ballot as well as Democrats or libertarians or independents,” Bennett said.
The revision has its own Twitter account, and it has taken on a Trumpian air that uses hyperbole and sharp attacks on Democrats and journalists.
“THE BIGGEST REVISION IN GALAXY CONTINUES !!” the account tweeted in capital letters on May 4th.
All of this is made possible by the GOP-controlled state Senate, which issued an unprecedented subpoena demanding access to all the ballots and machines that counted them in Maricopa County, home to the Phoenix area and 60% of Arizona voters.
After months of legal battles with the GOP-controlled county inspectorate, which maintains that the election was working well, the Senate got hold of the ballot papers. This happened despite repeated revisions and a hand count of a sample that showed the results to be accurate.
Fann, the Republican Senate president, again insisted Saturday that the revision has nothing to do with Trump and everything to do with the large segment of GOP voters he convinced he actually won despite lack of evidence.
“Everyone keeps saying, oh, there’s no evidence, and it’s like, yeah, let’s do the audit, and if there’s nothing there, then we say look, there was nothing there,” Fann said. “If we find something, and it’s a big if, but if we find something, we can say, OK, we have evidence, and how do we solve it now?”
The polls were handed down to Cyber Ninjas, a small cybersecurity company whose president, Doug Logan, is a Trump supporter who has shared foreign conspiracy theories about the election.
This concern continues to the counters themselves. Anthony Kern, a former Republican lawmaker who was photographed in confined areas outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 uprising, has been seen several times and agree.
The revision only tells the presidential race and the U.S. Senate contest, two contests won by Democrats. Down-polls in which Republicans fared better are not reviewed.
The operation has been slowed down by errors and operational problems. The first day, a reporter noticed counters using blue pens, which are banned in voice counting rooms because they can be read by machines. This led to a court order requiring only red or green pens.
Staffing has also been an issue. Despite promises that an army of counters is imminent, only about a third of the 46 counting tables are used.
On Thursday afternoon, there were only 16 counting tables and 12 photography tables in use, divided into red, blue, green and yellow color-coded teams.
The fastest tables used approx. 6 seconds per Vote. A particularly slow green table spent 20 seconds or more on each one. So much time passes between batches of ballot papers that half or more of the counters at any given time did nothing.
The Senate rented the Colosseum for four weeks as part of a revision that was to take “about 60 days.” But with a week left before the auditors have to leave the arena for a number of high schools, only about 10 percent of the votes have been counted.
Bennett said the count could continue in July.