There has been much controversy over the past two years about the 2020 election. Was it fair, with all or most of the votes cast and counted legitimately and accurately? Or did a number of factors combine to change the outcome, or at least cast doubt on the process? At this late date, it’s easy to ask “What difference does it make?” For better or worse, Joseph R. Biden is now president, and either he or Kamala Harris will likely continue to occupy the White House until January 2025. Nevertheless, as we enter into the 2022 election season, it is incumbent on all of us, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or independents who support the continuation of the democratic republic we call the United States of America, to learn from mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them going forward.
In the 2020 election we saw a number of anomalies we had never seen before. First, more ballots were cast by mail than ever before, in some part due to the fear, rational or otherwise, of exposure to the COVID19 coronavirus (Thank you, Wuhan Institute of Virology and Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army). Former President Jimmy Carter has spent many of his post-presidential years studying elections throughout the world and developing an organization to study and monitor elections of nations who invite his group to do so. One constant that group has discovered is that absentee voting by mail creates opportunities for fraud that then require extraordinary efforts to prevent. Those extraordinary efforts are often difficult to implement.
Last year suspicions occasioned by a number of factors prompted the Arizona Senate to implement a thorough audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. An audit is not merely a recount, though recounts are part of the auditing process. A forensic audit of an election is a thorough examination of the entire process, for the purpose of identifying anomalies, irregularities, opportunities for fraud, and other deviations from the democratic principle of “one person=one vote.” Unfortunately, many such deviations, some of them illegal, were found by the Arizona forensic audit.
One of those irregularities (and an opportunity for fraud) was the fact that many if not most mail-in ballots were counted regardless of whether the envelope it came in had a signature that matched the signature on the voter’s Registration Form or not. Under Arizona law, mail-in ballot envelopes must contain the voter’s signature, and it must closely match the signature on that voter’s Registration Form. Election workers who count those ballots are required by law to compare the envelope signature with that of the voter’s Registration, and if there’s a match, stamp the envelope “Approved and Verified”, and place the ballot in one location and the envelope in another. The auditors found 1,455 mail-in ballot envelopes with no signatures whatsoever, and 2,580 envelopes with either scribbles or other marks that did not match the voter’s Registration at all. It appeared that the election workers did not bother to attempt to match the signatures, but merely stamped all ballot envelopes “Approved and Verified” automatically. That created a situation ripe for the type of fraud known as ‘ballot-box stuffing.’
Cases of actual, proven ballot-box stuffing were evidenced by the fact that 16,938 voters were found to have cast two ballots each for a total of 33,876 votes, 188 voters were found to have cast 3 ballots each, for a total of 564 votes, and 4 brazen fraudsters were found to have cast 4 votes each, for a total of 16 votes. Excluding other irregularities, the fraudulent act of voting more than once yielded 17,326 illegitimate votes, significantly more than enough to change the result of a presidential election which Joe Biden ostensibly won by little over 10,000 votes. Significantly, 25% of the duplicate votes were received from November 4-9, after the election.
This phenomenon of voters casting more than one vote each was made possible by the fact that 17,126 voters were sent two or more mail-in ballots. Interestingly, that is the number of voters who cast more than one ballot.
In addition, 23,344 ballots were cast ostensibly by voters who had moved away from their address of registration, possibly voting at both their old and new addresses. 5,477 voters voted in more than one county in Arizona (in addition to those who voted more than once in Maricopa County), and 292 ballots were cast in the names of deceased voters.
In short, many more illegitimate votes were cast than the margin by which Biden won the election in Maricopa County, and hence in Arizona. Who really won the legitimate vote in Maricopa County? The likely illegitimate ballots were commingled with the legitimate ones, so no one can truly answer that question. Was Trump lying when he claims that he was cheated out of victory in Arizona? The evidence shows that there was a lot of cheating going on in Maricopa County during the election. Trump’s inference that it changed the result of the election is a reasonable one based on that evidence. It is also possible (but highly unlikely) that there were as many fraudulent votes for Trump as for Biden, votes which would have canceled each other out and not changed the result. The fact that questionable ballots were mixed in with known or presumed legitimate ones means that we’ll never know who really won.
More disturbing information found by the audit was the fact that over a million files in the Elections Management System, the computer system used to run the election, were deleted, many on the day before the Maricopa County internal audit was to begin, in February 2021. The timing of those deletions is suspicious, to say the least. The fact that many Maricopa County election workers logged in using shared usernames and passwords, meant that no one person could be held responsible for any of the deletions performed by that individual. What software or data was in those deleted files?
A similar forensic audit was performed in Antrim County, Michigan, immediately after the first election results came in in November 2020. That audit found vote-switching software in a computer system from the same company that provided the system used by Maricopa County in the 2020 election. The phenomenon of ballots being clearly marked for Trump/Pence being tabulated as votes for Biden/Harris was found to have greatly changed the results in Antrim County, a small, rural, relatively conservative county in northern Michigan. The cooperation by the election workers there with that audit contributed greatly to a speedy resolution of the controversy.
Another, more blatantly egregious anomaly was that in Maricopa County, election workers locked out poll-watchers from the tabulation on Election Night, in clear violation of Arizona law. What they did in there before the poll-watchers gained access is anybody’s guess. When poll-watchers finally did gain access, one of them reported that she watched ballots that were clearly marked for Trump/Pence fed into tabulating machines, which tabulated them for Biden/Harris. That is very strong circumstantial evidence of the presence of vote-switching software. Unfortunately, all direct evidence of that software, if any, was deleted anonymously before the auditors could discover it. The lack of cooperation and deliberate obstruction by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors certainly casts a pall of suspicion on their behavior.
In summary, the forensic audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County found many anomalies, irregularities, and opportunities for fraud, and a significant amount of actual fraud, enough to call the results into question. With that amount of fraud, no one can confidently say that one candidate or the other “won.” The auditors and their legal counsel have presented the Arizona Legislature with a number of recommendations, ranging from proposed legislation to criminal referrals to the Attorney General’s Office. The results of the 2020 election cannot be overturned at this late date, even if we did have evidence of who won. One thing is certain, however. If we do not make sure that our election process is free, fair, and transparent, our future elections will be no more meaningful than those of North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela or the former Soviet Union.
John W. Major is an attorney working in the public sector in the White Mountains of Arizona. The opinions expressed are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.