Trump supporter's nonprofit will help decide who counts ballots as election audit resumes
An organization run by an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump will help decide who counts ballots when the Arizona audit of 2020 election results resumes Monday.
An email obtained by The Arizona Republic shows a nonprofit started by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne will handle background checks, non-disclosure agreements and volunteer agreements of audit workers.
Fund the Audit by The American Project was established to raise money for the recount of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County's 2020 election. Byrne has pledged to put $1 million of his own money toward the effort.
The email, sent to more than two dozen state and county Republican party officials on Thursday, lays out the rules of a new vetting process for people who want to work at the audit.
In addition to passing a background check, workers must be registered Maricopa County voters and must have voted in the 2020 election, according to the email from the assistant to Ken Bennett, who serves as the Arizona Senate's audit liaison.
Neither Bennett nor the private contractors the Senate hired to conduct the recount have fully explained the requirements for working at the audit, or who they are seeking to serve as counters and observers.
The recruiting email is titled "Another Opportunity to Help with the Audit," and said "we have added a third shift and are vetting volunteers" to keep the audit running from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
The counting previously ended at 7 p.m., though it's not clear whether a third shift will actually happen.
The email emphasized the need for unpaid workers and did not mention the $15 per hour previously offered to ballot counters when the audit launched on April 23. It said the "counter process" had "migrated into volunteer mode."
The Arizona Republic previously found the effort to recruit ballot counters appears targeted at traditionally conservative groups — and some of the recruiters themselves have far-right political ties.
The email does not specify what led auditors to add new requirements for workers. It also does not indicate how the new requirements differ from the old.
"Because of increased security and other concerns, we have expanded the requirements to move potential volunteers toward the final steps of the intake process," Bennett's assistant, Julie Fisher, wrote in the email.
The email was sent to Arizona Republican Legislative District 12 Chair Mickie Niland; she forwarded it to 30 other Republican party officials, including 17 district party chairs.
Neither Bennett nor Fisher responded to emails and telephone calls about the email. They would not answer questions about partisan recruiting efforts or if similar emails were sent to Democratic party officials.
A representative for Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based company hired to lead the audit, also did not respond to questions about the recruiting email.
Cyber Ninjas' CEO, Doug Logan, is a Donald Trump supporter who has promoted election conspiracies on social media.
Count to resume after slow start
The hand recount of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County's 2020 election began April 23 at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum and was supposed to wrap up by May 14.
Counting, however, has gone slowly, with counting tables on the coliseum floor often at half capacity. About 500,000 ballots were counted when the initial lease on the stadium expired and auditors were temporarily forced to shut down.
Bennett said the audit would resume Monday with plans for an extra shift, extended hours and additional counters. But there was little noticeable activity at the coliseum before noon on Saturday.
Senate Republicans launched the audit after questioning the validity of the general election results in Maricopa County, where President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by 45,109 votes.
In January, they subpoenaed the county for all the ballots cast in the county's general election. They also demanded all of the county's voting machines, voter rolls, routers and tabulators used in the 2020 election.
The Senate will not provide an accounting of audit expenses, but election experts say the costs could run into the millions.
Several sites established by GOP operatives are soliciting money for the audit, Those include attorney and Trump supporter Sidney Powell, One America News Network personality Christina Bobb and Byrne.
The website for Byrne's nonprofit on Saturday said it had raised $1.7 million for the Maricopa County audit so far. Its stated goal is $2.8 million.
Requirements for counters detailed
The recruiting email directs volunteers who meet the new rules to use a FundtheAudit.com link "to fast track through the process."
The link allows them to access several documents they need to complete, including:
- Volunteer information form
- Volunteer agreement
- Non-disclosure agreement (NDA)
- Background check application
"Once your background check clears, we will reach out to you to set up your orientation and first volunteer shift," Fisher wrote in the email.
To get through the screening process, Fisher said volunteers must:
- Be registered to vote in Maricopa County.
- Have voted in the November 2020 election.
- Have no physical limitations that would hinder their work counting ballots, such as vision or hearing problems or any other physical limitation that could cause a hindrance. They also must be able to sit for 5 hours at a time doing repetitive activity.
- Agree to a temperature screening upon entrance and wear a mask or face shield while onsite.
- Submit to a background check going back 10 years, but not a credit check. A U.S. government-issued identification is required to be uploaded and a Social Security number provided. The completed application is sent directly to the background check company.
- Agree to abide by the Arizona Secretary of State Election Procedures Manual.
Robert Anglen investigates consumer issues for The Republic. If you're the victim of fraud, waste or abuse, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen.