Ex-lawmaker who rallied for 'Stop the Steal' removed from Arizona audit
A former state lawmaker who was at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection is no longer being allowed to count and inspect ballots at the Arizona election audit.
Anthony Kern spent a few days working for auditors conducting a recount of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County before contractors removed him because of "optics."
"He was here for two or three days," Ken Bennett, the Arizona Senate's audit liaison, said Thursday. "Once it was identified that that wasn't the best optics, I think the contractor removed him from the counting tables."
Kern's name also appeared on the 2020 ballots he was counting.
His ouster came after an Arizona Republic reporter was escorted from the audit site for photographing Kern at the ballot counting tables and posting the image on Twitter.
Reporter Ryan Randazzo was observing the audit along with two other Arizona journalists on April 30 when he was told his press privileges were being revoked.
He has since been allowed to return to Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the audit is being conducted.
Kern was first spotted counting ballots on April 23. He was last seen working on the audit floor on May 3, media reports show.
Reached on Friday, Kern would not comment.
“You guys have your own narrative. No, I’m not going to talk to you,” he said.
Kern made no secret of his involvement in the audit.
“Very exciting to be involved in Arizona's massive and historic election audit which begins today. All of us should want fair and honest elections in our great State! The nation is watching Arizona!" he said in an April 22 tweet.
Kern, a staunch supporter of former President Trump, has rallied at "Stop the Steal" events, promoting unproven conspiracy theories that the presidential election was rigged. He was photographed on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with rioters.
On the ballot as a Trump elector, and as candidate for state House
Kern ran for re-election to the Arizona House of Representatives in District 20 and placed last in the three-way race, losing his seat.
The Senate's recount initially was not supposed to include any legislative races, only races Democrats won at the top of the ballot — the race for president and U.S. Senate. However, Bennett said Thursday that could change.
“We are looking with other companies to do a machine tabulation of all the races on the ballot," Bennett said.
In addition to his own race, Kern was nominated by the Republican Party as a presidential elector, and his name appeared on the ballot alongside Trump’s and the party’s 10 other electors.
Bennett said Thursday Kern could not change ballots or influence the count because he never was alone with them.
"He can't be changing the numbers any more than anyone else," Bennett said.
Bennett said Senate President Karen Fann, who authorized the audit and initiated a legal fight to obtain Maricopa County ballots and election equipment, was not involved in hiring Kern. He said Fann was concerned about his presence.
Kern was hired by one of the key contractors conducting the recount, Bennett said.
"Everybody is very concerned about whether it's appropriate for him to be counting the ballots," Bennett said May 7. "We're not counting the race that he was involved in, and he can count the presidential and U.S. Senate races as well as anybody can. But if the look is concerning to people, then I think that's been taken care of.”
Fann didn't publicly object to Kern's presence until after April 30. Instead, she defended removing Randazzo from the coliseum by falsely claiming that he had violated a court order.
Fann maintained a judge's ruling prohibited reporters from photographing ballots and the faces of workers.
The judge's ruling, however, did not apply to the media. And the ballot Kern was observing in the photograph was not readable.
"The Arizona Republic never agreed to obscure faces," Greg Burton, Republic executive editor, said on April 30. "The Senate's own livestream on the floor shows faces of everybody involved. We agreed not to show ballot details, which we have adhered to, but clearly, you can't take a picture in a room full of ballots without showing ballots at a distance. Anyone looking at the live feed gets the same view."
Concerns over partisanship in the counting process
Kern is not the only person whose presence at the audit has raised concerns of partisanship in the counting process.
A Republic investigation found the effort to recruit ballot counters appears targeted in at traditionally conservative groups — and some of the recruiters themselves have far-right political ties.
One recruiter is a retired police officer who works as an investigator for an extremist right-wing group that warns of "the growing threat of the Marxist and the Islamic movement in America."
Another person involved in recruitment used her brief stint as the county Republican Party chairwoman to try to "get Trump back in office" by protesting the results of one of the county's prior audits.
Other Republican lawmakers who supported "Stop the Steal" and touted election conspiracy theories also have appeared on the coliseum floor during the count. Those include U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs and state Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley.
Biggs, who got a tour from Bennett, also was on the November ballot, winning reelection in Arizona's fifth Congressional District.
Ali Alexander, a leader of "Stop the Steal" election protests nationally, singled out Biggs and fellow U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for helping to make January's pro-Trump gathering in Washington happen.
Biggs strenuously denied any connection with the riot that followed.
Finchem was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and took photos of the U.S. Capitol as rioters gathered on the steps. "What happens when the People feel that they have been ignored and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud," he tweeted that day.
Finchem later said he did not learn of the incursion until hours later, but a review of his emails and texts by The Republic contradicted his claims. Those showed he was "swept up in the crowd" and was warned by "Stop the Steal" organizers that protesters were "storming the capitol."
"I don't think it safe," an organizer told Finchem as he neared the Capitol.
Finchem has said publicly that an organization he founded is paying for additional security at the audit site.
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.
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