As Arizona Senate GOP wraps up ballot review, other states begin theirs

The review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results ordered by Republicans in Arizona’s state senate is set to be made public on Friday afternoon and reaffirm President Biden’s victory in the state, according to a draft report obtained by CBS News. But Republicans in other states are moving forward with their own probes.

President Biden won Arizona by 10,457 votes and his victory was certified last year by state officials. A hand-count audit of the ballots after the election affirmed Mr. Biden’s win, and two audits of voting machines conducted earlier this year found no issues with the election equipment. 

Still, Senate Republicans in Arizona were intent on doing their own review. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann said that the goal wasn’t to overturn the 2020 election results, but to improve future electoral processes. Some of former President Trump’s allies, however, had been cheering the review and hoped it could be used to support claims of fraud that have been debunked.

The controversial review began in April, after the Arizona Senate, under a subpoena, gained access to Maricopa County’s voting equipment and 2.1 million ballots. Maricopa County is Arizona’s most populous county and was a longtime Republican stronghold, but President Biden carried it by about 45,000 votes. 

The Senate hired cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas to lead the review, though it had no experience with official election audits, and its CEO, Doug Logan, had promoted election conspiracy theories on social media. 

The review was widely criticized by non-partisan election experts, Democrats, including Arizona’s secretary of state, and Republicans in Maricopa County

“We know who won Maricopa County and we know who won Arizona because of the election officials throughout Arizona, and specifically in Maricopa County, following the law and doing such an incredible job,” said David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. He condemned the Maricopa County review and said it had been conducted with “inexperienced, incompetent and biased so-called auditors.”

But while the Arizona process is nearing an end, other state lawmakers are just ramping up investigations into the 2020 election. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin state Republicans are still pursuing inquiries into 2020, and they, too, say their efforts aren’t aimed at overturning the 2020 election. 

On Thursday, the Texas Secretary of State’s office announced that there will be an audit of the 2020 election in four counties, three of which were won by Mr. Biden. The news came just hours after former President Trump wrote a letter to Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott asking for an audit in Texas, a state that Mr. Trump won by more than 600,000 votes. 

Here’s where the GOP-led investigations stand in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.   

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers are backing multiple probes into the 2020 election. An investigation by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which was ordered by the GOP-controlled legislature, is expected to wrap up this fall. 

But the inquiry drawing more attention is the one led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos appointed Gableman in June to lead the review, which is expected to cost taxpayers about $680,000. Vos was not available for an interview before this story was published. 

President Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,600 votes. A voting equipment audit found no issues, and there have been few allegations of voter fraud: Out of 3.3 million votes cast, about a dozen cases have been referred to prosecutors, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission

The Trump campaign requested a recount in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, but the results affirmed Mr. Biden’s victory. The Trump campaign also used the recount to launch legal challenges, but lost in federal court and in the Wisconsin Supreme Court

To gather information for his investigation, Gableman visited Arizona and attended a symposium organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has been one of the leading advocates of election conspiracy theories that have been debunked.

Earlier this month, Gableman sent a letter to Wisconsin clerks asking them to preserve records related to the 2020 election. In a video released on Monday, Gableman suggested he’s willing to issue subpoenas. 

He also insisted that his investigation is not about “challenging the results of the 2020 election.” But he added that the “responsibility to demonstrate that our elections were conducted with fairness” rests on those who administered the election, and the “burden is not on the people to show in advance of an investigation that public officials and their contractors behaved dishonestly.”

“That statement there has overtones of McCarthyism,” said Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson. “Continuing this witch hunt, trying to undermine our election officials across our state, and trying to assign guilt, as he basically stated in this video, with no proof and no credibility.”

Andrew Hitt, the former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman, said Gableman’s investigation should focus on absentee voting procedures and the increase in voters who claimed they were indefinitely confined, which is usually a distinction for voters who may have health issues or a disability and are not required to show a photo ID. 

Hitt also pointed to Green Bay, where some voters filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission over grants the city accepted from the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the organization’s involvement with the election administration. Republicans have argued that the outside group wielded too much influence in the way Green Bay had conducted its election. The city responded in June, saying most of the grant money was used to make sure Green Bay had enough equipment and staff to run its election. 

Hitt conceded that he would be “surprised” if any focus on cyber issues or voting machines “bears any fruit.”

“I was specifically told by the Trump campaign, when I was (Wisconsin) Republican Party Chairman in the wake of the 2020 election, that I should not spend any time on cyber, I shouldn’t spend any time on electronic voting machines because that wasn’t an issue in Wisconsin,” Hitt said. 

Scott McDonell, the clerk of Dane County, said the constant investigations and suggestions of misconduct have taken a toll on clerks around the state. 

“They are very frustrated by this and they know that the system works because we have faith in it, and people participate in it,” McDonell said. “We try to do so much to be transparent and it just seems to get ignored.”

Pennsylvania

Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate are leading what they call a “full forensic investigation” of the state’s 2020 presidential election. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said in August that Arizona could be “a springboard” for Pennsylvania and that he’d spoken with former President Trump, who supported the effort. But he also told The Philadelphia Inquirer this month that he’s “not looking to Arizona,” and said this effort is “Pennsylvania-specific.”

Pennsylvania has already audited its election results: all counties were required to review a sample of ballots and 63 of the state’s 67 counties participated in a larger audit of 45,000 ballots that affirmed the accuracy of the 2020 election, which Mr. Biden won by about 80,000 votes. 

Last week, a state Senate committee approved a subpoena that asks for a broad range of election records, including the names of people who voted in last year’s presidential election, along with their birthday, address, driver’s license number and the last four digits of their Social Security Number. Republicans have said the information will not jeopardize voter secrecy and security, but Senate Democrats and the state’s Democratic Attorney General have filed lawsuits to block the release of that information.

“We are just very much concerned about compiling 7 million records, giving it to a handful of staff attorneys and the Senate Republican Caucus and then turning it over to a third party,” said Democratic Senate Leader Jay Costa. 

Republican state Senator Cris Dush, who is leading the review, said in a hearing last week that he’s in the process of vetting a third-party group to help. He argues the records subpoenaed by the Senate will help determine if there was fraud because there have been “questions regarding the validity of people who have voted.”

Costa said Pennsylvania has “a significant number of Republicans that are hell-bent on trying to undo and essentially decertify the 2020 election results here in Pennsylvania.” But GOP lawmakers strongly reject the idea that the investigation aims to overturn Mr. Biden’s win. 

“This investigation is not about overturning the results of any election, as some would suggest,” Dush said at a hearing on September 9. “That horse is out of the barn, as far as this investigation is concerned.”

Corman says the legislature doesn’t have the authority to change election results. His spokesman told CBS News that the investigation is “designed to restore faith in our elections and will be completed in a way that allows everyone to have confidence in the results.”

But Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican election lawyer, cast some doubt on the idea that restoring faith in elections will be the outcome of the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin reviews.  

“What’s troubling about Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is the pedigree of the proceedings. They are hard partisan efforts by one side, and those never turn out right,” Ginsberg said.