U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Oct. 7, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The hearing was held to examine a Republican-led Arizona audit of the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa. (Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — It didn’t take long for Thursday’s congressional hearing about a controversial ballot review in Arizona to demonstrate the persistent misinformation about the validity of last year’s presidential election.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, asked his colleague, Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, if he accepts the findings of the GOP-led review of ballots in Maricopa County. That so-called audit did not dispute the state’s certified result that President Joe Biden won Arizona’s electoral votes.
“Who won the election in Arizona? Donald Trump or Joe Biden?” Raskin asked Biggs.
“We don’t know,” Biggs incorrectly claimed, adding: “There are a lot of issues with this election that took place.”
Raskin expressed exasperation as he resumed his opening statement to the rest of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“There’s the problem that we have,” Raskin said. “Donald Trump refused to accept the results. And unfortunately, we have one of the world’s great political parties, which has followed him off of the ledge of this electoral lunacy, and it’s dangerous for democracy.”
The nearly four-hour U.S. House hearing was the first public effort by Congress to question several key Arizona officials and other election experts about the questionable procedures involved in the months-long, GOP-led ballot review and the ramifications for public faith in the election process.
Absent from that interrogation was Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm that was hired to conduct the ballot review.
Logan told the committee this week that he was refusing to testify, a decision that comes after his company also has repeatedly refused to cooperate with document requests from lawmakers in D.C. and in Arizona.
During Thursday’s hearing, the witness table included a name tag and empty seat reserved for Logan, and Democrats berated him for declining to participate. Committee leaders have not yet said whether they will subpoena Logan to compel his testimony, which is within their power.
“Mr. Logan’s refusal to answer questions under oath is just one more sign that the dark-money-fueled audit that he led should never have happened in the first place,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the oversight panel.
County supervisors testify
Instead of hearing from Logan, legislators questioned two Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors who opposed the “audit,” Chairman Jack Sellers and Vice Chairman Bill Gates.
Sellers and Gates defended the county’s lengthy planning efforts to ensure last year’s elections were safe and secure. They described the 2020 general election as the most-scrutinized election in the county’s history — followed by a drive by fellow Republicans to discredit those results, the county’s auditing process, and the level of cooperation by Maricopa officials.
Gates described how county officials went to court to get direction on whether they could in fact turn the ballots over to a third-party group like Cyber Ninjas — and even after they sought an expedited ruling, the state Senate was one vote away from holding them in contempt.
“That was wrong,” Gates said. “It was also wrong once they had the ballots, in my opinion, to conduct an audit with auditors who had no elections experience, and then also auditors who clearly had a preconceived notion.”
“I don’t have a problem with audits,” he added. “I had concerns with this particular audit.”
Also testifying was Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state who served as a liaison between the Arizona state Senate and the companies hired for the ballot review.
Bennett asserted that the aim of the “audit” was simply to verify that official election procedures were followed, and noted that the most “significant” finding was that the hand count very closely matched the official results in the presidential race.
Bennett also criticized what he described as a lack of cooperation by county officials in the ballot review.
“Not many people like to have their work checked, but audits are much better with the cooperation of the auditee,” he said.
Several Republicans on the panel expanded on that line of attack.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., raised questions about county officials blocking access to routers. Gates responded that there were cybersecurity concerns with allowing access to those devices, and costs associated with having to eventually put the county’s network back together.
An agreement was eventually reached that will allow the county to keep its routers out of the hands of Cyber Ninjas, as the Arizona Mirror has reported. Instead, it will involve the appointment of a special master to answer any questions related to the routers and their data.
Other Republicans on the panel used their time to repeat misinformation about the 2020 election results.
Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said he believes the 2020 election “was indeed compromised,” and that a full investigation would “take time.”
“Yet as of January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was the inaugurated president,” Higgins said. “Listen good: On January 20, 2025, we’re gonna fix that. And Democrats will have an opportunity to deal with the re-elected and newly inaugurated President Donald J. Trump again, and I have no doubt that my Democratic colleagues across the aisle will object.”
Election experts have expressed alarm that the ongoing unsubstantiated claims of voting impropriety have undermined confidence in elections across the country.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., asked Gates if he believes the audit was about restoring faith in elections, as supporters have claimed.
For some involved, they may have been focused on ensuring any lingering questions about the election were answered, Gates said.
“But unfortunately, I do believe that a lot of people who led this, that was not their major focus,” Gates said. “Instead, I think it was more on raising doubts, and I think we’re seeing that again today, quite frankly.”
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