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National Opinion: How Arizona should conduct an audit (if it must)
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National Opinion: How Arizona should conduct an audit (if it must)

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

The “audit” of all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County during the 2020 presidential election has been a sham thus far. Putting aside the legitimate question of whether such an audit is even needed in the first place, this audit is being led, funded and supported by people with documented histories of promoting the falsehood that the Arizona vote was stolen from former President Donald Trump, and has been beset by problems.

A private cybersecurity firm, Cyber Ninjas, is overseeing the management of the process with scant election experience — and with a chief executive who has echoed false claims about fraud in the election.

There are allegations that the audit has already violated federal and state laws governing the confidentiality and security of ballots. As a result, last week a Maricopa County Superior judge ordered Cyber Ninjas to publicly release its procedures for guaranteeing voter privacy, and a group of election integrity experts wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that it deploy federal monitors to Arizona to monitor the audit.

Post-election audits can, theoretically, be a great way to help confirm whether votes are recorded and tallied accurately, which can in turn help boost public confidence in elections. But to have any hope of inspiring confidence in this audit, rather than legitimatizing conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, several significant changes need to be made immediately.

The audit needs to be stopped until it has the proper people and procedures in place. As other election integrity experts have noted, many actions taken thus far have diverged sharply from widely accepted practices on how to best audit elections.

The audit needs to be overseen by people with significant experience conducting election audits, who are impartial, not a company without experience whose founder believes Joe Biden stole the election. The Arizona State Senate previously passed up an opportunity to hire an experienced auditing company to conduct this ballot review. The State Senate should revisit this decision immediately if it hopes to lend the “audit” any legitimacy and help ensure that it is conducted accurately and professionally.

The audit should be as accessible as possible to the public, including journalists, nonpartisan observers, election administrators and voting machine experts. This informs the public about what is being done to ensure the accuracy of the election and helps assure the public that the audit is being conducted in a proper manner. If mistakes are made during the audit, this can increase the likelihood that they are caught, explained and corrected.

Finally, the audit should be undertaken in a manner that is as nonpolitical as possible. In addition to having the audit overseen by someone who believes the election was stolen, the audit is being funded with donations from people with similar views, livestreamed by One American News, which regularly featured claims that the November election was fraudulent and carried out by teams of counters through a vetting process that has not been fully disclosed.

Proper post-election audits help secure elections from foreign and domestic interference because they can provide voters with confidence that a counting error or malicious attack did not change the outcome of an election. But that assumes that those carrying out the audit know what they are doing, are operating in good faith and are following all applicable laws and procedures.

None of these things are apparent thus far in Arizona’s audit. Until they are, such an exercise is more likely to subvert, not protect, the conduct of free and fair elections.

David Levine is the Elections Integrity Fellow for the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan, transatlantic initiative housed within the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He previously administered elections, most recently as the Ada County, Idaho, elections director.

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