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GOP officials in Arizona’s largest county affirm 2020 election was secure in rebuttal to Trump claims

Elections workers work to adjudicate ballots at the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix on Nov. 5, 2020. (Caitlin O’Hara for The Washington Post)

The November 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county was administered properly and not marred by fraud, the Republican-led local government concluded in a lengthy report released Wednesday. The 93-page document debunks, one by one, vague allegations of potential problems previously identified by the GOP-led state Senate and championed by former president Donald Trump and his allies.

County officials said the blunt rebuttal, released on the eve of the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, was intended to highlight the ongoing dangers of unfounded claims of mass election fraud.

“We have seen how people react when they think that an election has been stolen. They storm the U.S. Capitol. They threaten to kill and hang and shoot election workers. And they called other Americans traitors,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates (R) said Wednesday. “The American family cannot stand for that. I will not stand for that.”

Arizona has been at the forefront of Trump’s ongoing efforts to challenge the legitimacy of President Biden’s 2020 victory. The GOP-led state Senate hired private contractors to perform a hand recount of nearly 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, as well as to review how the county’s election was conducted.

In September, the Senate announced its contractors’ recount reconfirmed the accuracy of the county’s tally — which showed that Biden edged out Trump in the large and diversifying county by more than 45,000 votes, helping him win the key swing state. But the Senate’s contractors also identified various potential problems, including suggesting that tens of thousands of ballots might have been improperly accepted and counted, and that county officials might have improperly deleted data after the election.

Trump claimed the findings proved his false assertions that the election was stolen, and he and his supporters have been leaning on Arizona’s attorney general to lodge criminal charges as a result.

The new report, produced by the Maricopa County Elections Department, concluded that the work of the private contractors hired by the GOP-led state Senate amounted to “faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions” and was based on “a lack of understanding of federal and state election laws.”

It found that of the claims made by the Senate and its contractors, 22 were “misleading,” 41 were “inaccurate” and 13 were “demonstrably false.”

The report found that even the contractors’ hand recount, which involved weeks of work by dozens of workers in colorful shirts toiling on the floor of a former NBA basketball arena, was marred by problems.

The result of the flawed process by election novices, the county found, was to falsely malign county employees, call into question the validity of legitimate votes and damage the confidence of the electorate.

A spokeswoman for Arizona Senate President Karen Fann (R) declined to comment on the findings. A representative for Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm hired to lead the review, did not respond to a request for comment.

The county released the report ahead of a rally planned by Trump in Arizona on Jan. 15. On Tuesday, Trump abruptly canceled plans for a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago estate on the Jan. 6 anniversary, writing in a statement that he would instead speak about the election, the congressional committee investigating the attack, the news media and other topics at his Arizona event.

The new Maricopa report also reconfirmed the willingness of the county’s Republican leadership to publicly rebut Trump’s false claims about the election.

Though the county’s five-member Board of Supervisors includes four elected Republicans, the group unanimously voted to certify Biden’s victory in 2020. Supervisors, including then-Chairman Clint Hickman, refused to interfere with the process despite pressure from fellow Republicans.

They have also resisted the legislature’s efforts to revisit the election. In April, the state Senate used a subpoena to take possession of the county’s paper ballots and tabulating machines and handed them over to a group of private contractors led by Cyber Ninjas. The company had never before been involved in administering an election or recount, and its chief executive, Doug Logan, had publicly embraced Trump’s false claims of mass fraud before getting the job.

In May, county officials sent the Senate a letter denouncing the review as a “sham” and a “con” and warned “our democracy is imperiled.”

During an annual ceremony to elect a new board chairman Wednesday, Gates, the panel’s newest leader, reiterated those sentiments: “The attempt to undermine democratic elections puts at risk everything else we take for granted in a free country — speech, security, economic progress. And that’s why the county has not been silent — and will not be silent — in the face of lies,” he said.

The Maricopa County report indicated that after thoroughly investigating the Senate’s allegations, officials had discovered 38 instances in which a voter might have cast multiple ballots. County officials forwarded those cases to the state’s attorney general for further review. Officials also found 50 cases in which a ballot might have been double counted. None of the instances affected the outcome of any election race, and they were not related to any systemic issues, the report said.

Noting the cases affected fewer than 100 ballots from nearly 2.1 million cast, the officials concluded, “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

On the other hand, Maricopa officials concluded that Cyber Ninjas had made “faulty and inaccurate conclusions” about more than 53,000 ballots. For instance, Cyber Ninjas claimed to have located more than 23,000 ballots submitted by mail by voters who might have moved before the election. Trump declared the group “phantom voters” and proof of problems in the election.

County officials said they had identified each of the voters, including by using more detailed biographical data than the contractors, and determined that none had voted illegally.

County staff delivered the report to the county’s Board of Supervisors and Recorder Stephen Richer, also a Republican, during a public meeting Wednesday. Gates opened the meeting by saying that he hoped the report would be the “last word” on the 2020 election.

Kelli Ward, chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, quickly responded on Twitter: “Don’t count on it.”