Arizona’s audit of the ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election could have a “QAnon problem”, according to watchdog organisaton Media Matters.
The state’s Republican-controlled Senate ordered the review of Maricopa County’s roughly 2.1 million ballots in April, following months of unfounded claims of voter fraud made by former President Donald Trump, his supporters and fringe groups that they say cost him the election.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Joe Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Arizona since 1996, winning with a margin of about 10,000 votes out of the 3.3 million cast, contributing to Biden’s Electoral College victory.
The ballots and computer hard drives containing data regarding the vote counts were seized and given to Cyber Ninjas, the company chosen to oversee the audit by the Arizona Senate.
Cyber Ninjas has “no election experience” and is run by Doug Logan, “a man who has shared unfounded conspiracy theories claiming the official 2020 presidential election results are illegitimate”, the Associated Press reported.
Many of these theories were put forward by QAnon, a wide-ranging set of conspiratorial ideas that are based around the notion Trump was chosen to fight a liberal “Deep State” cabal that harvests the blood of children to remain young.
These conspiracies are thought to have played a motivating factor in the January 6 insurrection that saw Trump’s supporters storm the US Capitol in order to stop a joint session of Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
According to the Media Matters report, authored by Olivia Little, “it appears the evidence underpinning that effort and much of the work to generate support for it has come from two QAnon followers, Liz Harris and Bobby Piton.”
Media Matters says Harris and Piton enjoy “roles of influence as two of the main promoters of the Arizona election fraud conspiracy theory, working behind the scenes” with authorities.
A report by the Arizona Republic cited by Media Matters claims Harris and Piton are influential figures in the audit.
Harris ran as a Republican for the Arizona House of Representatives in 2020, but lost. She runs “grassroots” efforts to find voter fraud and “commonly livestreams multiple videos per day related to the Arizona audit on YouTube and Facebook”, according to Media Matters.
Piton is the head of an investment planning firm in Illinois.
Media Matters also says the three appear to be connected. It cites Piton’s claims on the far-right social media platform Gab he would give his research on alleged voter fraud in Maricopa to Logan, “the person who won the bid to perform the audit”.
Piton confirmed to The Daily Beast in April he was working on the audit in an “unofficial capacity” after Logan requested his assistance. Piton also appeared on YouTube, praying a rosary for Logan and Harris.
His Facebook account appears to have shared numerous images in support of Trump and others challenging the 2020 election results that originated from QAnon groups, according to the report. Some feature QAnon slogan WWG1WGA, which stands for “Where We Go One, We Go All”.
Harris’s social media accounts feature similar content, the report says.
Media Matters said Piton “livestreamed what appears” to have been “a private Zoom meeting about the election audit between Harris, [Representative] Andy Biggs, members of the Arizona Senate, and himself”.
The audit has come under criticism for continuing conspiracy theories and concerns about its methods.
The US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has written to Arizona’s Republican Senate President Karen Fann that the seizure of the ballots may run afoul of federal law requiring ballots to remain in the control of elections officials for 22 months.
Principal Deputy Assistant US Attorney General Pamela Karlan wrote: “Past experience with similar investigative efforts around the country has raised concerns that they can be directed at minority voters, which potentially can implicate the anti-intimidation prohibitions of the Voting Rights Act … Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future.”
Jennifer Morrell, a partner at Elections Group, a consulting firm advising state and local election officials, which has not worked in Arizona, told the AP, “I think the activities that are taking place here are reckless and they in no way, shape or form resemble an audit.”
Cyber Ninjas did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment. A call to Piton’s investment planning firm was not answered.
Harris told Al Jazeera in a text message: “The fact that you are reporting on this tells me you are part of the problem”.
Media Matters said “Harris and Piton’s involvement in the Arizona election audit is more than concerning – if their claims of working with audit officials and Arizona senators are true, it means that an attempt to overturn Arizona’s election results has been quietly influenced by two QAnon followers working from within.”
Arizona Republicans do not appear to be concerned. The Arizona Senate signed a lease to continue the audit on Friday. The lease lasts through the end of June.