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Post-election audits can 'validate fraud instead of catch it,' watchdog warns

Red states are turning to audits, hand counts to restore public confidence in elections, but such methods cannot determine the effect of Zuckerbucks on an election, says Amistad Project's Phill Kline.

Published: April 26, 2023 11:15pm

As red states pass laws to mandate and strengthen post-election hand counts and audits in an effort to restore public faith in election integrity, a watchdog is warning that such measures could "validate fraud instead of catch it" if underlying issues are ignored.

Amid suspicions of irregularities during the 2020 presidential election, some counties and states turned to hand-counting ballots and audits to help determine if there was election fraud. High-visibility audits of that election included those conducted in Fulton County, Ga., and Maricopa County, Ariz. Those audits uncovered significant issues with ballots but reaffirmed the outcome of the tallies in both counties.

Over the past few months, red states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that either establish or further define requirements for post-election audits and hand counts.

Last week, Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law a bill that requires the secretary of state to create a post-election audit manual and allows the state elections chief to audit election procedures of the counties.

In March, South Dakota enacted a law mandating that within 15 days after an election each county auditor will conduct an audit in 5% of county precincts selected at random "by hand counting," according to the state's Legislative Research Council, "all votes cast in two statewide contests with the closest statewide margin based on the number of votes cast."

Utah also implemented a law in March that requires the Office of the Legislative Auditor General to conduct a comprehensive performance audit of elections every other year in even-numbered years.

In Wyoming the same month, a law was enacted that makes post-election audits mandatory.

In Idaho, a law enacted in February requires that ballots subject to election audits be hand-counted, rather than tabulated by machines. The state already had directives issued by the previous secretary of state to hand-count ballots for election audits, but the bill codified them in law.

Despite such measures to restore public confidence in elections, a leading election integrity watchdog warns that audits and hand counts are not enough to ensure the security of elections.

Phill Kline, director of The Amistad Project, told Just the News on Monday that the 2020 election audits were unable to get at the underlying issues that marred that election.

"None of those audits can catch the type of improper election management that happened in 2020," Kline said.

The main issue in 2020 was the "infusion of funds to use government resources to target voters who were likely to vote for a specific candidate," which "government shouldn't do" because it "must treat all voters the same," Kline explained.

The more than $400 million in private funds poured into public election offices in 2020 "eliminated transparency," and the audits couldn't capture the possible "wrongdoing" that resulted from the use of those funds, he added.

"If the wrongdoing occurred before the ballot was marked, then an audit is going to validate fraud instead of catch it," Kline said.

The Center for Tech and Civic Life funneled nearly $350 million into local elections offices managing the 2020 election, with most of the funds donated to the nonprofit by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The nonprofit has claimed its 2020 election grants — colloquially known as "Zuckerbucks" — were allocated without partisan preference to make voting safer amid the pandemic.

Critics of the unprecedented level of private funding injected into election administration offices in 2020 argue the grants were awarded disproportionately to boost voter participation in swing state Democratic strongholds. A House Republican investigation found that less than 1% of the funds were spent on personal protective equipment.

Kline recommends using paper ballots for elections because unlike machines "paper is transparent" and can be counted by hand.

Noting that the majority of states are using mail-in ballots, he said there is "no transparency" with regard to how many people touch the ballots before they are verified and under what circumstances they are counted, as many jurisdictions hire temporary workers from a private company to count ballots.

"Audits and hand counts validate fraud if you ignore the laws that prevent fraud," Kline said. "We ignored a lot of those laws and created systems that eliminate transparency."

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