ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The end appears to be in sight for a controversial Republican-led review of the 2020 general election in Arizona's biggest county. Contractors hired to examine the results of returned voting equipment and more than 2 million ballots to Maricopa County and the firm leading this review is preparing a final report. So what might we expect from this report? Well, Ben Giles of member station KJZZ in Phoenix joins us to explain.
BEN GILES, BYLINE: Hi.
SHAPIRO: First, what's the status of the review today?
GILES: Well, this report, which has been widely criticized by election experts, Democrats and many Republicans, has dragged on much longer than anticipated. It might not be over just yet, though. Republican leaders in the state Senate who ordered this review say they need more materials from the county to finish it. The county has rebuffed their latest demands, and that may mean an end to this whole process in a matter of weeks.
SHAPIRO: What should people expect to see when it is done?
GILES: Well, we know the contractors leading the review for Republican senators agreed to recount votes for two races - for president and for U.S. Senate just in Maricopa County, Ariz. They were also supposed to analyze voter registration data and the county's voting system at large. But we still don't know, for example, what results they got from the lengthy hand recount they did of those two races. Maybe they say the county's tally was completely accurate. Maybe they claim Donald Trump actually won Arizona. We just don't know. But what we do know is President Biden isn't leaving the White House because of this any time soon. I spoke with Paul Bender. He's a constitutional law professor at Arizona State University.
PAUL BENDER: It's over. The election is over. Once that's happened, you can't go back and redo the thing.
GILES: Some Republican senators here have demanded the election be overturned. Bender says there's just no way to decertify the election anymore.
SHAPIRO: There are such questions about the credibility of this report. I mean, indications that the firm's working for Republican senators, don't have their facts straight, are setting out to find a specific outcome - tell us about that.
GILES: That has been a major point made by critics for months now, that the firm leading this review, the Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, has no previous election-related experience. It's worth mentioning this whole endeavor has been funded mostly by organizations associated with Stop the Steal conspiracies. Republican supervisor here, Bill Gates, has been a vocal critic of the effort, especially after those leading it have made errant claims about the election. Here's Gates speaking the other week.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BILL GATES: They're focused on tearing it down. They're focused on raising doubts. They're focused on, you know, raising all sorts of doubts that are going to do nothing but erode at our democracy.
SHAPIRO: You mentioned errant claims about the election. Is this just amplification of former President Donald Trump's lies about it?
GILES: In a lot of ways, yes. Here's an example. A few weeks ago, the head of Cyber Ninjas - he told Senate leaders he couldn't explain why the county had roughly 70,000 more early votes cast than early ballots mailed to voters. You may have heard this described by Trump and some of his supporters as, quote, "phantom votes." But local officials quickly pointed out that those were votes cast early but in person, not by mail. It's just a very simple explanation of the way voting works here in Maricopa County. But despite the fact-checking effort, Trump and his supporters have been amplifying these false claims about phantom ballots as if it's proof the election was stolen.
SHAPIRO: What are Republican state senators saying about the false claims that this report may be built on?
GILES: Well, the top Republican in the state Senate has repeatedly said this report will be used just to shore up the election process. But there are now two GOP state senators who've spoken out against the election review, including one senator who's made a name for herself spearheading voting laws, who said the whole process has been botched. Democrats and election experts say shoring up really just means adding unnecessary restrictions to voting all based on the recommendation of inexperienced, biased contractors. But again, we just don't know what the results will be until the report comes out, maybe in a few weeks.
SHAPIRO: Ben Giles of member station KJZZ, thank you.
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