Election officials call for audit guidelines after Trump-fueled surge

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The nation’s top election officials are calling for more stringent guidelines for post-election audits, as supporters of former President Donald Trump continue to relitigate his defeat in 2020.

At the summer meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, secretaries voted nearly unanimously on Monday to approve a series of recommendations for post-election audits on everything from a timeline, to chain of custody of election materials. The guidelines were shared first with POLITICO.

During the vote, only two Republican secretaries present didn’t back it: West Virginia Secretary Mac Warner, who voted against it, and Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who abstained.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat who was part of a bipartisan group of 8 secretaries who helped draft the guidelines, told POLITICO after the vote that they had been working in secret for months to come to an agreement, comparing the pact the secretaries took to not speak about their work until it was completed to the movie “Fight Club.”

The vote came at the tail end of the group’s four-day conference, the first time the organization has gathered in person since before the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

What do the secretaries call for? The election officials lay out six recommendations for any post-election audit, many of which are not being followed by the review boosted by Trump supporters in Arizona and elsewhere.

The secretaries call on audits to have a definitive timeframe, which is “ideally” laid out in state law, and for state and local election officials to “be an integral part of the post-election audit process.”

The guidelines also call for auditors to be wary of third-party involvement, saying outside participants should be determined prior to the election and work closely with election officials. The guidelines also recommend that voting machines should be audited by a “federally or a state accredited test lab,” which comes after jurisdictions in Arizona and Pennsylvania saw their election machines decertified after a third party handled them.

The Justice Department also issued guidance late last month saying some post-election audits could run afoul of federal law. “Election audits are exceedingly rare. But the Department is concerned that some jurisdictions conducting them may be using, or proposing to use, procedures that risk violating the Civil Rights Act,” the DOJ memo read.

Why now? The secretaries’ guidelines comes as Trump and his supporters push for even more post-election reviews, after he narrowly lost several states to now-President Joe Biden. Trump continues to lie about the election, claiming there was widespread fraud.

The most notable post-election review has been in Arizona, where the Republican-led state Senate has targeted Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county that Biden narrowly carried en route to flipping the state.

That review, which Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican officials in Maricopa have vociferously opposed, has stretched on for months longer than initially expected. Supporters call it an “audit,” a label almost universally rejected by election officials and experts because the Arizona effort has poorly defined processes and has embraced some conspiracies.

Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann tweeted on Monday that a draft report is being prepared, and a spokesperson for the review told KNXV that a draft report could be delivered to the state Senate as soon as Friday.

Trump has pushed his supporters to export the Maricopa review to other states. Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have tried to launch their own, but so far neither have made similar sort of progress as in Arizona.

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