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The push in Michigan extends beyond Antrim County. The board of commissioners of Cheboygan County, Mich., voted 4-3 last week to request an audit of the county’s results, asking the state elections director to approve it. Trump won the country overwhelmingly.

“There is no information or gain that can be made from this audit. Things will stand as they are,” Cheboygan Commissioner Michael Newman, a Republican and one of the three commissioners who voted against requesting an audit, said in an interview.

The commissioners who voted for an audit did not respond to interview requests.

Newman, who said he believes Biden was duly elected, said there was a local pressure campaign to push for an audit, but that constituents in his district urged him to vote against it.

“They want to see us all changed so we’re not seated anymore, and they want to go after our county administrator,” Newman said of activists pushing for the audit.

And in the state legislature, freshman Republican state Rep. Steve Carra recently filed legislation calling for a “forensic audit” of the results. Carra, who said he believed there was substantial fraud during the 2020 election, is primarying Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), one of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. He said the election results are an animating factor among Republicans.

“I think it is the number one issue from people in my community. And I also think it’s the number one issue for all of my conservative colleagues around the state,” Carra said. “So if they vote against this, I think that’s something that people from their communities would not appreciate.”

Similar pushes have materialized elsewhere. Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano has boosted his political profile by becoming one of the vocal proponents of Trump’s lies about the election, and is considering a run for governor in the state. Mastriano, who visited the Arizona site, has pushed for an audit in his home state — and Trump has attacked Republican leaders in Pennsylvania who have not backed him, even name checking Republican state Senate leader Jake Corman.

“Other State Senators want this Forensic Audit to take place — immediately,” Trump said in a mid-June statement. “I feel certain that if Corman continues along this path of resistance, with its lack of transparency, he will be primaried and lose by big numbers.”

In Georgia, conspiracy theories about Trump’s loss persist, despite the fact the state saw its votes recounted twice in 2020. Republican State Party Chair David Shafer, who also toured the Arizona site, has praised the calls for an audit in his home state.

“The vast majority of Republicans believe that there were irregularities in the last election that have not been fully investigated,” Shafer said on the sidelines of the state party convention earlier this month.

A Georgia state judge also recently dismissed most of a lawsuit that sought to review absentee ballots in Fulton County, home to Atlanta. The suit was by plaintiffs who were trying to find fraud in the state.

And in Wisconsin, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has hired retired police officers to investigate “potential irregularities and/or illegalities” in the election. Two Assembly Republicans who traveled to Arizona have also said they’d like to see a similar undertaking in their state, and Trump has recently attacked Vos and other Republicans in the state for “actively trying to prevent a Forensic Audit,” although backlash to Vos at the state convention was muted.

A Trump adviser recently told POLITICO that the former president remains “adamant about doing audits” and “is going to keep up pressure on Republicans to have the courage to do it.”

The particularities of the process in Arizona have also concerned election experts, who fear that activists elsewhere will try to mirror or copy a flawed approach from the state.

The so-called audit has crossed deep into conspiratorial territory. Workers had checked for bamboo fibers in ballots (a nod to a baseless theory that ballots may have been sent from Asia) and used UV lights on ballots, potentially for (non-existent) watermarks. Cyber Ninjas itself is owned by a man who has promoted

the #StopTheSteal conspiracy theory, which is based in the belief that Trump actually won, and recently appeared in a conspiracy-filled film about the election.

“It was clear they had no idea how elections are administered,” Morrell, who served as an observer, said. “That’s the concern, is that we’ve suddenly left this place where we follow the rule of law, and it’s like the Wild Wild West.”

The effort, or at least its first stages, appears to be winding down. The pseudo-official Twitter account tweeted that the “paper examination and counting” of the nearly 2.1 million ballots concluded on Friday. But Ken Bennett, a former Arizona Republican secretary of state who has served as a liaison for the effort, told the Associated Press that a report is still weeks to months away.

(A request for an interview sent to Bennett and a second email address associated with the effort was acknowledged repeatedly by a staffer, but nobody was made available.)

Elections experts are already warning that any conclusion drawn from the Arizona review will be untrustworthy. A report from the nonpartisan States United Democracy Center, co-authored by former Kentucky Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Barry Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, ripped into the Arizona effort as being poorly run and not transparent.

Grayson also said fixation on 2020 will hurt Republicans in the long run. “I want to be involved in this [report] because I’m worried,” he said, noting he is an active party member and just recently attended a fundraiser for a Republican senator. “I want Republicans to see, ‘Here’s one of us who’s telling you don’t waste your time, don’t waste your money. You’re undermining confidence. It’s backfiring.’”

Trump and his supporters have also glommed on to legitimate efforts elsewhere, quickly abandoning them when they did not turn up evidence of fraud the former president wanted.

A bipartisan group of New Hampshire lawmakers authorized an audit of a state House of Representatives race after a recount showed a Republican candidate actually received hundreds more votes than initially tallied. The New Hampshire audit was extremely unusual, election experts say, because it took place well after the election, and there were no established laws for how to conduct a post-election audit in the state. The major difference between Arizona and New Hampshire? This audit was run by well-respected election professionals.

Trump initially praised the audit as part of the “incredible fight to seek out the truth on the massive Election Fraud which took place in New Hampshire and the 2020 Presidential Election.”

But the actual culprit was not a conspiracy of fraud, but instead a likely combination of tabulators that incorrectly read poorly-made folds in ballots, voters casting too many votes in certain races, and dusty machinery. Trump did not issue a public proclamation when a more innocuous explanation was laid out.

“That’s kind of why I did this crazy thing, because I felt someone had to,” said Mark Lindeman, who helped run the New Hampshire audit and is the acting co-director of Verified Voting, citing threats to election workers that have stemmed from conspiracy theorists.

“I thought either someone, if I may say this about myself, responsible would do the work,” he continued. “Or deeply irresponsible people — and, in fact, the same people who have done the work in Maricopa County — would have done it.”

Maya King, David Siders and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.



Florida Governor DeSantis signs order letting parents decide if kids wear masks in schools





Ron DeSantis Florida Governor signed an executive order on Friday to “protect parents’ freedom to choose” whether their children wear masks in schools. 

“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”

The order bars school districts from forcing students to mask up, despite new guidance from the CDC, and as COVID-19 cases climb in the state like never before. This week, the CDC said masks should be required of everyone inside K-12 schools.

District school boards that are “unwilling or unable to comply” with DeSantis’ law, the executive order states, will be susceptible to losing state funding. 

In a notice about the executive order, the governor’s office said the action is in response to Florida school boards considering or implementing school mask mandates. The office also falsely claimed the Biden administration has issued “unscientific” recommendations about school-aged children wearing masks. 

The executive order states that “forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification” and that there is “no statistically-significant evidence” suggesting that counties with mask mandates fared better than those without in the previous school year. 

The CDC says, however,that mask wearing is a critical step people can take to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19. Studies have shown their effectiveness. In one recent study — a peer- reviewed study of mask adherence and COVID transmission across the U.S. that was published in April — researchers found that 14 of the 15 states that had no mask policy for the public from April to September 2020 had a high rate of COVID-19. Eight states had at least 75% mask adherence during that time frame, the study found, and of those, none reported a high rate of the virus. 

COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiration, which is why officials have pushed for people to wear masks. The U.S. is also now facing the spread of the highly-contagious delta variant.

DeSantis argued in his executive order that masks could “inhibit breathing,” and lead to a buildup of “bacteria, parasites, fungi and other contaminants.” 

But the American lung Association says masks do not cause low oxygen levels, and that “there is absolutely no scientific evidence that mask wearing or physical distancing weakens the immune system.” 

“Proper laundering of cloth masks removes any viruses, bacteria or respiratory secretions that may build up on the mask,” johns Hopkins says.


DeSantis’ order comes as Florida is experiencing its highest numbers of daily COVID cases to date. On July 30, the state had 110,724 new cases of COVID-19, a record high, and 409 deaths, according to John Hopkins university. 

More than 160 people in the state 29 years or younger have died from COVID-19, including seven children under the age of 16. The Florida Hospital Association said on Wednesday that the “average age of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 is younger than previous peaks.” 

“The virus has a new target: the unvaccinated and younger people,” said Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary C. Mayhew in a statement. “Previously healthy people from their teens to their 40s are now finding themselves in the hospital and on a ventilator…What you heard last year and last spring about this virus mostly targeting seniors and those with pre-existing conditions is not true today.”

More than 95% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida are people who are not fully vaccinated, the association said. As of July 30, there were 9,329 confirmed COVID hospitalizations in the state. 

Some of the most prominent supporters of DeSantis’ actions are Republican state legislators. State House Speaker Chris Sprowls said in a statement Friday they “demonstrate his faith and trust in our fellow Floridians.” 

“While there are some public officials who will seek to use the power of government to compel uniformity and adherence to their preferred course of conduct, that approach is not in keeping with Florida values,” he said. 

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson said, “I trust Florida parents to decide” if their children should wear a mask, adding that he’s “grateful” for DeSantis’ “steady leadership at every stage of this pandemic.” 

Many, however, have criticized the move, including the Florida Education Association, the statewide teacher’s union. 

“Schools should be the safest place in Florida. No matter if we live in urban South Florida, in the rural Panhandle or somewhere in between, we all want our children to be healthy and safe, and for learning to continue uninterrupted for every child,” the union said in a statement. “…Unfortunately, through his words and actions, Gov. DeSantis has made it clear he does not respect the freedom of locally elected officials to do what they feel is best for their communities.” 

On Thursday, the Florida Chapter of the American academy of paediatrics said it supports use of masks in schools. 

“Since children under 12 years of age are still not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccine will most likely not be available for this age group until winter of 2021,” the group said, “most children are still at risk for Coronavirus infection and transmitting the infection to others.”

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