GOP legislators spread debunked claims at Lindell’s ‘Cyber Symposium’

By: - August 12, 2021 5:10 pm
cyber symposium finchem borrelli rogers

Republican legislators (left to right) Rep. Mark Finchem, Sen. Sonny Borrelli and Sen. Wendy Rogers spoke on Aug. 12, 2021, at Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium.” Screenshot via Twitter.

Three Arizona Republican lawmakers spread spurious allegations and long-debunked claims about the 2020 election on Thursday at a “Cyber Symposium” organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. 

“We are here to encourage you, to let you know, that we will get to the truth and that you can do it in your states,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, told the gathered crowd, which included lawmakers from various other states and prospective candidates about the Arizona Senate’s on-going ballot review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results. 

Rogers took the stage alongside Sen. Sonny Borrelli and Rep. Mark Finchem at Lindell’s much-ballyhooed “Cyber Symposium” event in South Dakota. The event has been billed as a 72-hour live broadcast in which Lindell and his experts would present “proof” in the form of data he had obtained that China had hacked the United State’s presidential election in favor of President Joe Biden. 

However, one of the cybersecurity experts that Lindell hired told the Washington Times that Lindell failed to provide the data he had long promised to deliver. The expert, Josh Merritt, said the data that Lindell did provide cannot prove China hacked the election. 

“We were handed a turd,” he said.

At a session Thursday morning, the three Arizona legislators gave the audience advice based on their experiences in Arizona — though much of that advice was centered on claims that have been disproven. 

Sharpiegate and other conspiracies come back to life

Finchem, a Republican from Oro Valley, has been one of the major players in the “#StopTheSteal” movement in Arizona and has spread baseless fraud claims since the November election. 

In late November, he organized a daylong meeting at a Phoenix hotel so that Rudy Giuliani, Donld Trump’s campaign attorney, could hear Trump supporters air supposed evidence of fraud that tipped the election in Joe Biden’s favor. There was no credible evidence presented at the meeting, but Finchem said it was instrumental in getting support from other lawmakers for future efforts, like the Senate’s self-styled audit.

Finchem also said that the multiple cases that have been thrown out in the courts were never decided on their “merits” and that the courts are not the way to fight, adding that “it’s a legislative fight.” More than 50 lawsuits seeking to change election outcomes in Trump’s favor were filed after the election, some heard by judges Trump appointed. All the cases were thrown out, in many instances because there was no actual evidence of wrongdoing.

Finchem also brought up the “Sharpiegate” conspiracy theory — which was first debunked on Election Day and many times after — and resurrected another false claim that centered around an email. In the Oct. 22 email, Kelly Dixon, the assistant director for the Election Department’s recruitment and training division told election “troubleshooters” that she’s aware of “issues and concerns” from voters about Sharpies that had been used in early voting centers, and that they should instead hand out ballpoint pens until early voting concluded on Nov. 2.

To Finchem and others, the email is proof that Sharpies were used on Election Day in order to invalidate votes for Trump. The reality is that Sharpies were used at Election Day polling places for the first time ever in 2020 because they performed the best in tests of new ballot-counting machines conducted by Maricopa County and state elections officials. The manufacturer also recommends Sharpies. 

The reason is that Sharpie ink dries quickly — a necessity when a voter at a polling place has to walk only a few paces from the voting booth to the ballot-counting machine. But a different process is used at early voting locations, Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa Elections Department,  previously told the Arizona Mirror.

“During in-person early voting, voters were given the option to use a ballpoint pen to fill out their ballot because those ballots are placed in a sealed envelope, allowing the ink to dry before its verified, processed and tabulated at the Elections Department,” she said. 

“Troubleshooters were told that voters may use ball point pens to fill out early ballots. This is consistent with early ballot instructions mailed to voters,” Gilbertson added. “But for Election Day, in alignment with Election Department policy, poll workers and troubleshooters were trained and reminded to use Sharpies to ensure the ink dries before it’s placed into the tabulation machine.”

Finchem said the use of Sharpies resulted in more ballots being sent to adjudication, for the ballot to be duplicated, where “potential fraud” exists. Adjudication is when a tabulator is not able to read a ballot for a number of reasons and is then sent to the adjudication process. In Maricopa County, two people — a Democrat and a Republican — examine the ballot to determine the voter’s intent, then duplicate the ballot so the tabulator can read it.

But according to an independent analysis of Maricopa County ballots by Republican election analyst Benny White, there were actually very few ballots that were required to go to adjudication. 

Of the 235,392 ballots sent to electronic adjudication, only 11,954 of those needed adjudication in the presidential race — and 7,942 of those were because the voters wrote in their own selection. That left only 4,012 where the presidential choice needed to be discerned, of which 1,516 went to Trump.

Biden won Maricopa County by 10,457 votes.

Claims of the voting dead

Finchem also appeared to allude to another debunked claim around dead people voting in Arizona when the three discussed possible canvassing efforts related to the Arizona “audit.” The U.S. Department of Justice has warned the Arizona Senate that the canvassing efforts could result in voter intimidation, and the Senate has called off plans to go door-to-door in search of voters the auditors determined are “problematic.”

“How do you intimidate a dead guy?” Finchem said.  

The only known instance of a ballot being cast in the name of a dead voter was a Scottsdale Republican woman who voted her dead mother’s ballot and is facing criminal charges.

Rogers told the crowd that the “audit” was investigating a QAnon-fueled conspiracy theory that the election outcome was changed because counterfeit ballots were printed in massive numbers and “injected” into the system — so the Senate’s election review team checked to see if the ballots were filled out by machines or humans, as well as examining the folds in the ballots.

There has been no evidence of fake ballots and the unproven technology the “audit” used is that of an inventor and treasure hunter who is most well known for one of the “worst inventions of all time.” 

Rogers also said that “auditors” did background checks and vetted volunteers, but “didn’t ask, didn’t want to know” about party affiliation, directly contradicting earlier statements by Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan who said his election review team would vet volunteers for bias. 

The Mirror previously reported that QAnon promoters and Capitol riot attendees ended up as volunteers, and a group with ties to conspiracy theorists was involved with the background check process.  

Midway through the discussion with the three lawmakers, Lindell interrupted to refute an article by the conspiracy theory website Gateway Pundit that was critical of one of Lindell’s cybersecurity experts who claimed China hacked the election. 

Lindell claimed the Gateway Pundit writer, Larry Johnson, worked for the CIA and that the allegations in the article claiming Lindell’s data was inaccurate was false. 

Logan, who is leading the Arizona “audit,” made similar claims about opponents of election fraud claims in a conspiracy theory film in which he said the CIA was spreading “disinformation” about the election being safe and secure. 

Controlling the narrative

Rogers also gave the crowd — and legislators from other states, in particular — advice on how to deal with the media. 

“You must command the narrative,” she said. “I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard voter suppression or voter intimidation. You rephrase it to ‘restoration of voter integrity.’” 

Rogers also advised those in attendance to “double down” when attacked. 

After the panel was over, Rogers and Finchem joined lawmakers from other states to announce that they’d be forming an “election integrity caucus” to address issues of voter fraud and to pursue election audits.

Other Arizona ties

Other attendees had ties to Arizona politics and to the Senate’s “audit.” 

Gubernatorial candidate and former Fox 10 anchor Kari Lake and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon — Republicans who have said they believe Trump rightfully won the election — were in the audience. 

And Allied Security Operations Group leader Phil Waldron, who was almost hired to conduct the Arizona “audit” and is leading Lindell’s cybersecurity “red team,” was featured on the first day.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.