Kim Wyman has been overseeing elections for three decades, as an election manager for Thurston County and Washington secretary of state since 2013.
She’s never seen anything like what’s going on in Arizona.
Republican lawmakers there have handed over 2.1 million ballots in the state’s largest county to a company called Cyber Ninjas, for an unofficial recount of the long-certified 2020 presidential election results.
Wyman, a Republican, says the ongoing spectacle — inspired by baseless claims of widespread election fraud by ex-President Donald Trump — sets a dangerous precedent and will only further undermine confidence in elections.
“I can’t get to calling this an audit, or even a recount, because you’re not doing it with any kind of established ground rules or policies or procedures. It’s an exercise at best. It’s political theater at worst,” Wyman said in an interview Friday.
Wyman has joined other election experts in publicly criticizing the unprecedented handover of ballots and voting machines in Maricopa County. In an appearance on CNN this week she said the partisan effort should “alarm every American.”
Trump lost Arizona to Joe Biden by 10,457 votes. The state’s Supreme Court dismissed lawsuits challenging the results.
Still, Trump has refused to accept the outcome, continuing to claim the election result was rigged, and has suggesting the Arizona GOP’s recount will spur similar efforts in states like Michigan and New Hampshire.
Wyman said the Arizona GOP’s effort is a troubling departure from how ballots are counted and guarded by elections officials. In official vote-count procedures, there are established laws and guidelines for handling and retaining ballots.
None of those procedures calls for giving custody of ballots to a private company with no election experience, she noted. Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan also shared election-conspiracy theories on social media, according to The Associated Press and Arizona Mirror.
“What really concerns me now is you’ve given a third party, a nonstate actor, control of 2.1 million ballots and voting machines,” Wyman said. “There should be pristine integrity with how you handle ballots and all of that is shot.”
The Arizona audit is also tainted, Wyman said, by unknown, pro-Trump donors paying for costs of the Arizona audit above the $150,000 allocated by the Legislature.
“One of the things elections officials are always conscious of is you don’t want to even have the appearance of putting your finger on the scale. This group is blatantly kind of saying ‘Yeah, we’re trying to discredit Maricopa County, because we believe there was cheating. So we’re going to find it and prove it,’ ” Wyman said.
“The only outcome that would shock me would be for them to come out and say, “You know what, everything Maricopa County was well done and we replicated the results and there is nothing to see here,’ ” she added.
Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward has vociferously defended what she calls “America’s Audit,” lashing out against objections raised by the U.S. Department of Justice, calling it a “Democrat abuse of power.”
Wyman and some other Washington Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, have pushed back against Trump’s obsessive and ongoing efforts to undermine the 2020 election.
But Trump remains popular with much of the Republican base nationally and in Washington. Both Herrera Beutler and Newhouse have drawn GOP challengers over their votes to impeach Trump for his role in stoking the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Among Newhouse’s challengers is Loren Culp, the former police chief of Republic, Ferry County, who falsely claimed widespread fraud and refused to concede after losing the 2020 gubernatorial race to incumbent Jay Inslee by more than 545,000 votes. Culp filed a lawsuit but withdrew it after being threatened with sanctions for meritless court claims.
Culp this week attacked Wyman for her CNN interview about the Arizona audit. “Is someone scared? Is there any doubt that she is part of the problem?” he wrote in posts on Facebook and Twitter. Dozens of his supporters chimed in, calling Washington’s election rigged and demanding an Arizona-style recount.
State GOP Chairman Caleb Heimlich has defended Wyman and the Washington election results. But some party leaders and activists have pushed 2020 fraud claims, including the King County GOP, which has cited former Trump attorney Sidney Powell as an authority and launched a petition to end mail voting in the state.
Wyman said she is aware that many Republicans now distrust the elections system, and she’s lining up presentations to GOP groups to address their concerns.
Later this month, Wyman said, she’ll appear before the state GOP’s state committee, which includes representatives from every county.
“I will be talking to them and sharing my perspective and answering their tough questions, and trying to gain their confidence back that our election wasn’t fraudulent and their ballot did count the way they cast it, and it was well run,” she said.