Far-right protesters demand ballots be counted, spread misinformation
Some Republican lawmakers and candidates gathered to rally outside the Arizona Capitol building and the Maricopa County Elections Department to protest baseless claims of voter fraud and debunked theories, including that Sharpies are invalidating the ballots of Trump voters.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, who is no stranger to fringe conspiracy theories, spoke to far-right protesters at the Capitol and declared the ballot counting "voter fraud". He urged Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate. He also predicted that the several hundred thousand ballots left to be counted in Arizona will likely swing the state in Trump's favor.
"We gotta cover his back," Gosar said to a crowd at the Capitol waiting for alt-right media personality Mike Cernovich to appear. "This is our Alamo."
Gosar was not the only Arizona elected official present.
Arizona State Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who on Tuesday was elected to the state Senate, spoke to the crowd prior to Gosar's arrival, though some didn't seem receptive to her messages. Some yelled that the solutions Townsend was proposing would be "too late" as the "Democrats" had already "stolen" the election.
"I don't want to criticize, I want to give you something to do," Townsend said to the crowd that hardly let her speak. She urged those in attendance to try to get "real people" in to watch ballots be tabulated and incorrectly claimed that no Republicans were watching ballots be tabulated.
State law allows each party to designate observers who can be in the room where ballots are being counted to monitor the process. Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward noted on Twitter that the Maricopa County Republican Party had observers in the room.
Townsend, who chaired the House Elections Committee for the past two years, told the Arizona Mirror that only Republican attorneys are currently watching the process — and that she wants to see "regular voters" in the room, as well. She told the crowd that they should push for a vote of no confidence against the Maricopa County GOP chairwoman, Rae Chornenky, who appoints the observers under state law.
Arizona law also requires all aspects of ballot-counting to be broadcast live on the internet, and is one of the most transparent ballot tabulation schemes in the nation.
Gosar, Townsend and others marched from the Capitol to the Maricopa County Elections Department, where a large crowd gathered to listen to Gosar, Townsend, Cernovich and others speak.
Many held Trump campaign signs, American flags and Trump flags as they chanted "count all the votes." Some protesters were armed, including several with rifles. A line of Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies prevented them from getting in. Inside the building, deputies clad in tactical gear were prepared to advance on the protesters.
Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies now ready in tactical gear inside the elections center to potentially make a move on the protesters and demonstrators outside as the crowd continues to grow. #azfamily #arizona pic.twitter.com/XAhvE1hbIK
— Briana Whitney (@BrianaWhitney) November 5, 2020
No one was arrested or cited.
Conservative extremists were present at the rally, including members of the anti-government Three Percenters and QAnon. At one point, the crowd erupted into a chant of "Pizzagate" when a pizza arrived, referring the baseless conspiracy theory about a child sex ring operated out of a pizzeria in Washington D.C.
Rally goers also harassed members of the media, with Phoenix's Fox affiliate taking the bulk of the harassment because Fox News on Tuesday night became the first media organization to call the Arizona contest in favor of Biden. The Associated Press has since followed suit, but other news organizations have refrained from doing so.
The bulk of the claims made by rally goers revolved around the use of Sharpies at polling places.
The Maricopa County Recorder's Office said Sharpies were given to voters at polling places this year because of new voting machines. While the old voting machines — which had been in use since 1996 — could not read Sharpies and many other commercially available permanent markers, the new machines perform better with felt-tip markers. The new machines can read between 6,000 and 8,000 ballots an hour, about twice as many as the old machines.
Ink from Sharpies dries faster than ink from traditional ballpoint pens, and the Arizona Secretary of State's Office advised the use of the markers in Maricopa County.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.