In response to a subpoena from the Arizona Senate for additional election materials to support an audit, the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Jack Sellers, wrote a defiant letter. The letter was fun to read, but did it accomplish its goals?
What’s going on in Maricopa Country, Arizona?
Republicans in the Arizona Senate, suspicious of the 2020 election results that awarded the state to Joe Biden, authorized an “audit” in March of 2021. I put “audit” in quotes because the results had already been audited and recounted by county authorities twice, and Cyber Ninjas, the group conducting the audit, has no experience in election audits and is funded by a partisan group.
The “audit” has dragged on for five months and has failed to produce any evidence of fraud or miscounts. Among the claims they are investigating are that ballots were smuggled in from China and that Italians used satellites to change vote counts in counting machines that are not even connected to the internet.
The Senate and the auditors have now subpoenaed additional materials, which the county attorney says are not going to provide any additional information.
Analyzing Jack Sellers’ letter
What caught my attention was Jack Sellers’ irreverent response to the subpoena. Here’s the full text of his letter.
Chairman, Board of Supervisors
August 2, 2021
It is now August of 2021. The election of November 2020 is over. If you haven’t figured out that the election in Maricopa County was free, fair, and accurate yet, I’m not sure you ever will. The reason you haven’t finished your “audit” is because you hired people who have no experience and little understanding of how professional elections are run.
The Board has real work to do and little time to entertain this adventure in never-never land. Please finish whatever it is that you are doing and release whatever it is you are going to release. I am confident that our staff and volunteers ran the election as prescribed by federal and state law. There was no fraud, there wasn’t an injection of ballots from Asia nor was there a satellite that beamed votes into our election equipment. It’s time for all elected officials to tell the truth and stop encouraging conspiracies.
Release your report and be prepared to defend any accusations of misdeeds in court. It’s time to move on.
Chairman, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors
This may be the first official communication I’ve ever seen that included the words “never-never land.” It is frank and direct. These are the verifiable or testable claims in the letter:
- You hired people who have no experience and little understanding of how professional elections are run.
- I am confident that our staff and volunteers ran the election as prescribed by federal and state law.
- There was no fraud.
- There wasn’t an injection of ballots from Asia nor was there a satellite that beamed votes into our election equipment.
There is also a separate letter from the attorney for the county explaining in convincing detail (and civil language) why the materials that the Senate requested aren’t going to show anything new, and will compromise the security of the election equipment.
The ROAM analysis of the letter
My question regards the tone of the Sellers letter. Jack Sellers sounds upset. But just because you are upset, it’s not necessarily a good idea to sound upset in a written communication. To assess the letter’s effectiveness, let’s do a ROAM analysis:
- Readers. The audience for this letter includes the Republicans in the Arizona Senate who requested the audience, but also the media that will read and report on the letter. Another audience is whatever judge will inevitably weigh in on the dispute.
- Objective. The purpose of this letter is justify the county’s refusal to comply with the subpoena. It is unlikely to satisfy the Senate, although I doubt any letter could. It will not persuade a judge of anything, but the accompanying soberly worded letter from the country attorney does that job much better.
- Action. What does Jack Sellers want the reader to do? He wants the Senate to stop asking for things — the letter won’t do that. He wants the news media to write about the absurdity of what is happening — the letter was quite effective at that. (Google News shows over 8,000 results for “never-never land Maricopa”). And he wants a judge to rule in the county’s favor in the legal dispute. The letter doesn’t help with that, but accompanying county attorney’s letter will do that job.
- iMpression. The letter communicates that Jack Sellers is impatient, annoyed, direct, and irreverent. If you believe there was fraud in Maricopa County, the letter leaves you with the impression that Jack Sellers is biased against you.
It’s quite satisfying to read this level of frankness from a government official on a snipe hunt. But I’m not here to lead a cheering section from people on either side. I think the letter calls into question Sellers’ objectivity. While it led to lots of news coverage, I don’t think it does a good job of representing the perspective of an unbiased election official.
When faced with absurd requests, it’s easy to feel you should write something like this. Go ahead, write it. Then delete it. Don’t send it or publish it. In communications with people you are in dispute with, I’d recommend limiting yourself to facts and logical arguments. This way you can represent your perspective without calling your motives or judgment in to question.
While I sympathize with the emotions of what must be a long-suffering county official, I wouldn’t recommend this type of provocative language in other official communications — even though he did provide a lot of us with a momentary chuckle.