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Arizona Republicans are examining whether there is bamboo fiber in ballots that were used in the 2020 election, an activist assisting with the ongoing audit of the ballots told reporters this week. The latest claim underscores how rightwing conspiracy theories continue to fuel doubt about the results of the results.

“There’s accusation that 40,000 ballots were flown in to Arizona and it was stuffed into the box and it came from the south-east part of the world, Asia, and what they’re doing is to find out whether there’s bamboo in the paper,” John Brakey, a longtime election audit advocate, told reporters.

Brakey told reporters he didn’t personally believe auditors would find bamboo fibers.

“I do think it’s somewhat of a waste of time, but it will help unhinge people,” Brakey said on Wednesday. “They’re not gonna find bamboo … If they do, I think we need to know, don’t you?”

The search for bamboo fibers illustrates how the latest GOP audit of all 2.1m ballots cast in Maricopa county, home to a majority of Arizona voters, is elevating absurd claims about the 2020 election. After election day, rightwing activists falsely claimed that China had imported ballots to tip the election for Biden and that those ballots could be identified because there was bamboo in the paper. Earlier, workers were using UV lights to examine ballots; while the purpose of doing so was never clear, there was a conspiracy theory after the election that Trump had watermarked ballots (the UV examinations have stopped).

There are about a dozen tables on the audit floor at Veterans Memorial Coliseum where auditors are taking pictures of ballots and then running them under microscopic cameras that are supposed to provide high-quality images of the ballots. Those images are supposed to help auditors verify the authenticity of the ballots by allowing them to examine fibers, as well as folds in the paper and ink marks on ballots.

Experts have expressed concern about whether this method is a reliable way of identifying fraud.

Ken Bennett, the liaison between the auditors and the Arizona senate, said in an interview he wasn’t sure if auditors were looking for bamboo fibers specifically.

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“I think that’s more of a euphemism for saying ‘we’re looking for everything related to the paper so that we can verify that the ballots are authentic,’” he told the Guardian. “They’re looking for folds in the paper. They’re looking for where the ovals are marked, is there a little bit of an indentation or was the mark made by a Xerox machine? It’s just kind of a general expression for ‘we’re checking the paper and the folds and everything to make sure that these are authentic ballots.’”

The comment came amid increasing scrutiny of the audit, which many experts say is not credible and will only further undermine confidence in the 2020 race. The justice department sent a letter to the Arizona senate president, Karen Fann, on Wednesday expressing concern that the audit may be running afoul of federal laws regarding ballot custody and voter intimidation (during a separate part of the audit, workers will reportedly knock on voters’ door to confirm their 2020 vote).

Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s top election official, sent a letter to Bennett on Wednesday expressing concern over how the audit is being run. She claimed that auditors did not have a clear process for tallying ballots, left laptops unattended, and clear procedures were not in place to hire unbiased counters. “Either do it right, or don’t do it at all,” she wrote.

One of the people who spread the lie about China dumping ballots, according to Slate, was Javon Pulitzer, a treasure hunter and inventor, who is reportedly assisting with the Maricopa county audit. Though it’s not clear in what capacity Pulitzer is assisting, Brakey told reporters on Tuesday that the machines capturing the microscopic images of the ballots were linked to Pulitzer. “This guy is nuts,” he said. “He’s a fraudster … It’s ridiculous that we’re doing some of this.”

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