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Bad-faith election audits are sabotaging democracy across the nation Take, for example, the so-called “election audit” in Maricopa County, Arizona. While this partisan review of election results drags on , the effort to unearth nonexistent evidence of widespread voter fraud is spreading to other parts of the country. Under the guise of ensuring “election integrity,” Republican activists doggedly pursue new evidence that the 2020 election was stolen. They continue to contort science and logic on the taxpayer’s dime, even as we approach the Biden administration’s seventh month in office. This is madness. And it must stop. Yet recently, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) announced plans to conduct a Maricopa-style election review of his state’s 2020 election results, requesting access to ballots and election equipment from three counties, including Philadelphia. In fact, this would be the Senator’s second such partisan review this year. Just after the election, Mastriano hired Wake TSI, a company with no verifiable elections auditing experience, to review the ballots of Fulton County, Pennsylvania. Rather than proving election fraud, the investigation — funded by a group led by notorious Trump-affiliate Sidney Powell — found that the election was “well run.” Further, the so-called “auditors” mishandled the election equipment and taxpayers may now need to pay for new voting machines. Similar efforts are underway in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia. As the report we’ve just released with Protect Democracy details, these attempts are each at different stages, but they have a common origin: all are the handiwork of people who claim that Donald Trump Donald Trump Trump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE won the 2020 election.   In Wisconsin, the state assembly has tapped Michael Gableman — a former state Supreme Court justice and Trump supporter who has falsely claimed errors in the presidential election process may have affected the final results — to lead its partisan investigation of the 2020 election results.  In Michigan, a firm called Allied Security Operations Group , which has a history of spreading false claims about the election, was given access to Antrim County voting machines . The resulting “report” was riddled with inaccuracies and falsehoods. And in Georgia, VoterGA Founder Garland Favorito is seeking access to all mail ballots in Fulton County. He is proposing to have them inspected under the same premise and using the same untested methods deployed in Maricopa County, which purports to detect fraud by examining folds in the ballots under ultraviolet light. Dubbed “kinematic artifact detection technology” and invented by self-proclaimed “treasure hunter” Jovan Pulitzer, this practice not only has no scientific support, but the ultraviolet light can damage paper and any markings on it .  These politically motivated fiascos mark a radical departure from legitimate election validation and auditing procedures routinely used by election officials to count votes and check results.  During every election cycle, election officials use processes designed to be transparent, objective, and secure — with safeguards in place to guard against human error and bias. In the instances when an external process audit is warranted, generally accepted auditing guidelines provide clear standards for ensuring objectivity and avoiding conflicts of interest. The efforts being undertaken in these states fail to meet these basic standards.

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Shivaram Rajgopal Proposals to Reform the Statutory Audit Process in the U.S. The Arthur Andersen office at 180, The Strand, in Central London. (Photo by John Stillwell - PA ... [+] Images/PA Images via Getty Images) In March, the U.K. government proposed a set of reforms to restore the perceived loss of credibility of statutory audits. Meanwhile in the U.S., there is growing dissatisfaction that its statutory audit process is not working as well as it could—a feeling stemming from a combination of several factors. When students ask me who audits the auditors, I often tell them its the litigation process. After repeating that pat answer many times, my colleagues and I have decided to look into the evidence. We were somewhat surprised that the number of 10b(5) lawsuits against auditors has fallen into the single digits . Claims are often made that management is skilled at hiding fraud while auditors often assert that they aren’t responsible for actively looking for it. Perhaps the issuer-pays model where the company appoints and pays for the auditor’s time, as opposed to an investor, is to blame. Worries about whether auditors are skeptical enough are also cited. Moreover, there is always pressure on the audit firm to cut operating costs and compete on price (audit fees) and not as much on audit quality.   After thinking about these issues for a while, I continue to be troubled by the following questions related to the credibility and relevance of statutory audits: ·      What signals do I have, as an outsider, to assess audit quality of an accounting firm as the audit report is a classic pass/fail one-page report with virtually no other information? ·      Why do short sellers with public information such as Carson Block seem to discover frauds faster than auditors who have private information about the firm’s internal controls? The Digital CFO: Why Finance Is At The Center Of Technological Change ·      Even with documents being declassified in 10 years through the Official Secrets Act, we never seem to be able to inspect audit work papers or any documents to assess the quality of an auditor’s work. Why? ·      Why can’t audit firms put out a report customized to a specific company like S&P or Moody’s would with their credit reports? To be sure, progress has been made. The recent expansion of the audit report by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to critical audit matters is one way to go beyond the “pass/fail” statement towards a slightly more customized audit report. The PCAOB conducts regular inspections of audit firms and publishes data on deficiencies found in the inspected audits. However, it does not divulge information about the clients or companies whose audits were found to be deficient. I have five concrete proposals for regulators to consider: ·      Allow large or even activist shareholders to appoint the auditor: I have asked before why Blackrock , usually the largest and a vocal owner, cannot appoint the firm’s auditor. Perhaps we could even allow activist investors to appoint auditors in addition to asking for board seats. ·      The PCAOB could consider releasing the names of the clients, as opposed to audit firms, whose audits were found to be deficient. In order to ease implementation, clients’ names could be divulged after three years. ·      To give investors a peek (with confidentiality considerations built in) into the negotiations that took place, the PCAOB might want to consider setting up a secure electronic data room where the auditor leaves documentation of the tests performed to arrive at their conclusions and that information can be made available to investors, either on a subsidized basis or for free. That access can be made available to investors on a staggered basis, say after three years. ·      Consider changing the objective of the audit from one related to compliance with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) to one where the auditor opines whether the financial statements “fairly” present the financial condition of the company, as done in the U.K. The change would be subtle. But in the long run, it would wean the system away from rule-based accounting and auditing standards and more towards a regime where the auditor is judged on how fairly the books represent the financial performance and position of the company. ·      To help the auditors defray some of the costs associated with these additional burdens, we could potentially expand the statutory audit requirement to either new ESG disclosures lowest price that may be made mandatory at some future point in time. Alternatively, encourage companies to ask their auditors to address questions that we traditionally do not get an audit opinion on. Examples include whether CEO’s pay actually tracks company performance or whether the firm is adequately positioned to weather the next recession or quantifying the company’s contribution to systemic risk if it were to fail. An even more radical proposal is to allow the auditor issue a credit rating for the firm and hence enhance the value of a statutory audit (to compensate for releasing new information about the audit) and the credit rating (by putting out another signal to compete with credit rating agencies).
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