Was it a good idea to call the Maricopa County election audit “never-never land?”

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.

Maricopa County
Jack Sellers
Chairman, Board of Supervisors

August 2, 2021

Dear Senators,

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.


Jack Sellers
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.

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  1. I disagree. Pretending this is all in the realm of the real world just gives credence to the effort. It’s an emperor has no clothes moment. It’s time to call these things what they are, nonsensical partisan wishful thinking far into the world of the fantasy. The idea that a state legislative body is talking about ballots from China and beams from satellites to explain Trump’s loss is madness. The lawyer responds to the questions of law. This letter calls out exactly what this is, a fantasy trip to never never land. We need more people to say these things not fewer.

    1. I agree with Tom. Don’t lend credibility by taking such absurdities seriously. The real audience is clearly the media and through them the general public, since, as you say, nothing would satisfy the nominal target. And as you state, “the letter was quite effective at that.” It would have been even better if the tone could have been amusement at the absurdity rather than impatience t and annoyance, but not everyone can be as creative as attorney Anthony B. Delaney, who wrote what has to be the best rebuttal to a copyright bigfoot letter ever: http://www.gregthatcher.com/Financial/THATCHER_TO_HOWARD_00910320130823171232.pdf

    2. I understand your assessment, but at the same time, for far too long folks have been responding to the absurdities we’ve endured for so many years as though they warranted a ‘polite’ response, giving those who foist these absurdities on the public some sense of legitimacy, as if their opinions and assertions warrant respect. Maybe an appropriate response to things like the assertion that injecting disinfectants into your body was a way cure COVID would have been laughter at the absurdity and saying something like, “That would only work if your idea of “curing” COVID is to kill the patient. Perhaps you should leave medical advice to those who have actually graduated from medical school.”

  2. I live in Phoenix, Josh. On the ground here in Maricopa, Mr. Sellers has never been objective. He called this thing a farce from the beginning. He has uttered much more subjective-invective on the local news. From that purview, this is the most pragmatic he has been on the matter, to date. Your ROAM analysis is spot on.

    I agree with the substance of your statement. One should never put words to paper in the heat of anger or frustration. The absurdity of this thing rivals the ongoing circus of the Mass Pike tollbooths to give you some perspective. I think at some point sunshine is the best disinfectant. The fact that this fiasco made it all the way to you means he did in fact accomplish his goal.

    Thought a little context might satisfy your curiosity here. Good luck in Maine and hope you’re feeling better.