This past Friday, September 24, the result of the so-called “audit” of the election results in Maricopa County by the Republican Majority in the Arizona Senate was finally announced. Though clearly initiated in bad faith and funded with the purpose of finding support for The Big Lie that the election was “stolen” from former President Trump, the Arizona Senate’s contractor Cyber Ninjas ultimately reported that President Biden had won the county and found no evidence of fraud.
Despite the lack of experience of the audit managers in the field of elections, the Cyber Ninjas report proposed a variety of amendments to Arizona’s election laws that would add further burdens on the voting rights of Arizona’s citizens. These legislative proposals are based on suspicions and conjectures, set out in the report, as to possible irregularities and deficiencies on the part of Maricopa County officials in the conduct of the election.
The Cyber Ninjas’ allegations were promptly refuted by county officials and other election experts, mostly Republicans. Nevertheless, they remain a cause for concern, as they serve to undermine public trust in the voting process. On July 1, we released a comprehensive chronology of the 2020 Arizona election and the subsequent Arizona Senate audit, followed by two commentaries in late July and mid-August. We have now updated the chronology to cover the entire period between the 2020 election and the announcement of the audit results, along with the two earlier commentaries.
We do so for two reasons. First, we believe the chronology and its related materials provide comprehensive documentation of what occurred in Arizona—including the lack of need for the audit, the serious bias and inexperience of those who conducted it, and the complete lack of transparency in the process—which thereby undercuts any credibility that might be accorded to the information presented in the audit to support its legislative recommendations.
The second is our deep concern that these self-appointed audits in Arizona and other states are designed not only to perpetuate the Big Lie that former President Trump won the 2020 election, but, even more insidiously, to delegitimize undesired outcomes in future elections. In this context, we hope that our materials may contribute to the vital need for continued broad-scale public education to combat this false narrative that threatens the very basis of our democratic system.
For these two purposes we also offer the following eleven points as a summary of what to keep in mind with respect to the audit.
- The 2020 election in Maricopa County had already been audited several times, including by two different federally certified election audit firms, prior to intervention by Cyber Ninjas. There was no need for the audit. Subsequent to the election, Maricopa County election officials completed various verifications that exceeded the requirements of Arizona law and fully supported the accuracy of the election results. These efforts included a bipartisan hand count of a substantial number of sample ballots, a review known as a logic and accuracy test that ensured that no changes were made to the software during the election process, and a forensic audit of ballot tabulation equipment conducted by two independent firms certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
- Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, publicly defended the integrity of the November 2020 election. After the conclusion of the election, Ducey stated: “[t]here is integrity in our election system. Joe Biden did win Arizona.” Subsequently, the Biden electors in Arizona were duly certified by Arizona officials as having received the highest number of votes, which determination was accepted by the United States Congress on January 7. In the Senate race also being audited, the Republican candidate Martha McSally conceded on November 13 and has not contested the results.
- Maricopa County election officials became the target of an unprecedented pressure campaign from the White House and some Arizona state Republican officials after the election. Recently disclosed phone records reflect that, shortly after the election, then-president Trump and his attorney Rudolph Giuliani sought to contact the then-chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, a Republican, with the apparent intent to persuade him to change the election results, while the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, Kelli Ward, requested that he “stop the vote counting” when it became clear that some Republicans might lose. While these efforts were unsuccessful, they were so troubling that when Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs became aware of them in July 2021, she formally requested that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich investigate whether any state or federal laws were broken. Moreover, at the time these efforts were initiated, the Trump campaign had already concluded that the major allegations of fraud had no basis.
- Despite the Trump campaign losing at least eight lawsuits in state and federal courts in Arizona after the election, Senate President Karen Fann actively participated with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others in activities to support allegations of election fraud. Recently disclosed emails of the principal initiator of the audit, State Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, have revealed that in early December, she was in close contact with Rudy Giuliani and other election conspiracy activists with respect to compiling unfounded allegations of election fraud in Arizona. This occurred after state and federal courts in Arizona had rejected a series of such lawsuits by Trump supporters after finding no meaningful factual support for allegations of fraud or other irregularities. Only after these legal efforts had failed did Senator Fann initiate the Maricopa County audit.
- Senate President Fann chose a firm to lead the audit, Cyber Ninjas, that had no prior experience in election audits, but had strong pro-Trump leanings. In selecting a company to carry out the audit, Fann declined to choose an organization with election audit experience. Rather, she hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company with no such experience and headed by Doug Logan, an avowed election conspiracy theorist. Not only had Logan been extensively involved in promoting allegations of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election before he was hired, but even while the audit was under way he participated actively in a film that purported to describe how supporters of Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. Furthermore, no effort was made to include impartial participants in the process.
- The audit has been almost entirely funded by groups associated with former President Trump. While the Arizona Senate appropriated $150,000 to provide initial funding for the audit, the vast majority of its funding has come from $6.7 million in donations from individuals or dark money groups who peddle allegations about massive fraud in the 2020 presidential election. In fact, recently disclosed Arizona Senate documents indicate that Donald Trump had expressed a personal interest in two of these groups, either to recommend to donors or to donate to them himself.
- The pursuit by Cyber Ninjas of bizarre conspiracy theories has further undermined its own credibility. After commencing the audit in April, Cyber Ninjas undertook a variety of entirely unproductive efforts to find support for bizarre election fraud theories. These efforts included testing ballots for signs of bamboo to support the allegation that a large number of pro-Biden ballots were secretly shipped in from somewhere in Asia and examining ballots for watermarks on the theory that only valid ballots would contain them, whereas in fact Maricopa County did not use any watermarked paper for the election.
- Cyber Ninjas’ CEO Doug Logan has made a series of mistaken statements that bring into question his capability to lead the audit. As the audit proceeded, Logan and others began making demonstrably false statements about what the audit was revealing. For example, at one point they contended that Maricopa County officials had deleted a file of election databases prior to turning over their materials to the auditors; afterward, the officials demonstrated that this material had been supplied, and that Logan and his company had not had the expertise to recognize this. Subsequently, Logan stated that some 74,000 more mail-in ballots were counted than had been sent to voters. Here again, county officials showed that he had simply failed to distinguish between two types of legitimate ballots, a fact that he eventually conceded.
- The hiring of another election conspiracy advocate to oversee the final audit component further reflected the audit sponsors’ profound bias. After completion of the audit’s purported hand and machine recounts, Senate President Fann and Cyber Ninjas hired election conspiracy theorist Shiva Ayyadurai to carry out a review of voter signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes. Dr. Ayyadurai is an unsuccessful Senate candidate from Massachusetts, who, after losing in the 2020 Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat, alleged that Massachusetts authorities had destroyed over one million ballots. In a similar vein, he has backed former President Trump’s false election fraud claims. Thus, Senate President Fann added to her record of exclusively selecting biased and unqualified personnel to carry out the audit.
- Even a prominent Republican participant has expressed serious concerns about the audit’s lack of transparency. Former Arizona Senate President and Secretary of State Republican Ken Bennett, while serving as the Senate liaison to the audit, stated that he had serious concerns about the conduct of the audit. Most significantly, he feared that Cyber Ninjas might engage in so-called forced balancing (a term of art for cooking the books), wherein they would falsify the results of their vote counting to bring it into line with the result they were seeking.
- Audit leaders have attempted to shield every aspect of the process from public scrutiny. Cyber Ninjas began their efforts to hide the process with an attempt to inhibit press coverage by putting reporters at a prohibitive distance from the audit operations and seeking to exclude expert voting observers altogether. The company then required observers to sign nondisclosure agreements, and even expelled a local reporter for revealing that a former Republican state representative was reviewing ballots on which his own name appeared. For their part, Senate Republicans resisted an effort by a public interest organization and the Arizona press to obtain the audit records pursuant to Arizona’s public record disclosure law. Even after a judicial ruling and a subsequent request from their client, the Arizona Senate, Cyber Ninjas still refused to make their audit records publicly available. Thus, the full truth about the audit has remained hidden.
As has been said, people are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. And the facts are clear: the audit was never merited; it was driven by and paid for by partisan interests; it was conducted by individuals with deep biases and no qualifications; and it has only served to undermine public confidence in our election processes.
header photo: A contractor working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, works to recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. source: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images