The election audit contract that Arizona's state Senate leaders signed with the Cyber Ninjas last March never specified that the pro-Trump firm would produce a report that included a definitive recount of the votes in 2020's presidential race. And as revealed by a close examination of the most detailed data released from the Senate review so far, the Cyber Ninja recount is incomplete, inaccurate, and far from definitive.
The Cyber Ninja document containing the most detailed vote-count data, "Arizona Senate Maricopa County Election Audit: Machine Paper Ballot Count Report, was prepared by Randall Pullen, former Arizona Republican Party chair and a former partner with Deloitte & Touche, a nationwide accounting firm. But an October 1 analysis by a bipartisan team of retired election auditors found the data set in Pullen's report does not account for one-third of the ballots that were hand-counted by the Cyber Ninjas. Moreover, a line-by-line comparison of the data in Pullen' report with Maricopa County's official records shows that nearly half of the figures are missing or wrong.
"What we are saying is that any discussion of the [presidential] votes based on the hand counts is meaningless," said Benny White, a lawyer, data analyst and longtime election observer for the Arizona Republican Party. "That's our bold conclusion in this report."
"We believe our worst fears have happened – the entire exercise in hand counting ballots on lazy Susans [rotating stands] for two months, was a hoax," wrote Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of Clear Ballot, in an October 1 blog on their latest findings.
The Senate's pro-Trump contractors said they recounted the presidential election results via the hand counting of ballots under the Cyber Ninjas' supervision. But their own data and comments suggest that the contractors neither reconciled all of their numbers – or perhaps never completed their vote count at all.
Did The Political World Fall for Another Big Lie?
On Friday, September 24, the political world breathed a sigh of relief as the Cyber Ninjas and other pro-Trump subcontractors hired by the state Senate affirmed that Joe Biden had won the election in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and two-thirds of Arizona voters. Not only had Biden won and gained more votes, but the Cyber Ninjas reported that Trump had lost several hundred votes.
Their Senate Republican sponsors praised the contractors' work and proclaimed that Arizona had set an example for other states to follow. A day later, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann issued a letter stressing the importance of the Cyber Ninja's findings that affirmed the officially reported election results. "This is the most important and encouraging finding of the audit… This finding therefore addresses the sharpest concerns about the integrity of the certified results in the 2020 general election."
However, that claim of accuracy is undermined by another report to the Senate—not issued by the Cyber Ninjas, but by another review team member, Pullen, the Senate co-liaison. That report, posted on the Senate Republican website, includes 18 pages of subtotals of five ways that the contractors sought to verify the total number of ballots.
Pullen's report compares five attempts to track and count the number of ballots from 40 storage boxes delivered to the contractors (out of 1,631 boxes delivered by Maricopa County.) Under the column heading of "ballot count," which refers to the two-month-long hand count that started in late April, Pullen's report lists 32,674 hand-counted ballots. Under the column "machine count," which refers to a tabulation on equipment purchased by the Senate in June to check the hand count's results, a total of 48,366 ballots is listed.
In other words, the most-detailed document released by the Senate's team to date does not account for nearly one-third of the ballots used to recount and attest to the election's results. Pullen's presentation before the Senate on September 24 did not mention this discrepancy.
The outside auditors also compared that ballot-count data in Pullen's report with Maricopa County's official election records—all are public documents—and found "the errors are numerous. Out of 260 count records included in the report, 124 records have some sort of error. This results in an error rate of 47.7 percent."
The Arizona "audit" has triggered similar reviews of the 2020 presidential results in other states, including the presidential battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, where pro-Trump legislators have been using the reviews in an effort to cast doubt on the accuracy of 2020's results and return Trump to the presidency—by extra-constitutional means. Last summer, Trump assured his base that he would return to office by August.
The outside auditors shared their analysis with the Arizona Republic, which was the first news outlet to report the discrepancies. The paper's October 1 report contained statements from Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and Pullen rejecting the outside auditors' analysis.
"Are they saying Trump won?" Fann said, after calling the analysis "a lie that borders on inflammatory."
"The Cyber Ninjas' hand count was not completed before we did the machine count," Pullen said in a written response to the paper. "They were in the process of checking their counts."
The outside auditors' October 1 blog includes the timelines and difficulties facing the Senate's 2020 election review team, which included the Cyber Ninjas and Pullen. They concluded that Fann allowed the Cyber Ninjas, the lead contractor, to create a made-for-media spectacle that had no ability to achieve its stated legislative goal—assess the accuracy of 2020's election—but instead fueled a months-long narrative used by Trump's base to try to return him to office.
"Having zero experience in election audits, the Ninjas' announcement that they had confirmed, to a high degree of accuracy, the election results of the second largest county in the country is, we believe, laughable," Moore wrote on their blog. "The assertion that Trump had lost 261 votes was, we believe, a 'shiny object' designed to convey believability to an otherwise unbelievable hoax."
There is plenty of evidence that Biden won Arizona's election, but it was not produced by the Cyber Ninjas. The outside auditors, using public election records, showed in August how nearly 60,000 ballots in Maricopa showed a majority of votes for Republicans but not for Trump—and they included a map displaying the Phoenix suburbs where loyal Republicans had rejected Trump.
However, there is a legal detail that fell outside the purview of the outside auditors' most recent review of the Senate contractors' work. The contract signed in March between Fann and Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said the firm "will attempt to validate every area of the voting process," including an "attempt to count all ballots… to determine the accuracy of all federal races."
That language specifically does not require the Senate's contractors to produce a definitive report. The contract goes further and directs that the "results from all phases are [to be] compared." In other words, the omissions and errors found by the outside auditors in Pullen's report satisfies a contract that was never designed to be a definitive bottom-line election audit.
Instead, the Arizona audit achieved its pro-Trump political goal. It sparked copycat audits that are underway in other battleground states, such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And it has fueled a non-stop disinformation campaign where Trump allies in state legislatures have used election integrity rhetoric to pass laws that complicate voting in battleground states – and, in Georgia, empowered a state board to overturn the popular vote results in future elections.
Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.
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