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Tensions Flare Among Arizona Republicans Over Discredited ‘Fraudit’

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The same split that is dividing Republicans nationally, whether to embrace or reject the fiction that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate, is now reverberating backstage at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Arizona, where pro-Trump contractors are leading a state-sponsored inquiry into the vote in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60 percent of Arizona voters.

The state Senate's lead contractor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO Doug Logan had said that Joe Biden's victory was illegitimate, has been opposing an effort to widen the Arizona Senate's inquiry—via another assessment that vets the 2020 vote more thoroughly. Logan also has sought to muzzle and even oust the lead proponent of that more detailed inquiry, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican. Senate President Karen Fann asked Bennett to take the role of Senate audit liaison after she hired Cyber Ninjas. He is not taking any compensation for his role, unlike Cyber Ninjas and the subcontractors.

Beyond the personality clashes involved, which Voting Booth heard about while reporting from Phoenix as a hand count of 2.1 million paper ballots was nearing completion, is an emerging bottom line: Cyber Ninjas has spent several million dollars and two months conducting inquiries that are not poised to present sufficient analyses that can legitimately assess the presidential results.

Cyber Ninjas' inquiries, which include a hand count of all paper ballots and looking for forged ballots based on high-resolution and microscopic examination of the ballot paper and ink marks, are generating reams of information that could be cited in partisan propaganda—which is how pro-Trump media outlets have covered the audit from its inception.

Crucially, the data Cyber Ninjas is accumulating has not been compared to the building blocks of the state-certified vote count. At best, it is conducting a loosely constructed recount, which is not an audit—which is based on comparisons.

"There must be comparable results in sufficient detail, or else it is not an audit," said Larry Moore, the retired founder and CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified audit firm. "It is unacceptable to put out anything less."

Moore is not an unbiased observer in Phoenix. He has criticized the inquiries and is part of a team of seasoned election auditors that has parsed the same official records given to Cyber Ninjas after a Senate subpoena. The team's early analysis confirmed that Joe Biden won in Arizona and offered an explanation why. The official records revealed voting patterns showing that tens of thousands of voters supported most Republicans on their ballots—but did not vote for Trump.

Moore's team, which is locally led by Tucson's Benny White, who is a longtime Republican Party observer in state and local elections, has shared its findings with news organizations in Phoenix, whose coverage is beginning to reframe how the Senate's exercise should be evaluated.

The team has gone further in recent days. They challenged Cyber Ninjas to take their subtotals (gleaned from the official election data) and compare it to the subtotals in a sealed box of ballots. By June 11, there were several dozen boxes of ballots that had not yet been opened and hand-counted. Cyber Ninjas did not take up the challenge.

The auditors then gave their data to the press, including reporters who have observed Cyber Ninjas revising their procedures repeatedly in recent weeks. The evaluation pushed by Moore and White would directly compare the paper ballots marked by voters, the starting line, to the official election results, the finish line, to attest to the election's accuracy. Cyber Ninjas' process isn't making this comparison.

Growing Pressure Inside And Out

That fundamental procedural flaw, meanwhile, has bothered Bennett, the former Arizona secretary of state who says he volunteered to be Senate liaison because he felt that doubts about the election's legitimacy had to be put to rest. Since April, he has expressed interest in expanding the Senate's audit's inquiries to parse the electronic records that detect votes on the paper ballots and then compile the overall results.

Bennett has been pushing for a so-called ballot image audit to do this assessment, which would compare the digital images of every ballot created by vote-counting scanners to the electronically compiled vote totals. Bennett has attempted to hire a California nonprofit, Citizens Oversight, that happens to be run by a Democrat for that specialized assessment. But that prospect has been attacked in right-wing media and on social media, including by the audit's contractors led by Logan.

Inside the Phoenix arena, there are reports that Logan has told Bennett—who also is a former Arizona Senate president—not to talk to the press. Logan has reportedly bad-mouthed Bennett in closed meetings with pro-Trump activists and legislators visiting from out of state—who are seeking to bring similar privatized partisan assessments to their states (after Trump also lost there). It is clear, according to interviews by Voting Booth with witnesses to these incidents, that Logan's allies fear that more investigations would expose their shortcomings and undermine whatever report they issue.

Thus, among other things, pushing Bennett out of the inquiry would seem advantageous to pro-Trump Republicans' efforts to discredit the integrity of the 2020 election. In response, Bennett said that he is committed to examining Maricopa County's 2020 ballots and vote counts as thoroughly as possible, because he said that he is still a trusted messenger to enough Arizona Republicans who are awaiting his verdict.

"It's not what evidence is presented to most people, it's who it is presented to them by," Bennett said. He added that he wants to look at what Cyber Ninjas' analysis, the analysis by Moore and White, and what Citizens Oversight may do, and then present his judgment, and, if necessary, the details leading to his evaluation, to dispel any doubts.

"I believe that we can convince 90 percent of the people that are questioning the election [of its legitimacy], because it was the opposite party that was questioning the results in 2016. Ninety percent can understand that if Trump lost the election, it was Trump that lost the election," Bennett said. He mentioned several debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election in Arizona, saying, "It wasn't ballots flown in at midnight from China. It wasn't any fractional counting of votes on voting machines. It wasn't because Dominion [Voting Systems] was owned by China or Russia, or I don't know who… And similarly, when the Democrats lose, maybe it's because Hillary Clinton just wasn't what the American people wanted in 2016."

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.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Arizona ‘Fraudit’ Challenged By Experienced Election Auditors


This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

A team of seasoned election auditors has challenged the Republicans leading the Arizona Senate's inquiries into the accuracy of 2020's presidential election results to a demonstration where the auditors say that they will conclusively show that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Arizona's most populous county.

The challenge, led by a longtime Republican Party election observer and two technologists familiar with voting systems and vote-counting data, would present the results of every race in any randomly chosen batch of ballots, as generated by Maricopa County's 2020 election data. Those paper ballots would be hand-counted and compared to the electronic totals to attest to the election's results. These paper and digital records are the building blocks of the county's voting system.

"We now have the capability to determine the ballot count and vote results for all of the elections on any batch and any box of ballots that were delivered to the [Senate's contractor, Florida-based Cyber] Ninjas under the [Senate's] subpoena, without ever looking at a single ballot," Tucson's Benny White, a longtime election observer for the Arizona and Pima County Republican Parties, wrote on June 8 in a letter to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and the audit liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Fann and Bennett are Republicans.

"Our proposal will be for the Ninjas to select any unopened box of ballots, provide us with the box number from the label on the outside of the [storage] box and we will produce the results from the public record," White said. "The Ninjas could then count all of the votes on all of the races on all of the ballots in that box, then we could compare the results."

The auditors are seeking to confront and upstage the Senate's pro-Trump contractors whose hand count and related examinations of 2.1 million paper ballots in Phoenix's Veterans Memorial Coliseum may wrap up by mid-June. The contractors have not yet issued any report or preliminary findings as of June 9, although there is an expectation in pro-Trump circles that their findings will cast doubt on the election's outcome. Pro-Trump lawmakers, candidates and activists have been visiting the arena.

The Senate's investigations, nonetheless, have been widely criticized as partisan and amateurish by experts in election administration and policy circles. But its defenders, including Bennett, have said that most Arizona Republicans wanted to see more evidence than the state's official post-election audits have provided.

Bennett did not immediately respond to a request seeking a comment on the auditing team's challenge.

In late May, the same team of independent auditors—comprised of White, who has been a Republican Party election observer for years and served on Arizona's Elections Procedures Manual Revision Committee; Larry Moore, the retired founder and CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified audit firm; and Tim Halvorsen, the retired chief technology officer of Clear Ballot—reported that their initial analysis of Maricopa's 2020 election data found about 60,000 ballots with votes for a majority of the Republican candidates but not for Trump. They also found about 40,000 ballots with most votes for Democrats and for Trump.

Their findings suggested that suburban Republicans rejected Trump, which helped to elect Biden. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60 percent of Arizona's 2020 electorate, Biden beat Donald Trump by 45,109votes. Statewide in Arizona, Biden won by 10,457 votes.

The auditors' efforts stand out because apart from state and local election officials defending the accuracy of Arizona's 2020 election results—and Senate contractors investigating the same election—it appears that nobody else with election auditing experience has obtained the official vote count records from Maricopa County and investigated and sought to publicly verify Biden's state-certified victory.

White said that he has been deeply troubled by Trump's and his allies' attacks on election officials, voting technology, and the rules of voting, all of which have undermined public confidence in elections.

At first glance, their challenge may appear to be an attempt at election theatrics that seeks to blunt another spectacle—the nearly two-month-long inquiries inside Phoenix's old pro-basketball arena. But the challenge is brought by critics who say that they have accomplished what the Senate's inexperienced contractors have so far failed to do, which is use official election records to confirm that the county's electronic tally matched its paper ballots. The contractors have been struggling with the official vote count data, well-placed insiders have told Voting Booth.

Thus, despite millions spent on high-definition cameras and microscopes for scanning ballots and other equipment in the Phoenix arena, which has created made-for-TV optics that have been praised by right-wing media and Trump supporters visiting from other states, the contractors have been struggling to parse the building blocks of the official results—which are key baselines for any legitimate assessment of the outcome's accuracy.

For example, every paper ballot is scanned to start the counting process. A digital image is created that gets analyzed by software that detects votes and compiles a table of those results. Those tables are built into an overall spreadsheet of results, called the cast vote record. The Senate's contractors have not looked at any ballot images, insiders have told Voting Booth. They also have been struggling with the cast vote record, according to others who have been talking with the contractors.

By contrast, the seasoned auditors want to use the cast vote record to make their case by saying what the results are in any randomly selected batch of ballots—and then counting those ballots by hand to affirm the voting system's accuracy.

"There were 10,341 total batches of ballots counted in the Maricopa County 2020 General Election; most batches contain about 200 ballots. What if I could show the count of votes for every candidate in every race on any number of selected batches — without ever opening a box or touching a ballot?" their June 8 letter to Fann and Bennett began. "At a minimum, this would conclusively dispel the growing allegations that the critical file, the Cast Vote Record, may be corrupted. The official results are derived from this file."

"We have analyzed official public records from Maricopa County's 2020 General Election," the challengers' letter continued. "We have debunked the allegation that 40,000 ballots were dumped into the count by reconciling the voted file and certified canvass against the voter registration file. We have carefully analyzed the official Cast Vote Record to find: (1) the Record is complete and accurate and (2) President Trump lost Maricopa County due to the fact that disaffected Republican supportive voters did not vote for him and (3) the disaffection was widespread across all precincts in Maricopa County."

White said that he had not received a reply from Fann or Bennett. Meanwhile, other critics of the Senate's inquiries said that it was time for the Arizona Senate to conclude the exercise and the election's losing side to accept the result.

"[B]y overstating its capabilities, the vendor Cyber Ninjas has let down Arizona Senate Republicans," wrote longtime Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg in an Arizona Republic commentary. "Their haphazard procedures have turned the Audit into the 'audit' and their findings won't be credible, whether they deem the election flawed or not… [T]hey are at the helm of a fatally tainted audit."

"When is this going to end?" asked David Becker, the executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. "There is no amount of facts that will convince people who are living in another reality… The outcome of the election has already been confirmed. What are we doing here?"