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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: cyber ninjas

Battleground Courts Reject GOP Efforts To Block Voting And Create Chaos

On November 7, the eve of Election Day, judges in numerous battleground states issued rulings that rejected efforts by Trump Republicans to impede the casting and counting of ballots and replace state-approved vote-count verification processes with untested hand counts.

Those critical decisions, which push back on efforts to stymie voters and counting in Democratic strongholds such as the cities of Philadelphia and Detroit, came as the Department of Justice announced that it will send federal election monitors to 67 counties in 24 states across the country.

“The [DOJ] Civil Rights Division will monitor for compliance with the federal voting rights laws,” said the department, listing jurisdictions that are blue epicenters – cities and counties – in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The suits filed by Trump Republicans and their allies in national and state Republican Party organizations show the range of GOP efforts to stymie voters, disqualify mailed-out ballots, and create alternative vote counts that likely would clash with results produced by federal- and state-approved election systems.

In Wisconsin, a judge ruling from the bench rejected an effort to set aside and stop counting mail ballots cast by military service members. In neighboring Michigan, a judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Republican secretary of state candidate and election denier Kristina Karamo that would have imposed strict limits on counting Detroit’s mail ballots.

There were three rulings in Pennsylvania. The first rejected a GOP attempt to urge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling on the date range (on mail ballot return envelopes) when the ballots could be accepted. The GOP wanted a narrower window.

(The high court also had ruled that ballot return envelopes had to be properly signed and dated by a voter. As of Monday, a Philadelphia election official said that 3,400 mail ballots had been rejected on these grounds, causing Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman’s campaign to file a suit seeking to count the rejected ballots.)

Another Pennsylvania ruling rejected an effort led by former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr that would have impeded Philadelphia’s ability to use electronic poll books to check in Election Day voters. The third ruling rejected an effort to impede election officials in Monroe County from starting to reach out to voters to “cure” – meaning fix – a mistake they made filling out their ballot return envelope.

In Georgia and New York, courts issued rulings to expand access for some voters who otherwise might be disadvantaged. Metro Atlanta’s Cobb County was told to accommodate 1,000 voters who did not receive requested mail ballots. In New York, a court rejected a GOP effort to prevent a polling place from being set up at Vassar College.

In Arizona, a state court stopped Trump Republicans associated with the notoriously sloppy post-presidential election “audit” led by the Cyber Ninjas, an IT firm selected by Republican state senators, from supplanting the state-approved counting and audit process with a manual hand count of every ballot before certifying winners.

In Arizona’s Cochise County, which is on the border with Mexico, Trump Republicans on the county board of supervisors sought to override the objections of their county’s election director and replace a count of all ballots by computer scanners with a hand count. The court said the supervisors, who are Trump Republicans, violated Arizona law.

“The Board of Supervisors has acted unlawfully,” Superiors Court Judge Casey McGinley held. “Defendants urge the Court to consider that permitting a full hand count audit would help ameliorate fears that the electronic count was incorrect, and that it ensures that every vote is counted and counted correctly. However, there is no evidence before this Court that electronic tabulation is inaccurate in the first instance, or more importantly, that the audit system established by law is insufficient to detect any inaccuracy it may possess.”

There will be more court rulings in comings days as the administration of the election shifts from the last day for casting votes – Election Day – to the counting of those in-person votes and processing of mail ballots, which, in many states, can still be received in coming days and will count as long as they were postmarked by November 8.

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.

Cyber Ninjas Got Audit All Wrong -- Including 300,000 Miscounted Ballots

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

Late last month, pro-Trump contractors working for the Arizona Senate Republicans reported that Joe Biden had not only won the 2020 election but also gained votes, while Trump lost votes in their count. But an independent analysis released Tuesday of the Cyber Ninjas-led hand count, the basis of its results, has found inaccuracies involving more than 311,000 ballots — a 15 percent error rate.

The same analysis also found that the contractors had double-counted 22,821 ballots, which is more than twice the size of Biden's victory margin in Arizona's 2020 presidential election.

"This is proof that the Cyber Ninjas' [presidential] vote count wasn't real," Larry Moore, a co-author of the analysis, told the Arizona Republic. The Phoenix-based paper first reported the analysis after filing public records requests and suing to obtain the Senate's audit records, which were released late on Friday.

Moore is part of a three-person team of retired election auditors and data experts who have used public records to confirm and explain Trump's loss in Arizona. He founded Clear Ballot, a federally certified election audit firm, and was assisted by Benny White, a Republican data analyst from Tucson, and Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot's retired chief technology officer.

Doug Logan, Cyber Ninjas CEO, did not respond to the Arizona Republic's request for a comment on Tuesday. Previously, Logan has rejected analyses by the trio of election auditors, saying they were criticizing ballot inventory and vote-counting work that was unfinished.

Incompetence Revealed, Innuendo Debunked

The 300,000-plus incorrectly counted ballots are from a 695-page report prepared by Randy Pullen, the former Arizona Republican Party chair and a professional corporate accountant, that listed — side by side — figures from five different ways that the Senate's investigators attempted to inventory paper ballots and count presidential votes from 1,634 storage boxes.

The outside auditors found that figures from 706 storage boxes were off by 25 or more ballots, when compared to Maricopa County's official election records. They found the Cyber Ninjas had no record of more than 167,000 ballots in the storage boxes. They found an additional 144,000 ballots where the number of hand-counted ballots in storage boxes did not match subsequent machine counts of the ballot inventory. They found Pullen's hand count totals apparently double counted nearly 23,000 ballots. Their report, posted on their blog, has pages containing highlighted errors in all of these categories of auding mistakes.

"Our initial analysis… completely discredited any comments made by Pullen or Doug Logan about the accuracy of the Senate 'forensic audit,'" the analysts October 12 blog said. "Pullen now says the report he submitted, and [Arizona] Sen. [President Karen] Fann subsequently submitted to the [Arizona] Attorney General when she asked for a criminal investigation of everything the Ninjas have been saying, was only preliminary. Since it is the only report of the extended audit that has been released to the public, we are now going through that report in detail to see how it stacks up against the official results. The answer is not very well."

The disclosure that the Cyber Ninjas most-detailed report cannot account for 15 percent of the votes on 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County is the latest in a series of analyses that have debunked the claims put forth by the state Senate's privatized 2020 election investigation.

On October 6, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican elected in 2020, issued an analysis that debunked 12 of the most inflammatory allegations by the Cyber Ninjas team — after they reported that Joe Biden defeated Trump. Those conspiratorial claims drew wide coverage on pro-Trump media and lent momentum for copy-cat "audits" in other states.

The county's explanations revealed that the Cyber Ninjas did not know basics about election administration, which involves a series of interlocking systems and records that range from authenticating a voter's identity and eligibility, to how mailed-out ballots are tracked and inventoried, to how vote counts are tabulated, to how vote-count records and databases are archived. In these and other categories, the contractors have attacked the accuracy of the election and incorrectly portrayed the voting and vote-counting process as flawed.

"Based on our preliminary review of voters found in the Senate's data, we cannot substantiate Cyber Ninjas' conclusions based on the use of a third-party data set," Richer's analysis said, in response to a claim that 23,344 voters—more than twice Biden's victory margin—did not live at the address in their voter file. (The Cyber Ninjas used a commercial address directory, which their report to the Senate said could not find more than 80,000 voters in the county).

"No voter should be denied their right to vote because they are not in a commercial database," Richer continued. "In Maricopa County, we rely on the voter's affirmation of their residential address until we are informed otherwise by the voter or by another trusted resource like the United States Postal Service or the National Change of Address report. A real-time database that tracks the day-by-day movement of every person in the state or in the nation does not exist."

There have been other recent reports that also attest to the Cyber Ninjas' incompetence as election auditors and highlight that this exercise was a made-for-media spectacle designed to perpetuate Trump's false narrative that the election was stolen. For example, Voting Booth reported that the March 2021 contract between the Senate and the Cyber Ninjas did not require the firm to produce a precise report of vote counts, but only an "attempt" to do so.

Emerging from the critiques of the Cyber Ninjas' work are telltale markers, as other bad-faith partisan investigations get underway in other national battleground states, such as in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Audits by election professionals take a few days to a few weeks, not five months like the Cyber Ninjas, who covered up mistake after mistake—all the while delaying their final report as pro-Trump media kept claiming the election was stolen.

"The official results announced last November were correct then and they are still correct today," the independent auditors Tuesday blog entry concluded.

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.

Big Liars Cling To Conspiracy Theories After Arizona 'Audit' Debacle

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

"Truth is truth and numbers are numbers," said Arizona Senate President Karen Fann on September 24, as she summarized the most important finding in the long-awaited report from the pro-Trump contractors hired to assess the accuracy of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, where two-thirds of Arizonans reside.

That bottom line -- yes, Joe Biden won, and his vote totals had increased while Donald Trump's totals had fallen -- was noted by almost everyone following American politics except for the people who arguably needed to hear it the most: Trump and his base of true believers.

"Yesterday we also got the results of the Arizona audit, which were so disgracefully reported by those people right back there," Trump said at a Georgia rally, pointing to the press as attendees cheered. "We won on the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn't believe!"

"We call on each state to decertify… Decertify… DECERTIFY… [their 2020 presidential results]," yelled Republican Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, at a pro-Trump rally outside legislative chambers after the Senate's contractors reported that Biden won Maricopa County by 45,469 votes. (The official results showed Biden beating Trump by 45,109 votes countywide and 10,457 votes statewide.)

Despite the unexpected affirmation of the accuracy of Maricopa County's voting system, other parts of the reports revived and expanded previous conspiratorial claims. There were claims that more than 20,000 ballots might have come from wrong addresses—making the ballots uncountable. Or additional thousands might have come from voters who might have moved away, or people might have voted twice. Another Senate contractor, CyFIR, a cybersecurity firm, said that county election employees were seen on video in what might be images of them erasing key computer records from the 2020 presidential election.

Fann concluded the hours-long hearing by releasing a letter calling for Arizona's attorney general to investigate the alleged data erasure (which county officials deny) and other alleged problems. Fann said that further hearings would be held on the 2020 election.

Schism Between Reality and Fantasy Grows

The reaction by Trump and his base to the Senate's 2020 review, which has sparked copycat efforts in other swing states, underscores that these exercises have always been more about cultivating doubts about unpopular election results for partisan gain than about settling the lingering questions held by the most loyal supporters of a losing candidate.

One need look no further than coverage of the base's reactions by anti-Trump Republicans such as Charlie Sykes, editor of the Bulwark, whose newsletter on September 27 said, "If you have been living in a bubble of naivete or denial, you might have imagined that the results of the Cyber Ninja[s] audit in Arizona would usher in a New Era of Sobriety in our politics. Fat chance."

Still, there are some corners in the world of politics and elections where facts matter and conducting transparent audits where the methodologies and findings are fully released is the standard for credibility. The Cyber Ninjas still have not released their full data sets (they still are fighting public records requests in court), which has led many experienced election officials to comment that the public cannot trust anything they claim—including saying that their results from their controversial hand count was as close to the official results as they reported.

"Cyber Ninjas has no expertise in election audits, so it's no surprise that the methodology of their report makes it impossible to validate their findings," said Matthew Weil, Bipartisan Policy Center elections project director. "Real auditors show their work. Despite finding almost no change in the overall vote totals from 2020, they have succeeded in degrading faith in the results of a free and fair election and delaying discussions of real reforms to improve the voting experience."

Voting Booth, along with a team of experienced election auditors, obtained a draft copy of the Cyber Ninjas' report three days before its presentation in the Arizona Senate and worked on a section-by-section analysis that debunked its false claims and evidence. That analysis was shared with numerous reporters in Arizona and nationwide and election policy analysts as a baseline for their ensuing coverage.

The Cyber Ninjas' draft report insinuated that tens of thousands of voter registrations and paper ballots might have been illegitimate, forged, or even illegal. (In some cases, their final report rolled back or increased the number of voters and ballots that they alleged were questionable by several thousand, but they didn't change the evidence cited.)

The attacks on voter registrations, for example, were based on imprecise commercial data, not on government records used in elections. The forged ballots accusation indicated that Cyber Ninjas didn't know that ballots are printed for voters after they arrive at vote centers on Election Day. Under a microscope, the lines on those ballots appear less crisp than the lines that appear on mailed-out ballots, which are printed by an industrial press weeks ahead of an election.

Nonetheless, the Cyber Ninjas included recommendations for legislative action that are consistent with decades of GOP efforts to put partisan constrictions on voting and intimidate Democratic Party voters, based on clichéd false claims of fraudulent voting. Their legislative recommendations also included authorizing a new private election review industry, which would perpetuate their business model.

"The real reason the GOP is abetting Trumpist conspiracy theories is to justify restrictive voting rights laws, keep the base fired up for the [2022] midterms and lay the groundwork for letting partisan actors step in to influence the outcome of close elections," said Marc Elias, one of the Democratic Party's top lawyers, in an email touting his analysis of Arizona's 2020 review.

Whose Cover-Up?

While most Americans will not delve into the election administration details of Maricopa County's 2020 presidential election or the claims and evidence cited by the Cyber Ninjas, one of the foremost takeaways by pro-Trump contractors was the accusation that Maricopa County was caught destroying key evidence in February 2021. Election officials replied that their staff was archiving data, one of many responses and explanations offered via live tweets.

However, it appears to be the Cyber Ninjas who have been covering up their work and data—even after they issued their report. There were filings and hearings in two Arizona courtrooms on September 24 and 27 over the Cyber Ninjas' refusal to provide public reports, including the complete ballot and vote counts, to the Arizona Republic and public-interest groups. Their refusal is important, because that data will likely reveal the extent of the Cyber Ninjas' incompetence and underscore that Arizona-style "audits" should not occur elsewhere.

"They should never be hired again to do this by anybody," said Benny White, a longtime election observer for the Arizona Republican Party, lawyer, and part of the team of experienced auditors who have been using 2020 public election records to debunk the Senate's review. "They're incompetent, and they lie about what they've done."

White's comments come after reviewing a handful of the tally sheets included in the Cyber Ninjas' report. His team has spent months to identify how many ballots and votes are in each batch and storage box from the election.

"It's very difficult to discern where they got their numbers from," he said, pointing to several columns where spreadsheet fields are blank. "My question is: Why is there not better data there for everything?"

What unfolded between late April and mid-August was a pattern in which the Cyber Ninjas changed the review's focus—moving the goal posts—from retallying the presidential and U.S. Senate election totals to attacking voter rolls and mailed-out ballots and flagging possible cybersecurity issues.

Their early blunders are briefly noted in Volume II of the Cyber Ninjas' report, in a discussion of "quality controls." The report said that "all [handwritten] Tally sheets originally aggregated in the first three weeks of counting were re-entered in the new forms," meaning they had to be redone. Those sheets, which grew to more than 10,000 pages, then had to be entered into an Excel spreadsheet at computer terminals. The report said overhead video cameras were used to catch data entry typos. "The primary function of these cameras was to… demonstrate irrefutable evidence that the data entered was accurate."

By late June, the Cyber Ninjas knew that the hand count's results had differed from the official results by thousands of votes, Voting Booth was told at the time by insiders. The contractors never released the hand-count results and, throughout the summer, went to court to oppose releasing their records to the press. In early July, the state Senate purchased machines to count the number of paper ballots—not their votes—as a way to try to understand what was wrong with the hand count. Until they presented their report on September 24, the contractors never discussed the machine count results.

Meanwhile, White and his colleagues, who had been working for months to hold the Cyber Ninjas accountable, believe that the Cyber Ninjas panicked in late June. That was why they began a machine count of the number of ballots (not votes) in hope of finding new pro-Trump evidence, he said. Instead, that tactic backfired as it confirmed the number of ballots and votes and left no room for speculation about Biden's victory.

At that point, the Cyber Ninjas announced that they had to expand their investigation, which the Senate president allowed—and they revived the longstanding GOP strategy of attacking voter rolls, by alleging that there were tens of thousands of illegitimate voters and thousands of forged ballots. These claims and their specious evidence, all debunked on the eve of the final report's release, involved volumes of votes larger than Biden's margin of victory.

Above all, perhaps one statistic from the Cyber Ninjas' report stands out as an indicator of their lack of expertise as auditors. In the presidential election, they reported counting 2,088,569 ballots. In the U.S. Senate race they reported counting 2,088,396 ballots in the U.S. Senate race—a difference of 173 ballots.

This is a basic auditing mistake; there should be no difference in the number of ballots counted in the same election.

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.

Arizona 'Audit' Finds Biden Won, But Report Stokes Stale Conspiracies

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

Ten months after the 2020 presidential election, the pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona state Senate's Republican not only failed to prove that the election was stolen but said that Joe Biden won by a wider margin than had been previously reported, according to their review of election records in Maricopa County, home to most Arizona voters.

While the county totals show Biden winning by 45,109 votes, the Cyber Ninjas' hand recount found that Biden won by 45,469 votes. (Biden beat Trump by 10,457 votes in the official 2020 statewide results.) Despite the unexpected affirmation of the accuracy of Maricopa County's voting system, however, other parts of the Cyber Ninjas' report reiterated previous conspiratorial claims.

The report insinuates that tens of thousands of voter registrations and paper ballots might have been illegitimate, forged, or even illegal. The evidence cited for those claims, however, was quickly debunked by a team of experienced election auditors who obtained a draft copy of the report from Voting Booth, which also contributed to their critique of the Cyber Ninjas assertions.

Cyber Ninjas' attacks on voter registrations, for example, were based on imprecise commercial data, not on the government records used in elections. The forged ballots accusation indicated that Cyber Ninjas didn't know that ballots are printed for voters after they arrive at vote centers on Election Day. Under a microscope, the lines on those ballots appear less crisp than the lines that appear on mailed-out ballots, which are printed by an industrial press weeks ahead of an election.

"The Ninja's long-awaited report on their 'forensic audit' is dead on arrival," wrote Larry Moore, the former CEO of a federally certified election audit firm who worked on the analysis that rebutted the report. "They have made claims on ballot and vote counts which cannot be verified and claims on voter participation based on a commercial database wholly unsuited for elections."

Nonetheless, the Cyber Ninjas included recommendations for legislative action that are consistent with decades of GOP efforts to put partisan constrictions on voting and intimidate Democratic Party voters, based on clichéd false claims of fraudulent voting .

In addition to recommending that Arizona pass legislation to authorize private contractors like the report's authors to investigate elections, the report said those partisan contractors should use commercial data as the basis for purging registered voters 30 days before an election. If enacted, that policy would leave unsuspecting voters unable to cast a ballot that would be counted (as Arizona's voter registration deadline is 29 days before an election). That recommendation also clashes with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, a federal law that bars delisting voters within 90 days ahead of an election.

The totality of the report's contents, following the Cyber Ninjas' error-filled review conducted over the past five months, suggest that nothing they will report to the Arizona Senate on Friday afternoon should be used as a basis for legislation, or to launch a new industry targeting unpopular election results.

But leaving aside the arcane details of election administration, the report's topline takeaway—that Trump lost Arizona— is a serious blow to pro-Trump Republicans who have worked for months to delegitimize Biden and had been hoping to export Arizona-style audits to other states.

"Their count validates the official results, even if the particulars [of their analysis] are dubious," said Chris Sautter, an election recount lawyer who has represented Democrats for decades. "They could not come up with [vote count] numbers that demonstrated a substantial swing one way or the other."

"It is important to see that every time Trump and his supporters have been given a forum to prove this case, they have failed," said Ben Ginsburg, an election lawyer who has represented Republicans for decades. "If they can't prove it in Arizona with the way these proceedings have been conducted, then they're really not going to be able to prove it anywhere."

Covering Up Their Mistakes

The contractors' unfamiliarity with the nuances of running elections emerged repeatedly as an issue, ever since the Cyber Ninjas' team started hand-counting 2.1 million paper ballots last April. Despite their insistence that they know more about running elections than career government election officials, they are not the experts they have repeatedly claimed to be.

For the past 10 months, the leaders of the pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" movement, their allies in state legislatures in battleground states, and the team assembled by Cyber Ninjas have tried to find proof that Biden did not legitimately win Arizona. Before these contractors were hired by Arizona's Senate Republicans, many stated on social media that they believed the presidential election was stolen. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann gave the contractors everything that they wanted, from subpoenas of county records to repeated extensions of their deadline.

What unfolded between late April and mid-August was a pattern in which the Cyber Ninjas changed the review's focus—moved the goal posts— in a vain attempt to conceal their inexperience as well as their awareness, based on hand-counting ballots, that Biden had legitimately won Maricopa County by a wide margin.

The early blunders are briefly noted in the draft report's discussion of "quality controls." The report said that "all [hand-written] Tally sheets originally aggregated in the first three weeks of counting were re-entered in the new forms." Those sheets, which grew to more than 10,000 pages, had to be entered into an Excel spreadsheet at computer terminals. The report said overhead video cameras were used to catch data-entry typos. "The primary function of these cameras… would demonstrate irrefutable evidence that the data entered was accurate."

Virtually every experienced election observer noted that that Cyber Ninjas' process was imprecise in many respects, from counting ballot to data entry. Most important, the hand count was not designed to compare subtotals along the way with the building blocks of the officially certified results.

By late June, the Cyber Ninjas knew that the hand count's results had differed from the official results by thousands of votes, Voting Booth was told at the time by insiders. The contractors never released the hand-count results, and throughout the summer, went to court to oppose releasing their records to the press.

In early July, the state Senate purchased machines to count the number of paper ballots—not their votes—as a way to try to understand what was wrong with the hand count. Until the presentation of their report on Friday, the contractors never discussed the machine count results either. Their draft report and attached data files contained no records of the hand count's subtotals nor the machine count of the number of ballots.

Meanwhile, experienced outside auditors have been working for months to hold the Cyber Ninjas accountable—by releasing analyses of Maricopa County's election based on the same election records that flummoxed the Cyber Ninjas. The outside auditors believe that the Cyber Ninjas panicked in late June, which was when they began a machine count of the number of ballots (not votes) in hope of finding new pro-Trump evidence. Instead, that tactic backfired as it confirmed the number of ballots and votes and left no room for speculation about Biden's victory.

Above all, perhaps one statistic from the Cyber Ninjas' draft report stands out as an indicator of their lack of expertise as election auditors. In the presidential election, they reported counting 2,088,569 ballots. In the U.S. Senate race they reported counting 2,088,396 ballots —a difference of 173 ballots. Both races were on the same paper ballot, meaning their figures don't reconcile: There should not be any difference in the number of ballots in those two elections..

Maricopa County Says Arizona 'Audit' Shows Biden Victory

Washington (AFP) - Arizona's most populous county has confirmed that a draft report of a partisan audit of its vote count in the 2020 presidential election declares Joe Biden as the winner.

The report by Cyber Ninjas, a litte known Florida-based cybersecurity company, shows Maricopa County's result in November was correct, the county tweeted late Thursday.

"The #azaudit draft report from Cyber Ninjas confirms the county's canvass of the 2020 General Election was accurate and the candidates certified as the winners did, in fact, win," it wrote.

The conclusion, which is expected to be released publicly on Friday, effectively ends the discredited Republican-led bid to throw out Biden's victory there in favor of former president Donald Trump.

Maricopa County did not publish the draft report and Cyber Ninjas did not immediately respond to an AFP request.

Biden's victory in the key Arizona county was the first by a Democratic presidential nominee in decades.

Trump supporters and organizations who claim he was cheated out of an election win, including some who have also peddled wild conspiracy theories, funded the review to the tune of millions of dollars.

Since his crushing election defeat, Trump has resurfaced to criticize his successor.

In July, at his first campaign-style rally since leaving the White House, he repeated the lie that he won November's election and that Biden prevailed only through fraud.

The firebrand right-winger, who has been booted from social media and was impeached for inciting the deadly January 6 riot at the US Capitol, may yet seek re-election in 2024 but has not announced his plans.

Angry Dispute Between Republicans Roiling Final Arizona 'Audit' Report

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

A major split is unfolding on social media and behind closed doors over the report that the pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate Republicans to "audit" the state's 2020 presidential election will deliver to legislators on Friday.

The angry debate centers on what claims and evidence about accuracy of the elections results from Maricopa County will be included in the much-delayed report. Maricopa is Arizona's most populous jurisdiction and home to Phoenix. Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 45,109 votes in Maricopa County and 10,457 votes statewide.

On one side of this split are the Cyber Ninjas, the Senate's lead contractor, and that firm's subcontractors—almost all of whom have had no prior election auditing experience and have said on social media that they believed Biden was not legitimately elected. On the other side are the Arizona Senate's lawyers and the Senate's unpaid liaison to the audit, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, who want a credible and legally defensible report.

The publicly visible part of this dispute has played out on social media, where proponents of conspiratorial election theft claims are pressuring Senate President Karen Fann and Judiciary Committee Chair Warren Petersen to include various kinds of findings that have never before been used in, nor certified for, a government-run election audit.

"A new type of enemy has raised its head," said Jovan Pulitzer in a September 19 online video. Pulitzer led the Ninjas' inquiry into a conspiracy theory that thousands of ballots were forged in Asia and smuggled into the county's election operations center. He used scores of costly high-definition cameras and thousands of manpower hours to look for bamboo fibers in the ballots—a line of inquiry that has been ridiculed by academic experts and election officials.

"This enemy is literally under the guise of a conservative," Pulitzer continued. "He's [a top Senate lawyer] specifically requesting that the kinematic artifacts [Pulitzer's name for his process] …doesn't get included in the audit stuff. Now, unfortunately, this fellow—this operative, as I say, I'm just calling it like it is—he has nothing on me. He's already trying to crap on everything."

Pulitzer is not alone in attacking the Senate's staff for purportedly rejecting conspiracy theories. Patrick Byrne, the largest private donor of the Ninjas' review, also accused the Senate of "watering down" the report after claims that hundreds of thousands of "lost votes" and "ghost votes" from Maricopa County were being deleted. Byrne said that America's elections, election officials, and voting technology—and some Republicans—cannot be trusted.

These stances perpetuate the false narrative created by Trump and pro-Trump media that the election was stolen, and that Trump did not incite the Capitol insurrection on January 6. However, what's unfolding behind closed doors in Arizona is just as dramatic, according to Voting Booth's sources.

For example, despite protests from Trump supporters, it is an open question whether the report will end up including conspiratorial claims, dubious evidence, and the dearth of evidence concerning the accuracy of the official vote count and administering the election. Sources said all of these variables were in play as the report was finalized. These sources would not publicly discuss the report's contents but confirmed the debate over what was included.

The Ninjas have been expected to do everything they can to distract from the report's crucial bottom line: They have no concrete evidence that Trump won in Arizona even though they spent five months probing the arcane corners of Maricopa County's election administration process to unearth details that cast doubt on the certified results.

The Senate's contractors, lacking evidence that Trump won and covering up their inexperience as election auditors, may even suggest that the winner was unknowable given how the county ran the election. That tactic would echo false claims made by Trump allies in Georgia, which conducted two presidential recounts.

The fact is that Maricopa County's 2020 results, like those in many battleground states, are knowable, documented, detailed, accessible and verifiable—if one knows how to conduct an election audit and how votes are counted. With few exceptions, no one associated with the Ninjas' team had undertaken an election audit before the 2020 election.

Sloppy Recounts, Not Precise Audits

The forthcoming Arizona report is the current frontline in Trump's election denial campaign. Trump allies in other presidential battleground states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia—have been hoping that Arizona's review will lift their efforts to keep questioning 2020's election's results. Of course, the opposite is possible.

Affirming Biden's victory may undercut those efforts, which have become a litmus test in rightwing GOP circles. Or making dubious claims and presenting dubious evidence could serve to sow doubts about the legitimacy of Biden's presidency, which has been the goal of pro-Trump disinformation ever since he lost last November.

It's important to understand why the Ninjas' claims cannot be given the same benefit of the doubt as career election officials—which is a false equivalency they have sought to perpetuate. The Ninjas' review of Arizona's 2020 results, which initially was supposed to take several weeks, went on for five months. At most stages, but especially after it began last April, its methods were sloppy and imprecise.

An audit is a transparent comparison of two independently produced results based on examining the same underlying data. If the results are the same, or lack major discrepancies, one can assume that the initial outcome—what is being audited—is correct, and errors that caused discrepancies can be identified and addressed. The Ninjas didn't compare their counts to the building blocks of the official results. Instead, they oversaw a series of recounts that produced inconsistent results, and, in one case, failed to produce a result at all.

Starting in April, the Ninjas conducted a hand count of the presidential and U.S. Senate votes on Maricopa County's 2.1 million paper ballots. They did not compare their subtotals to the official election records and did not release their findings. Insiders told Voting Booth that the presidential totals were off by thousands of votes. In July, the Senate bought machines to count the number of ballots (not votes), to figure out what went wrong with the hand count. The Senate never released the machine count, either. The hand count was a flawed recount, not an audit.

In late July, the Ninjas hired Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, a Boston-based technologist and unsuccessful Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts, to conduct another recount. Shiva's contract said he would analyze the votes on the digital images of every ballot that is created when put through a scanner or tabulator. However, Ayyadurai could not process 40 percent of the county's digital ballot images, according to Randy Pullen, the Senate review spokesman. In other words, the Ninjas' second attempted at a vote recount failed.

Shiva, however, got a second contract with the Ninjas to review digital image files of the outside of absentee ballot return envelopes—to see how many envelopes lacked signatures (which would disqualify the ballot). Maricopa County's official 2020 general election canvass, issued on November 20, 2020, reported there were 2,042 rejected ballot-return envelopes—including 1,455 with no signatures. The rest had "bad signatures."

On Friday, Cyber Ninja CEO Doug Logan, his associate Ben Cotton, Pullen, Ayyadurai, and Ken Bennett, a former Arizona Secretary of State, and a Republican, will present the Ninja's report. Logan and Cotton will report on the hand count. Pullen will discuss the machine count. Ayyadurai will present the envelope signature review. Bennett will focus on administrative improvements, which was the stated purpose of the Senate's inquiry and subpoenas.

Logan, Cotton, Pullen and Ayyadurai, however, will likely cast further doubt on the county's vote counting process—as Logan and Cotton did in a July 15 briefing for Arizona legislators—even as they concede that they have no evidence showing that Trump won. Whether the Senate's lawyers and Bennett can stop the report from perpetuating conspiracy theories or making factually sloppy or unsupported claims remains to be seen.

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.

Taxpayers Lose Millions On Voting Machines Ruined By Arizona ‘Audit’

Republicans in the Arizona state Senate are officially off the hook for the $2.8 million needed to replace hundreds of voting machines ruined during the GOP-led, scandal-ridden "audit" of the 2020 election results in the state, the Arizona Republic reported.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in August to force GOP state senators — who had signed an agreement saying that they would be responsible for any costs incurred from their "forensic audit" of the state's 2020 election — to pay the millions for the machines.

The county had determined that the machines were no longer usable after audit workers compromised the tabulators and left them vulnerable to security risks.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel informed the GOP senators in August:

The County incurred costs as a result of its election equipment being compromised while in the control of the Senate. Specifically, and as explained more fully below, the Senate allowed unqualified persons to handle, examine, and manipulate the County's election equipment in ways that compromised it and rendered it unfit to be used in future elections. As a result, the County has had to replace the subpoenaed election equipment at a cost to the County of $2,833,220.00. These costs are directly recoverable from the Senate pursuant to the Covenant of Indemnification.

But the Arizona Republic reports that Maricopa County reached a deal on Friday that would let the GOP lawmakers off the hook for the millions in damages. As part of the deal, Maricopa County will pay the costs of replacing the voting machines from its taxpayer-funded budget — despite the Senate's indemnification agreement that promised taxpayers wouldn't foot the bill for any costs stemming from the audit effort.

In return for dropping the costs, Arizona's Republican attorney general backed off his own threat to withhold $700 million in annual state funding to the county — or nearly half of its operating budget — because Maricopa County had not complied with one of numerous subpoena demands. Republicans in the Arizona Senate had subpoenaed routers from the county as part of their audit, but the county refused to turn them over, saying it could pose a security risk, according to the Arizona Republic's report.

Now, despite dropping its demand that the Senate pay for the ruined voting machines, Maricopa County will still have to answer questions about the routers, the Arizona Republic reported. But the Senate agreed to have the review done by former Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) rather than by Cyber Ninjas, the firm that conducted the audit and is run by an avid Donald Trump supporter who has promoted lies about election fraud.

Republican Senate President Karen Fann called the compromise a "HUGE win" for the Senate.

"Maricopa settlement gives us all the data needed to complete the review of the routers & splunk log to the most comprehensive election audit in history," Fann tweeted. "We got everything we need and more. Maricopa County goes home with its tail between its legs."

She told the Associated Press that the compromise was "a victory for election integrity and the Arizona taxpayer."

The GOP Senate has yet to release a report of its findings from the audit, which has been plagued by scandal and incompetence. Cyber Ninjas now says the report should be out Friday, blaming the delay on the fact that a number of its staff contracted serious cases of COVID-19.

Election experts said auditors did not follow proper procedure in counting the more than 2 million ballots it was reviewing and accused Cyber Ninjas and the GOP-led Senate of trying to back up Trump's voter fraud lies instead of accurately recounting the vote.

Even some GOP lawmakers in the state started to turn against the audit, saying it made Republicans look like "idiots." Polling also showed the audit is unpopular with voters and poses an electoral risk for the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections.

Prior to this audit, multiple previous recounts had found that there were no irregularities in the results and that President Joe Biden had won the state.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who campaigned for Trump and for former Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), wrote a letter in August chastising his own party for the audit, saying, "I'm embarrassed listening to my party concoct the most outlandish theories (Chinese ballots!) to avoid accepting the reality: We lost the top two races in Arizona."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.