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Trumpist Diehards Still Question Biden’s Victory in House Oversight Hearing

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

Pro-Trump Republican congressmen repeatedly questioned Joe Biden's victory in Arizona's 2020 presidential election in a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Thursday -- despite testimony from Maricopa County's top elected Republicans that their election results were accurate and that 2020 saw the best-run presidential election in years.

"I was asked who won [the presidential election] in Arizona. I don't know," said Rep. Andrew Biggs (R-AZ) "We've not resolved the issues that took place."

"It's somehow wrong for Republicans to raise legitimate questions when we had an election that was fraught with irregularities and potential fraud," said Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA).

The House hearing was called to discuss the "audit" of the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona and "threats" to American democracy by copycat efforts in other battleground states. It yielded little new information about the review sanctioned by the Arizona state Senate but did highlight the voices of locally elected Republicans who rejected Trump's stolen-election claims.

"I want to start by saying that the election of November 3, 2020, in Maricopa County, was free, fair, and accurate," said Jack Sellers, who chairs the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. "They executed a secure, accurate, and efficient election… during a worldwide pandemic."

Sellers also observed that "a small yet loud minority" had pushed the state's Senate to launch an outsourced review led by pro-Trump contractors with no prior election auditing experience. The Senate's investigators went looking for problems that would somehow validate and perpetuate Donald Trump's unproven claims of a stolen election, said Sellers, and Arizona's legislative leaders would not listen to facts.

"During the last 10 months, I've learned a lot about people," Sellers continued. "I was naive in thinking I could sit down with our state Senate leadership and explain the answers to their questions and accusations, and we could put this uncertainty behind us and move on."

Bill Gates, a Republican election lawyer and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors vice chair, expanded on Sellers' remarks and noted the corrosive effect of the "audit" on democracy.

"It was the most scrutinized election [result] in the history of Maricopa County," Gates said. "Election experts said that. Machine counts confirmed it. Hand counts confirmed it. The court system reconfirmed it, and our residents were happy, too. We did a poll of 80,000 of our voters and 90 percent of them said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the election."

"Unfortunately, some in our party see it differently," Gates continued. "They have attacked the work that was done by our elections workers in Maricopa County, and they have fanned the flames of conspiracy. And this willingness to do so, unfortunately, is what led to the first non- peaceful transfer of power in our country's history [on January 6]. And unfortunately, Arizona has been at the center of this attack on our American ideals."

Gates noted that events since Election Day have led to a national pattern where many Republicans, led by Trump supporters, have cast doubt on contests that the party lost. Those attacks, Democrats on the House panel said, have become a pretext for altering state laws to make voting harder, and to try to give state officials new authority to overturn the popular vote.

"Even though Joe Biden won Arizona, by 45,000 votes [in Maricopa County], 20 members of the Arizona legislature signed a resolution asking Congress to disregard those results and seat a slate of Trump electors," Gates recounted. "That was, without a doubt, a staggering refusal to follow the will of the voters."

"The problem we have [is] Donald Trump refused to accept the results," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). "And unfortunately, we have one of the world's great political parties which has followed him off of this ledge of this electoral lunacy. And it's dangerous for democracy."

The House hearing disclosed few new details about the Arizona Senate's review led by the Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO, Doug Logan, was invited to speak but did not appear. The Cyber Ninjas also have not complied with the panel's demands for documentation related to the review.

On September 24, the Cyber Ninjas' team told Arizona legislators that Biden won the election, and even gained votes, while Trump lost some votes. However, the investigators released little documentation of their vote counts, and also raised many questions about technicalities that they claimed called into question tens of thousands of votes.

The hearing became a spectacle where congressional Republicans repeatedly ignored the Cyber Ninjas' conclusions about Biden's victory, and instead cited bureaucratic issues that the only speaker defending the Senate's review said would not have changed the election's result.

"It would not change that outcome—correct," said Ken Bennett, the Arizona Senate's liaison to the audit and a former Arizona secretary of state. "Did the audit show that Mr. Biden got more votes than Donald Trump in Maricopa County? Yes, the audit shows that."

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.

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.

New Report Provides Further Proof That Arizona Audit Is ‘A Hoax’

Joe Biden had more votes than Donald Trump during every day of voting in the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, Arizona, according to a new report by a team of experienced election auditors who have used public records to show why the Arizona state Senate's "audit" of the election is a "hoax."

"Joe Biden was never behind Donald Trump during the entire election period in Maricopa County," said the August 3 report, "Lessons from Maricopa County: Slow Facts versus Fast Lies in the Battle Against Disinformation," demonstrating this finding with charts and tables based on public election records releasedon November 20.

Moreover, of the "74,822 disaffected Republican supportive voters"—Arizonans who voted for most of the Republicans on the ballots but not for Trump in Maricopa County (greater Phoenix) and Pima County (greater Tucson)—"[t]he most highly disaffected of those, 48,577 (65%) voted for Biden; the remaining 26,245 (35%) voted for candidates who could not win, e.g., the Libertarian candidate (19,873), or by over-voting [voting for more than one presidential candidate] (2,009), or voting for no one (4,363)," the report said.

"To put the 48,577 disaffected Republican voters who voted for Biden in perspective, they represent 4.6 times the statewide margin of Trump's 10,457 vote loss to Biden," it said.

The August 3 report by Benny White, a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer, Larry Moore, retired CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified election auditing and technology firm, and Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot's retired chief technology officer, is the trio's most recent research that draws on public records to refute and debunk the "large-scale disinformation campaign" that Trump won in Arizona, one of the 2020 election's closest swing states.

"With over 35 years of combined election experience, we know that there are publicly available tools and data that can debunk election disinformation," the authors said. "If legislators, litigators, and judges were aware of this data, they could be more effective in stopping additional 'forensic audits.' Armed with hard data, the media could shift the narrative away from anecdotal 'evidence' and 'concerns' to facts."

The significance of the report is not limited to Arizona. Its approach could serve as a blueprint to counter the "bad faith" audits underway or eyed by pro-Trump factions in other states, by using public records to prove which party's voters turned out and how they voted. Its evidence-based analysis has not widely been used across the country as Trump has continued to deny that he lost, and as a new pro-Trump industry has emerged that is dedicated to casting doubts on election results by attacking little-known election administration details.

The report also offers a road map to specifically assess and debunk the Arizona state Senate's "audit" led by pro-Trump contractors by showing how they failed to accurately account for the number of ballots cast last fall, and the votes on those ballots.

More Evidence Republicans Rejected Trump

But what's most newsworthy are new details about the Arizona Republicans who rejected Trump by tens of thousands and in many cases voted for Biden. The report comes as a pro-Trump Arizona state senator has used a little-known law to launch a state attorney general investigation into Maricopa County's refusal to turn over more confidential election records. That pressure tactic likely will perpetuate more disinformation about the election's outcome among Trump supporters.

"There have been many discussions about mail ballots and the effect those ballots may have had on the results," the experienced auditors' report said, referring to the way most Arizonans voted last fall. "The Cast Vote Record [or spreadsheet of every vote on every ballot], 'Voted' file [listing voters who cast ballots], and voter histories from the voter registration files provide an enormous amount of information to help the public understand what happened during the election."

Those three public records revealed that nearly 75,000 Arizonans in Maricopa and Pima Counties voted for most Republicans on the ballots but not for Trump, and revealed where those disaffected Republican voters were located—the voter turnout patterns for Republican-leaning voters rejecting Trump.

Arizona, like many Western states, has a decades-long history of using mailed-out ballots and also offers in-person voting at vote centers before Election Day. Many Republicans did not heed Trump's call to vote only in person on Election Day, November 3—which became part of his claim that only in-person Election Day votes should count, as he assumed that the earlier votes or votes by mailed-out ballot were mostly cast by Democrats. Public records reveal that more Republicans than Democrats voted early or voted by mailed-out ballot in greater Phoenix.

"Republican voters retained their mail ballots until the last minute and then returned about 20,000 more ballots than the Democrats," the report said. "There were also more Republicans, about 36,000 more, who went to the polling places on Election Day. Those ballots cast by Republican voters helped reduce the lead Joe Biden had over Donald Trump in the mail and early voting before Election Day but there were not enough of them to win."

The report's analysis goes deeper, by finding "the level of disaffection [among voters who voted for a majority of Republicans on the ballots but not for Trump] reached 3 percent to five percent of the total ballots cast in a large number of precincts [with more registered Republicans than Democrats]." The report also pinpointed the small suburban cities where Republicans rejected Trump. It included a map showing that Phoenix's northeastern and southeastern suburbs—surrounding Paradise Valley, Chandler and Gilbert—widely rejected Trump.

These details go beyond most criticisms of the Senate's audit by citing factual voter turnout patterns to document Trump's loss. The report has other sections that are intended to hold the Senate's partisan contractors to account, and explains why the contractors' analysis is almost certainly flawed or even fabricated.

Before explaining the contractors' missteps, the outside auditors noted in their report that Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann, who repeatedly has said that the inquiry is intended to boost voters' public confidence in Arizona elections, had sent emails privately "touting" her post-election phone call with Trump. That was one indication, among many, that the so-called audit was a partisan ruse.

"When we found out that… [Cyber Ninjas, the lead contractor,] were withholding counts and other information from Ken Bennett, the Senate liaison to the Cyber Ninjas, we decided to challenge the credibility and accuracy of the hand-count," the outside auditors wrote, explaining their motives, prior challenges to Fann's team, and an analysis that details how to judge Cyber Ninjas' work.

"We issued our first challenge on June 7, 2021. We urged Senator Fann to increase her 'audit' transparency by randomly comparing their ballot and vote counts with the Cast Vote Record," the report said. "We intended to increase transparency by publicly confirming the accuracy of their count and, in their confirmation, set them on a path to confirm or dispute the official results credibly. More importantly, we wanted to signal to Senator Fann and the Ninjas that we could hold them accountable."

How To Audit Cyber Ninjas

The outside auditors said in their report that it was Cyber Ninjas' process that now must be audited.

"In short, without an audit, it would be nearly impossible to refute another round of disinformation," they wrote. "Without a comparison to the official results, the Ninjas could say anything. Senator Fann has already said that… [Cyber Ninjas' hand] count [of presidential votes] did not match the official [presidential vote] count. Without verifiable details, statements like hers spawn more disinformation."

The report noted that Cyber Ninjas have covered up their lack of election auditing experience by trying to shift the focus to Maricopa County, where Fann, who hired Cyber Ninjas, has blamed the Maricopa County Elections Department, saying that the county was "uncooperative," "ballots were missing," "files were deleted," "there was no way to be sure which ballots should be counted," "critical pieces of equipment were not delivered (e.g., routers)," and "equipment could not be accessed due to passwords not being provided."

"Many of these allegations have been proven false," the report noted. "Without an independent count—ballots, and votes—to compare… [Cyber Ninjas'] count against, there would be no way to audit the Ninjas' much-criticized recount. Without numerous points of comparison, quickly analyzing and resolving discrepancies would not be possible."

"The threat of more disinformation is real," the authors said.

It cited a July 15 legislative briefing where two of the Arizona Senate's top contractors had questions about tens of thousands of ballots—ballots that they could not explain, but which the outside auditors accounted for in their report. Trump recited the contractors' claims, made without offering any proof, in statements after the briefing and during a Phoenix speech on July 24.

In contrast to those propaganda-filled narratives, the report noted that Fann has said that Cyber Ninjas' hand count totals did not match the election's official results. Her admission came a day after the report's authors challenged the Senate's contractors to compare their count of the number of ballots in 1,634 storage boxes with the totals that the report's authors gleaned from public records. (In July, Fann initiated a second recount of the number of paper ballots from Maricopa County, which sources working inside the Arizona Senate's audit have told Voting Booth was an effort to understand the extent of the hand count's errors.) To date, Fann has not released the results of the hand count of presidential votes nor its follow-up count of the number of paper ballots; each of which should total 2,089,563 ballots.

The outside auditors noted that Cyber Ninjas did not count votes in the same increments as Maricopa County did, which the contractors should have done if they wanted an apples-to-apples comparison against the official vote count. That more authoritative process would have been based on tracking the results by ballot-counting groups (from early voting sites and county facilities processing mailed-out ballots) and from Election Day precincts. But Cyber Ninjas did not do that.

"The Ninjas' count of ballots and votes is inaccurate primarily because of the inherent inaccuracy of their methodology," the report said. "In our experience, without well-developed ballot control procedures, it is difficult to maintain a ballot count. Without an accurate ballot count, accuracy in the vote count is impossible." In other words, there are layers involved in an accurate audit that first relate to ensuring the inventory of ballots to be recounted is correct (as some ballots are duplicated, for various reasons, or are test decks), and then counting the actual votes in question on a well-controlled inventory of ballots.

The report also provides election data and analyses from public records that are intended to hold Cyber Ninjas to account—so the contractors might finally admit that Maricopa County's official 2020 election results were accurate, and that the contractors' so-called "forensic audit"—a technical term hijacked by Trump partisans—was flawed.

In short, the report's authors have used a mix of public records that affirm there were 2,089,563 ballots cast in Maricopa County's presidential election, and they account for all the votes cast (or not cast) for president on those ballots. They have repeatedly shared that information with the press and Fann, and challenged the Senate's contractors to prove them wrong. The contractors have so far not publicly replied, but the outside auditors have kept up the pressure, including trying to pre-empt what they believe would be disinformation by Fann's team.

"The information we have provided will enable an audit with 1,634 ballot points of comparison—one for each [storage] box. There are 8,170 vote points of comparison—[votes for] five candidates multiplied by 1,634 boxes (the Ninjas were counting five candidates—three in the race for President and two for U.S. Senator)," the report said. "It would be intentional disinformation if the Senate published a report that showed five numbers—the grand totals for the three candidates in the Presidential contest and two for the candidates in the U.S. Senate contest."

In other words, the report's authors are saying that the Senate's contractors cannot simply issue purported vote totals in each race and claim that they have conducted a credible audit whose results are accurate.

Whether or not the Cyber Ninjas will publish their analysis is an open question. In a July 15 legislative briefing, Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen suggested that the Senate's contractors may not be able to conclude their inquiry if Maricopa County refuses to share all of its records, including data used by law enforcement. Days later, the Senate then issued new subpoenas to the county, including seeking confidential law enforcement data.

The report's authors flagged the possibility that the Senate may seek to cover up the lapses of their contractors by manufacturing disinformation about the latest subpoenas.

"Imagine how dangerous it would be if, after their six-month-long process, their [the Senate's] report said, 'We have found thousands of extra ballots that call into question the integrity of Maricopa County election administration. Since the County did not provide us with everything we asked for and refused to answer our questions, we ask that this matter be referred to the Arizona Attorney General,'" the report said, noting that scenario was "realistic."

On August 2, a day before the outside auditors' report was issued, Arizona Sen. Sonny Borrelli, a Republican repeatedly praised by Trump at his July 24 rally in Phoenix, "invoked a law to prompt an attorney general investigation into the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, one day after the board rebuffed a subpoena related to the ongoing audit of the November 2020 election," the Arizona Republic reported.

"Without a detailed, independent audit, the Senate's review—we fear—will remain the nation's blueprint for election disinformation," outside auditors and co-authors of the report White and Moore wrote in an August 3 commentary published in the Arizona Republic. "Senator Fann, show the public your data."

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

Arizona Senate's Liaison Reinstated With New Authority Over 'Audit' Result

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

In Arizona, Ken Bennett, the state Senate's liaison to its review of 2020 presidential election ballots and procedures in its most populous county, is being reinstated with new authority.

Just days ago, Bennett threatened to resign because key information has been withheld from by the Senate's pro-Trump contractors, led by the Cyber Ninjas firm, whom Bennett also believed could be manipulating their data to mask their errors and fabricate a basis to say Trump had won.

Now, Bennett is returning to a role where he will be able to publicly critique and comment on the Ninjas' "audit," as well as oversee new lines of inquiry that will examine other building blocks of the 2020 election in Maricopa County without any involvement from the Ninjas.

"[Senate] President [Karen] Fann and I are working on a joint statement that will come out today, and it includes me staying on as the Senate's liaison," Bennett told Voting Booth.

While the Republican senators' inquiry has been sharply criticized on many fronts, from hiring inexperienced partisans to audit a highly technical process to providing a backdrop that fuels the Trumpian narrative that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president, Bennett's new role could become something of a silver lining in what has been a darkly clouded process.

Bennett confirmed his return to Arizona reporters late on Wednesday but gave few details. He has previously told Voting Booth that he has wanted to vet the data collected by the Cyber Ninjas, as well as their conclusions, and would publicly dispute their conclusions if not backed up by facts. Considering that pro-Trump legislators and activists in other battleground states have been hoping to conduct similar "audits," the former Arizona secretary of state — who is not on a private partisan payroll — is expected to deflate the conspiratorial claims.

Bennett also wants to independently investigate other aspects of the 2020 election in Maricopa County — with no involvement from the Senate's pro-Trump contractors. There are two main areas of inquiry where a more politically neutral assessment could end up showing Arizonans, and those watching from other states, what matters when verifying votes.

Bennett has said that he wants to retally the results in a process that recounts the votes as they were immediately recorded by ballot scanners, which is the first step in the counting process that follows the voter marking a ballot. That process involves looking at the digital image of every ballot, and then comparing that independent count to the official results. (The Cyber Ninjas team had the ballot images but did not use them. Instead, they pursued a hand count, which was imprecise — prompting a new count of ballots, not votes, to assess errors.)

Bennett has also said that he wants to review whether some return envelopes containing mailed-out ballots were lacking a voter's signature, meaning they should not have been counted. (That review would likely look at digital images of those envelopes). But there also are some reality-based lingering concerns from the Cyber Ninjas' conspiracy-laced testimony to the Senate on July 15, such as whether Maricopa County's vote-counting system was connected to the internet. (The county's auditors have concluded that it was not.)

In the short run, the state Senate's review of 2020's presidential election is continuing, which is discouraging for critics who want to derail the Trumpian narrative that the election was stolen. However, the return of an empowered Bennett, who had been locked out by the pro-Trump contractors for speaking truthfully about their work, is an unexpected development.

There isn't any other Republican in Arizona who is respected by that state's mainstream GOP voters who can try to deliver a message about what matters with counting votes, what can be improved procedurally, and why the process, while not perfect, produced an accurate result. Bennett has never said that Arizona's 2020 presidential election results were illegitimate.

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' Liaison Threatens to Quit Over Secrecy and Forged Results

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

Ken Bennett, the Arizona State Senate's liaison to its review of 2020's presidential election ballots, threatened to resign from that post live on conservative talk radio on Monday, saying that Cyber Ninjas, the Senate's pro-Trump contractors, have concealed their results from him for months and could even be manipulating audit data.

"I cannot be part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects," Bennett told James T. Harris, host of The Conservative Circus on Phoenix's KFYI. "The reason that I am that close to stepping down as liaison is that I cannot be part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects along the way that make the audit legitimate."

Bennett, a conservative Republican and former Arizona secretary of state, has been an accountant outside of politics. While he cited problems with Maricopa County's handling of ballots, Bennett said that the Cyber Ninjas might be covering up mistakes made in the review's earlier stages by falsifying data.

"We have to be very careful that the third count [of the total number of ballots] is, of course, independent from the Cyber Ninjas' second [hand] count [of presidential votes]," he said. "We have to make sure that we are not force-balancing to their numbers or giving them something too early to allow them to force-balance back to our numbers."

"When I asked Mr. [Randy] Pollen, [former Arizona Republican Party chair] what are the procedures for us to do this third count, so that we can make sure that we are independent from the second count, and he refused to tell me, I became very concerned that there would be this forced balancing going on," Bennett said.

The tension between Bennett's role as the Senate's liaison and the pro-Trump contractors has been simmering for months. While the Senate's review has been widely criticized as a pro-Trump propaganda exercise to perpetuate the "big lie" that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected, many Republicans who voted for Trump have been awaiting Bennett's assessment as a trusted messenger.

"Former Secretary Bennett, a man I know, a man that I consider to be very knowledgeable and a man of integrity, is being punished and excluded from the process because he sought to bring transparency to the process," said David Becker, executive director of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. "He sought to share data, in details from the process, with the public, who are ostensibly paying for this audit."

"I'm truly alarmed by this," said KFYI host James Harris, in the segment that followed Bennett's interview. "In the [show's] first segment, you actually had Ken Bennett step down because, in good conscience, he can't continue with this if he's been shut out and he's thinking that these numbers are being used improperly. And we know that that might be the case because we had President Trump spouting wrong numbers on the state last Saturday."

"I personally believe that we need to have Ken Bennett in this position [as Senate liaison]," he continued. "I know for a fact he's well-respected all around the state. I even heard from some people who respect him greatly say, 'Hey, what's going on with Ken Bennett… He sounds a little bit off.' Well, he is a little bit off, because he's seeing things that are shady."

"All of a sudden, this is getting convoluted," Harris said. "And instead of us having full disclosure, [and] transparency, it sounds like we are getting a grift!"

The spark behind Bennett's threat to resign—unless, he said, the Senate gives him full control of investigating several remaining aspects of the 2020 vote count—was a series of events that culminated last week that involved Bennett working with an outside group of retired election auditors. The team includes a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer; the retired CEO of Clear Ballot, a federally certified auditing firm; and the retired chief technology officer of Clear Ballot.

That team has been analyzing the public data from Maricopa County's presidential election and had been releasing findings to the Arizona media and challenging the contractors to prove them wrong. They showed, for example, that tens of thousands of Maricopa County voters voted for most of the Republican candidates on the ballot—but not Trump. The team also has been sharing its data with Bennett.

Bennett has told Voting Booth that the data from the independent auditors was the driving factor that led the Senate to recount the total numbers of Maricopa County ballots because the Ninjas' hand count did not match the election's official results. Bennett's team of auditors had accounted for virtually all the election's ballots and presidential votes and produced the hard evidence of public records to back up their findings. (They also found and corrected many data entry errors ahead of the Ninjas.)

As Bennett explained on the radio, the Cyber Ninjas were not telling Bennett what their progress or results were. In many instances going back months, they promised but never provided reports of their work. In recent weeks, Bennett said that he quietly has been comparing the outsider auditors' totals to the Cyber Ninjas' figures and seeing that the building blocks of the official presidential election results were accurate.

This reporter was on a Zoom with Bennett and the outside auditors on Wednesday, July 21, where Bennett said the conspiracy theories promoted by the Ninjas were a diversion because the pro-Trump contractors are realizing that Biden fairly won.

"The fact that they're posing questions, or asking questions, or throwing out things about all these other things tells me they know the counts are pretty close," he said. "They don't have any proof that there's any massive change in the numbers."

After the Arizona Republic reported on July 23 that Bennett had been taking to the auditors, he was locked out of the ballot count at a Phoenix warehouse. Trump held a Saturday rally in the city the next day. Two days later, on Monday morning, July 26, Bennett told KFYI's Harris that he could not continue as Senate liaison.

Bennett said there are serious election administration issues that the review has discovered that need to be explained and addressed before future elections. Thousands of ballots from members of the military and citizens overseas had not been properly labeled when duplicated (after they came in by e-mail), he said. Some volume of mailed-in ballots that were counted did not have signatures on their outside envelopes and should have been disqualified, he said.

Bennett said that he wanted to investigate these problems and conduct another audit that compared the digital images taken of every ballot by scanners with the county's official spreadsheet of each ballot's votes. The interview concluded with Harris asking Bennett what needed to happen for him to stay on.

"The answer is there are key aspects of the audit that are not even part of the scope of work assigned to Cyber Ninjas," Bennett said. "Some of those other things need to be done independently of Cyber Ninjas, and maybe I can be a coordinator of those other aspects, not done within Cyber Ninjas' realm."

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.

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?"

‘Reckless And Irresponsible’: Maricopa Sheriff Blasts Arizona Audit's Latest Demands

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone slammed the "Senate Republican Caucus' audit of the Maricopa County votes" for "[jeopardizing] the entire mission of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office," the Arizona Republic reported Friday.

"The Senate Republican Caucus' audit of the Maricopa County votes from last November's election has no stopping point," Penzone said in a statement. "Now, its most recent demands jeopardize the entire mission of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."

Penzone's criticism comes after Maricopa County failed to provide "certain routers that the state Senate sought in its original subpoenas" of 2020 election material. According to the Arizona Republic, "the county has provided all 2.1 million voter general election ballots, voter information and election equipment in response to state Senate subpoenas," but is warning of a "significant security risk to Sheriff's Office law enforcement data" if the routers are released.

Ken Bennett, who is serving "as a liaison between the Senate and the private contractors overseeing the audit," said auditors wants access to the routers because of "people that have always suspected something nefarious about elections being connected to the internet."

The Senate is also demanding "passwords to the county's ballot tabulators used on Election Day at voting centers." Bennett said auditors need the passwords so they have have "administrative access to voting machines," according to the Arizona Republic.

But County Attorney Allister Adel, in a letter to Bennett, said no such passwords exist. "The county has provided every password, user name and security key in its custody or control, as commanded by the Senate's subpoenas, and does not have any others," Adel told Bennett.

As for the routers, Sheriff Penzone in his statement said "access to this information would adversely affect the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office ability to protect critical evidence, data shared between law enforcement agencies, protected private information and individual passwords, all of which could be used to the detriment of citizens and law enforcement infrastructure."

Such a move "puts sensitive, confidential data belonging to Maricopa County's citizens — including social security numbers and protected health information — at risk as well," Adel wrote in that letter to Bennett.

Republican Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers likewise said releasing the routers would "cripple County operations and cost as much as $6 million."

Penzone also suggested the Senate is misrepresenting tropes of "transparency and accountability" in an effort to secure the routers.

Per the Arizona Republic:

The sheriff said transparency and accountability are democracy's foundation. "But when these words are misrepresented, it defies the fragile balance that exists between freedom and order and all that we believe in."