The Madness of the Maricopa County Election Audit

Election workers count ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix, Ariz., November 6, 2020. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)
The election results in Arizona’s largest county have been certified and authenticated multiple times. This audit effort has been pure folly.

I’m a libertarian-minded Republican. I hate taxes. Especially the income tax. But I pay all required taxes.

I suspect you also pay your taxes. And like most Americans, you probably don’t cheat or lie.

For that reason, even though an IRS audit might annoy you and cause you some stress, you’d eventually realize that you have nothing to fear as long as the audit is done fairly and properly.

But you’d likely feel differently if the IRS outsourced the audit to someone who:

  • Had no applicable professional credentials
  • Had never previously run a tax audit
  • Believed that Hugo Chavez had nefariously controlled your tax-auditing software
  • Had publicly stated prior to examining your taxes that you’d certainly committed tax fraud

That is what is happening to elections in Maricopa County, Ariz. — the home of almost two-thirds of Arizona’s voting population.

In the immediate aftermath of the November 3, 2020, election, Maricopa County oversaw a hand-count audit of over 47,000 votes, a statistically significant sampling as determined by multiple professional statisticians. The recognized political parties — Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian — administered the hand count in groups of three volunteers appointed by party leadership. Those hand-counted results matched the machine-tabulated results with 100 percent accuracy. Perfect accuracy. This was the third hand count performed by the political parties in 2020 that confirmed the accuracy of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment.

The same is true of the pre-election and post-election tests done of the tabulation equipment — 100 percent accuracy. The machines are state and federally certified, and the county has used machines owned by the same parent company (Dominion) since 1998 without problems or discrepancies.

Nonetheless, in February, the county enlisted two professional, certified elections-equipment companies to analyze the oft-voiced concerns regarding the Dominion tabulation software and hardware. The county asked the two election companies to do everything necessary to:

  • Analyze hacking vulnerabilities of both the tabulation hardware and software
  • Verify that no malware had been installed to the tabulators
  • Determine if the tabulators had connected to the Internet at any point before, during, or after the election
  • Assess if any vote switching occurred as a result of the tabulators

Both companies used methodologies honed over the course of hundreds of previous examinations. Neither company found problems with the tabulators. Their reports are available online.

We also had the benefit of the eight court cases challenging Maricopa County’s election administration. None of those eight cases found any widespread inaccuracy, fraud, or wrongdoing. Only two were dismissed for lack of standing.

Armed with these facts and professional assessments, I made the only reasonable conclusion I could make: Maricopa County accurately tabulated the November 3 ballots. I say this without any bias or skin in the game. The irony of all of this is that I was merely a candidate in November. In fact, I defeated the incumbent Democrat who was previously the top elections official for the county. (I guess he forgot to rig his own election? Or was it a clever ruse?)

But the Arizona Senate didn’t feel comfortable with that conclusion and is now conducting its own audit. For an unknown reason, Maricopa County is the only county of Arizona’s 15 counties being audited, and only the top two contests on the ballot — the presidential, in which Joe Biden (D) defeated incumbent Donald Trump (R), and the Senate race, in which Mark Kelly (D) defeated incumbent Martha McSally (R) — are being audited. Down-ballot, Republicans held the state legislature and won five of the six countywide seats.

At least one professional, widely known, certified elections company (Clear Ballot) applied to do the Senate’s audit. The Senate rejected that official bid.

The Senate has not provided any details on its selection process and ultimately chose a company that did not formally apply. That company is Cyber Ninjas — a tiny cybersecurity company from Sarasota, Fla. This is the first election audit ever run by Cyber Ninjas. You did not read that wrong: Before being handed the lead position in maybe the most consequential post-election audit ever, Cyber Ninjas had run zero election audits. Understandably, nobody in the elections community had ever heard of Cyber Ninjas. Neither Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida — where the Cyber Ninjas are from — nor Representative Vern Buchanan, whose election in 2006 caused changes to Florida election law, had previously heard of, or worked with, Cyber Ninjas. That’s right: The state that gave America the hanging chad had never heard of Cyber Ninjas.

Even more troubling than the lack of any election-audit experience are the publicly stated beliefs of Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan.

Logan has indulged the wildest election conspiracy theories, including the one that deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez somehow had a hand in rigging America’s elections. Perhaps because of the malignant influence of Chavez, Logan had already concluded, prior to even starting the audit, that the nation’s elections were fraudulent (“I’m tired of hearing people say there was no fraud. It happened, it’s real, and people better get wise fast,” read a tweet he once retweeted). He also authored a report called “Election Fraud Facts & Details” for conspiracy-theorist-in-chief Sidney Powell, who has started singing a very different tune since getting sued by Dominion for defamation.

The resulting audit is about what you’d expect. The auditors spent days using UV lights looking for watermarks as a result of a popular QAnon theory about the election (Maricopa County’s ballots don’t have watermarks), and they’re still examining the paper ballots for traces of bamboo fibers to prove that the ballots were fraudulently flown in from China (our ballots are printed in none other than Arizona). The volunteer workers of the audit are recruited mostly from Republican Party sources, including a former Arizona Republican Party chairman and a former Republican state legislator who was on the November 3 ballot and also at the January 6 rally at the Capitol. Just how Republican-heavy the workforce is has not been disclosed. There is no documented process for vetting audit workers, but that component is now being managed by Patrick Byrne, another election conspiracy theorist and friend of Sidney Powell.

The methodology is no better. It’s a slipshod process that would never be used by professional election auditors and which has earned the widespread ridicule of election officials. Cyber Ninjas even committed the rookie mistake of having a blue pen (which can be used to mark ballots) in the ballot-counting area. The company only learned of this faux-pas when an on-site journalist expressed concern (and journalists have not been allowed at all parts of the audit). The subcontractor who set up the recount process recently decided to walk off the job after having only completed one-fourth of the ballots. The hand count was originally set to finish in mid May, but despite having tables that rotate ballots at a whiplash speed and likely faster than volunteers can count, the count is still ongoing.

As for the funding of this multi-month endeavor, it’s dripping with irony. The same people who have thrown fits that Mark Zuckerberg very publicly, transparently, and lawfully provided grant funding to help election officials during coronavirus are now shaking the can for private, undisclosed donations to this audit. They’ve already raised millions of dollars and have benefited from the munificence of far-from-impartial sources such as One America News Network and pro-Trump conspiracy theorist lawyer Lin Wood.

That’s your audit. Are you still comfortable? If you are, do you think your Democrat friends are?

Perhaps I could have celebrated another confidence-boosting audit if it had been run by a professional elections firm like Clear Ballot. Or else a top-notch auditor like Deloitte.

But Cyber Ninjas? I’m not going to believe a darn thing they say. And I’m a Republican who voted for Trump.

Stephen Richer is the Maricopa County recorder. He was elected, as a Republican, in November 2020, and took office in January.


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