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Analysis

Partisan Arizona Election ‘Audit’ Was Flawed from the Start

Despite a complete lack of useful information or reliability, the report by the firm Cyber Ninjas will likely be used to spread lies about the 2020 election.

On Friday, the company Cyber Ninjas released a report on its partisan review of the 2020 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in Mari­copa County, Arizona. As we’ve detailed previ­ously, the Cyber Ninjas review failed to satisfy basic secur­ity, accur­acy, and reli­ab­il­ity meas­ures, so the report can’t be trus­ted.

The authors of the Cyber Ninjas report appear to avoid outright lies that could get them sued, the way other perpet­rat­ors of the Big Lie have been. They allege no conspir­acy to steal the elec­tion and find that Biden did, indeed, receive the most votes. But the incen­di­ary and mislead­ing innu­endo that has marked this review from the start contin­ues in the “report.”

To date, this farcical exer­cise has included a bamboo fiber hunt, spin­ning ballots, a Crazy Times Carni­val, and multiple tele­vised comedy segments. However, this effort, led by a rogue cluster of radical legis­lat­ors, has cost Arizona taxpay­ers millions of dollars and count­ing. It has fueled a disin­form­a­tion campaign that spurs death threats against trus­ted state and local elec­tion offi­cials of both parties, and it was suffi­ciently outrageous to get the “offi­cial” audit account kicked off Twit­ter.

Not surpris­ingly, the report has the patina of substance, but that quickly fades if one both­ers to read it. Titles and head­ings seem engin­eered for super­spread­ers of disin­form­a­tion to use out of context.

For example, “More Ballots Returned by Voter Than Received” — turns out that even Cyber Ninjas assumes none of the extra ballots were double coun­ted. Yes, some voters may have become anxious amidst Postal Service delays during the pandemic and decided to cancel their mail ballot and vote in person just in case — some­thing Mari­copa County handles with an elec­tronic voter check in list that updates in real time. Others may have been contac­ted about a messy signa­ture so that it could be correc­ted and the ballot coun­ted, as Arizona law requires.

Or “In-Person Voters Who Had Moved out of Mari­copa County” — turns out Cyber Ninjas used a commer­cial address veri­fic­a­tion service to guess whether and when a person may have moved, forcing them to concede that “error is expec­ted within these results.” And Cyber Ninjas fails to distin­guish between a tempor­ary move and a perman­ent one. Going to college, tempor­ar­ily moving to help family out as a care­taker during the pandemic — none of these things changes a voter’s eligib­il­ity to vote in the juris­dic­tion of their perman­ent resid­ence.

As expec­ted, state and local elec­tion offi­cials, quickly and easily debunked the false claims made by several witnesses at Friday’s hear­ing called by Arizona Senate Pres­id­ent Karen Fann, who, at minimum, has not been consist­ent about the taxpayer cost, purpose, or goals of this “audit.” Mari­copa County Recorder Stephen Richer quickly debunked what Shiva Ayyadurai’s iden­ti­fied as a “smoking gun” in Ayyadurai’s rambling present­a­tion about absentee ballot envel­ope signa­tures, tweet­ing “The ‘smoking gun’ affi­davit envel­ope has a signa­ture in the redac­ted phone number space. But we’ll ignore that.” And journ­al­ist Jen Fifield explained, “Do you know the reason why Shiva is confused about what processes the county used to process envel­opes? Because the Senate did not ask for the writ­ten proced­ures in its subpoenas. It’s not that the county is with­hold­ing — it is that the Senate didn’t ask.”

The report makes a number of policy recom­mend­a­tions that sound sens­ible: “[E]lectronic voting machines must always have a paper backup of all ballots.” But many of them are already in place (and were in place before Cyber Ninjas came to town). Every county in Arizona uses hand-marked paper ballots, with ballot-mark­ing devices that print a paper record used for access­ib­il­ity by voters with certain disab­il­it­ies. In fact, every “swing state” in the 2020 elec­tion used hand-marked paper ballots, touch­screen machines that print a paper record, or a mix.

Of course, all of us should be work­ing to improve public confid­ence in our elec­tions — the oppos­ite of what Cyber Ninjas and their enablers have done over the last several months. There are things that would actu­ally improve elec­tion secur­ity in Arizona, but we don’t see them in the Cyber Ninjas’ draft. We agree that Arizona legis­lat­ors should improve the state’s hand-audit law, which they failed to do this session despite efforts by Arizona Secret­ary of State Katie Hobbs. Current law prohib­its local elec­tion offi­cials from conduct­ing a postelec­tion hand tabu­la­tion audit if the local polit­ical parties refuse to parti­cip­ate. The legis­lature should­n’t author­ize polit­ical games­man­ship in postelec­tion audits, and it should consider effect­ive and effi­cient risk-limit­ing audits. With our part­ners at R Street, in Janu­ary we published a white paper detail­ing our postelec­tion audit recom­mend­a­tions.

Elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion has become increas­ingly complex, even more so in massive juris­dic­tions such as Mari­copa County, which is the second-largest elec­tion juris­dic­tion in the coun­try. It’s not surpris­ing that an obscure, small-time consult­ing firm, which repor­ted only five employ­ees in 2020 and has no actual elec­tions exper­i­ence, does­n’t know the ins and outs of how elec­tions are run in Arizona in general or in Mari­copa County in partic­u­lar. What’s (still) surpris­ing is that the Arizona Senate chose Cyber Ninjas to lead this sore loser effort to cast doubt on the 2020 elec­tion.

Millions of dollars have been raised in support of this nakedly partisan charade. All there is to show for it is a few alarm­ist titles that disin­form­a­tion super­spread­ers could have writ­ten them­selves.