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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.

AZ audit
AP Photo/Matt York

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.