Elections experts in both parties have said for months that results of the so-called “audit” — conducted by the Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas, which had no experience auditing election results and is led by a man who has repeated wild conspiracy theories about election fraud — will not be credible.
The company and its volunteers and subcontractors did not follow standard auditing procedures. Observers from Democratic secretary of state Katie Hobbs’ office have repeatedly noted instances in which those conducting the audit have broken their own rules.
And the partisan nature of the audit and its funders — $5.7 million came from outside, conservative sources, compared to just $150,000 from the Arizona state Senate, which ordered the audit — has long cast serious doubt on its credibility.
No matter the results of the audit, the reality that Joe Biden is president and won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes last year will not change. But that hasn’t stopped former President Donald Trump and his allies — particularly far-right, pro-Trump propaganda outlets — from claiming otherwise and saying that other states should follow Arizona’s lead in conducting audits. Trump issued a raft of false statements ahead of a campaign-style rally in the state last month, and used the rally to repeat those lies.
“Does everybody here understand that the 2020 election was a total disgrace?” Trump said.
Trump’s allies have tried to export Arizona’s audit to other states — including Pennsylvania, where a state senator has sought to conduct his own review of individual counties’ results but has been rebuffed by those counties, and Wisconsin, where Republican lawmakers are pursuing several approaches but have butted heads over which avenues to pursue.
The report’s delivery to state senators Monday does not mean it will be immediately released to the public. Instead, Senate Republicans and their representatives plan to review it. Ken Bennett, the Senate’s liaison with the audit team, said last week that a group will spend the following “days or weeks” verifying and “checking for accuracy” the report.
Bennett told CNN he wanted to “spread fact, not rumor” that this would only be a draft report and it would not be made public. The Senate team, will review the report and could ask Cyber Ninjas for further clarifications of its findings.
“Senate team will then review for accuracy and clarity for final report which will be released publicly,” state Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, tweeted last week.
Warnings about ‘unreliable’ conclusions
The finalization of the audit — and the potential for the report detailing its results to soon become public — has led Republican and Democratic elections officials in Arizona, including GOP officials in Maricopa County, to warn that it should not be taken seriously.
Hobbs, the Arizona secretary of state and a 2022 Democratic candidate for governor, issued a 46-page report pre-butting the audit’s results, too.
“It is clear that any ‘outcomes’ or ‘conclusions’ that are reported from the Senate’s review, by the Cyber Ninjas or any of their subcontractors or partners, are unreliable,” Hobbs’ report says.
The report calls the Senate-run recount “secretive and disorganized.” It reiterates most of the issues Hobbs has cited for months; lack of security, shifting processes for screening and counting ballots, chain of custody and transparency problems.
Over and over the report notes there were no consistent procedures in reading ballots, tallying ballots and storing the ballots. One person working to examine the paper in the ballots complained that the process changed “every day, every day!”
In one example, a Senate contractor told observers that after one week, the scanning of the paper ballots “had been abandoned because contractors performed a software update which resulted in the loss of all the ballot images.”
Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder — a Republican whose 2020 victory was one of the GOP’s few gains in the state, as they lost the presidential race and a Senate seat — released a 38-page letter titled “Dear Arizona Republicans” last week.
In the letter, Richer, who has become an outspoken critic of the Cyber Ninjas audit, details his own political history as a loyal Republican who voted for Trump, and explains the missteps the auditors and Senate Republicans who hired them have taken that led him to respond forcefully — including disproven allegations of criminal wrongdoing posted on a Twitter account run by the audit team.
Richer notes that three post-election partial audits of Maricopa County’s results found them to be accurate.
He also said he would still be willing to conduct a review of the 2020 election to ease Republicans’ worries, and would do so with Fann and GOP lawmakers — if they ditched Cyber Ninjas.
“What I’m not willing to do is further indulge the biased, inexperienced, incompetent, conspiracy-theory-driven, unscrupulous, partisan Cyber Ninjas,” Richer said.
He wrote that the audit “is an abomination that has so far eroded election confidence and defamed good people.”