How the Cyber Ninjas ended up delivering what Republicans really wanted in Arizona

The election audit contract that Arizona's state Senate leaders signed with the Cyber Ninjas in March 2021 never specified that the pro-Trump firm would produce a report that included a definitive recount of the votes in 2020's presidential race. And as revealed by a close examination of the most detailed data released from the Senate review so far, the Cyber Ninjas' recount is incomplete, inaccurate, and far from definitive.

The document containing the most detailed data, "Arizona Senate Maricopa County Election Audit: Machine Paper Ballot Count Report," was prepared by Randall Pullen, former Arizona Republican Party chair and a former partner with Deloitte & Touche, a nationwide accounting firm. But an October 1 analysis by a bipartisan team of retired election auditors found the data set in Pullen's report does not account for one-third of the ballots that were hand-counted. Moreover, a line-by-line comparison of the data in Pullen's report with Maricopa County's official records shows that nearly half of the figures are missing or wrong.

On September 24, the Cyber Ninjas-led team told the Arizona Senate that Joe Biden won the election in the state's most populous county and gained 99 votes, while Donald Trump lost 261 votes. But their most detailed data presented does not account for nearly 16,000 hand-counted ballots, which is the basis of its reported presidential election results.

"What we are saying is that any discussion of the [presidential election] votes based on the hand counts is meaningless," said Benny White, a lawyer, data analyst and longtime election observer for the Arizona Republican Party. "That's our bold conclusion in this report."

"We believe our worst fears have happened—the entire exercise in hand counting ballots on lazy Susans [rotating stands] for two months, was a hoax," wrote Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of Clear Ballot, in an October 1 blog on their latest findings.

The Senate's comments since White and Moore released their analysis suggest that their investigators either did not reconcile all of their hand-count numbers, or perhaps never completed that vote count at all. Moreover, the Senate's contract with the Cyber Ninjas anticipated that absence of precision.

Did the Political World Fall for Another Big Lie?

On Friday, September 24, the political world breathed a sigh of relief as the Cyber Ninjas and other pro-Trump subcontractors hired by the state Senate affirmed that Joe Biden had won the election in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and two-thirds of Arizona voters. Not only had Biden won and gained votes, but the Cyber Ninjas reported that Trump had lost votes.

Their Senate Republican sponsors praised the contractors' work and proclaimed that Arizona had set an example for other states to follow. A day later, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann issued a letter stressing the importance of the Cyber Ninjas' findings that affirmed the officially reported election results. "This is the most important and encouraging finding of the audit… This finding therefore addresses the sharpest concerns about the integrity of the certified results in the 2020 general election."

However, that claim of accuracy is undermined by another report to the Senate—not issued by the Cyber Ninjas, but by another team member, Pullen, the Senate co-liaison. That report, posted on the Senate Republican website, includes 17 pages of subtotals of five ways that the contractors sought to verify the total number of ballots.

Pullen's report compares five attempts to track and count the number of ballots from 40 storage boxes delivered to the contractors (out of 1,631 boxes delivered by Maricopa County.) Under the column heading of "ballot count," which refers to the two-month-long hand count that started in late April, Pullen's report lists 32,674 hand-counted ballots. Under the column "machine count," which refers to a tabulation on equipment purchased by the Senate in June to check the hand count's results, a total of 48,366 ballots are listed.

In other words, the most detailed document released by the Senate's team to date does not account for nearly one-third of the ballots used to recount and attest to the election's results. Pullen's presentation before the Senate on September 24 did not mention this discrepancy.

The outside auditors also compared ballot-count data in Pullen's report with Maricopa County's official election records—all are public documents—and found "the errors are numerous. Out of 260 count records included in the report, 124 records have some sort of error. This results in an error rate of 47.7 percent."

"Having zero experience in election audits, the [Cyber] Ninjas['] announcement that they had confirmed, to a high degree of accuracy, the election results of the second largest county in the country is, we believe, laughable," Moore wrote on their blog. "The assertion that Trump had lost 261 votes was, we believe, a 'shiny object' designed to convey believability to an otherwise unbelievable hoax."

The outside auditors shared their analysis with the Arizona Republic, which was the first news outlet to report the discrepancies. The paper's October 1 report contained statements from Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and Pullen rejecting the outside auditors' analysis.

"Are they saying Trump won?" Fann said, after calling the analysis "a lie that borders on inflammatory."

"The Cyber Ninjas' hand count was not completed before we did the machine count," Pullen said in a written response to the paper. "They were in the process of checking their counts."

Pullen's comments suggest the Cyber Ninjas may have never finished their hand count, which was the only way that compiled vote totals from the presidential election.

Fails as Audit, Succeeds Politically

The Arizona "audit" has triggered similar reviews of the 2020 presidential results in other states, including the presidential battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, where pro-Trump legislators have been using the reviews in an effort to cast doubt on the accuracy of 2020's results and return Trump to the presidency—by extra-constitutional means. In the summer of 2021, Trump reportedly assured his allies that he would return to office by August.

The outside auditors' October 1 blog includes the timelines and difficulties facing the Senate's 2020 election review team, which included the Cyber Ninjas and Pullen. They concluded that Fann allowed the Cyber Ninjas, the lead contractor, to create a made-for-media spectacle that had no ability to achieve its stated goal—assess the accuracy of 2020's election — but instead fueled a months-long narrative used by Trump's base to try to return him to office.

There is plenty of evidence that Biden won Arizona's election, but it was not produced by the Cyber Ninjas. The outside auditors, using public election records, in August released a report about how nearly 60,000 ballots in Maricopa showed a majority of votes for Republicans but not for Trump. They included a map displaying the Phoenix suburbs where Republicans had rejected Trump.

However, there is a legal detail that fell outside the purview of the outside auditors' most recent review of the Senate's work. The contract signed in March between Fann and Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said the firm "will attempt to validate every area of the voting process," including an "attempt to… count all ballots to determine the accuracy of all federal races."

That language specifically does not require the Senate's contractors to produce a definitive report. The contract goes further and directs that the "results from all phases are [to be] compared." In other words, the omissions and errors found by the outside auditors in Pullen's report satisfied a contract that never required a definitive election audit—regardless of the exercise's stated goal from the Senate Republicans.

While lawyers may argue that the Senate's investigators had a duty to count every vote, and their inexperience and fights with Maricopa County officials led to obstacles preventing a fuller accounting, the Senate's contract with the Cyber Ninjas, nonetheless, anticipated a 2020 review without definitive results.

Thus, a review that failed to meet the standards of a professional election audit still achieved its pro-Trump political goal. It sparked copycat efforts that are underway in other battleground states, such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

And it has fueled a nonstop disinformation campaign where Trump allies in state legislatures have used election integrity rhetoric to pass laws that complicate voting in battleground states—and, in Georgia, empowered a state board to overturn the popular vote results in future elections.

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.

Angry dispute between Republicans roiling final Arizona 'audit' report

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.

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

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.


The top funder of Arizona's 2020 election 'audit' is signaling a new report will admit Biden beat Trump

The team of Arizona Republican state senators, legislative staff, and advisers finalizing the Cyber Ninjas' report on the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County are preparing to say that Joe Biden legitimately won the election, according to the largest funder of the Senate's mostly privatized election review, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.

"The way some of these political RINOs [Republicans In Name Only] are doing this is they're trying to argue that the [election] report should only be allowed to go and address the original construct of the report, the original assignment of the audit, and leave out other things that have been found," Byrne told Creative Destruction Media's L. Todd Wood.

"The political class is going to try to come in and water this down," Byrne said. "The Republican political class, the RINOs, the nobodies… They are going to try to water this down. I am sure they all have been promised federal judgeships or sacks of cash under a streetlight if they can get this killed at this late date or watered down. And I think the public of Arizona should go ballistic."

Byrne's comments were made on August 29 but have been reposted on pro-Trump media in recent days as Arizona's Republican Senate leadership is finalizing its report on the election. Trump has also revived his attacks on "RINOs" in recent days on Telegram, a social media site favored by his base.

The Arizona Senate's review team includes Doug Logan, the CEO of the Cyber Ninjas, its lead contractor—which is writing the report and has been paid $3.2 million from Byrne's organizations.

Byrne's comments underscore what observers of the Arizona Senate's review have anticipated for months—that any credible review would conclude there were no major problems with Maricopa County's conduct of the presidential elections, although, as in any election, some procedures could be improved to make the vote-counting process more transparent.

Cyber Ninjas was hired to oversee a manual recount of Maricopa County's presidential and U.S. Senate votes and to examine whether the county's ballots were authentic or possibly forged. Logan and his team had little or no prior election audit experience, and their methods were criticized as secretive and deeply flawed. Nonetheless, for months the Arizona "audit" has been a driving force perpetuating the "big lie," or the false claim that the election was rigged by Democrats and establishment actors who orchestrated a massive vote-stealing operation.

The Arizona review has generated endless conspiracy theories and became a rallying cry, if not a litmus test, for Trump-centered Republicans. It has inspired loyalists in other presidential swing states to launch similar reviews long after the 2020 election results were certified.

The stolen election claims, however, have not produced any evidence that has been accepted by any state or federal court. Instead, Trump's campaign legal team has been sanctioned by a U.S. District Court judge in Michigan for lying in court, and some of his lawyers face fines and disbarment. In Arizona, a team of retired election auditors with decades of experience has published analyses using official 2020 election records to document how nearly 60,000 ballots had a majority of votes for Republican candidates but not for Trump. Trump lost the state by nearly 11,000 votes.

Sources in Arizona have said that the state Senate review team was spooked by the possible losses of law licenses looming over Trump's attorneys, as well as stern warnings from the U.S. Department of Justice for possibly using investigative methods that could violate voter intimidation laws. As a result, they have been editing the report drafted by the Senate's lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas, and excising claims and narratives that are speculative rather than factual. This has delayed the report's release until the week of September 20, sources indicated.

The review team consists of Arizona Senate President Karen Fann; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen; Senate legal counsel Greg Jernigan; contract Senate attorneys Kory Langhofer and Thomas Basile of Statecraft; Garth Kamp, the Senate's senior policy adviser; audit liaison and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett; audit spokesman Randy Pullen; and Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO, according to the Arizona Republic.

Byrne's apparent frustration with the Senate stems from the decision not to include claims made in early September by Arizona Trump activist Liz Harris that there were 173,104 "lost votes" and 96,389 "ghost votes" in the Maricopa County election. That claim was quickly debunked by the county's Republican election director—and was the subject of the Justice Department's May 5 warning letter. During his interview with Creative Destruction Media, Byrne also cited sloppily marked ballots that were adjudicated—or set aside for review of the voter's intent—as another instance of when votes were allegedly changed.

Byrne's suggestion that the Arizona Senate is rejecting the conspiratorial narratives put forth by Logan—as well as Logan's subcontractors and partisan allies like Harris—could set the stage for one of the most stunning reversals in contemporary politics. Trump's endless claims of a stolen election led to an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. A rally defending those subsequently arrested and prosecuted is planned in Washington for September 18.

Meanwhile, across the country, pro-Trump Republicans have called for copycat audits in their states, and many candidates seeking office in 2022—including most of the Republicans running for governor in Arizona—have said they believe a second term was stolen from Trump. Those responses have been fueled to a large degree by Byrne's organizations and media projects, which include a book, a conspiracy-laden documentary film, and extensive fundraising efforts.

In short, Byrne is signaling, presumably based on what Logan and other allies have told him, that the Arizona Senate's review of the 2020 election will conclude that Biden beat Trump.

"The people of Arizona should make it very clear that they will not accept any political interference in this report," Byrne complained. "It's the kiss of death. If politicians get involved… The whole point was that we don't trust the politicians. We wanted some technologists to look at stuff and tell us what they find. To have them spend all these millions of dollars and all these months and this effort to do that… and then to have some weenie politicians get involved."

"I hope that it's made really clear in social media that the citizens of Arizona and this country do not want any political interference in this report from the political class in Arizona," he said. "[Within t]he Republican political class, believe it or not, there are some weak sisters. There are some RINOs… It's all corrupt."

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 mystery: Did the Cyber Ninjas botch another 2020 presidential recount attempt?

Did the Cyber Ninjas botch another attempt to recount Maricopa County's 2020 presidential ballots—an attempt that, so far, has escaped wide media coverage?

It appears, at the very least, that a contract signed on July 28 by the Cyber Ninjas—the lead contractor in the Arizona Senate Republicans' election review—and Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, a Boston-based technologist and unsuccessful GOP U.S. Senate candidate, indicated that all 2020 election results would be tallied by August—and that deadline has now been missed.

An Arizona Republic report about Dr. Shiva, as he is known on social media, and the contract quoted Randy Pullen, the Senate review's spokesman, as saying that Ayyadurai's tally of the votes on digital images of 2.1 million paper ballots (created by vote-count scanners) was "sidetracked because the data was corrupted." Pullen said "only 60 percent of the ballots were accessible."

"We couldn't do anything with it," Pullen said. "The corruption was done at the county."

County officials contest that claim. Megan Gilbertson, Maricopa County Elections Department communication director, said the department had confirmed that the ballot image data set given to the Cyber Ninjas was complete and accessible, and that the Senate's latest subpoenas of county records did not seek another copy.

Ken Bennett, the Senate's liaison to the audit and former Arizona secretary of state, said that he did not know if Ayyadurai's firm had completed a ballot image audit. But the Senate expected to be briefed on September 13 about the Cyber Ninjas' findings, he said, including, presumably, Ayyadurai's ballot image audit.

Shiva, whose contract with the Cyber Ninjas includes a nondisclosure agreement, would not comment to intermediaries contacted by Voting Booth about the status of what would be the second full recount of Maricopa County's official election records by the Cyber Ninjas. In July, the Cyber Ninjas completed a hand count of the presidential election's paper ballots.

Sources with access to the Cyber Ninjas' operation have told Voting Booth that its hand count results differed from the official election results by several thousand votes. The Senate then brought in machinery to recount the number of ballots—not their votes—to reconcile the discrepancies.

The Cyber Ninjas also have created their own set of electronic copies of the paper ballots, but those copies are not the same as working with official government records and data. The Cyber Ninjas' images, like any original new data set, could be altered to support a biased or predetermined conclusion.

So far, the Cyber Ninjas have not released any of their data, analytics or the methodologies used in their review. They have, instead, dropped hints at prior legislative presentations that they believe Joe Biden did not win Arizona's presidential election by 10,457 votes, the certified results.

The question of whether the Cyber Ninjas are continuing to bungle their review of 2020's official election records—paper ballots, digital ballot images and cast-vote record or the official spreadsheet of every vote—is important because pro-Trump Republicans have been pushing for Arizona-style reviews in other swing states. Wisconsin Republicans, for example, are working with Ayyadurai.

A New Wave of Disinformation

In the meantime, a bait-and-switch is unfolding in pro-Trump media. Instead of relying on official—meaning government-generated—data that was used to decide the election's certified outcome, pro-Trump activists are putting forth more stolen election narratives based on their own flawed data (gathered by interviewing voters) or statistical analyses based on more remote historical data they have selectively parsed.

For example, Arizona's Liz Harris, an avid Trump supporter who has led an effort to canvass Phoenix neighborhoods to try to tie voter registrations to vacant lots, is now claiming that there were "173,104 lost votes" and "96,389 ghost votes" in Maricopa County's 2020 presidential election.

Harris' hunt for vacant lots whose addresses were on voter registrations, which became a premise for claiming massive fraudulent voting, was quickly debunked by Arizona reporters. In short, her team missed homes on properties, among other amateur sleuthing errors. Still, her newest election-theft claims were covered on pro-Trump media, such as Steve Bannon's "War Room."

A somewhat more sophisticated—but still erroneous—claim that has been gaining ground in pro-Trump media is from Seth Keshel, a retired Army officer. Keshel has looked at historic voter turnout patterns and voter registration data and claimed that there was no way that Biden could have received as many votes as he did in swing states—as recorded in the certified 2020 results.

What Keshel does not refer to, despite his lengthy explanations online, are the 2020 election's official vote count records and related data sets. For example, he has not done what Benny White, a lawyer and longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer, has done, which is to analyze the official cast-vote record from 2020's general election to detect actual voting patterns.

White's analysis of Maricopa County's 2020 cast-vote record found nearly 60,000 ballots with a majority of votes for Republican candidates but not for Trump. On these ballots, about two-thirds of otherwise loyal Republicans voted for Biden.

The pro-Trump activists, in contrast, have not grounded their assertions in the most precise, local and factual balloting data. Keshel, moreover, while claiming to be an expert analyst, does not acknowledge that COVID-19 prompted millions of voters to cast their 2020 presidential ballots in a different manner (early or by mail) than in 2016. (Pro-Trump legislators in red-run states have noted that trend and passed new bills in 2021 to roll back those expanded ballot-access measures.)

But the big picture is what the Election Integrity Partnership—a collaboration between the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, the Digital Forensic Research Lab and Graphika—called "the bad use of statistics to sow doubt in election results" in a recent report.

"In the wake of the 2020 election, the scale and irregular nature of voting data was weaponized to create statistical disinformation in order to undermine confidence in the result," the EIP's report, "The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election," said. "A statistical model sets up an (often-flawed) expectation of how voting data should appear. Violations of this expectation occur, either due to chance (i.e., checking many locations), a mismatch between the data and model's assumptions, or an inappropriate application of the statistical model."

The report also cited Ayyadarai's early claims that loyal Republicans would not abandon the presidential candidate at the top of their party's ticket as an example of bogus analytics.

"In another example, Shiva Ayyadurai posted a fraught analysis, choosing variables that artificially created the impression that Trump did more poorly than expected in more Republican areas to suggest voting machines were changing votes to Joe Biden," the EIP report said. "He further used the imposed negative slope to estimate purported switched votes, which fed into misleading narratives about Dominion voting [system] software."

The EIP report said average voters could not "critique" technical-sounding disinformation, which makes it harder to debunk.

"These are [examples]… in which election data was weaponized to promote false narratives of widespread election fraud," the EIP report said. "This tactic is particularly challenging, as it simultaneously creates the impression of widespread fraud while leveraging statistical analyzes that average citizens cannot be reasonably expected to critique."

Dr. Shiva's 'Fraught Analysis'

The "fraught analysis" that Dr. Shiva presented at a November 2020 legislative hearing in Phoenix helped to launch the Arizona Senate's review of the 2020 election. His testimony likely yielded two contracts with the Cyber Ninjas nearly eight months later, an associate of Shiva's told Voting Booth.

One contract was to examine the digital images of returned absentee ballot envelopes to see if some envelopes lacked signatures, which are required before opening and counting the votes. Maricopa County's official canvass reported on November 20, 2020, that there were 2,042 rejected ballot return envelopes in its presidential election.

The second contract was to tally the presidential results from 2.1 million ballot images, which, if completed, would be the second recount of 2020's official election data by the Cyber Ninjas. The review spokesman, Randy Pullen, told the Arizona Republic that Shiva could not access 40 percent of those digital ballot image files—roughly 840,000 ballots—an enormous error rate.

Arizona's Senate Republicans may soon hear if Shiva completed his ballot image audit. Or if the Cyber Ninjas botched their second attempt to recount all of Maricopa County's presidential votes based on using official records—not shoddy evidence that's fabricated by Trump supporters or, as the EIP report put it, "the bad use of statistics to sow doubt in election results."

FROM YOUR SITE ARTICLES

Most Virginia counties won't offer Sunday voting this fall

Virginia, the state with 2021's most expansive and inclusive voting reforms enacted after the 2020 presidential election, is leaving it up to its 133 counties to offer early voting on Sunday known as "souls to the polls" for its statewide elections in November.

With only a few days remaining before a September 3 deadline from the Virginia Department of Elections to apply for funds to implement early voting options, only a dozen counties, mostly in metro areas, are planning to offer one day of Sunday voting. The option has not been offered in Virginia, but has been a focal point for clergy-led get-out-the-vote efforts in other southern states.

Older church-going voters are among the most reliable voting bloc for Democrats. However, in many instances, they need assistance to get to voting sites; hence Sunday "souls to the polls" efforts. That option is apart from early voting on Saturday, which all Virginia counties are required to offer on at least one day during the 45 days prior to November 2's election.

"It turns out that we have souls, but there are not enough polls," said Andrea Miller, founding board member of the Center for Common Ground, a Virginia-based non-partisan non-profit that focuses on helping Black voters across the South. "I cross-checked all counties with more than 10,000 Black voters and Henrico County, which has the largest number of Black voters in the state, is [still] not offering Sunday voting."

But pressure from clergy, activists like Miller and the Democratic Party of Virginia has prompted a handful of counties with large Black populations to decide in recent days to offer at least one day of Sunday voting, Miller and state party activists said. They cited Norfolk County, Chesterfield County, Chesapeake City and Alexandria City.

"We're hearing other jurisdictions are getting pressured and the pressure is working," Miller said. "I heard there are 12 jurisdictions who have agreed, but most have not updated their websites—which is what we are using [to monitor the voting option]."

Early voting in Virginia starts on September 17, which is 45 days before the general election.

Virginia is one of two states in 2021 that will hold statewide elections, including for governor and legislature. This winter, its Democratic-majority legislature passed a slate of election reforms that was a counterpoint to legislation in red states that sought to prohibit many of flexible voting options offered by election officials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislature did not require its 133 county boards of elections to offer Sunday voting but passed legislation in a special session making it clear that Sunday voting was permitted and appropriated $3 million to assist local counties with implementing it.

Traditionally, Virginia's election administration has been very decentralized with many decisions delegated to county officials.

"The passage of HB 7001 during the Second Special Session of the General Assembly 2021 provides $3,000,000 to the Department of Elections to support local efforts to expand early voting to include the adoption of Sunday voting," said Andrea Gaines, Virginia Department of Elections external affairs manager. "We have since forwarded guidance to general registrars which included instructions for how to request funding."

Before that legislation, local officials took the position that they could not offer Sunday voting without authorization, a longtime Virginia-based voting rights attorney told Voting Booth. Local officials also worried about staff and funding shortages needed to implement the voting option.

As of August 31, Gaines said that seven counties had applied for a grant to offer Sunday voting.

"This is interesting that the state Board of Elections is allowing so much flexibility and that there seems to be no concern that there has been little to no expansion of early voting," Miller said. "The real expansion of early voting would be Sunday voting. All jurisdictions have been required by law to provide at least one early voting location since 2020."


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.

Republicans are openly turning on Arizona's fake 'audit' -- as the Cyber Ninjas fumble at the finish line

The effort by former President Donald Trump and his ardent supporters to delegitimize Arizona's 2020 presidential election was supposed to reach a turning point during the third week of August. But as has been typical with this hyperpartisan effort, the pro-Trump contractors empowered by the state Senate's Republicans faced another delay, ducking an anticipated reckoning with facts and critics.

The Senate's contractors were slated to submit their draft report on Monday, August 23, and present their findings to their legislative sponsors on Wednesday. In anticipation of the report, which was expected to revive debunked conspiracy theories that the contractors have previously cited, a slew of election officials and experts have been holding press briefings to frame the Senate's inquest as a "sham," "grift," and "disinformation campaign." These people, including Republicans, Democrats, a bipartisan task force, technologists and academics, have released new reports slamming the effort and say the process is anything but a professional election audit.

"This review isn't just impacting Arizona," said Republican Trey Grayson, Kentucky's former secretary of state who co-authored a June report criticizing the Arizona exercise, during an August 23 briefing hosted by the States United Democracy Center. "Over 40 local party leaders came to Arizona to watch, to learn, to try to take this bad idea back to their own states. [I'm] especially worried about [copycat efforts in] Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin."

Later Monday, however, Senate President Karen Fann announced that three of the five-member team led by Florida-based Cyber Ninjas had contracted COVID-19. The statehouse briefing was curtailed. It was unclear how much information and supporting evidence would be presented, a source told Voting Booth.

Meanwhile, the Senate's lawyers on August 20 appealed a lower court order to release all of the Senate's communications related to the review. The appeal means the records—including the results of the contractor's two problematic vote and ballot counts—will not be public until after the Arizona Supreme Court likely hears the case in late September, other sources said.

Thus, Trump's election-denial campaign will linger, especially among pro-Trump media that have portrayed Arizona's review as "saving" American democracy and have helped to raise millions from Trump's base. But unlike during the Senate review's early months, a critical and powerful counternarrative has recently begun to emerge that is being delivered by Republicans.

"This [inquest] is a big show for the Trump forces," said Ben Ginsberg, a Republican and lawyer who has represented the party for decades, speaking at an August 19 briefing hosted by the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR). "This whole 'audit' is a chance for the Trump forces to actually prove the case that they've been trying to make that the elections are fraudulent."

"They can't possibly have a more ideal set of circumstances to do that, because it's not a real audit," Ginsberg continued. "It is something designed to their specifications. The real thing is to make sure that they provide the proof—the evidence, as they have it; proof might be too strong a word—but the evidence for any broad allegations that are made."

There has been no shortage of criticisms of the Senate's review. But the most telling comments in recent days have come from Republicans who have candidly described their Trumpian flank as unhinged, paranoid, conspiratorial, and willing to foment unrest—rather than face reality, namely that Trump lost Arizona because suburban Republicans did not vote for him.

"I'm in disfavor in the Republican Party by even questioning the fact [believed by some] that Trump lost the election because of fraud," said Benny White at the CEIR briefing. White is a lawyer and longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer who co-authored an August 3 report that used public documents to show that tens of thousands of voters in greater Phoenix voted for most of the GOP candidates on their ballot but not for Trump. "I am very concerned about my country," he added. "We are in a period of increasing civil turmoil, and distrust in our elections exacerbates the problem."

"This [Arizona] process isn't an audit or a review, but instead a grift," said Matt Masterson, a former top federal election cybersecurity official and U.S. Election Assistance Commission member now at the Stanford Internet Observatory as a nonresident fellow, in the CEIR briefing. "This is an effort and a playbook that, unfortunately, we will see again, because it has proven to be effective, both in the messaging and in the fundraising around it… $5 million raised in this. This is a disinformation and misinformation playbook intended to accomplish two things."

He continued, "One, undermine confidence in our democracy; force election officials and those of us on this [CEIR briefing] call to play whack-a-mole around claims and conspiracies, ranging from bamboo ballots [allegedly forged in China] to Italian satellites [allegedly controlling vote tabulators], to questions around the 74,000 ballots [allegedly forged] that then they roll back days later, but the damage is done. And they know that."

Ginsberg said pro-Trump media have been hyping the Cyber Ninjas' forthcoming report in much the same way that the Trump White House smeared the Department of Justice investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into allegations that the 2016 Trump campaign colluded with Russia to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

"There was an effort to recast the report, public perceptions of the report, before the report itself was actually presented," Ginsberg said. "Once the report itself actually came out, it was much different from the early characterizations. I would be very careful as a reporter in looking for wild allegations, or general allegations or comments, without the backup."

Ginsberg also cited an August 11 report by Stanford University's conservative Hoover Institution that debunked a claim by Trump's allies in Georgia that the state's 2020 election was marred by widespread illegal voting—a false claim that Ginsberg predicted the Cyber Ninjas would revive.

Post-Election Conspiracies

There are other recent reports, such as by the center-left nonprofit, American Oversight, which obtained Fann's Senate-related emails and provides new insight into the goals of the Senate's review, Fann's contacts with Trump and his lawyers, and the Senate's mindset.

The goal of the Senate review, which was done by contractors with little or no prior experience in elections, is to find small administrative problems "that could be twisted into appearing to be evidence… of voter wrongdoing or voting irregularities," American Oversight reported in late July. "That predetermined conclusion, that fraud or security issues might call into question President Joe Biden's electoral victory in Arizona, was the goal, and any post-'audit' findings are necessarily tainted by that bias."

Fann's emails showed she was "sympathetic to calls from both constituents and former President Trump himself for the election to be overturned," a July 22 report by American Oversight said. The group noted that right-wing media personalities served as a bridge between Trump's lawyers and Fann, and said that Fann considered hiring the Arizona Rangers, "the armed volunteer group," to provide security for the hand count using money that would be funneled via a legal defense fund created for those arrested at the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6.

But possibly the most revealing profile of the Senate's review was an August 19 " open letter" to Arizona Republicans from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a lawyer and defiantly conservative Republican elected in November 2020. Richer, who said he worked for Trump's reelection and had voted for him, refused to play along with the big lie that Trump won.

"I will keep fighting for conservatism, and there are many things I would do for the Republican candidate for President, but I won't lie," Richer wrote. "I am driven by facts and logic, and the Stop the Steal movement has neither."

Richer's readable 38-page missive underscored that Maricopa County's public records showed suburban Republicans rejected Trump. It also recounted examples of elected Republicans embracing surreal conspiracy theories and choosing not to correct Trump's lies. Richer recalled now-forgotten episodes that can only be described as paranoid, unhinged, and conspiratorial:

"This obsessive desire to find election fraud reached new heights when some past and present state legislators were willing to theorize that a fire at Hickman's Family Farms [belonging to a Maricopa County supervisor] that killed 165,000 hens was somehow connected to the shredding of ballots and the theft of the election. Then, in a phone call, ironically taped and released by the accuser herself, state Senator Sonny Borrelli told the accuser that she shouldn't comply with the law by turning over the 'evidence' to law enforcement, but should instead give it to him, Borrelli, because only he knew what could be done. In that call, Borrelli said he would put the Board of Supervisors in jail if he could, but that the Board of Supervisors might have a plan to kill Borrelli—to 'whack me out' or fake his suicide. For good measure, he also labeled both me and County Treasurer John Allen as cowards. Senator Fann promised an apology to the County officials and discipline for Borrelli. That apology never came and Borrelli is still Senate Whip."


Richer wrote, "My attitude changed from flabbergasted to angered when I found out that multiple Republican state legislators had asked the Arizona Attorney General to criminally investigate the alleged shredding." Those events took place in March. (In early August, Borrelli, whom Trump lauded at a July 24 rally in Phoenix, invoked a little-used state law requiring the attorney general investigate Maricopa County's refusal to comply with the Senate's latest subpoena.) Richer noted how the Cyber Ninjas repeatedly made false claims based on their incompetence—claims that Trump repeated, such as saying that election files were missing, when, in fact, the records were in the Cyber Ninjas' possession. In a July Senate briefing, the Cyber Ninjas claimed they had discovered 74,000 "fraudulent" ballots, which election officials and reporters quickly debunked. Richer wrote:

"Eventually the [Cyber] Ninjas themselves agreed that they were wrong about the 74,000 fraudulent ballots claim. However, apparently neither they nor any of the Senators bothered to inform Trump that they'd erred. As such, in his recent July 24 speech in Phoenix, the former President made the 74,000 number a focal point in his speech alleging election fraud. In what was maybe the most dystopian moment of my life, I watched as the former President of the United States told a falsehood to a crowd of 5,000 fans, many of whom knew the 74,000 number to be wholly inaccurate, and the crowd cheered in agreement and delight. Senate audit liaison Ken Bennett later said it was 'frustrating' that Trump repeated the inaccurate allegation. Nobody else from the audit—not newly minted spokesperson Randy Pullen, nor the Cyber Ninjas, nor Senator Fann—made any effort to correct the new falsehood that Trump had broadcast as a result of the [Cyber] Ninjas' sloppy or purposefully deceitful work."

Richer concluded by reiterating his motive for speaking out and lamented that many fellow Republicans were embracing Trump's false narrative because they believed doing so would increase their chances for election or reelection.

He wrote, "my principal motivation for speaking out is abundantly clear: the… [Cyber Ninjas'] audit is an abomination that has so far eroded election confidence and defamed good people [election workers]. But there are other reasons too." He continued, "a lot of Republican politicians have their fingers in the wind and think that conforming to Stop the Steal, or at least staying quiet about it, is necessary for reelection in their ruby red districts or a statewide Republican primary. So that's what they'll do. Multiple elected or hoping-to-be-elected Republicans have told me this explicitly."

"It's disgusting," Richer concluded. "I will continue to tell the truth because it is the right thing to do. If it means I aggravate some fellow Republicans, or if it means my political career is very short, so be it."

Among those present at the Senate Republican leaders' August 25 morning meeting to review whatever draft report and related materials the Cyber Ninjas presented was the Senate's liaison to the audit, ex-Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, who is not trusted by the pro-Trump Cyber Ninjas. Bennett has said that he expects to assess their report and will present his conclusions to Arizona voters.

Meanwhile, Richer said at the CEIR briefing that Maricopa County may go to court to obtain the draft report and include a rebuttal—which is common practice in government audits. However, Voting Booth's sources say they expect the draft report to be leaked to pro-Trump media, likely generating more inflammatory coverage before more independent fact-finders weigh in.

New report unveils the truth about Trump's Arizona loss — and why the 'hoax' audit is a threat

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 released on 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 overvoting [voting for more than one presidential candidate] (2,009), or by 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% to 5% 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's 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."

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.

FROM YOUR SITE ARTICLES

Arizona shocker: Audit liaison threatens to quit over Cyber Ninjas’ secrecy and forged results

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 the Senate's pro-Trump contractors had been hiding 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 lead contractor, 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," Bennett said. "I became very concerned that there would be this forced balancing going on."

The collision 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.

"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 gave 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. The 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 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 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 was 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 talking to the auditors, he was locked out of the ballot count at a Phoenix warehouse. Trump held a rally in the city the next day. Two days later, on Monday, July 26, Bennett told KFYI's Harris that he could not continue as Senate liaison.

Bennett said there were serious election administration issues that the review has discovered that needed 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.

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

Inside observers say the Arizona 'auditors' are backtracking — and the reality only supports Biden's win

The "big lie" that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected is not going away. One reason is Americans who care about their democracy are not learning how votes for president in 2020 were counted and verified — neither from the big lie's promoters nor from most of its fact-driven critics.

Most visibly, the absence of a clear and accurate explanation can be found among former President Donald Trump's ardent supporters. As seen in a July 15 briefing in Arizona's legislature, the contractors hired by the state Senate to assess the 2020 election's results unleashed a new thicket of finger-pointing and innuendo that fans doubts about Maricopa County's election administration and votes for Biden.

Critics of the big lie, who range from state officials (including Republicans) to voting rights advocates — and, of course, Democrats— have mostly emphasized that the Arizona Senate's inquiry and copycat efforts in other states are bad faith exercises led by Trump supporters who lack election auditing experience.

These competing narratives lack clear explanations of what matters when counting and verifying votes, and, by extension, what does not matter and is a sideshow. With few exceptions, easily understood explanations of how 2020's votes are counted and verified have been missing in the election's volatile aftermath.

Most of the arguments used by those trying to dispel 2020 election myths focus on labeling the big lie a propaganda narrative, or sweepingly dismissing Arizona's audit as a partisan-led hoax. But these don't seem to be nearly as effective as a different approach—one that focuses on demystifying the wonky details of the voting and vote-counting processes.

Two examples of the latter, more rigorous and successful approach stand out: the post-Election Day daily briefings by the Georgia Secretary of State office's Gabriel Sterling, which were widely covered by the media and attested to Biden's victory in that state and the victory by Democrats in its U.S. Senate runoffs; and ongoing efforts by a self-funded team of experienced election auditors in Arizona, which have attracted some coverage by using hard evidence from public data sources.

The team of experienced auditors 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. They have drawn on Maricopa County's official 2020 election records to provide a baseline to assess the accuracy of its presidential election. Their nuts-and-bolts approach has been missing from almost every other report criticizing the state Senate's inquest.

Among their early findings were tens of thousands of ballots where most of the votes were cast for Republicans, but not for Trump — and many were cast for Biden, which provided a factual explanation for Trump's loss. More recently, the auditors' documentation of 2020 ballot inventories and vote count subtotals has pushed the Senate's contractors to start a new recount of Maricopa County's 2020 ballots.

Sources with access to the contractors' operations have told Voting Booth that the contractors now know that their hand count of 2.1 million ballots was initially sloppy, and cannot account for thousands of ballots in the official results. (Hence, a new count.) But what the contractors are doing in private, behind locked doors in a Phoenix warehouse, is the opposite of what they have been saying in public, which is peddling vote-theft conspiracies.

Because the public's picture of the Senate's inquiry has a notable absence of clear descriptions articulating the building blocks of counting votes, there is a void that keeps being filled with misinformation, as exemplified by the contractors' July 15 briefing for Senate Republicans in Arizona's capitol.

Their statements, not given under oath, exemplified this charade. The contractors repeatedly spoke with indignation and bluster about technicalities in the corners of Maricopa County's election infrastructure, suggesting that the county's handling of the presidential election was deeply amiss. Not only were these technicalities hard for almost everyone, including the senators, to follow, but their presentation and tone supported conspiracy theories (which dominated pro-Trump media). In reality, the issues raised have little to do with validating voters, ballots and votes.

The contractors said, for example, that Maricopa County's central tabulators could have been hacked because key passwords and antivirus software had not been updated. They implied that officials had covered up their Election Day actions because activity logs on the tabulators were erased in March 2021. The lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas' Doug Logan, said there were several categories of suspicious ballots, all involving volumes of votes that exceeded Biden's statewide margin.

It is no surprise that fervent Trump supporters are invested in perpetuating doubts about his loss while their investigators fan diversions that hide their incompetence. Mostly, the Arizona Senate's contractors have discovered Maricopa County could have done better with managing some aspects of conducting the 2020 election. It is not headline news that election administration is complex, that officials do make mistakes, and — crucially — that the process usually catches and corrects them.

But what is going on here is far more cynical and intentionally dishonest.

In April, the Senate's contractors were told what was needed to conduct a credible audit, but they rejected that accounting-style approach. They were urged to compare the starting and finish lines of the vote-counting process to see if the figures matched. That involves three sets of records: the hand-marked votes for president on 2.1 million ballots; the digital images of every ballot immediately created by the scanners to start the electronic counting process; and the official results spreadsheet that lists every vote cast on every ballot. If the starting and finish line votes and totals matched, the election's outcome is legitimate.

Instead, the Arizona Senate's agents raced ahead with a hand count that did not even try to compare its step-by-step results with the building blocks of the official results. Now, inside observers have told Voting Booth that the Senate's contractors are backtracking in private to make more specific comparisons. (They also are trying to figure out if the hand count missed thousands of votes, which is why they are recounting the number of ballots but not the presidential votes.) But, publicly, the Senate contractors are not telling anyone what is going on. Instead, they are suggesting with bluster that they are hot on the election theft evidence trail.

The Senate Republican leaders are either falling for this masquerade or helping to perpetuate it. Not once during the July 15 hearing did senators ask their contractors why the Senate had to spend additional thousands to rent machinery to reconfirm the volume of ballots. The contractors urged the Senate to subpoena more data from the county, including voter signatures, in that briefing.

A new subpoena could lengthen the Senate's inquest, and, if some records are not released, it would provide a pretext for the contractors to claim that they cannot conclude their inquiry because evidence was withheld. Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen telegraphed this scenario in his closing remarks, saying, "it [the inquiry] will be incomplete if we don't have those items."

The session ended with Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann reciting her oft-stated disclaimer that the inquiry was not about overturning her state's 2020 presidential results, but merely addressing the doubts of Republican voters. "At no time have we ever implied or inferred that there is any intentional misdoings here in any way whatsoever, and, in fact, we certainly hope not," she said. "But we do need to have this information and answer these questions."

After the briefing, Trump issued three statements falsely claiming election fraud. And several days later, another Arizona Senate subcontractor, Jovan Pulitzer, who has led its inquiry into forged ballots, said the same thing without evidence—that election fraud had deprived Trump of Arizona's 2020 Electoral College votes.

"Finally, you get to see the truth that there is such a thing as election fraud," he told Arizona pro-Trump activist Liz Harris on her July 19 podcast. Pulitzer was interviewed while on a private jet en route to Arizona to meet other funders and organizers (those featured in the new pro-Trump film, "The Deep Rig"). Pulitzer praised the patriotism of the donors who have funded the inquiry and the 1,500 volunteers who "made this happen," saying, "The Arizona Senate only paid $150,000 for what ends up being a $9 million audit."

But inside the Phoenix warehouse where the Senate contractors are continuing their work, people know that the documentation and methodology provided by the independent outside auditors have not only unmasked their hand count's flaws; they also keep pointing toward the conclusion that Biden won Arizona's presidential election, and that Maricopa County's administration of that election, while not perfect, was not fraudulent.

There are Arizona Republicans who know what is going on inside the Senate's investigation, but whether they are willing to stand up to Trump's supporters is another question. That task would be easier if the public knew more about the building blocks of counting votes.

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.

Tensions flare among Republicans in Arizona as factions split over the future of the 2020 'audit'

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.

New analysis reveals one key reason Trump lost Arizona — and deflates his claim of 'rigging'

About 75,000 Republican-leaning voters in Arizona's two most populous counties did not vote to re-elect President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, according to an analysis of every vote cast by a longtime Arizona Republican Party election observer and election technologists familiar with vote-counting data.

The analysis from Maricopa and Pima Counties underscored that the Arizona state Senate's ongoing audit of 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County's November 2020 election was based on a false premise—that Democrats stole Arizona's election where Trump lost statewide to Joe Biden by 10,457 votes.

"I am continuing my analysis of why Trump lost in Arizona," Benny White, a former military and commercial pilot who has been a Republican election observer for years in Pima County and was part of the research team, said in a May 10 Facebook post. "Bottom line: Republicans and non-partisans who voted for other Republicans on the ballot did not vote for Trump, some voted for Biden and some simply did not cast an effective vote for President."

The analysis, whose methodology is similar to academic research by political scientists, offers a counternarrative to Trump's continuing claims that he lost a rigged election. It also underscores that election experts can extract records from voting systems to affirm and explain the results, such as showing that at least 75,000 Arizonans voted for many other GOP candidates but not for Trump.

Maricopa County and Pima County accounted for 76 percent of Arizona's 2020 presidential election ballots.

"The data is all there to form a justified belief that there wasn't anything amiss, and you should be looking at that [data] before you turn ballots over to partisan third parties," said Larry Moore, who founded Clear Ballot, a federally certified firm that helps local and state governments to count and verify election results, and helped White analyze to fall 2020's vote patterns from the two counties.

"This needs to be treated like a giant accounting problem where everything has to add up," Moore said. "We have been working on this nonstop for days. The [state] Senate's auditors don't know what they are doing… The county election officials and their attorneys also don't realize the power of the [data] tools that they have."

The analysis was based on the "cast-vote record" of every vote on every ballot in the two counties, which White obtained in a public records request and analyzed. The state Senate's auditors, led by the pro-Trump contractor Cyber Ninjas, were given the same data in February, but have not used it to cross-reference the subtotals in their hand count of Maricopa County's presidential and U.S. Senate votes, audit officials told Voting Booth. Cyber Ninjas has not yet issued any findings about several audits it is supervising.

"I want voters to decide the results of the election, not lawyers and judges, which is what is occurring in Maricopa County with this [Senate-led] audit that is extremely disruptive," said White in an interview. "It is really undermining the public's confidence in our election systems, and it's completely unnecessary."

Bryan Blehm, an Arizona attorney representing Cyber Ninjas, replied to White's post on Facebook—without identifying that relationship—by saying that White was not working with reliable data and was angling for a job with Arizona's Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.

"Of course data facts matter," Blehm wrote on May 10. "That is why Mr. White relies on data supplied to him by government buearocrats [sic] rather than the actual real data. Hence, he questions anyone actually working with the underlying real data. I think Mr. White is pushing for a job with the Secretary of State."

However, a handful of political scientists who study voter turnout confirmed that using cast-vote records to analyze voting patterns, including voters who split their votes between major party candidates, was a standard research methodology.

"Yes, political scientists have done research using cast-vote records," said Charles Stewart III, who directs the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. "Last year, I published a co-authored article that looked at the 2016 election, and we concluded that Republicans were much more likely to abstain in that election than Democrats—and the Republicans who did abstain had been anti-Trump in the primary."

"This approach is similar to research we have done," said Matthew Thornburg, a University of South Carolina Aiken assistant professor of political science. "What we find in political science research is that voters are more likely to defect in races they know more about. In presidential races, everyone knows the candidates well by November and can be persuaded by factors other than partisanship."

"Given that you have the data, you can make all kinds of analyses," said Duncan Buell, chair emeritus of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of South Carolina, who has analyzed public election records in a half-dozen states. "This is not rocket science, and it is not partisan."

A Political Science Analysis

The approach that White and Moore used echoed what political scientists do when analyzing split-ticket voting patterns (when voters diverge between different parties' candidates as they fill out a ballot) or partisan voting patterns based on a precinct's demographics.

To start, White obtained the cast-vote record from the counties, both of which saw more voters support Biden than Trump in the 2020 election. This public document is a series of elaborate computer files that contain every vote cast in every race. Those records are organized as individual folders each containing batches of several hundred ballots. Maricopa's data was in 10,300 folders, White said.

White reached out to Moore, who enlisted Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot's former CTO. The Boston-based firm's expertise is based on analyzing digital images of every scanned paper ballot to double-check election results. After obtaining the cast-vote records, the researchers had to identify Republican-leaning voters.

General election ballots don't identify voters or list their party affiliation. White's team noted that there were 15 contests with Republican candidates for county or higher offices in Maricopa County in the 2020 election. There were 13 such contests in Pima County.

To identify Republican-inclined voters, Halvorsen created a search tool to identify the ballots where half or more of the votes in these contests were for Republicans. That meant at least eight votes for Republican candidates in Maricopa County and seven Republicans in Pima County.

The search tool also identified how many ballots contained a majority of votes for Republicans—but not for Trump. It found about 60,000 such ballots in Maricopa County and slightly more than 15,000 ballots in Pima County. White said that he needed an experienced voting system programmer to help process the data.

"I don't want to trivialize this analysis because it is very difficult," White said. "You have to have knowledge of the election administration process. You have to have knowledge of the way voting machines work. You have to have knowledge of what might be available to you in all of the public records… It takes actual expertise to be able to do that."

The finding that some number of Republican voters were turned off by Trump and did not vote for him in 2020's general election is not unique.

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor who tracks voter turnout patterns nationally, said "it seems consistent with what we've seen elsewhere concerning the suburban shift toward Biden."

"The upshot is that voters defect more the higher up the ballot the race is and the more information they have," said Thornburg, citing published research about this pattern. "This result does not surprise me."

"Fifty-nine thousand votes in Maricopa County amounts to only approximately 2.8 percent of the votes that were cast there," he continued. "Assuming (generously) that loyal Republicans made up just 45 percent of Maricopa's 2020 voters, that's only about 6.3 percent of loyal Republicans (which is in line with national exit poll results that show approximately 6 percent of Republicans and 5 percent of Democrats voted for the other party's presidential candidate)."

There was also a drop-off in Republican voter turnout in Georgia between its November 2020 election, which Trump also lost, and the turnout in early January's U.S. Senate runoffs, which Trump repeatedly said would be fraudulent and where the Democrats prevailed—returning the majority to Democrats. Trump's rhetoric has been seen as suppressing his party's turnout in the Senate runoffs.

Arizona Investigation Continues

The investigation by White and Moore was also using other public records to debunk another conspiratorial claim about Maricopa County's election: that 40,000 ballots were smuggled into vote-counting centers after midnight on November 4.

Using Arizona's public voter history file and eligible voter file, White found there were no unusual spikes in precinct-level turnout patterns (Maricopa County's turnout was 80.5 percent), Moore said. White also verified the identities of all but 720 voters out of the 2.1 million people who voted in the 2020 election in Maricopa, Moore said, adding the exceptions were people whose identities were protected as crime victims, law enforcement officers or public officials like judges.

"It completely checked out—all 2.1 million voters," Moore said. "There were no unknown names except for those 720… And the tool we used to explain all this [assertion] was mapping. We show by precinct the percentage turnout and the actual numbers of turnout. There's no [conspiratorial] there, there."

On May 17, Blehm, Cyber Ninjas' attorney, also commented on Facebook, again criticizing White for this line of inquiry. "Pretty map," he wrote. "And it shows you are up on the data they give you. So much for reality because you apparently only need what they feed you."

Ken Bennett, a Republican and former Arizona secretary of state who is serving as a liaison for the Senate's audit of Maricopa County's 2020 election, declined to comment on the research by White and Moore. Previously, Bennett has said that he hopes to oversee several audit procedures to address the persistent belief among Trump supporters that Arizona's 2020 presidential election was dishonest.

"The power of this [cast-vote record] analysis is dealing with the complete record of all votes and not just statistical estimates," Moore said. "This is not based on estimates. There are no confidence intervals. These numbers are based on 100 percent of all the voters voting."


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 Republicans chase Rudy Giuliani's election fever dream

After winning a lawsuit to take possession of all of the 2020 presidential ballots and election equipment in Arizona's most populous county, Arizona's Republican-led Senate is poised to take 2020's post-election brawls into new territory where investigating unproven claims of electronically stolen votes, not widespread illegal voting, will be center stage.

Many Republicans, including Arizona legislators, have voiced their belief that former President Trump was unfairly denied a second term, citing various vote-centered conspiracies. In 61 out of 62 post-election lawsuits filed by Trump's allies across the country, scores of federal and state judges rejected those assertions as groundless and lacking proof.

But now that Arizona's Senate has affirmed its authority to investigate the accuracy of 2020's presidential vote count in America's second-largest election jurisdiction—Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located—the focus has shifted from legislators fanning unproven claims of stolen votes to whether Republican lawmakers will conduct a credible evidence-centered inquiry.

"The Senate has and is doing a 100 percent audit, which is why we fought so hard to have access to all the data and documents," Arizona Senate President Karen Fann wrote on Facebook on March 2. "We are doing extensive research, interviewing, and background checks to make sure we find the best team available… This is and has always been about election integrity and getting answers to our constituents' questions and concerns."

The exercise will not change the election results, which have been certified. Trump lost Arizona by 10,457 votes, a closer margin than in Georgia, where that GOP-led state conducted a manual hand count of all of its presidential election ballots, and then electronically recounted those same paper ballots. It twice confirmed Joe Biden's victory over Trump before certifying the result. The investigation that is taking shape in Arizona could be as thorough as what was undertaken in Georgia, or it could descend into political theater to placate Trump's base.

"As you know, there is no credible evidence for any of the conspiracy theories that have abounded about the 2020 General Election," wrote Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen on March 3. "If your goal is truly to rebuild public confidence in our democracy, it is imperative that you establish and abide by clear procedures and parameters for the security and confidentiality of the ballots and election equipment while in your custody and ensure independence and transparency should you proceed with any further audit."

A Closer Look at 2020's Closest Swing State?

Immediately after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason's February 25 ruling authorizing the state Senate's subpoenas, the county's supervisors—where four out of five are Republicans—said that they would not appeal. Its election staff began transferring the election materials, starting with 11 gigabytes of activity logs from its hundreds of voting machines.

What soon became apparent was that the senators had been more focused on winning in court than on planning the investigation that they hoped to take on. For example, the Senate had not yet secured a site for truckloads of materials, starting with 2.1 million paper ballots in sealed boxes on 70 pallets, hundreds of voting machines and tabulators, vote count management systems and the related data—digital images of every ballot cast, machine activity logs, and more.

As the first week of March began, election experts in Arizona were skeptical that the exercise would be a serious effort to examine the accuracy of Maricopa County's 2020 results.

"In this case, Sen. Fann and House members are chasing down a rabbit hole that was proposed by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell back in November. Now they're trying to find the evidence," said Benny White, a longtime Republican Party election observer in Pima County, which is not far from Phoenix. "I don't want to talk poorly about my legislators, but I don't know what the hell they are doing. They don't understand election administration at all. They don't understand how these machines work. They don't understand how votes are calculated and aggregated. They are in a political position where they think they have to do something [to respond to Trump supporters]. So they're trying to do something."

Some of White's skepticism came from Fann's prior endorsement of a proposal by a Texas firm, Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG), that had made unfounded claims about the process in Michigan and Arizona. ASOG's "scope of work" said it would "hand count approximately 550,000 of the following paper ballots and scan approximately 55,000 of the following paper ballots… over a 7-10 day period on site in Arizona for a firm, fixed price fee of $10,000."

White and others said that proposal was not serious. A precise audit does not cherry-pick what ballots to examine, he said, and its fee was unrealistically low. Fann later distanced herself from ASOG. While neither Fann nor other Senate Republican spokespeople would speak on the record to Voting Booth, several background interviews suggested that the enormity of the actual task before the Republicans was dawning on them.

"My concern is I'm not sure if they know what they're looking for—or looking at," said Tammy Patrick, who, for 11 years, was the federal compliance officer for Maricopa County's elections department, has served on a presidential commission for election reform, and now is the senior adviser for elections at the Democracy Fund, a philanthropic organization. "I also don't think they understand the volume of materials they are talking about. You're talking about at least one semitractor load for the ballots alone. What are their security protocols going to be?"

Most of Hobbs' letter to the Senate Republican leaders concerned maintaining a catalog of security and inventory controls for the ballots and machinery, as well as urging the Senate to plan for bipartisan teams to count ballots and be as transparent as possible as it proceeded.

"I implore you to treat your responsibility for the custody, security, and integrity of those items with the same level of vigilance that election officials across this State treat that responsibility," the secretary of state wrote. "I again urge you not to waste taxpayer resources chasing false claims of fraud that will only further erode public confidence in our election processes and elected officials."

What Will They Do? Who Will Do It?

Maricopa County, and Arizona as a state, both have reputations for well-run elections. While no election is error-free, election officials have extensive protocols that test their voting system hardware and software, their voting machine performance, and the vote count's accuracy before and after Election Day—before results are certified. While vote count audits don't review every vote cast, the process includes political parties choosing samples of ballots that are examined by hand, which was done following November's election. In response to Trump supporters' claims of secret manipulation of vote counts—and GOP legislators encouraging those claims—the county hired two national voting system testing laboratories to examine whether their hardware or software had been hacked or hijacked. They found no breaches.

"What's wild in all of this is that all of the voting equipment had logic and accuracy tests, and those logic and accuracy test reports could be reviewed," Patrick said. "The machinery has also undergone the [post-election] forensic test that was done by two federal testing labs. The challenge that I've had with some of this is that voting systems are not just like every other electronic device that's out there. There are some very specific things that you need to understand about voting systems in order to know what you're looking at and what it means."

"There's not a lot of point to what they're proposing," she said, assessing the Senate's probe. "They wanted a forensic report, and they got one. And now that's not enough. Even if they bring in their own specialists, they're not going to find anything, because there is no 'there' there."

As the week progressed, background interviews with reputable experts advising the Republicans said that the Senate investigation, ideally, would have three focal points.

Like Georgia, there would be a full manual hand count of every paper ballot—a massive operation involving potentially hundreds of workers in a giant warehouse. Unlike Georgia, but like the state of Maryland—whose electorate is larger than Maricopa County's—there would be an independent audit of all of the digital ballot images created by scanners. Even though voters cast paper ballots, digital images of every ballot card are what is counted by Maricopa's voting system. Third, there would be an analysis of the system's software and activity logs—detailing every operation by each voting machine—to ensure that the ballot images were correctly read and counted.

These steps, if all undertaken and not marred by predetermined conclusions, would arguably be more comprehensive than what Georgia did to verify its 2020 presidential vote. Where politics would re-enter is when Arizona's Republican legislators have to stand by the results of their process that, in all likelihood, will affirm Trump's loss. Thus, in 2020's two presidential swing states with the closest 2020 margins and histories of electing Republicans for president, the evidence would show that Biden won.

But before that assessment can occur, the Senate has to hire credible contractors and a reputable audit manager—possibly a former state election director like Detroit did before its 2020 general election. Additionally, the legislature's investigation will have to demonstrate the same level of security and inventory controls that are required of local election officials—a point underscored by Hobbs in her letter to the Senate Republican leaders.

"You have stated previously that you believe a further audit by the Senate is critical for the people of Arizona to be able to move forward and trust the 2020 General Election results. I respectfully disagree," she wrote. "But I believe we can agree that proceeding without clear procedures for the security of the ballots and election equipment when they are in your custody, and clear procedures to ensure the integrity, independence, and transparency of the audit itself and the auditors selected, will only open the door to more conspiracy theories and further erosion of voters' confidence in Arizona's elections processes."

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.

Trump fans ignite post-election turmoil in Arizona -- exposing an important fact about our voting system

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo had heard enough. More than a half-hour into the board's January 27 consideration of a "forensic" audit where two outside firms would assess if its voting system used in Arizona's 2020 presidential election had been infiltrated and the results altered, the former state senator said that his vote in favor of the audit "was a tough pill to swallow."

"We had our presidential preference election, not one complaint," Gallardo said. "We had our primary election in August. Not one complaint. Everyone was happy. We had our general election. No complaint, until a day or two after the general election, when some folks in our community and across this country started looking at the results."

"They were not happy with the result," he continued. "That's quite normal in the world of elections. Folks that are not happy with the results generally do complain. This year, they took it a step further. They continue to spread lies and conspiracies about how our elections are conducted, and now our machines are the target."

Arizona had the second-closest presidential election margin in 2020, a difference of about 10,500 votes between the winner, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump. The margin did not trigger a recount under state election laws, which the state's GOP-majority legislature had changed to make the margin that triggers a recount narrower in recent years. But in the months since Election Day, Trump supporters, including state legislators, have ramped up their attacks, raising the question of what proof, if any, will convince them of the outcome.

The supervisors governing Arizona's most populous county unanimously voted to begin an audit to determine if its electronic voting system was "accurate, reliable and secure," as the county's election co-director told the board. Meanwhile, in Arizona's state Senate, Republicans who supported Trump have ramped up their attack on Biden's victory and demanded Maricopa County turn over its voting machines and 2.1 million ballots to Senate investigators.

The county has so far refused, even as Trump supporters are urging the Senate to seize the machinery and ballots. Leaders of Trump's legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, speculated in Arizona testimony that Trump votes were secretly turned into Biden votes. Those allegations, in part, led Dominion Voting Systems, which made the county's voting equipment, to sue Giuliani for $1.3 billion. (Dominion has filed 2,912-pages of exhibits detailing Giuliani's false statements.)

This fight in Arizona centers on what evidence could be used to satisfy voters that election results are accurate and legitimate. But the fight is also part of a pattern in battleground states where perpetuating the myth of a stolen election has become the opening move in what may become major rollbacks of voting options.

"Nothing is going to convince them. They're always going to be casting doubt," said Gallardo. "They're using our system; they're using our audit as justification for doing it. How many times did I hear… the legislature, over the last two weeks now, say, 'We need to do an audit so we can introduce legislation?'… They're using this audit to introduce legislation to make it difficult for other people to vote. It's called voter suppression."

Gallardo's assertion that Trump's supporters will never be convinced underscores that one of the top challenges confronting American democracy is identifying what steps will restore public confidence in elections. Beyond debating how officials might counter propaganda attacking the process is a baseline question for those concerned with presenting the facts: Is the most crucial balloting data to verify results being made public?

Evidence of Accurate Vote Counts

Seen from afar, Arizona is a national leader in transparent elections. As Sambo Dul, Arizona elections director, told the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) during its recent winter 2021 conference, every step of the process—from programming the voting systems without being connected to the internet, to the use of hand-marked paper ballots, to pre- and post-election testing of machinery and audits of reported results, including verifying results before its certifies winners—is "aimed at ensuring the security and integrity of our system."

"After each voting location is closed down on election night, their materials go to an audit board," Dul said on February 3. "The audit board reviews the election board materials to make sure that all of the numbers [voters, ballots returned, ballots counted] are reconciled prior to the canvass… And as a final check, we require counties to conduct a logic and accuracy test [on counting scanners] after all of the ballots in the counties have been tabulated."

These steps all occurred in 2020's presidential election, including post-Election Day machinery tests and vote count audits that showed no hint that the results were wrong.

As granular as these steps were, Maricopa County's audit will go further, Scott Jarrett, director of Election Day and emergency voting with the Maricopa County Elections Department, told the county supervisors on January 27. "A forensic audit is a process that will review [the election process], to determine and identify whether our electronic equipment is accurate, reliable and secure."

"It's a multilayered, robust process that will review that it's not susceptible to hacking, and that it wasn't hacked during the November 2020 general election," he said, describing the audit. "We'll also review that there's no malicious software or hardware that has been installed on any of our tabulation equipment or devices. It'll also confirm that our tabulation equipment is not connected to the internet and wasn't connected to the internet throughout the November 2020 general election. But we're going to expand that to be even further [and] go back to when the logic and accuracy tests occurred for the August primary election."

These assessments will be technical and likely hard for the public to follow. Given the political landscape, their conclusions will likely be dismissed by Trump's base. But Maricopa County's forensic audit also may surface too much information without getting to the heart of the matter—which would reveal the most direct evidence that the county's 2020 results were accurate.

Why not? The forensic audit will probe whether the county's computers that processed its hand-marked and machine-marked ballots to count votes were accurately reading those ballots—not recalculating or reassigning votes, which is what the pro-Trump witnesses alleged during Senate's hearings in November.

But what the audit will not do is examine what may be the most important part of the vote-counting evidence trail: the computer files, including images of every paper ballot cast, created to count votes, and the activity logs documenting that process. The county will examine the machinery and software used, but not compare the paper ballots, ballot images and the ensuing vote count. That distinction was confirmed by the county election office's spokeswoman.

"The ballot images and the activity logs should be a public record," said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist focusing on ballot image audits.

How Paper Ballots Are Counted

The latest voting systems, including those used in Maricopa County, do not count paper ballots directly. Instead, computer scanners create a digital image of every ballot card. Those images are then analyzed by software, which creates a grid that correlates ink marks—votes—with each ballot's choices. The resulting tally, a spreadsheet of sorts, is built into the vote count. Formally, that tally becomes what is called the cast vote record.

In mid-2020, lawyers associated with the Florida Democratic Party sued the eight largest counties in that state seeking to force the counties to preserve ballot images as public election records. Since the 1960 Civil Rights Act, all materials used in federal elections must be preserved for 22 months. However, that federal law, which criminalized the destruction of election materials, was written in an era predating today's paper and electronic voting systems.

The Florida counties agreed to preserve their ballot images if there was a 2020 presidential recount—which did not happen. Meanwhile, in January 2021, a Florida law took effect that allows its counties to use ballot images as part of their recount process. (Recounts are not the same as audits; recounts can change election results.) This seemingly arcane and technical fight revolves around a key question: Is all of the data surrounding vote counts a protected public record?

The short answer is no—even though state and federal election officials have been gradually acknowledging that this data is there and crucial. For several years, the state of Maryland has used ballot image audits to verify its results before certifying winners. The soon-to-be-adopted Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which states used as a best practice standard, refer to ballot images but do not urge states to save them. The massive election reform bill introduced by Democrats in Congress, H.R. 1 and its Senate companion, does not update election records retention requirements for digital data.

But, increasingly, election officials, including Republicans being attacked by pro-Trump factions, have been citing digital evidence generated during ballot-processing and vote-counting to push back on conspiracy theories that their elections were fraudulent and illegitimate.

In Georgia, during its second count of all presidential ballots—an unprecedented hand count of 5 million ballots—Gabriel Sterling, the state election operations manager, told the press that his staff was able to use the activity logs in scanners to identify why several thousand votes for Trump were not counted on election night. Basically, some poll workers, after a 15-hour day, failed to transfer the data from the scanners to their county's tabulation system. Those votes were subsequently added to Trump's totals, although he did not win the state.

A Paper and Digital Evidence Trail

There is no guarantee that providing real evidence to hyperpartisans will change minds when their candidate lost. However, not making public—and preserving—the paper and electronic records, data and evidence trail associated with counting votes will only fan more suspicions. Those doubts will emerge when facts about how ballots are counted are obscured.

For example, when Arizona Trump activist Liz Harris went on Stephen Bannon's "War Room" online radio show on February 3, she gave a laundry list of election files and data that she was hoping the Arizona Senate would seize to prove Biden lost. While the list was a fishing expedition seeking targets to boost their stolen election narrative, much of what she sought was irrelevant to counting votes.

"We're looking for election log files, election settings, accounts and tokens, Windows servers and desktops, Dominion equipment, Dominion network access to the logins for the Dominion records. We're looking for Election Systems and Software [another voting system maker]. We're looking for the voter rolls, and most importantly, and I can't stress this enough, access to all original paper ballots including but not limited to early ballots, Election Day ballots and provisional ballots," Harris said. "I'm very confident based on the work… we will find a minimum of 106,000 fraudulent ballots, and I make that statement with great faith."

What's missing from this list are the specific records and related data that were used to count the presidential election's votes in Maricopa County—in addition to the paper ballots, the digital ballot image files of every paper ballot cast, and activity logs from the scanners processing those ballots and tabulating the votes.

During NASED's winter meeting, countering misinformation was the subject of February 4's presentations. State election directors from states with Republican and Democratic majorities were uniformly confident that the 2020 election results were accurate. They said that election officials had done more than ever before to open their processes to public viewing. But they still felt they were burned by partisan disinformation, despite their efforts at transparency.

"I want to talk a little bit about transparency, which is a positive," said Matt Masterson, a former top-ranking federal official who has worked for various agencies on election technology and voting security. "I want to state over and over again… that the level of transparency that election officials offered in this election was far greater than any election that I've experienced. There were more livestreams or updates, more press conferences, more access to the information than ever before."

"And transparency is a positive, but can also be used as a negative, right?" he continued. "We saw repeatedly the use of video and livestreams to make [false] claims about, 'Oh, did you see what he did there? He switched the ballots out.' 'Did you see what she did there?'… Using the data to create really good-looking but completely misleading and incorrect charts, using voter data to claim, 'I'm not saying something happened. But if you look at this, it doesn't appear right.'"

Masterson came down on the side of more transparency. He urged state election directors to counter disinformation by presenting the facts of their administrative processes "as quickly as possible," to then focus on dispelling rumors, and then to offer more detailed analyses.

In Arizona, Trump activist Liz Harris told Steve Bannon that her state "has this stuff intact," referring to its preservation of the paper and electronic records surrounding voting in the 2020 presidential election. "We would be the perfect state to do the deep dive forensic audit."

On that point, Harris was correct. Jarrett, a co-director of Maricopa County's elections, told the supervisors on January 27 that their ballot-marking devices, scanners, tabulators and their accompanying digital files have been sealed and kept in a vault since the November 3 election—including untouched memory cards containing a backup of all ballot images and their votes.

"Our equipment is ready," Jarrett said, referring to the county's audit. "It has not been tampered with. It's still in the same state it was during the election and then the post-election."

Maricopa County's assessment of its election machinery—but not its presidential ballots and vote count—began on February 2.

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.

Trump supporters are still fighting Arizona's election results — here's what we can learn from the fight

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo had heard enough. More than a half-hour into the board's January 27 consideration of a "forensic" audit where two outside firms would assess if its voting system used in Arizona's 2020 presidential election had been infiltrated and the results altered, the former state senator said that his vote in favor of the audit "was a tough pill to swallow."

"We had our presidential preference election, not one complaint," Gallardo said. "We had our primary election in August. Not one complaint. Everyone was happy. We had our general election. No complaint, until a day or two after the general election, when some folks in our community and across this country started looking at the results."

"They were not happy with the result," he continued. "That's quite normal in the world of elections. Folks that are not happy with the results generally do complain. This year, they took it a step further. They continue to spread lies and conspiracies about how our elections are conducted, and now our machines are the target."

Arizona had the second-closest presidential election margin in 2020, a difference of about 10,500 votes between the winner, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump. The margin did not trigger a recount under state election laws, which the state's GOP-majority legislature had changed to make the margin that triggers a recount narrower in recent years. But in the months since Election Day, Trump supporters, including state legislators, have ramped up their attacks, raising the question of what proof, if any, will convince them of the outcome.

The supervisors governing Arizona's most populous county unanimously voted to begin an audit to determine if its electronic voting system was "accurate, reliable and secure," as the county's election co-director told the board. Meanwhile, in Arizona's state Senate, Republicans who supported Trump have ramped up their attack on Biden's victory and demanded Maricopa County turn over its voting machines and 2.1 million ballots to Senate investigators.

The county has so far refused, even as Trump supporters are urging the Senate to seize the machinery and ballots. Leaders of Trump's legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, speculated in Arizona testimony that Trump votes were secretly turned into Biden votes. Those allegations, in part, led Dominion Voting Systems, which made the county's voting equipment, to sue Giuliani for $1.3 billion. (Dominion has filed 2,912-pages of exhibits detailing Giuliani's false statements.)

This fight in Arizona centers on what evidence could be used to satisfy voters that election results are accurate and legitimate. But the fight is also part of a pattern in battleground states where perpetuating the myth of a stolen election has become the opening move in what may become major rollbacks of voting options.

"Nothing is going to convince them. They're always going to be casting doubt," said Gallardo. "They're using our system; they're using our audit as justification for doing it. How many times did I hear… the legislature, over the last two weeks now, say, 'We need to do an audit so we can introduce legislation?'… They're using this audit to introduce legislation to make it difficult for other people to vote. It's called voter suppression."

Gallardo's assertion that Trump's supporters will never be convinced underscores that one of the top challenges confronting American democracy is identifying what steps will restore public confidence in elections. Beyond debating how officials might counter propaganda attacking the process is a baseline question for those concerned with presenting the facts: Is the most crucial balloting data to verify results being made public?

Evidence of Accurate Vote Counts

Seen from afar, Arizona is a national leader in transparent elections. As Sambo Dul, Arizona elections director, told the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) during its recent winter 2021 conference, every step of the process—from programming the voting systems without being connected to the internet, to the use of hand-marked paper ballots, to pre- and post-election testing of machinery and audits of reported results, including verifying results before its certifies winners—is "aimed at ensuring the security and integrity of our system."

"After each voting location is closed down on election night, their materials go to an audit board," Dul said on February 3. "The audit board reviews the election board materials to make sure that all of the numbers [voters, ballots returned, ballots counted] are reconciled prior to the canvass… And as a final check, we require counties to conduct a logic and accuracy test [on counting scanners] after all of the ballots in the counties have been tabulated."

These steps all occurred in the 2020 presidential election, including post-Election Day machinery tests and vote count audits that showed no hint that the results were wrong.

As granular as these steps were, Maricopa County's audit will go further, Scott Jarrett, director of Election Day and emergency voting with the Maricopa County Elections Department, told the county supervisors on January 27. "A forensic audit is a process that will review [the election process], to determine and identify whether our electronic equipment is accurate, reliable and secure."

"It's a multilayered, robust process that will review that it's not susceptible to hacking, and that it wasn't hacked during the November 2020 general election," he said, describing the audit. "We'll also review that there's no malicious software or hardware that has been installed on any of our tabulation equipment or devices. It'll also confirm that our tabulation equipment is not connected to the internet and wasn't connected to the internet throughout the November 2020 general election. But we're going to expand that to be even further [and] go back to when the logic and accuracy tests occurred for the August primary election."

These assessments will be technical and likely hard for the public to follow. Given the political landscape, their conclusions will likely be dismissed by Trump's base. But Maricopa County's forensic audit also may surface too much information without getting to the heart of the matter—which would reveal the most direct evidence that the county's 2020 results were accurate.

Why not? The forensic audit will probe whether the county's computers that processed its hand-marked and machine-marked ballots to count votes were accurately reading those ballots—not recalculating or reassigning votes, which is what the pro-Trump witnesses alleged during Senate's hearings in November.

But what the audit will not do is examine what may be the most important part of the vote-counting evidence trail: the computer files, including images of every paper ballot cast, created to count votes, and the activity logs documenting that process. The county will examine the machinery and software used, but not compare the paper ballots, ballot images and the ensuing vote count. That distinction was confirmed by the county election office's spokeswoman.

"The ballot images and the activity logs should be a public record," said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist focusing on ballot image audits.

How Paper Ballots Are Counted

The latest voting systems, including those used in Maricopa County, do not count paper ballots directly. Instead, computer scanners create a digital image of every ballot card. Those images are then analyzed by software, which creates a grid that correlates ink marks—votes—with each ballot's choices. The resulting tally, a spreadsheet of sorts, is built into the vote count. Formally, that tally becomes what is called the cast vote record.

In mid-2020, lawyers associated with the Florida Democratic Party sued the eight largest counties in that state seeking to force the counties to preserve ballot images as public election records. Since the 1960 Civil Rights Act, all materials used in federal elections must be preserved for 22 months. However, that federal law, which criminalized the destruction of election materials, was written in an era predating today's paper and electronic voting systems.

The Florida counties agreed to preserve their ballot images if there was a 2020 presidential recount—which did not happen. Meanwhile, in January 2021, a Florida law took effect that allows its counties to use ballot images as part of their recount process. (Recounts are not the same as audits; recounts can change election results.) This seemingly arcane and technical fight revolves around a key question: Is all of the data surrounding vote counts a protected public record?

The short answer is no—even though state and federal election officials have been gradually acknowledging that this data is there and crucial. For several years, the state of Maryland has used ballot image audits to verify its results before certifying winners. The soon-to-be-adopted Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which states used as a best practice standard, refer to ballot images but do not urge states to save them. The massive election reform bill introduced by Democrats in Congress, H.R. 1 and its Senate companion, does not update election records retention requirements for digital data.

But, increasingly, election officials, including Republicans being attacked by pro-Trump factions, have been citing digital evidence generated during ballot-processing and vote-counting to push back on conspiracy theories that their elections were fraudulent and illegitimate.

In Georgia, during its second count of all presidential ballots—an unprecedented hand count of 5 million ballots—Gabriel Sterling, the state election operations manager, told the press that his staff was able to use the activity logs in scanners to identify why several thousand votes for Trump were not counted on election night. Basically, some poll workers, after a 15-hour day, failed to transfer the data from the scanners to their county's tabulation system. Those votes were subsequently added to Trump's totals, although he did not win the state.

A Paper and Digital Evidence Trail

There is no guarantee that providing real evidence to hyperpartisans will change minds when their candidate lost. However, not making public—and preserving—the paper and electronic records, data and evidence trail associated with counting votes will only fan more suspicions. Those doubts will emerge when facts about how ballots are counted are obscured.

For example, when Arizona Trump activist Liz Harris went on Stephen Bannon's "War Room" online radio show on February 3, she gave a laundry list of election files and data that she was hoping the Arizona Senate would seize to prove Biden lost. While the list was a fishing expedition seeking targets to boost their stolen election narrative, much of what she sought was irrelevant to counting votes.

"We're looking for election log files, election settings, accounts and tokens, Windows servers and desktops, Dominion equipment, Dominion network access to the logins for the Dominion records. We're looking for Election Systems and Software [another voting system maker]. We're looking for the voter rolls, and most importantly, and I can't stress this enough, access to all original paper ballots including but not limited to early ballots, Election Day ballots and provisional ballots," Harris said. "I'm very confident based on the work… we will find a minimum of 106,000 fraudulent ballots, and I make that statement with great faith."

What's missing from this list are the specific records and related data that were used to count the presidential election's votes in Maricopa County—in addition to the paper ballots, the digital ballot image files of every paper ballot cast, and activity logs from the scanners processing those ballots and tabulating the votes.

During NASED's winter meeting, countering misinformation was the subject of February 4's presentations. State election directors from states with Republican and Democratic majorities were uniformly confident that the 2020 election results were accurate. They said that election officials had done more than ever before to open their processes to public viewing. But they still felt they were burned by partisan disinformation, despite their efforts at transparency.

"I want to talk a little bit about transparency, which is a positive," said Matt Masterson, a former top-ranking federal official who has worked for various agencies on election technology and voting security. "I want to state over and over again… that the level of transparency that election officials offered in this election was far greater than any election that I've experienced. There were more livestreams or updates, more press conferences, more access to the information than ever before."

"And transparency is a positive, but can also be used as a negative, right?" he continued. "We saw repeatedly the use of video and livestreams to make [false] claims about, 'Oh, did you see what he did there? He switched the ballots out.' 'Did you see what she did there?'… Using the data to create really good-looking but completely misleading and incorrect charts, using voter data to claim, 'I'm not saying something happened. But if you look at this, it doesn't appear right.'"

Masterson came down on the side of more transparency. He urged state election directors to counter disinformation by presenting the facts of their administrative processes "as quickly as possible," to then focus on dispelling rumors, and then to offer more detailed analyses.

In Arizona, Trump activist Liz Harris told Steve Bannon that her state "has this stuff intact," referring to its preservation of the paper and electronic records surrounding voting in the 2020 presidential election. "We would be the perfect state to do the deep dive forensic audit."

On that point, Harris was correct. Jarrett, a co-director of Maricopa County's elections, told the supervisors on January 27 that their ballot-marking devices, scanners, tabulators and their accompanying digital files have been sealed and kept in a vault since the November 3 election—including untouched memory cards containing a backup of all ballot images and their votes.

"Our equipment is ready," Jarrett said, referring to the county's audit. "It has not been tampered with. It's still in the same state it was during the election and then the post-election."

Maricopa County's assessment of its election machinery—but not its presidential ballots and vote count—began on February 2.

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.

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

The next battle over voting rights has already begun — and it could get nasty

Across the country, more than 500 election reform bills are pending in state legislatures. Eighty percent of these bills seek to put into law many of the temporary measures that helped voters in response to 2020's pandemic. The rest would roll back last year's emergency measures or more deeply police voting.

The list of bills was compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, whose Voting Laws Roundup 2021 report tracked and categorized bills that have been introduced, refiled or carried over from past legislative sessions.

"After historic turnout and increased mail voting in 2020, state lawmakers are pulling in opposite directions," the report said. "New legislation reflects a surge of bills to limit voter access, with a particular focus on mail voting and voter ID. At the same time, other bills would cement pro-voter policies implemented temporarily last year."

Most of the restrictive efforts concerned voter registration, a voter's access to a mailed-out ballot, and the options and requirements associated with returning mailed-out ballots. On the other hand, while there are 106 restrictive bills, 406 bills would expand access to a ballot or codify many of the emergency measures taken by states to assist voters.

"The 2021 legislative sessions have begun in all but six states, and state lawmakers have already introduced hundreds of bills aimed at election procedures and voter access—vastly exceeding the number of voting bills introduced by this time last year," said the report, which was published on January 26, 2021.

Expanding Participation

On the inclusion side of this ledger, the most prevalent legislation would permit all voters to receive a mailed-out (or absentee) ballot without satisfying an excuse, such as an illness, work conflict or travel. There are related proposals requiring local officials to contact voters who err when filling out their ballot return envelopes to fix those errors so their votes can be counted. There is also legislation to authorize or require officials to use drop boxes for returning these ballots, as well as legislation that allows officials to start vetting ballot envelopes sooner.

There are a handful of states where most or all of these options have been introduced. These steps are part of an overall system of verifying a voter's eligibility while making it easier for voters to participate in elections and for officials to administer elections. These states include Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

States with Democratic-majority legislatures and governors will be more receptive to these reform packages, while GOP-majority legislatures and governors are less likely to adopt them. However, that blue-red divide is not as fixed in states where both parties hold state offices.

Missouri, for example, which saw political battles in 2020 over expanding access to a mailed-out ballot as the pandemic struck, is less likely than Kentucky to endorse these inclusionary measures. In 2020, Kentucky's Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state worked together to ensure ballot access during the pandemic. Its fall election was praised as well run, although, as often happens, partisans questioned the accuracy of some results.

Early voting is the next most frequent focus of 2021 legislation. Fourteen states have bills to expand that voting option or to introduce it for the first time. These states span the spectrum, from blue states with historically difficult voting rules, such as New York, to red states such as Alabama, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas. Purple states such as Virginia and Pennsylvania also have bills to expand early voting.

Going further upstream in the process to the starting line, 13 states have bills to implement same-day voter registration and voting. (These states are Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.) Eleven states have legislation to automatically register their voters, following the adoption of automatic voter registration (AVR) in the District of Columbia and 19 states in the past six years. (The proposed AVR states are Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.)

Restoration of voting rights for felons is another priority. Fifteen states have introduced bills to restore voting rights or ease restrictions. In 2018, Florida's voters passed Amendment 4, which re-enfranchised more than 1 million felons. However, its GOP-led legislature and Republican governor required those felons to pay back court fees before voting, which disenfranchised most of these individuals in 2020 and was seen as a factor helping Republicans to maintain statewide power. (The proposed rights restoration states are Alabama, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.)

"The Sentencing Project estimates that Mississippi disenfranchises over 214,000 citizens living in the community—more than 54% of whom are Black—because of past convictions," the Brennan Center report said.

Rolling Back Voting

While comprising only 20 percent of the proposed reforms, bills to make voting more difficult—compared to the options offered last fall—have gained the most attention. The Brennan Center said that the volume of 2021 bills represented "a backlash" to 2020's record voter turnout, and to last year's historic expansion of absentee and early balloting.

"In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced three times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to this time last year," the Brennan Center said. "Twenty-eight states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 106 restrictive bills this year (as compared to 35 such bills in fifteen states on February 3, 2020)."

There are four focal points to these restrictive measures: limiting access to a mailed-out ballot; imposing new or stiffer voter ID requirements for returning a mailed-out ballot; limiting voter registration; and enabling more aggressive voter purges.

The states with the most regressive bills are Pennsylvania (14), New Hampshire (11), Missouri (9), Mississippi (8), New Jersey (8), and Texas (8). Georgia also has numerous bills: "lawmakers reportedly plan to introduce bills to require an excuse to cast an absentee ballot, mandate photo ID when returning an absentee ballot, and ban ballot drop boxes, among other harsh restrictions," the Brennan Center's report said.

The biggest focus concerns voting with mailed-out ballots, which 65 million Americans used last fall. After the pandemic broke, states suspended the requirement that voters needed to satisfy an excuse requirement to get an absentee ballot. Three states—Pennsylvania, Missouri, and North Dakota—seek to revive their excuse requirement. "[T]hree different proposals in Pennsylvania seek to eliminate no-excuse mail voting, a policy just adopted in 2019," the Brennan Center said.

Another feature of absentee voting is what is called the permanent absentee list. These are voters who automatically receive ballots by mail. Typically, the voters are seniors, people with disabilities and overseas civilians and soldiers. There is legislation in Arizona and New Jersey to "make it easier for officials to remove voters" from this list, the Brennan Center said. A related voting option is the "permanent early voter list," which is targeted for elimination by bills in Arizona and Pennsylvania. While Republicans back these proposals, their base—especially in retiree-rich Arizona—has long favored voting by mail or voting early.

Related targets of legislation are groups and individuals who try to help voters obtain absentee ballots and return them. Advocacy groups would face restrictions with mailing absentee ballot applications to voters under bills in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. (In 2020, some pro-Democratic groups made mistakes with sending voters absentee ballot applications, leading to criticism from local election officials and Republicans.)

There are additional proposed restrictions on who can help voters to cast mailed-out ballots. In Arizona, current law limits such assistance to family and household members. A proposed bill would add an ID requirement for those returning the ballots for another person and require that these absentee ballots be notarized. Alaska, South Carolina and Virginia also have bills that require returned mail ballots to be notarized first. A Virginia bill would require the absentee ballots to be returned at registrars' offices, which would eliminate the use of drop boxes.

There are also bills expanding the reasons for the disqualification of returned ballots. A Pennsylvania bill would impose signature-matching requirements that are used to vet voters—by how they sign the outside of their ballot return envelope—before their votes are counted. There are ways that checking signatures can be done scientifically, but it can also be done in ways that end up mistakenly disqualifying valid votes. The more professional processes match the ballot envelope signature with a mix of signatures in other state records—from voter registration forms, absentee ballot applications, drivers' licenses, tax returns, etc.

Under the umbrella of bills that could expand disqualification, Kansas and Pennsylvania also have legislation to reject any absentee ballot that arrives after Election Day, even if it was postmarked before Election Day. An Iowa bill would require voters to mail all ballots at least 10 days before Election Day.

Nearly 36 million people voted early in the 2020 general election. Another wave of proposed legislation would impose more stringent requirements for early in-person voting.

Ten states have introduced voter ID bills, including six states that do not now require early voters to show ID to get a ballot (Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming). Two states, Mississippi and New Hampshire, would narrow the range of accepted IDs, including those often used by students. A related bill in New Hampshire would eliminate the state's same-day registration and voting option, which thousands of students use for its presidential primaries. GOP bills in Connecticut, Montana and Virginia would also eliminate same-day registration.

Finally, there are a handful of bills that, if passed, could create big bureaucratic problems. A Texas bill would strip "voter registration authority from county clerks and requir[e] the secretary of state to send voter registration information to the Department of Public Safety for citizenship verification." That scenario is troubling because the Public Safety agency would have to vet hundreds of thousands of voters, a process that is outside of its mission and expertise.

Similarly, three Mississippi bills would require the state to compare its voter rolls to other data lists to identify non-citizens, and "would require removal from the rolls of voters who fail to respond to a notice within 30 days with proof of citizenship," the Brennan Center reported. Depending on the database used to verify voters, many false positives (non-citizens) could be generated. Lawsuits from former President Trump's supporters made similar claims of non-citizen and illegal voting, but never produced authoritative evidence in court.

States and Congress

The fate of the proposed legislation will largely depend on which political party controls state government. Currently, 38 states are controlled by one party that has a legislative majority and the governor's seat, according to Ballotpedia—15 are Democratic; 23 are Republican. In these "trifecta" states, such as blue Virginia and red Texas, it is unlikely that bills proposed by the minority party will have traction. On the other hand, states with split party rule—such as Pennsylvania where the governor is a Democrat, and the legislature is in GOP hands—may experience nasty fights. But the state's legislature cannot override a gubernatorial veto.

How state legislatures handle election reforms will provide a very important legal baseline for whatever federal reforms might emerge from Congress in 2021. Currently, both chambers in Congress have teed up a massive reform bill drafted by Democrats for early action. The bills include many of the inclusionary reforms being pushed in the states. The federal legislation is written so court challenges could only apply to narrow policies—one at a time and not the whole bill—if successful.

Needless to say, Republicans are likely to challenge federal reforms passed by Democrats. In 2020, Republicans suing on Trump's behalf argued that the U.S. Constitution only authorized state legislatures—not governors, secretaries of state, or state supreme courts—to set the rules for elections. Reforms passed by blue state legislatures could be fortified if that "originalist" argument gained traction in federal court. But the converse is true as well. Red states rolling back voting options would also be sustained if that controversial legal theory was upheld in federal court—or by an expanded conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

The most that can be said at this stage in the process—as state legislatures and Congress begin their sessions—is the options and rules for voting into the foreseeable future are in play. Voters can see which political party controls the legislature and governorships in their states to game the likely success of the proposed reforms. For non-trifecta states, voters can take a closer look at whether a governor's veto can be overridden by the legislature.

The 2020 election showed how voting could be made easier for voters and officials despite the pandemic. Whether those emergency measures become laws and standard practices is now what is in play.

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.

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.