Months after Donald Trump’s electoral defeat, Republicans in Arizona are challenging the result with an unprecedented effort to audit the results in their most populous county, all run by a Florida company, Cyber Ninjas, with no electoral experience.
The state senate used its subpoena power to take possession of the 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County and the machines that counted them, along with computer hard drives filled with data. The materials were then delivered to Cyber ninjas, a consulting firm run by a man who has shared unfounded conspiracy theories that the official election results are illegitimate.
Election professionals fear the process will seriously undermine faith in democracy.
“I think the activities taking place here are reckless and in no way, shape or form does it resemble an audit,” said Jennifer Morrell, partner at The Elections Group, a consulting firm that advises state and local officials who have not worked in Arizona.
Conspiracy theories about Joe Biden’s victory have had a particular staying power in Arizona, which became a Democrat for the second time in 72 years. On Friday, Trump predicted the audit would reveal fraud and trigger similar reviews in other states he lost.
“Thank you to the state senators and others in Arizona for beginning this comprehensive forensic audit,” he said in a statement. “I predict the results will be surprising!”
Cyber Ninjas began a manual recount on Friday, a day after Democrats asked a judge to end the audit. The judge ordered the company to follow voting and electoral secrecy laws and demanded that it hand over written procedures and training manuals before a hearing on Monday. He offered to pause the count for the weekend if Democrats posted a $ 1 million bond to cover additional expenses. The party declined.
On a Twitter account since deleted, Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan used hashtags and shared memes popular with people promoting unsubstantiated accusations that cast doubt on Biden’s victory. Logan says his personal opinions are irrelevant because he is conducting a transparent audit with video streamed online.
“There are a lot of Americans here, myself included, who are really upset about the way our country is being torn apart right now,” Logan said. “We want there to be a transparent audit so that people can trust the results and can put everyone on the same page.”
Logan refuses to reveal who pays him or who counts the ballots and does not promise to use bipartisan teams for the process.
The Republican-dominated Arizona Senate refuses to allow the media to observe the count. Reporters can accept a six-hour shift as official observers, but photography and note-taking are prohibited. It would be a violation of journalistic ethics for reporters to participate in an event they were covering.
The state senate has provided $ 150,000 for the audit, but Logan has acknowledged that it is not enough to cover his expenses. A right-wing cable channel, One America News Network, raised money from unknown contributors who went directly to Cyber Ninjas. Logan did not promise to disclose to donors and would not provide a cost estimate for his audit.
Cyber Ninjas plan to have teams of three people manually count each ballot, looking only at the US Senate and Presidential races, which were won by Democrats.
Logan said the accountants were members of law enforcement and the military, as well as retirees. He did not say how many were Democrats or Republicans and he did not promise to ensure that the counting teams are bipartisan.
The process had to be supervised by volunteers. A week ago, 70% were Republicans, according to Ken Bennett, a former Republican secretary of state who acts as a liaison between the Senate and the auditors.
Cyber Ninjas plan to go through the vote counting machines and data and scan the composition of the fibers on the paper ballots for fakes. He plans to go door-to-door at select precincts to ask people if they voted. Logan was vague about how constituencies were chosen, but said a statistical analysis was done “based on voter histories.”
The audit has been riddled with errors. Manual counters started the day with blue pens, which are prohibited in counting rooms because can be read with voting machines. A team from a group of Phoenix television stations, azfamily, had unrestricted access to the supposedly secure facilities while the auditors installed the equipment and received the ballots and machines.
Election experts said manual counts are prone to errors and questioned the lack of transparent procedures for adjudicating voters’ intent.
Maricopa County conducted pre- and post-election reviews to verify the accuracy of the voting machines, including a manual counting of a representative sample of ballots, as required by state law. The county hired two audit firms that did not report malicious software or incorrect counting equipment.
“We are going to set a new standard where we do not accept the outcome of elections in a free, fair and just democracy, and that is at the core of what is at stake here,” said Tammy Patrick, Senior Advisor to the Fund Democracy and a former Maricopa County elections official.
“I think it’s incredibly troublesome.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism