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Going over it again

Arizona’s election audit winds down amid Republican infighting and Democratic opposition


Cyber Ninjas contractors examine 2020 election ballots from Maricopa County at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Associated Press/Photo by Matt York (file)

Going over it again

Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the county fairgrounds in Phoenix is divided into color-coded sections, and it’s a bustle of activity. Two volunteers place a ballot onto a turntable and three more volunteers tabulate the vote before the ballot is removed. Audit managers in black t-shirts roam the floor to address any questions or issues, and purple-shirted runners transport boxes of ballots. A livestream shows nine camera feeds covering every section of the coliseum. Volunteers test ballots for bamboo fibers, which could indicate false ballots from Asian countries. They are also testing that each ballot was filled by a person and not duplicated.

The tabulating, transporting, and testing are all part of a controversial audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. The forensic audit, led by the Republican state Senate, has been underway since April 23 with the mission of counting and analyzing each ballot in the county. The ballot count is now complete, and the auditors are expected to complete a paper examination of 2.1 million ballots by June 26. Republicans say the audit is an important way to sniff out potential fraud. Democrats say it’s a divisive waste of time. Maricopa is the fourth most populous county in the United States and represents 63 percent of Arizona’s votes.

Cyber Ninjas, a cyber security firm based in Sarasota, Fla., is the audit’s lead contractor. According to its website, the company was founded on Christian principles and operates on the basis of ethical hacking—the practice of breaking through security barriers to show companies how to improve their defenses. The group cites the federal government as a previous client, but audit opponents have criticized the company for having no experience with election audits. CEO Doug Logan frequently posted in support of President Donald Trump throughout the 2020 campaign and tweeted about election integrity concerns. Logan has since deleted his Twitter account.

As chair of the Federal Relations Committee, Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem requested public hearings in November following hundreds of constituent calls and emails claiming election fraud, but he said he never received a response from the speaker of the House. On Nov. 30, Finchem held a public hearing at a local hotel without Senate approval. Following over 10 hours of testimony from this hearing, the Senate approved further public hearings in December and issued subpoenas of the 2.1 million ballots and 400 voting machines. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann hired Cyber Ninjas, though she has stated she can’t remember how she found the company.

“We want to give folks the confidence that their vote not only counts but that it was counted,” Finchem said. “We’re talking about your consent to be governed and your alignment with the people who claim to have the authority to govern you.”

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Fann in May demanding a halt to the audit. The letter responded in detail to a tweet from Fann’s account that accused the county of deleting data. Multiple supervisors, including some who originally supported the audit, have called the audit “a mockery.”

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs compiled a list of “Observer Notes,” each one detailing an issue occurring at the fairgrounds. The list includes claims of unsecured ballots, miscommunication, and lax employee and volunteer rules. It mentions two times that black and blue pens were allowed on the floor despite a ban on them to ensure no ballots were changed.

The audit gained federal attention as well. On June 11 Attorney General Merrick Garland announced upcoming Department of Justice updates on audits and an expansion of voting rights enforcement staff. In his speech, he referred to a letter the Civil Rights Division sent to Fann in May expressing concern about the practices and the legality of a contractor accessing ballots. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich called Garland’s actions an “alarming disdain for state sovereignty.”

“My office is not amused by the DOJ’s posturing and will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our State Senate’s audit to reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections,” Brnovich wrote to Garland on June 14.

Regardless of the audit outcome, Finchem, who is running for secretary of state, said election reforms are necessary. He is leading the Arizona Ballot Integrity Project, which proposes making ballots available on public record, adding a UV light watermark for greater security, and adding a QR code with a unique voter number to allow checking a personal ballot after tabulation. According to a video explaining the project, Finchem announced that these additions would cost 25 cents per ballot and prevent the need for audits in the future.

Republican delegates from 12 states have visited Maricopa and taken notes on the audit to replicate in their own states, according to Finchem, who helped facilitate the visits. Recent proposals in Michigan and Georgia call for county audits as well.

In a June 14 column for The Washington Post, Hobbs, who is running for governor, criticized what she called Republican efforts to suppress voters. She urged Congress to pass the For the People Act, which she claimed will “strike down the senseless restrictions that Republicans have rushed to impose.”

The state Senate does not have the authority to overturn a presidential election after vote certification, but Finchem said that if mass fraud is proven, many more states might conduct their own audit modeled after Arizona’s.


Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a reporter for WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College graduate. She resides in Harrisburg, Pa.

@CarolinaLumetta

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OlderMom

Why do you say the state senate doesn't have the authority to overturn a presidential election? The audit is not "overturning" anything; it is to determine whether the election was already overturned by fraud. If so, it must be put right, by correcting fraudulently certified electoral votes. And one state is not sufficient to do that, but two or three states might be. The total difference in votes across the six swing states was quite small compared to the allegations of fraudulent votes. Also, if mass fraud is proven in one state, how can we in other states know that our own votes counted (or will count in future elections) unless we audit for fraud?
How do you not understand that every single voter in the US has personal reason to be concerned about what this audit reveals?

DakotaLutheran

It is not clear to me how Arizona Ballot Integrity Project's ballot proposal is going to circumvent any need for an audit. What it seems it will prevent is fraudulent ballots being counted. It will also enable individuals a way to verify that their vote was counted. Most people aren't going to do this, but the mere possibility might assure some.

What needs to be discussed is all the ways that errors in counting ballots and outright fraud can take place. We can imagine some of them, but probably not all of them. How will this insure that only registered voters vote? How will this insure that someone else isn't filling out a ballot for someone else. I am concerned about ballot harvesting procedures. How can we insure that such procedures don't effectively compel people to vote. How can we insure that people are only voting once. It seems even possible with voting taking place weeks, perhaps months, before an election, with ballots made available at multiple venues, that people might inadvertently vote more than once, perhaps even differently.

What we want is one registered person, one vote. We want that vote to be "considered" in some sense. We want that person to be voting, not someone else choosing how they vote. So far, mail-in ballots can only testify that someone, probably a registered voter, signed the ballot. It doesn't have any way of verifying that the person actually intentionally and in any considered way voted.

The most reliable system, it seems to me, is the one where people actually come to a polling station. I understand that this can be problematic for some and inconvenient for others. This can be alleviated by having more polling stations open for a longer period of time. Yes, this will take more effort than mailing in a ballot. I don't see that as a bad thing. A little effort indicates that it has some importance for you.

FIMIKIDakotaLutheran

We've figured out how to do plenty of things remotely and become more and more comfortable with digitally authorizing important transactions, but you're right - it's always going to be harder to verify identity remotely than in-person. Should that mean we ought to give up on making voting more accessible? I don't think there's an automatic answer to that, because there are some positive aspects to expanding representation and engaging more people in the political process as well. Any efforts to do so should certainly be done thoughtfully, though, given the level of distrust people have in the system.

This was the first I've heard of the ballot integrity project proposal. I like it. It's one of the first election reform proposals I've seen that might have defanged the more extreme accusations of election fraud that came out of last year's election.