The Arizona audit fallout
The investigation failed to prove widespread fraud but sparked calls for election reviews elsewhere
The audit results are in: President Joe Biden won the country’s fourth largest county by 45,000 votes, but not every part of the 2020 election ran smoothly in Maricopa County, Ariz. After five long months, Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas and lead contractor for the audit, presented findings to the Arizona Senate on Friday, Sept. 24. The audit supported rather than undermined the presidential election outcome: It found an additional 99 votes for Joe Biden and 261 fewer votes for former President Donald Trump.
“What went almost ignored in last week’s presentation was that the Cyber Ninjas agreed with Maricopa County’s results: Joe Biden won Maricopa County in the 2020 election,” said Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder, in a statement on Tuesday. “We thank the Senate for confirming what we’ve said since November of last year.”
But Logan called 23,000 ballots in Maricopa County questionable and claims that even after running a forensic audit for five months, he still does not have enough evidence to rule out fraud completely. County election officials would not meet with the audit team personally, refusing to participate in what they called a dangerous sham.
The contentious audit highlights a crisis of voter confidence across the country surrounding not only the 2020 presidential election but the upcoming 2022 races. A George Washington University poll published in July found Republicans are only 28 percent confident about the integrity of the 2022 elections, compared with 46 percent confidence before the 2020 vote. The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group also found rapidly declining trust levels among Trump supporters regarding elections compared with Democrats.
In an August open letter, Richer, a Republican, lamented what he called an “obsessive desire to find election fraud,” noting that the Maricopa audit only focused on races where Democrats beat incumbent Republicans. He lambasted Cyber Ninjas as “biased,” “unscrupulous,” and “incompetent.”
Logan pushed back on the assertion that his audit undermined faith in elections. “Whether real or fake, the perception that an election was rigged is detrimental to our elections,” he told me. “This was never about overthrowing an election. This was about finding any problems if they exist and making sure they can be fixed so the American people can have confidence that when they cast a vote it’s going to be represented the way they cast it.”
At the public presentation, auditors said officials purged databases and deleted ballot files, including thousands of scanned images. Their report also claims just over 23,000 mail-in ballots were cast by voters who had moved out of Maricopa County.
Officials with the county, though, said the claim of deleted data was false and that they had simply archived excess data in storage files that were not subpoenaed. Regarding the 23,000 ballots, the Board of Supervisors disputed the number on the basis that the auditors used a private population database rather than official county numbers. The county tweeted rebuttals that attributed the mail-in votes to legal address differences for military voters, college students, and “snowbirds”—people temporarily residing in a different state for the winter.
The audit team said it removed from its tally voters who appeared to be college students, as well as voters who had moved but still had a family member living at the residence that received their ballot. But it said it could not account for the remaining thousands. Cyber Ninjas requested permission to conduct door-to-door canvassing in cases like these, but the Arizona Senate scrapped the request after the Justice Department said canvassing could constitute voter intimidation. Without this, Logan claimed it is impossible to know whether the ballots were correctly cast or if someone else illegally filled them out.
Third parties commonly run business audits, so what makes an election audit so contentious? Hans von Spakovsky, a Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow and manager of the organization’s Election Law Reform Initiative, said public misperception plays a role. An audit can only analyze results and processes, uncovering whether mistakes were made or not. Additionally, deadlines to contest election results from 2020 have long since passed. Despite calls—including from former President Donald Trump—for Arizona to decertify its election results, audits cannot change an election outcome. “That misunderstands the purpose of an audit,” von Spakovsky said. “An audit protects voters no matter which political party they affiliate with because it ensures all voters have access and security in the election process.”
Cyber Ninjas and subcontractors included a list of recommendations for Arizona and called for further investigations from the attorney general or secretary of state. Von Spakovsky said an audit should mark the beginning, rather than the end, of an election review process: “Executive branch officials in Arizona would be derelict in their duties if they do not follow up and investigate the problems found in the audit. We’re not going to know whether that audit report is correct until and unless election and law enforcement officials conduct individual investigations.”
Logan also recommended the county create an election audit department to analyze voting machines, inspect registration lists, and verify hand counts on a regular basis. He also suggested watermarking the ballot paper and installing a full accounting process for each vote. He said he was especially concerned by the lack of U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) regulations for Dominion voting machines: “Why would the software that helps determine the most powerful person in the world not be up to the same standards as the finance industry with bank account transactions?”
In February 2021, the EAC announced new voluntary guidelines for voting systems to improve cybersecurity and accessibility. The four commissioners said it was the most significant update since 2005. One of the key changes listed in the announcement was “improved auditability.”
Swing states are showing interest in 2020 election audits. Following an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas secretary of state’s office announced it would begin a forensic audit into four major counties. Trump won the historically red state in 2020 by 5.5 percentage points. The office said it would not hire independent companies to conduct the audit. In Pennsylvania, Senate Republicans subpoenaed the Pennsylvania State Department for voter information for an Arizona-style forensic audit, an action that Senate Democrats have taken to court. In Wisconsin, a retired conservative state Supreme Court justice is leading a GOP-sponsored 2020 election audit, which the Democratic governor termed “a $700,000 boondoggle.”
Logan said multiple other states have asked him to conduct election audits, but he has yet to decide whether to start a new project.
Democrats argue such audits exacerbate declining trust levels by spreading confusion and unfounded conspiracies. Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, denounced the audits as Republican attempts to “keep the fantasy alive that they weren’t soundly defeated in the last election.”
On Tuesday, Maricopa County officials said they were compiling a technical report to refute Cyber Ninjas’ results. “The opinions that came out of Friday’s hearing were conjecture without proof and were twisted to fit the narrative that something went wrong,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers.
In the meantime, Arizona’s attorney general has not yet announced whether he will pursue investigations based on the audit results.
—WORLD has updated this story to clarify the types of voters Cyber Ninjas excluded from the tally of 23,000 ballots it called questionable.
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