- A GOP-led audit of the 2020 vote in Maricopa County is “fomenting the big lie that the election was stolen,” the head of the Arizona Democratic Party told Insider.
- Republicans selected a firm to conduct the audit, Cyber Ninjas, that has no experiencing counting votes.
- The company is led by a man who promoted false claims of election fraud in 2020.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
It’s a “sham audit,” Raquel Terán, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, says of the vote count underway this week in Maricopa County. Initiated by Republicans and led by a firm that has no prior experience handling ballots, the $150,000 in taxpayer is being used to perpetrate a fraud, she told Insider – “fomenting the big lie that the election was stolen.”
Last week, an Arizona judge agreed that there was something to Democrats’ arguments, ruling that Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based company selected to lead a reexamination of the vote in Maricopa County, should hand over any documents describing its internal processes. Democrats also had a chance to suspend the process altogether, albeit at a cost: $1 million bond.
The problem, Terán said, is they did not have the money.
“It was beyond absurd for us that the bond was set so high,” Terán said. And Democrats had no confidence that Cyber Ninjas would come back with a fair and accurate reporting of the financial damages incurred by the order; ultimately, she said, the party decided it did not have a million dollars to lose.
Cyber Ninjas, meanwhile, decided it also did not want to lose its purported trade secrets: documents detailing how it plans to ensure the credibility of its audit process. It filed those documents with the court on Sunday, requesting that they be kept under seal and away from the prying eyes of the media.
The company also asked the judge who had ordered them to hand over documents to recuse himself, appearing to manufacture a conflict of interest over the weekend by hiring one of his former interns to join their legal team. A new judge, on Tuesday, will consider Democrats’ push to unseal those internal communications detailing security procedures and how it purports to know the difference between a valid and invalid ballot.
Cyber Ninjas did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment. But, Terán said, “it doesn’t seem like a coincidence to us.”
The Arizona GOP, for its part, has crowed over Democrats’ inability to come up the money to stop the audit. “We are restoring faith in our country and our elections,” the party states in a fundraising appeal.
A dubious process
From the start, Democrats and impartial observers alike have cried foul over Arizona’s selective audit of Maricopa County, which President Joe Biden last year won by more than 45,000 votes.
Last fall, the former president and his allies spread a host of quickly debunked claims of fraud in the county, which Donald Trump won in 2016. Perhaps the one that went most viral was “SharpieGate,” which alleged that Republicans in Maricopa County were being handed permanent markers at their polling stations, invalidating their ballots. In fact, permanent markers were the preferred writing utensil, as local Republicans confirmed at the time.
Another claim is that Democrats simply flooded the county with “fake” ballots. No evidence was ever presented – it was the same argument that Trump put forward after 2016 to justify his loss in the popular vote – and Maricopa County’s Republican elections officials unanimously voted to certify Biden’s win. (“In a free democracy, elections result in some people’s candidates losing,” one of them said at the time.)
But the claims of a stolen election persist, and Arizona Republicans are intent on placating the sentiment. Weeks after the January 6 insurrection, the state GOP won a legal battle over Maricopa County’s ballots, earning the right to check them again. State Sen. Karen Fann, the Republican president of Arizona’s state senate, then elected to outsource the process.
Enter Cyber Ninjas. It was not selected because of its experience auditing elections; it has none. What it does have is credibility – with Trump supporters. Doug Logan, the head of the company, is not impartial. As evidenced by a since-deleted Twitter account, he was convinced that the 2020 election was stolen long before he or his company ever examined a ballot, using his social media presence to promote the former president’s “#StopTheSteal” effort, the Arizona Mirror reported. (A former Arizona Secretary of State, Republican Ken Bennett, has been named the state Senate’s “liaison.”)
At the convention center in Phoenix, Logan has had temp workers and volunteers pour over some 2.1 million ballots using “ultra-violet lights to search for ballot watermarks and weed-out phony ballots,” according to One America News, the far-right media organization that was granted the exclusive right to stream the process.
Legitimate reporters, meanwhile, have complained of impeded access – and the potential for fraud in a process ostensibly intended to thwart it. Last Friday, a reporter at the Arizona Republic, Jen Fifield, noted the presence of blue pens inside the convention center that could be used to mark ballots and alter their reading in vote-processing machines; red pens – not any with dark ink – are the standard for auditors. She has not been allowed inside since.
Voting rights groups, including The Carter Center and the Brennan Center for Justice, have also decried what they see as a faux-audit in Arizona. In a letter to Sen. Fann, they accused Republicans of being “driven by politics rather than a search for the truth.” The Maricopa County results have already been audited, they noted: last year, by credible firms that have audited elections before. Another round, by a dubious firm, “will have little value other than to stoke conspiracy theories and partisan gamesmanship – or worse.”
Fann did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
For Arizona Democrats, the worst fear is not Republicans believing falsehoods about the 2020 election. “There are no amount of audits that are going to appease any of these individuals who believe in conspiracy theories,” Terán told Insider.
Rather, she said, it’s what those falsehoods could do to Democratic voters, in the form of new laws passed in the wake of whatever the Cyber Ninjas find when they are through searching next month. New ID requirements, for example, and efforts to remove people from mail-in ballot rolls if they either don’t vote or vote in person for two election cycles – all different means of what Terán terms “voter suppression.”
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