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Maricopa County rebuts Arizona 'audit' findings, GOP's bogus election claims

'Nearly every claim that Senate President Karen Fann’s so-called audit team made about the 2020 general election was either inaccurate, misleading or patently false, according to a long-awaited rebuttal by Maricopa County.

County officials have spent months since the audit team presented its findings in September examining the allegations, which included tens of thousands of possibly questionable votes, ballot tabulation equipment being improperly connected to the internet, illegally deleted files and early ballots being inappropriately counted despite missing signatures from voters.

During a four-hour presentation to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and county Recorder Stephen Richer on Wednesday, members of the county’s elections team laid out a point-by-point refutation of the claims made by audit team leader Cyber Ninjas and other members of the team that spent six months hand-counting ballots, examining machinery and probing other aspects of the 2020 election. The county also issued a 93-page report, titled “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry,” on its findings. 

Fann initiated the audit in response to the false claims that former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters spread that the 2020 election was rigged against him. She hired Cyber Ninjas despite the company’s lack of relevant qualifications or experience with election-related matters. Doug Logan, the company’s founder and the leader of the audit team, had promoted those false claims and had even actively participated in the “Stop the Steal” movement that attempted to legitimate those allegations and overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.

“I wish that we were not still here discussing the 2020 election, but, unfortunately, the state Senate, working with their contractors, have decided to go through with a detailed process to come up with certain conclusions,” said Supervisor Bill Gates, the board’s chairman. “Now, it’s my hope that this is going to be the last word on the 2020 election because you’re going to hear the facts in detail.”

Of the 75 claims that the audit team made, Scott Jarrett, Maricopa County’s director of election day voting, said the county’s analysis debunked all of them, finding 38 to be inaccurate, 25 to be misleading and 11 to be completely false. 

Claims were deemed inaccurate when the auditors used methodology that was either incorrect or faulty, or they simply lacked understanding of federal and state laws governing elections. For example, Cyber Ninjas claimed about 53,000 ballots were questionable because the voters’ addresses didn’t match up with voter registration records. But the auditors reached that conclusion using commercial databases that are often inaccurate combined with partial information about voters, Jarrett said. 

Misleading claims were those which were technically true, but presented in a way that would lead people to a faulty conclusion, such as claims by CyFIR, one of the companies that was part of the audit team, that several pieces of equipment from the elections department were connected to the internet. Two were, Jarrett said, but those were web servers that are supposed to be connected. Tabulation machines and other parts of the county’s election management system are air-gapped, meaning they’re physically unable to be connected to other computer systems. 

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And claims deemed false were those that the audit team should have known were wrong, even with their lack of knowledge about elections. Jarrett pointed to the audit team’s claims that they knew the county used the wrong kind of paper because ink from markers that were provided to voters bled through the paper, part of the long-debunked “Sharpiegate” conspiracy theory. Jarrett said the audit team would have learned the truth if it had bothered to contact the company that manufactured the paper. 

Though Cyber Ninjas’ hand count of ballots, which used frequently-changing methodology that didn’t comply with industry standards, confirmed that Biden won Arizona, the audit team made myriad other claims that cast doubt on the results. Much of the information that Jarrett and the report provided on Wednesday debunking those claims elaborated on information the county released last year in response to the audit team’s final report.

'Questionable' ballots

The audit team claimed that more than 53,000 ballots were potentially invalid for various reasons, including that the voters had moved and cast their ballots from addresses where they weren’t registered, that they might have voted in multiple counties or that they’d moved out of state. 

Election officials combed through those records and found Logan’s claims to be almost entirely inaccurate. Of the 53,304 ballots that Cyber Ninjas deemed questionable, the county found 37 instances in which someone might have illegally voted twice — 0.069% of the so-called “questionable” ballots. The county referred those cases to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the audit team’s findings at Fann’s request. The county also found 50 ballots that might have accidentally been double counted, the only one of the audit’s 75 claims that Jarrett said may not be false. 

“This is the very definition of exceptionally rare,” the county’s report said of the finding that fewer than 100 ballots out of about 2.1 million cast were potentially suspicious. 

The 53,000-plus instances, election officials explained to the Board of Supervisors, were the result of various errors by the Cyber Ninjas.

Jarrett and Janine Petty, the county’s senior director of voter registration, said Fann’s team made a critical error when it used a commercial database to verify voters’ residency information. 

Every election official knows that those databases are full of inaccuracies, Jarrett said. For example, when someone’s roommate, ex-spouse or family member moves out of their home and files a change-of-address form, databases like the one Logan and Cyber Ninjas used will sometimes mistakenly list the other person as having also moved, creating a “false positive.”

In addition, Cyber Ninjas reached many of their conclusions based on “soft matches” — instances in which they erroneously concluded that two voters were the same person based on identical first names, last names and birth years. But in a county with more than 2.6 million registered voters, Jarrett said, there are going to be some errant matches if the auditors are only using those three data points. The county used seven data points to determine whether any of the 53,000 people may have voted illegally. 

Ultimately, county election officials rely on voters’ affirmations regarding where they live, Petty explained. 

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“There is no real-time database that tracks the day-to-day movements and residency changes of a voter in our state — or in the nation, for that matter. We cannot deny a voter their right to vote based on the information contained in a commercial database,” she said.

The audit team’s ignorance of election laws also contributed to some of the inaccurate claims, the election officials said, a consistent theme throughout the day as they pointed out numerous mistakes that they claimed would not have been made by someone who was more familiar with the laws and procedures that the county must use.

Petty noted that Cyber Ninjas flagged some ballots as questionable because the voters who cast them had updated their addresses using U.S. Post Office boxes. But people can’t legally register at P.O. boxes and instead those voters would still be registered at their previous addresses, she said.

Richer, a Republican who wasn’t yet in office during the 2020 election, described the mistake as emblematic of Logan’s flawed analysis.

“That seems like something that anybody with any grounding in elections would know, is that correct?” he asked.

“That is correct,” Petty replied.

Technological issues

CyFIR claimed that county employees deleted various files from the Election Management System, and in other cases “flooded” the system with new actions in order to intentionally cause the system to overwrite old data. 

Nate Young, the director of information technology at the Recorder’s Office, said the county examined versions of the hard drives that it cloned before turning over the equipment in response to Fann’s subpoena and was able to find all of the information that was allegedly deleted. The county has stated in the past that no information was permanently deleted, but rather was archived and preserved, as state law requires. 

“This claim is wildly inaccurate and positions the topic in a way that is inaccurate to the misunderstanding of the Cyber Ninjas and the CyFIR to how they understand the way that we do what we do here at the elections office,” Young said.

The report noted that the county’s Election Management System database, which CyFIR’s founder and CEO, Ben Cotton, claimed had been deleted, was not only archived, but was provided to the audit team in April. In other cases, information that CyFIR claimed he couldn’t find wasn’t turned over to the audit team because the Senate never subpoenaed it, the county’s report stated. 

Young addressed the allegations, which the county deemed false, that election workers illegally intentionally caused servers to overwrite their files by “flooding” their event logs with new information. The servers have a 20 megabyte storage capacity. Young said the county has asked Dominion Voting Systems, the vendor that provides the county’s ballot tabulation equipment, to request that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission allow it to expand the memory of those servers. 

But Young said the audit team simply couldn’t find evidence of more than 400 of the alleged events that CyFIR said caused those overwrites. And he argued that it would have been physically impossible for election workers to create more than 37,000 events over the course of two days in March, as CyFIR claimed. The system has the capacity to hold about 38,000 logs, he said; the report said there were only 385 events logged during that period.

“We tried to come up with that 37,000 number, and we couldn’t,” Young said. “I’m still curious about how he came to that number.”

Jarrett also attributed some of the audit team’s errors to bias. For example, he pointed to allegations that the audit team had reviewed video in which they observed Election Department employees deleting files, a claim that elicited cheers from some members of the Senate during the audit team’s September presentation. In reality, Jarrett said, those videos only showed election workers preparing the machinery to be transported to the audit team.

“If you are biased and not using an objective process, you are likely to come to a faulty conclusion,” Jarrett said. 

Early ballot envelopes

County officials also took aim at the spurious claims made by Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai and his company, EchoMail, regarding the affidavits that voters sign on the backs of the envelopes they use to mail their early ballots to the Election Department. 

As with Cyber Ninjas and CyFIR, many of EchoMail’s erroneous findings were based on complete misunderstandings of state laws and election procedures, according to Celia Nabor, assistant director for early voting at the Recorder’s Office. 

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Ayyadurai did not understand that election officials give voters the opportunity to verify their signatures if election officials can’t do so, a process known as “curing.” She noted that a state law enacted in 2019 gives voters up to five days after the election to do so, and said the Elections Department hired additional staffers to cure signatures due to an expected influx of voters dropping off their early ballots in person on Election Day.

Nabor addressed Ayyadurai’s claim that the number of early ballots the county tallied was less than the number of early ballot envelope images it provided to the audit team, which EchoMail noted in its report. She said that’s true, but that the auditors didn’t understand that the county legally couldn’t turn over some of those affidavits, such as the ones used by voters whose registration information must be kept confidential, like law enforcement officers, judges and domestic violence victims.

Richer also noted that, in some cases, Ayyadurai showed Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen images of early ballot envelopes during the audit team’s presentation that he falsely claimed were approved despite having no signatures, when in fact parts of the signature could clearly be seen. In those cases, the voter signed the wrong line, affixing the signature instead to the area reserved for their phone numbers. Ayyadurai redacted that section with black boxes labeled “phone number.”

“It was staring us right there in the face behind the phone number box,” Richer said. “And, yet, they presented this as, ‘Aha! We found one that didn’t have a signature.’”

Gates concluded the presentation with an exhortation to the legislature not to take any action based on the audit team’s findings.

“I think it’s important that our legislators not create new election law based on the Cyber Ninjas report. It’s been debunked. It was not written by people who were experts in the field,” he said. 

Fann said she wasn’t able to watch the county’s presentation and had no comment on its findings. Logan did not respond to a request for comment.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Michael Chow/Arizona Republic/pool

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Jack Sellers (left) and Thomas Galvin (right) listen to Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer during a hearing at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Maricopa County Elections Department officials were responding to claims about the 2020 General Election made by Senate contractors Cyber Ninjas, CyFIR, and EchoMail.

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