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Senate won’t say who is funding the Arizona election 'audit' or allow media access

A heated press conference on the eve of the Arizona Senate’s 'audit' of the Maricopa County presidential election revealed key information about how the 'audit' will unfold in the coming weeks and laid bare issues with media access and transparency about who is paying for the 'audit'.

“You want to paint me as some bad guy,” Doug Logan, the CEO of lead 'auditing' firm Cyber Ninjas, retorted in the face of questions about who was paying for the 'audit'. “Anybody who walks into any election integrity thing gets butchered by everybody.”

Press access — or the lack thereof — was front and center at a media briefing that began 90 minutes late and after the Senate’s 'audit' team tried to bar several journalists from attending the press conference because they had not properly requested prior permission to be present.

One group of reporters found an unlocked side door into the building, which is the temporary home to 2.1 million ballots and all of the county’s election equipment, and made their way in, causing a commotion and leading to security rushing the reporters.

The reporters were blocked from entering because the 'audit' team invited local media to the press conference in two different ways. Some news organizations — including the Arizona Mirror — were sent a notice by a Florida-based public relations firm and were told to RSVP ahead of time. Others were given notice of the media event by Ken Bennett, a former secretary of state and the Senate’s “liaison” to the 'auditors'. Journalists who responded to the PR firm’s invitation were allowed in, while those who were invited by Bennett were blocked at the entrance.

Eventually, all of the reporters were allowed access to the press briefing, but the incident set the stage for a combative evening.

Press access was a big concern going into the press conference, as the 'audit' team announced Wednesday that reporters would have to work 30 hours as an observer in order to cover the 'audit', though Bennett said that has now been reduced to a single six-hour shift. Journalists who do so cannot bring notepads, take photos, record or do any of the duties that would qualify as reporting while observing.

“We want everyone down here observing and not reporting,” Bennett said Thursday, reiterating that the policy was remaining in place. “Arguing and asking me about it is not going to change anything about it.”

He said the policy was created “in consultation” with the Florida based firm conducting the 'audit', Cyber Ninjas.

Bennett said that the basketball stadium does not have enough room for reporters. The 'audit' is taking place on the central floor of the 14,870-seat multi-purpose indoor arena.

Instead of allowing media into the building to watch and report on the 'audit', he said he will be conducting press briefings each afternoon.

Arizona Mirror, the Arizona Republic and the Arizona Broadcasters Association on Thursday sent a letter to Bennett and Senate President Karen Fann demanding that the restrictions on journalists be lifted.

“Requiring journalists to become active participants in the events on which they seek to report is as unprecedented as it is untenable in a representative democracy,” attorney David Bodney wrote on behalf of the Mirror and others. “It also violates the First Amendment, which compels that members of the press be allowed access to report on these public proceedings.”

Bodney noted that Fann and other Republican senators supporting the 'audit' have said it is necessary to restore shaken confidence in Arizona’s elections.

“(A)llowing press access here would certainly play a significant positive role in the functioning of the 'audit': if the purpose of the 'audit' is to foster public trust in Arizona’s elections, it is critical that there also be public trust in the 'audit' itself. Such can only be achieved by fair, open access to the press,” he wrote.

'Auditors' refuse to answer about their biases

The firm leading the 'audit', Cyber Ninjas, has come under fire because its CEO has spread election fraud conspiracies and worked to help Republican U.S. senators overturn Joe Biden’s election as president.

Cyber Ninja CEO Doug Logan’s now-deleted Twitter account retweeted accounts that claimed there was fraud in the 2020 election against former President Donald Trump and also used the hashtag “#StopTheSteal.”

Bennett refused to take questions about Logan’s political ideologies and said that bringing up “old tweets” was not part of the press conference.

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“We’re not here to 'audit' Mr. Logan’s opinions about anything,” Bennett said.

However, the companies hired to do the 'audit' are 'auditing' the opinions of the people being hired to hand-count all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in November.

So far, they have hired 150 counters through a subcontractor named Wake Technologies, and part of the vetting process included looking at the social media of those involved. Individuals also are coming from “credible professions” such as “police” and “retired military” and other “retired” professions, Logan said.

The plan for the 'audit' is to have one person scan each ballot, which will then display that ballot onto a computer screen for three people at a table to see. Those people can also compare the image on the screen to the physical ballot.

If two of the three people agree on what the votes are for the presidential and U.S. Senate races — the only two contests being 'audited' — then those votes will be recorded for that ballot.

“The short answer is time,” Logan said on why they are only focusing on those races.

Logan said he didn’t know whether there were enough Republican, Democratic and independent counters to ensure that each trio of counters would be bipartisan. A last-minute lawsuit filed by Democrats attempting to stop the 'audit' claims that they do not.

There also was no commitment to disclosing who is paying for the 'audit'. The Senate agreed to pay Cyber Ninjas $150,000, but the costs of the 'audit' will far exceed that. Bennet and Logan refused to say who is funding the 'audit' and how much it is actually costing.

“It doesn’t matter who paid for it,” Bennett said.

Logan said that he will “seriously consider” revealing the sources of outside funds being funnelled in to pay for the 'audit' but did not commit to reveal the sources, adding that he has purposefully made sure to not know.

At least $150,000 is also coming from a “dark money” nonprofit created by journalists at One America News Network, a pro-Trump cable news network that has heavily promoted false claims of election fraud — including in Arizona.

Neither Bennett or Logan could answer questions about how much the 'audit' will cost, only saying that it will last 16 days.

'Auditors' also plan to go out and canvass some neighborhoods and have already identified certain areas they want to target. The 'audit' team has been working with unidentified “statisticians,” who Logan are not affiliated with Cyber Ninjas or its subcontractors. He said they have identified some areas they “are concerned about.”

Logan said the statisticians would be identified in the final report and their work would be able to be peer-reviewed then.

'Auditors' are also planning to do signature verification of ballots, but do not have the envelopes that early ballots were mailed in to county elections officials. When early ballots arrive at the county elections department, workers verify the signature, then separate the ballot from the envelope, making it impossible to link any particular ballot to the envelope it came in.

“The Senate is reserving the right to request the envelopes,” Bennett said.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror

A member of the Senate's election audit team demonstrates how auditors will manually tally each of the 2.1 million ballots cast in the presidential election in Maricopa County in 2020.


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