The Arizona election ‘audit’ is a partisan and amateurish endeavor that ‘should not be trusted,’ expert review finds

In this May 6, 2021 file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.
In this May 6, 2021 file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. AP Photo/Matt York, Pool
  • Cyber Ninjas is reviewing 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County on behalf of Arizona’s GOP-led Senate.
  • The firm’s process has “fatal flaws,” according to a new review.
  • Those flaws could enable a false claim that former President Donald Trump actually won the county.
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The Arizona Republican-backed “audit” of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County “lacks the essential elements” of a credible review and its findings should not be trusted, according to a new report from election experts.

President Joe Biden won Arizona’s most populous county by more than 45,000 votes. But, since April, a private contractor, Cyber Ninjas, acting at the behest of Arizona’s GOP-led Senate, has been working to uncover fraud that supporters of former President Donald Trump baselessly allege cost him the election. That has included scanning ballots for signs of bamboo in an attempt to prove they came from China.

“The Cyber Ninjas boondoggle deviates so substantially from a proper audit or recount that the results simply can’t be trusted,” Barry C. Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Insider. “The Cyber Ninjas firm is not only unqualified to be conducting the review, but they do not actually seem interested in following protocols that could enhance public trust rather than undermining it.”

In a new report for the nonpartisan States United Democracy Center, Burden and Trey Grayson, a Republican and former secretary of state in Kentucky, detail numerous ways in which Cyber Ninjas – a Florida-based firm that had no prior experience auditing elections – has chosen to “deviate significantly” from standard practices.

For starters, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan “is an overt partisan,” the authors write, who endorsed pro-Trump conspiracy theories about the 2020 election before he was awarded the $150,000 contract to recount Maricopa County’s votes, supplemented by an undisclosed amount of money from right-wing donors.

Cyber Ninjas has likewise allowed workers to handle ballots who, among other things, have embraced QAnon and publicly declared their belief that the 2020 election was “stolen,” undermining their ability to be impartial.

Its process for counting ballots also has “fatal flaws,” the authors write. Workers are asked to count ballots that are on a spinning table, “often moving at high rates of speed,” giving them as little as a fraction of a second to discern a voter’s intent. And while multiple workers review those spinning ballots, Cyber Ninjas asks only that they agree on the full total of votes, not how they were actually cast, a system that “perpetuates rather than alleviates any inconsistencies.”

Indeed, Cyber Ninjas requires only that two of the three workers agree on their tallies, so long as the third’s is only off by a couple of votes. Over 2.1 million votes, the authors calculate, that could translate “to a potential error of approximately 42,000 ballots” – or more than enough to falsely assert “a substantial Trump victory.”

Already, the report notes, Cyber Ninjas’ auditors have made demonstrably false claims. In May, for example, auditors claimed that Maricopa County officials had deleted election data they were supposed to hand over – a false assertion, amplified by former President Trump, that was retracted when auditors realized the problem was on their end and that the data was indeed on their hard drive.

All told, there is no reason to believe a review by those intent on uncovering massive fraud will. “Because of these untrustworthy practices and the partisan leanings of those doing the review,” the authors write, “any findings by the review are suspect and should not be trusted.”