AP Photo/Matt York, Pool Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The audit, ordered by the Arizona Senate, has the U.S. Department of Justice saying it is concerned about ballot security and potential voter intimidation arising from the unprecedented private recount of the 2020 presidential election results.
AP Photo/Matt York, Pool

As the GOP-led audit of Arizona’s 2020 election results wrapped up last week, a new report warned that the final results of the review should not be trusted.

The States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan group that advocates for secure elections, issued a report that identified problems with the audit that included a lack of transparency and impartiality, insufficient security, and inconsistent procedures with recounting the ballots.

“Because it lacks the essential elements of a bona fide post-election analysis, the review currently underway in Maricopa County will not produce findings that should be trusted,” the report read.

The audit of Maricopa County’s election results was commissioned earlier this year by the state’s Republican-controlled Senate to “ensure transparency and integrity” in the election, but it has since been plagued by concerns of mismanagement, lack of transparency, and lapses in security

“It’s caused our state to become the laughingstock of the country,” Cindy Dach, who co-owns the Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, told The Copper Courier in a recent interview. She and other critics of the audit have called instead for more attention on protecting and expanding voting rights for Arizonans. 

Looking for the latest Arizona news? Sign up for our FREE daily newsletter.

Despite insistence from supporters of former President Donald Trump that the election was stolen, elections officials across the country on both sides of the political aisle found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Maricopa County also conducted two independent audits of the 2020 election results, including a hand count of a “statistically significant” number of ballots that were found to have been counted with 100% accuracy.

Results from the audit, which kicked off in late April and wrapped up last week, are not expected to be available for several weeks.

The States United Democracy Center report was authored by Barry C. Burden of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Trey Grayson, a former Republican Kentucky secretary of state.

Among the problems outlined by Grayson and Burden were that the contractor leading the audit was “inexperienced,” “unqualified,” and “partisan.” 

The audit was overseen by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida cybersecurity company whose CEO has promoted conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Despite acknowledging the notable, sweeping and multifaceted scope of the audit, the report found that the private firms conducting the audit under Cyber Ninjas were “ill-equipped to conduct it successfully and produce meaningful findings” about the 2020 election.

As the audit wraps up and final results are awaited, legislators from other states—including Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—that were won by President Biden in the last election have toured the audit in recent months, sparking chatter that the process could be replicated across the country.

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. Maricopa County officials on Friday, May 21, directed the Arizona Senate and the auditors it hired to review the county’s 2020 election count to preserve documents for a possible lawsuit.
AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, FIle

‘A Risk to Free and Fair Elections’

Last week’s report identified seven core defects that undermine the audit’s credibility: uncompetitive contracting, a lack of impartiality, a faulty ballot review process, inconsistency in procedures, an unacceptably high level of error built into the process, insufficient security, and false public allegations made by Cyber Ninjas about the audit.

Security lapses have been well documented since the earliest days of the audit.

More than one Arizona journalist reported early on in the process that they could walk into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where the audit was being held, without being stopped or scanned at metal detectors.

RELATED: ‘Central to Our Identity’: Why These Arizona Faith Leaders Plan to Continue Fighting for Voting Rights

The report also called Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan’s biased views about the results of the 2020 election into question, as well as the false statements made by the firm throughout the audit that a voter database had been deleted and that ballots being stored in boxes were not secure.

Republican officials with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the Maricopa County Recorder’s office publicly pushed back against these claims last month, slamming the audit as a “grift.”

“We’re still hearing the same accusations, the same conspiracy theories, the same unfounded comments continue to be thrown out,” Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, said at the time. “And they’re making new ones as we go along. It seems like it just never stops.”

Other issues outlined in the report included the Cyber Ninja’s lack of experience, the Senate’s lack of oversight over the process, and the Senate’s failure to follow a competitive or transparent bidding process before awarding the contract to the Cyber Ninjas.

The report also highlighted the concerning status of the county’s ballots, which have “almost certainly” been impacted by Cyber Ninjas’ handling.

In May, after several weeks of storage in the Coliseum, the ballots were relocated to a different location with increased humidity, potentially affecting the thickness of the ballot paper and causing “unnecessary variations” that could be mistakenly interpreted as troubling inconsistencies, the report found. 

Audit workers were also using ultraviolet light to scan the ballots for watermarks, a choice that could have led to permanent damage of the ballots, according to the report. Use of the UV lights was ultimately discontinued shortly after the audit began.

Concerns were also raised about the audit’s possession of the voting equipment that Maricopa County used in the 2020 election.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, in a letter to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, expressed concerns in May about the state’s continued use of the voting equipment now that it had been taken over by the Cyber Ninjas, according to the report.

On Monday, Maricopa County said that it recognized Hobbs’ authority to certify equipment for elections and that it was making plans for the November 2021 election to replace the voting equipment that had been taken over during the audit.

“The voters of Maricopa County can rest assured, the County will never use equipment that could pose a risk to free and fair elections,” the county said in a statement.

A reporter watches the Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election being examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Thursday, April 29, 2021.
Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool

What’s Next?

The audit wrapped up its hand count and examination of ballots last Friday, but a final report on the results is not expected for several weeks or even months, according to audit spokesperson Ken Bennett.

No matter the findings, Arizona’s audit won’t change the results of the 2020 presidential election. However, it could still have far-reaching consequences, both for officials in other states looking to replicate the process, and for supporters of former President Donald Trump. The latter are waiting to see if the review turns up any evidence of their so far unsubstantiated claims of fraud.

Ultimately, Burden and Grayson, the authors of last week’s report, found that the processes and procedures used in Arizona’s audit deviated significantly from standard practices.

“Because of these untrustworthy practices and the partisan leanings of those doing the review, any findings by the review are suspect and should not be trusted,” they wrote.