In what could be either the final battle of the prolonged presidential election or inspiration for future ballot reviews, a contested audit of some of Arizona’s election results is about to wrap up.
The audit of the results in Maricopa County, which pitted state and county Republicans against each other and drew the attention of the Biden Justice Department, is set to be completed by the end of June.
Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the tech firm conducting the audit, last month specified that deadline for state senators.
The Arizona state Senate ordered the audit, which has withstood a court challenge.
Here are six things to know about the status of the election audit for Maricopa County.
1. How Close to Completion?
Late last week, the auditors tweeted: “At our current rate of examining over 100k ballots per day, we will complete the paper examination phase of the audit by Saturday, June 26.”
Auditors have completed a hand recount of the 2.1 million ballots cast for the November election. That was the bulk of the work for the audit, which started April 23.
Auditors were counting ballots in Braille, large-type ballots, and ballots from overseas military, The Associated Press reported Monday.
Auditors continue to examine mail-in ballot envelopes for required signatures, said Ken Bennett, a former state Senate president and Arizona secretary of state acting as the state Senate’s liaison to the election auditors.
Bennett reportedly said that the examination of ballots includes technical issues, such as whether a ballot has folds or alignment marks on the front and back that are authentic, to determine whether ballots are legitimate.
2. What’s Controversial About the Audit?
The Arizona Senate subpoenaed all ballots and about 400 voting machines, according to published reports.
Maricopa County officials argued that the audit is a waste of time because there already had been two previous audits of election equipment, but the Senate-ordered audit is the first forensic audit.
Explaining the difference, auditors recently tweeted: “Regular audit vs. forensic audit? A regular audit looks to confirm that procedures were followed and results are accurate but does not consider all transactions. A forensic audit uses techniques to discover errors, potential fraud, and is suitable to be used in legal proceedings.”
County officials initially pledged cooperation with the state, but then sued to stop the audit. A state judge upheld the state Senate’s authority to compel information.
Senate President Karen Fann selected Florida-based Cyber Ninjas to do the work in a $150,000 contract.
Maricopa County officials complained about the cost to taxpayers and argued that Cyber Ninjas lacks experience in election auditing. County officials also criticized the company for a tweet they said alleged a cover-up.
Auditors with Cyber Ninjas countered that they have followed professional standards.
Other county officials said they were concerned about the Cyber Ninjas CEO’s deleted tweets supporting former President Donald Trump’s view that the presidential election was stolen through fraud.
“I don’t think there is a conservative or Republican or frankly independent out there who doesn’t want to see transparency in the electoral process. You’ve got to have buy-in for the electoral system to work,” Adam Kwasman, a lawyer and former GOP state representative, told The Daily Signal.
However, Kwasman said, the Senate “could not have set out more rakes to step on” in hiring Cyber Ninjas.
“Even if they find something legitimately, it’s going to be immediately dismissed by half the population for being fraudulent, partisan, and incompetent,” said Kwasman, who received a 100% rating from the American Conservative Union during his tenure. “It will only grow the problem, not solve the problem. It will only stoke fears, not quell the fire.”
“I have nothing but good things to say about Karen Fann,” Kwasman added, “so I don’t know why this decision was made” to hire Cyber Ninjas.
Arizona’s Republican state senators have countered that Virginia-based CyFIR, a subcontractor, has done the bulk of the work in the election audit.
Maricopa County elected officials, mostly Republican, were upset last month about questions posed by Fann in a letter regarding the chain of custody for ballots.
Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, responding to criticism that his company has no experience with elections, told state senators in a special hearing last month that it has worked with the financial services industry and the government.
County officials also were miffed about some conspiracy theories tossed about in relation to the audit.
In a tweet last month, Maricopa County Recorder Steve Richer, a Republican elected in November as the county’s top election official, referred to a statement by Trump as “unhinged.”
The 45th president claimed in the statement that the “entire Database of Maricopa County has been DELETED.”
Auditors didn’t say the entire database was deleted, but did allege that files were deleted.
During a meeting last month of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Richer told the elected members: “We deleted zero, zero election files.”
However, Ben Cotton, founder of CyFIR, the subcontractor working on the audit, told senators that he managed to locate files and that they certainly had been deleted. But, Cotton said, it was a “moot point” since he was able to recover all of the files.
Pamela Karlan, a top U.S. Justice Department lawyer, objected to an independent contractor having access to election information, saying it could put voter information at risk.
Regarding security, Cyber Ninjas’ Logan said the audit was being livestreamed 24/7 and a full digital trail was in place.
Each counted ballot is certified by three people, Logan said, so it is impossible for one person to meddle with the tally. Moreover, he said, all ballots are under armed security.
3. What Is Biden Justice Department Doing?
Earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick Garland commented on election audits without mentioning Maricopa County by name. Garland’s remarks came just over a month after Karlan, principal deputy attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, wrote a sharply worded warning about the audit to Fann, a Republican.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich last week responded to the Justice Department in a letter to Garland in which he called attacks on the audit “hysterical,” the Washington Examiner first reported.
“My office is not amused by the DOJ’s posturing and will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our state Senate’s audit to reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections,” Brnovich, a Republican, wrote in the June 14 letter, adding: “We stand ready to defend federalism and state sovereignty against any partisan attacks or federal overreach.”
Garland referred to the audit June 11 in a speech on voting rights.
“As part of its mission to protect the right to vote, the Justice Department will, of course, do everything in its power to prevent election fraud and, if found, to vigorously prosecute it,” Garland said. “But many of the justifications proffered in support of these post-election audits and restrictions on voting have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both this administration and the previous one, as well as by every court—federal and state—that has considered them.”
Karlan’s May 5 letter to Fann, the state Senate president, said that the audit of Maricopa County’s election results could run afoul of federal law regarding voter intimidation and the security of voter information. The Justice Department official wrote:
Federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve federal election records. … If the state designates some other custodian for such election records, then the Civil Rights Act provides that the ‘duty to retain and preserve any record or paper so deposited shall devolve upon such custodian.’ 52 U.S.C. § 20701
The [Justice] Department interprets the act to require that ‘covered election documentation be retained either physically by election officials themselves, or under their direct administrative supervision.’
The Arizona attorney general wrote to Garland that his deputy’s letter to the state Senate president “appeared more interested in supporting hysterical outcries of leftist pundits on cable television rather than the rule of law.”
4. Could Audit Change Outcome?
The audit in one Arizona county has nothing to do with whether President Joe Biden remains in office, although the audit largely is being conducted to address questions raised by Trump and supporters who insist the election was stolen.
Arizona’s 11 electoral votes already have been certified for Biden, and the Electoral College vote is final.
Biden’s 10,457-vote victory in Arizona made him the first Democrat since President Bill Clinton in 1996 to claim the state’s electoral votes.
“This has nothing to do with overturning the election or decertifying electors or anything else. It never has been about that,” Fann said during a public meeting last month about the audit.
The Arizona Senate president added: “I have said from the get-go I am relatively certain that we are not going to find anything of any magnitude that would imply that any intentional wrongdoing was going on.”
Rather, she said, the audit is about determining how to make future elections more secure.
But Kwasman, the former state legislator, said he is concerned that important election reforms will be more difficult to pass.
“Unfortunately, with the bedlam of the audit and the politics surrounding it, they might come out with good conclusions, sensible conclusions, that are completely drowned out by the circus,” Kwasman told The Daily Signal. “You want to enact a reform, and then the mainstream media and the left will say, ‘That reform is an audit reform and therefore illegitimate.’ That’s a problem.”
In theory, if the Maricopa County audit showed a different outcome—Trump over Biden—it could raise enough controversy to prompt similar audits in other close states.
5. What’s So Important About 1 County?
Arizona was key to Biden’s victory in 2020. A Washington Post analysis showed that flipping 43,000 votes across three states—Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin—likely would have changed the outcome of the presidential contest.
Without carrying Maricopa County by a significant margin, Biden would not have carried Arizona.
Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county and second-largest voting jurisdiction, was key to Biden’s victory in traditionally Republican-leaning Arizona. The county has 4.4 million residents; the county seat is also the state capital, Phoenix.
In 2016, Maricopa County narrowly went for Trump in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton. In 2020, it went for Biden over Trump by a significant amount.
Trump increased his vote total in Maricopa by almost 250,000 votes compared with four years earlier. However, Biden’s vote tally exceeded Clinton’s performance by about 337,000, according to research by the Foundation for Government Accountability.
6. Will Other States Follow Suit?
Republican state legislators from other states where the outcome was disputed have visited the site of the Arizona election audit, and in some cases called for a similar forensic examination of ballots in their own states.
This week, Georgia announced that it would remove more than 100,000 outdated and obsolete names from voter registration rolls based on change-of-address forms from the Postal Service, and separately would remove more than 18,000 names of voters who had died but were still on the rolls, based on Georgia’s Office of Vital Records and the 30-state Electronic Registration Information Center.
In a written statement Tuesday about that news, Trump said it meant he really won the election:
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LAST ELECTION? WHY WASN’T THIS DONE PRIOR TO THE NOVEMBER 3RD PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, where they had us losing by a very small number of votes, many times less than the 101,789 figure?
This means we (you!) won the Presidential Election in Georgia. But don’t fret, much other information will soon be revealed about Georgia—and other States as well. It is coming out FAST and FURIOUS. The 2020 Presidential Election was rigged!
In official final results, Biden won Georgia by only about 12,000 votes.
Georgia state Sens. Burt Jones and Brandon Beach, both Republicans, visited the audit site in Phoenix and called for a forensic audit of the Georgia vote. There was a hand recount of Georgia votes.
In addition to cleaning up voter rolls, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced last week that his office would investigate new questions about whether Fulton County could account for the chain of custody for thousands of ballots deposited in drop boxes.
Pennsylvania state Sen. David Argall, the Republican chairman of a committee that oversees election administration, said he backs an examination of ballots in the Keystone State, which Biden won by about 80,000 votes.
“It’s a very careful recount, forensic audit, so yeah, I don’t see the danger in it,” Argall told reporters over the weekend. “I just think that it would not be a bad idea at all to proceed with an audit similar to what they’re doing in Arizona.”
Two of Argall’s GOP colleagues, state Sens. Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush, visited the site of the Arizona election audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Pennsylvania state Rep. Rob Kauffman, a Republican, joined them.
Republican state lawmakers from Georgia and Wisconsin also visited the site, CBS News reported.
Importantly, just as the results of the Arizona audit could not change the outcome of the presidential election, neither could audits in other states. State legislatures already have certified electors, and the Electoral College voted in December.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Seth Grove, the Republican chairman of a relevant committee, tweeted that he doesn’t back an election audit in Pennsylvania.
Wisconsin state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, chairwoman of the House Campaigns and Elections Committee, also visited Phoenix, and told WisPolitics that a forensic audit in Wisconsin is warranted.
However, Brandtjen said the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau may lack the authority to conduct such an audit.
According to official final results, Biden carried Wisconsin by 20,682 votes.
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in particular were states where Trump seemingly had big leads on election night. However, the tallies changed after officials counted more mail-in votes.
The Michigan Conservative Coalition planned to deliver 7,000 affidavits to state legislators this week to demand a statewide audit of the presidential election results, CBS News reported. Biden carried Michigan by 154,000 votes.
Mike Shirkey, a Republican who is majority leader of the Michigan state Senate, told The Detroit News that the Senate Oversight Committee’s audit that already occurred was “equal [to] or more robust” than the audit in Arizona’s Maricopa County.
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