False claims and internal feuds plague GOP election audit in Arizona

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False claims, intraparty feuds and the need to potentially replace millions of dollars in equipment are among the issues that continue to plague a partisan election audit ordered by Arizona Republicans seeking to prove that the 2020 presidential race was stolen.

After months of court battles, a review of the November election vote in Maricopa County — where the majority of Arizonans reside — was begun at the instruction of the GOP-controlled state Senate late last month.

To conduct the audit, Arizona Senate Republicans brought in a private Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, whose founder and CEO, Doug Logan, has pushed false claims of fraud in the 2020 election. Numerous Republicans nationwide have followed former President Donald Trump’s lead in recent months to insist that the election was somehow illegitimate — a claim unsupported by facts.

According to reporting by Politico, Cyber Ninjas was unknown even among seasoned Florida GOP operatives. And Maricopa County had already conducted multiple audits of the voting results and found no irregularities. President Biden won the county by some 45,000 votes on his way to becoming the first Democrat to win Arizona since 1996.

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.  (Matt York/AP Photo)
Maricopa County, Ariz., ballots cast in the 2020 election are recounted on May 6 by contractors working for Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas. (Matt York/AP Photo)

In a May 12 letter that drew on Cyber Ninjas’ original claim, Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, accused the county of deleting a database that contained election information, sparking a firestorm in right-wing media. Trump called the letter “devastating” and referred to “voting irregularities, and probably fraud” in the county.

Meanwhile, Stephen Richer, a Republican who serves as the Maricopa County recorder, called Trump’s statement “unhinged.”

“I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now,” Richer tweeted Saturday. “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country.”

Days later, after continued pushback by Richer and other county officials, the Cyber Ninjas employees doing the audit reversed course, stating that the data was intact and they had just not understood how to read it correctly.

The Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors excoriated Fann in a 14-page letter earlier this week responding to the accusations and attacking the entire audit process, writing, “Our state has become a laughingstock. Worse, this ‘audit’ is encouraging our citizens to distrust elections, which weakens our democratic republic.”

Karen Fann
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

“You have repeatedly lost control of your twitter account, which has tweeted things that appear to be the rantings of a petulant child — not the serious statements of a serious audit,” stated the letter.

It was not the first error by Cyber Ninjas. Due to the potential for ballot tampering, state law prohibits pens with blue ink in the room where the recount is taking place, but the company distributed blue pens to its contractors as the audit began, according to Arizona Republic reporter Jen Fifield, who was in the room as an observer. Logan, the company’s CEO, said that he thought blue ink was allowed, but eventually replaced the pens with green ones.

The troubles for Maricopa continued on Thursday, when Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said the county may be forced to replace its voting machines due to the potential that they were tampered with after being turned over to the state Senate under subpoena.

Hobbs, a Democrat, said she consulted with the Department of Homeland Security, which said that "no comprehensive methods exist to fully rehabilitate the compromised equipment or provide adequate assurance that they remain safe to use.” County officials had warned that the expensive and complex voting machines might have to be decertified when they were fighting the subpoenas in court last December.

Ballots are counted at the Maricopa County Election Department
Ballots are counted at the Maricopa County Election Department in Phoenix on Nov. 5, 2020. (Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)

"Were the secretary of state to de-certify Maricopa County’s election equipment, the ability of Maricopa County to conduct a free and fair, safe and secure, election would be substantially undermined if not compromised altogether and, thus the County will suffer irreparable harm,” the county said in a court filing at the time.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has attempted to stay above the intraparty fray, and ordered protection for Hobbs earlier this month after she received death threats tied to the audit.

It’s unclear when the audit will be concluded, as it was paused so high school graduations could be held in the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Two prominent promoters of the fraudulent election claims, Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, are set to hold a rally in Maricopa County on Friday.

Gaetz is currently being investigated by the Justice Department over potential sex crimes, while Greene — who has been a proponent of various conspiracy theories — was stripped of all her committee assignments shortly after assuming office earlier this year.


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