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Arizona election auditors say they don't have enough information to finish report

Deadline looms for Maricopa County election audit
Local Matters: Deadline looms for election audit in Maricopa County, Arizona 08:04

Contractors hired by Arizona Senate Republicans to oversee a partisan review of the 2020 election said Thursday that they don't have enough information yet to complete their report, and they want legislators to subpoena more records and survey tens of thousands of voters at home.

Leaders of the GOP audit told the state Senate in a livestreamed meeting Thursday that their review is taking months longer than the 60 days initially planned because of issues including confusion about damaged ballots and a lack of access to some data. 

For instance, Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the small cybersecurity consulting firm leading the audit, said, "We have 74,243 mail-in ballots where there is no clear record of their being sent." 

He added, "We can tie them to a specific individual that it was mailed to, so we have 74,000 where we have and came back from individuals where we don't have a clear indication that they were ever sent out to them. That could be something where documentation wasn't done right — there was a clerical issue, there's not proper things there — but I think when we've got 74,000, it merits, you know, knocking on a door and validating some of this information."

Senate Republicans had already planned to canvass homes and ask people about their voting patterns, but in May dropped the idea under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice, which warned the effort could violate laws against voter intimidation. Senate President Karen Fann said Thursday she would consult with lawyers before deciding whether to proceed.

Maricopa County responded to Logan's claim on Twitter: "In Maricopa County, we allow people to vote early in two ways: 1) by mail and 2) in-person at Vote Centers. These are all considered early votes."

The county explained, "The people who vote in-person use ballots provided at a Vote Center. This is not a new practice, so it's not unusual that we would have more early votes than mail-in ballots sent." The county also said that that Logan's method of tallying the early ballots that had been sent and received was incorrect.

The review calls for hand counting 2.1 million ballots and forensically evaluating voting machines, servers and other data. Cyber Ninjas had no prior experience in elections, and experts in election administration have warned it's not following reliable procedures.

Before Logan was contracted by the Arizona Senate to conduct the audit, he spread conspiracy theories backing former President Trump's false claims of fraud, including one linking Dominion voting machines to the late Venezuelan dictator, Hugo Chavez.

A hand count of a statistical sample of ballots matched the machine count, and two post-election audits found no manipulation of the machines. Mr. Trump lost Arizona by 10,457 votes. After the hearing, he issued a statement highlighting several misleading claims.

Fann told reporters after the meeting that she was still considering new procedures as part of the audit, which is focused on the vote count in Maricopa County, Arizona's largest county.

Fann and Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen used the Senate's subpoena power to take control of Maricopa County's voting machines and ballots after Mr. Trump claimed that the 2020 election had been rigged against him in Arizona and other battleground states.

Logan and two others — Ben Cotton, head of the data forensics firm CyFIR and former Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is serving as a liaison between the Senate and the auditors — raised a number of issues during the meeting, many misleading or wrong, that they said could be resolved with more data or cooperation from Maricopa County. The county's Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors has called the auditors incompetent and refused to cooperate.

"That's been one of the more difficult things with this audit, is not having that feedback loop," Logan said.

Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement that the auditors are "portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections."

"What we heard today represents an alternate reality that has veered out of control since the November General Election," Sellers wrote.

Fann says no audit findings will be released until a full report is completed. But Logan and Cotton made several claims in their plea for more information before they can complete it. Among the records they're seeking are images of mail-in ballot envelopes, security keys for administrator-level access to voting machines, copies of internet routers, a diagram of the county's network and a copy of the county's voter-registration database.

Cotton said the antivirus software on vote-counting machines hasn't been updated since 2019. The county responded that the machines are "air gapped," or disconnected from the internet to prevent remote hacking.

"Installing security patches would be changing the system that was certified," county officials wrote on Twitter.

Logan pointed to ballots that were not printed in alignment between the front and back, saying the mismatch could allow ink to bleed through and be counted for the wrong candidate on the other side, though he did not provide any evidence that this had happened.

The allegation harkens back to the "Sharpiegate" conspiracy theory that arose in the days after the election. Election experts say bleed through doesn't affect the vote count because bubbles on one side of a ballot don't align with those on the other, and any ballots appearing to vote for more than one candidate would be flagged.

Logan also said counting teams have struggled to match damaged ballots to their duplicates. Ballots unreadable by machines are duplicated by bipartisan teams, with the original set aside and the duplicate counted. And he said there are inconsistent voter registration records that can't be reconciled without more data.

There is no constitutional mechanism for President Biden's victory to be overturned, and Fann has said that the audit is aimed only at identifying improvements for future elections. But Mr. Trump and many of his supporters hope the Arizona audit will support his fraud claims and lead to reviews in other states.

The auditors and lawmakers disputed Maricopa County's argument that the machines given to the Senate can't be used in future elections because they were handled by uncertified individuals. The County on Wednesday approved $2.8 million to lease new machines for the 2022 election.

"We have exactly a bit-for-bit image of these systems as we received them," Cotton said. "We did not modify, we did not change any chips, we did not access anything other than the hard drives for those systems."

Meanwhile, a Maricopa County judge ruled Thursday that records about the audit are public documents under the state's open records law, rejecting an argument by lawyers for the Senate that records maintained by Cyber Ninjas and other private firms do not need to be publicly released.

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