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Cyber Ninjas Is Preparing An Audit Report For Arizona Senate Republicans. How Will They Use It?

By Ben Giles
Published: Thursday, July 29, 2021 - 4:55am
Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2021 - 8:30am

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Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted
Michael Meister/Arizona Republic/Pool
Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors hired by the Arizona Senate in an audit at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on May 11, 2021.

Critics of the partisan, Republican-led review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County say whatever claims are made by contractors conducting the audit will be unreliable — and likely biased.

But while they’re dismissive of what a final report to Arizona Senate Republicans will say, they are worried about what happens after that — how the report will be used.

It could be weeks, if not months, before Cyber Ninjas and other firms hired by Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) conclude their work and report their findings. It’s important to remember what won’t happen when that’s all over.

“Biden has been inaugurated. So he's president. As far as I know, the only way you can remove him is to impeach him,” said Paul Bender, a constitutional law professor at Arizona State University.

Bender said the Constitution doesn’t spell out a process to decertify or revoke election results after those results are finalized by Congress — a demand made by Republicans like Sen. Wendy Rogers.

Senate President Karen Fann
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann on May 8, 2020.

“It's over. The election is over,” Bender said. “Once that's happened, you can't go back and redo this thing.”

Though some in her Republican caucus wish that were possible, Fann has made it a point to say the election review isn’t about overturning former President Donald Trump’s loss.

“This isn't about the 2020 [election]. It's not about Republicans. It's about election integrity,” Fann said after a briefing with Cyber Ninjas two weeks ago.

Instead, Fann has described the election review in Maricopa County as a fact-finding mission for state legislators.

“And with that information, gives us the tools to be able to either tweak existing legislation or create new legislation to make sure that the sanctity is always there,” Fann said.

That's jarring to critics of the election review, like Republican Stephen Richer, the newly elected Maricopa County recorder. Richer has said he’s open to legislative discussions about ways to improve elections, but he also says Cyber Ninjas can’t be trusted.

“We don't put stock in what they're going to say one way or another,” he said. “We stand by — because of the previous audits, because of the previous hand counts and because of the previous professionals who have looked at this election, and because of the previous courts that have looked at this election, including eight court challenges — we stand by this election.”

Election experts say Fann’s firms have used faulty methodology to recount votes and inspect voting equipment, and critics point to signs of bias from Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, who has spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and recently appeared in a film purporting to show the election was rigged.

Alex Gulotta, the Arizona state director of All Voting Is Local, said Republican lawmakers have stopped listening to the election experts — local officials like the Maricopa County recorder and election director — and instead lean on the advice of firms that he says think fraud is a foregone conclusion.

Raquel Terán
Arizona House Democrats
Raquel Terán is the Democratic State Representative for Legislative District 30.

“This is the opposite of smart,” Gulotta said. “Everything that you would do to make smart policy, this sham election review doesn't do it; this sham election review undermines it.”

Democratic Rep. Raquel Terán said it’s likely Republicans will recycle election policies that failed to pass in 2021 and reintroduce legislation in 2022. For example, Logan has said, without evidence, that Maricopa County election workers stopped verifying signatures on early-ballot envelopes — a required step before votes are counted, a claim county officials deny.

Bills like an attempt to add new ID requirements to voting-by-mail could be reintroduced, with the report from the audit cited as justification. 

“Those bills are going to still be there and people are going to try to move them forward,” Terán said.

Terán is well aware that GOP bills often get recycled year after year and how that persistence pays off. It’s also possible Republican senators could call for a special session before the end of the year to address the report’s findings.

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