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Maricopa County debunks 'falsehoods' in Senate GOP's election audit

By Ben Giles
Published: Thursday, January 6, 2022 - 8:21am
Updated: Thursday, January 6, 2022 - 4:32pm

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Bill Gates
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Bill Gates

An analysis of the widely criticized, GOP-led review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County concluded that nearly every claim made about the county’s election system was either inaccurate, misleading or demonstrably false.

The Maricopa County Elections Department released a 93-page report rebutting claims by Cyber Ninjas and other inexperienced contractors hired by Republican Senate President Karen Fann last year to hand recount nearly 2.1 million ballots and pore over county systems for evidence of fraud.

Former President Donald Trump and his allies latched on to the so-called Arizona audit as evidence supporting their wide-ranging and baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged.

Although the probe found the hand recount closely hewed to the official canvass of the results — which showed President Biden received more votes in Maricopa County than Trump — the contractors used a presentation of their findings in September to raise suspicions about what they called “anomalies” found in the election process.

Maricopa County officials sought to quickly debunk those claims in real time last fall, but then spent more than three months reviewing in excruciating detail 76 claims made by the Senate’s contractors. 

“We determined that nearly every finding included faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions, and a lack of understanding of federal and state election laws,” according to the report released Wednesday afternoon.

Of those claims, county officials found that 22 were misleading, meaning the public was led to assume a conclusion that’s not supported by evidence; 41 were inaccurate, meaning they were founded on flawed or misstated analysis by the Senate’s contractors; and 13 were false, provable using the same materials the county provided the Senate under subpoena.

For example, where Cyber Ninjas challenged the legitimacy of more than 53,000 ballots cast in the 2020 election, Maricopa County officials found faulty conclusions about voters who moved, voter registration information and the county’s ballots for military and overseas voters. Rather than tens of thousands of questionable ballots, the county acknowledged 37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots, as well as 50 instances of ballots that double counted. 

The audit site at Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Ben Giles/KJZZ
The audit site at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on April 22, 2021.

“They claim that there were 53,000 questionable ballots in the November 2020 election,” said Republican Bill Gates, the newly elected chair of the board of supervisors, during a hearing on the report. “You're going to hear something different today. And it's going to be based in fact.”

The roughly three dozen instances of possibly unlawful votes were forwarded to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for further investigation. None of the instances of potentially questionable ballots impacted the outcomes of any races on the ballots, according to the county’s report.

“If one of your preferred candidates or causes lost in 2020, that is not proof of fraud. That's proof of democracy working,” GOP Supervisor Clint Hickman said.

Staff from Maricopa County’s elections department and recorder’s office detailed other key findings, including yet another rebuttal of the claim that the county’s election system was somehow connected to the internet, and therefore susceptible to hacking.

Maricopa County hired PacketWatch, a cybersecurity firm, to confirm the county’s election system was air-gapped, meaning it is not connected, and cannot connect, to the internet. In fact, PacketWatch discovered evidence that antivirus software set to automatically update was unable to do so because the system is air-gapped, as designed.

“I found to be quite remarkable that we were simultaneously criticized for not having the most up-to-date software that would be automatically downloaded to the software programs, if connected to the internet, while simultaneously being accused of having machines that were connected to the internet,” said Republican Stephen Richer, the county recorder who defeated a Democratic incumbent in the 2020 election.

Election Director Scott Jarrett noted that the findings from Cyber Ninjas and other contractors were often difficult to assess because the county had no complete record of the data to back their “official report.” But the county was able to complete its own review because it has official records.

“We were told when we were in math class to show our work,” Gates said. “I think we've done that, and I don't think the Senate has.”

In a statement, Fann did not address the dozens of misleading, inaccurate or false claims made about the election by Cyber Ninjas. She instead focused on the few ballots the county says may have been cast illegally, as well as 50 ballots that were accidentally double-counted.

“We look forward to implementing improvements to add ease, authentication, transparency, and accountability to our elections processes in the coming legislative session,” Fann said.

Karen Fann
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Karen Fann in 2019.

The report’s release comes on the eve of the one year anniversary of the riot at the U.S. Capitol, though supervisors said the timing was simply a coincidence. Election officials had elections to run throughout Maricopa County in November, while simultaneously researching the errant claims made by Senate contractors.

Beyond the insurrection anniversary, the report also precedes the start of the 2022 legislative session. When lawmakers return to the state Capitol in Phoenix on Jan. 10, findings by Cyber Ninjas and other Senate contractors are expected to inspire bills that would alter Arizona’s election laws. 

Gates warned the Legislature against adopted any new election laws based on what he described as a deeply-flawed Senate review.

“I think that it's important that legislation not be passed based upon the the so-called findings of the Cyber Ninjas,” Gates told KJZZ’s The Show. “Those have been debunked, it's clear now that the Cyber Ninjas were not qualified to opine on these issues.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated with a response from Senate President Karen Fann.

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