PHOENIX (AP) – A cybersecurity firm, brought from relative secrecy to conduct an unprecedented ballot review in Arizona’s largest country, stands ready to present its findings to Republican lawmakers.
Experts say the Maricopa County’s audit revelations should be expected little – and whatever those revelations are, they cannot be taken seriously.
“There are too many flaws in the way this review was conducted to trust,” said Trey Grayson, a former Republican Secretary of State in Kentucky who co-authored a paper outlining the vast problems .
Grayson names a number of red flags, from biased and inexperienced contractors to conspiracy-hunting financiers to bizarre, unreliable methods.
The report from Cyber Ninjas, a small cybersecurity firm based in Sarasota, Florida that is running the exam is due to be delivered on Monday, but the results will not be released immediately.
Republicans in the state Senate launched a review of the county’s ballot papers in April to find irregularities that could support former President Donald Trump’s false claims about a stolen election. The legislature did so even though the ballot papers had already been counted and checked twice. Courts in Arizona and other 2020 battlefield states have dismissed dozen of election lawsuits as judges found no evidence of fraud allegations.
A broad coalition of government and industry representatives described the presidential election as “the safest in American history”. Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr said: “To date, we have not seen any fraud on a scale that could lead to a different outcome in the election.”
State Senate President Republican Karen Fann insists that the review was only intended to determine if Arizona’s electoral laws were good enough.
Still, the leaders of the Review have made misleading claims about their findings in the past, and those claims are reinforced by Trump and his allies.
A look at what electoral experts identify as the biggest issues with election verification in Maricopa County:
Fann selected cyber ninjas despite having no voting experience and never made a formal offer to work. Its owner, Doug Logan, had tweeted support for conspiracy theories claiming Biden’s victory was illegitimate. Logan deleted his Twitter account before his Arizona contract was announced.
“I’m tired of hearing people say there was no fraud,” read a tweet that Logan retweeted. “It happened, it’s real, and people better get wise quickly.”
The auditors recruited workers from Republican activist groups and failed to keep promises to screen them for biased social media posts. A former Republican lawmaker who attended the US Capitol riot on January 6 was spotted counting ballots for several days. His unsuccessful State House race was on thousands of ballots recounted.
For a while, the official Twitter account associated with the exam officers posted attacks on Democrats and journalists covering the trial. The account was later banned for violating Twitter’s rules.
Standard election reviews are conducted by bipartisan teams using rigorous procedures designed to prevent bias and human error from distorting results, said Jennifer Morrell, a former Utah electoral officer and partner at consulting firm The Elections Group.
“They are made in an observable, independent, and public way,” said Morrell.
The review was funded almost entirely by groups led by prominent Trump supporters active in the movement to cast doubts on the 2020 election results.
By July, five groups had raised nearly $ 5.7 million for the effort. Fundraising group leaders include Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor; Sidney Powell, a former Trump attorney who has filed a number of unfounded lawsuits against election results; Patrick Byrne, a former CEO of Overstock.com; and correspondents for the pro-Trump One America News Network.
Pro-Trump group money dwarfs the $ 150,000 contributed by the Arizona Senate that commissioned the exam and hired cyber ninjas. Funding the exam with cash from interested parties who wish to see the effort repeated in other states raises serious doubts about the validity of the results, said Ben Ginsberg, a prominent Republican electoral attorney.
“The public is the donor,” said Ginsberg. “It’s really important to focus on the external funding sources to talk about the legitimacy of the exam.”
The findings so far publicly discussed fell apart upon scrutiny, but not before they caught on with Trump and many of his supporters who believe his false claims of fraud.
The auditors alleged that a database directory was deleted from an election administration server because the data might have been illegally destroyed.
But after Maricopa County’s technical staff explained how the hard drives were arranged on the servers, the exam’s chief digital analyst, Ben Cotton, of CyFIR, admitted to finding all of the files that were supposedly deleted.
Logan has made a myriad of allegations about alleged irregularities that he said deserve further research. He claimed there were thousands of postal ballot papers for which ballots had not been requested, and claimed that problems with paper and printers could lead to errors in the counting of sharpies marked ballot papers. Trump reiterated the claims as evidence that the election results are tainted. But they were all wrong.
The examiners seem to be chasing bizarre conspiracy theories.
Jovan Pulitzer, an inventor and former treasure hunter, said a technology he calls “kinematic artifact detection” was used to look for altered ballots.
Pulitzer is the author of a number of books on lost treasure, including one entitled How to Cut Off Your Arm and Eat Your Dog. In 2000, he developed a barcode scanner called Cuecat, which was supposed to link ads from print magazines to the Internet. It was later named one of the 50 Worst Inventions of All Time by Time Magazine.
An audit director, John Brakey, said they were looking for evidence of bamboo on the ballot. This was apparently an attempt to test a theory that thousands of fraudulent ballot papers were flown in from Asia.
For a time, examiners held ballots under ultraviolet light to look for watermarks. Maricopa County’s ballot papers are not watermarked, but some supporters of the Q-Anon theory believe that Trump secretly watermarked ballots to detect fraud.
Cyber Ninja’s Logan has cited no evidence to say that he believes the CIA or its former associates may be involved in “disinformation” about election fraud, according to the Arizona Mirror. The website reported that Logan’s comments were made on “The Deep Rig,” a conspiratorial film alleging the election was stolen from Trump.
Logan granted the filmmakers access to ballot counting restricted areas in Arizona, including the secure area where the ballot papers were kept.
This story has been corrected to reflect the correct spelling of the first name of Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky Secretary of State, and the first name of Sidney Powell, a former attorney for President Donald Trump.
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