Republicans in the Arizona Senate — obsessed with vindicating Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 elections — have been working with a shady, virtually unknown firm named Cyber Ninjas to audit 2.1 million votes in Maricopa County. This farce comes despite the objections of the county’s election officials, who insist their own audit has already proved the vote was accurate and untampered and fought in court to prevent the GOP from getting their hands on physical ballots. The auditors have obtained physical access to Maricopa County ballots and have been recounting them in a reckless, slipshod fashion obviously intended to end up with a different outcome.
Biden won Maricopa County by around 45,000 votes. Republicans led by Senate President Karen Fann hope that by proving Trump won it instead, this will delegitimize and possibly reverse Biden’s slimmer statewide victory of around 10,000 votes. The going theory is that this reversal would, in turn, pave the way for a political resurgence by Trump in 2024, who could point to the audit results as evidence he was robbed of a second term in office and is thus entitled to another shot.
It’s a joke that serves as its own punchline. The Arizona Secretary of State’s office has confirmed that the vote is already certified and there is no possibility of it being retroactively changed. Maricopa County board of supervisors chairman Jack Sellers, the ranking Republican in the region, has blasted the effort as inane and said the county will stop cooperating amid an ever-increasing list of demands from the auditors such as giving Cyber Ninjas the passwords to all county-operated routers. There is zero evidence of any malfeasance.
Not that it matters to Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, who believes Trump won the state by 200,000 votes, Trump supporters who have bombarded election officials with death threats, or Republicans in the state Senate that have threatened to hold Maricopa County officials in contempt. A recent CNN/SSRS poll found that 70 per cent of Republicans nationwide believe Biden won via fraud, a number that stubbornly refuses to budge regardless of the continued lack of any evidence. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has refused to take a side on the audit itself and recently signed a law purging the state’s early voting rolls.
Currently, the audit is on pause — Cyber Ninjas and their Republican pals are far behind schedule and were forced to vacate the grounds of Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum to make way for high schoolers who booked it. In the meantime, they’ve busied themselves by storing the ballots in a warehouse used by a literal carnival and rousing Trump’s attention by baselessly claiming Maricopa County officials had deleted a key election database rather than give them access. It later emerged that Cyber Ninjas simply didn’t know how to reconstruct a RAID storage array and thus locked themselves out of their own copies.
While Cyber Ninjas take an undeserved breather, let’s catch up on this farce.
Untrained volunteers are using junk science to detect phantom bamboo and non-existent watermarks
The logic seems to go that bamboo grows, among much of the rest of the globe, in China; therefore, nefarious Chinese intelligence operatives would have either printed the fake ballots on paper containing bamboo fibres or perhaps otherwise happen to be covered in bamboo fibres at all times and thus would obviously leave a trail of them on anything they’ve been around.
“There’s accusations that 40,000 ballots were flown in and stuffed into the box and it came from the southeast part of the world, Asia,” one of the auditors, John Brakey, told CBS News. “And what they’re doing is to find out if there’s bamboo in the paper.” He added that “people in Southeast Asia … use bamboo in their paper processing” and “this is part of the mystery that we want to un-gaslight people about.”
John Brakey, an official helping oversee the audit of the 2020 Arizona election, says auditors are looking for bamboo fibers because of a baseless accusation that 40K ballots from Asia were smuggled here. #AzAuditPool pic.twitter.com/57UOBYIehg
— Dennis Welch (@dennis_welch) May 5, 2021
One wonders whether the Cyber Ninjas really believe that they might detect bamboo or just thought they were being cleverly racist, but it can be both. According to Slate, the idea originated with an “election fraud gadfly named Jovan Pulitzer” now assisting Cyber Ninjas. He claimed last year that China uses “bamboo in their paper and they use about 27 different mixes of grasses that we don’t have here in the United States,” which is “very detectable,” and that such forensic analysis can also be used to determine China-manufactured ink. Pulitzer is previously best known for inventing the CueCat, a barcode scanner released in 2000 that allowed web users to scan bar codes to automatically input URLs and is commonly considered one of the worst gadgets ever designed (because it was far more inconvenient than just using a keyboard).
For the record, the Washington Post spoke with Birmingham, Alabama-based forensic document examiner Steven G. Drexler, who said the only way to determine the fibre makeup of a document is basically to destroy it: “The destructive test to do fibre content of the paper is, like, punching a pinhole in the paper. But you’ve got to take like 20 samples to make sure you’re using a good random sample.”
In addition to the hunt for bamboo, Cyber Ninja’s untrained volunteers have used UV lights to scan ballots in case they have watermarks invisible to the naked eye. County election officials have been forced to release statements explaining no such secret watermarks exist. The auditors never actually explained why they were using UV lights or what the nonexistent watermarks supposedly indicated, but it lines up with a QAnon theory that the Trump admin somehow put watermarks on all real ballots to weed out fraudulent ones. Since the watermarks don’t exist, this would conveniently allow the auditors to claim whichever ballots they wanted invalid.
Finally, Pulitzer claims to have invented a way to detect whether mail ballots are legitimate from the way they were folded, calling it “Kinematic Artefact detection.”
They’re storing the ballots at a literal circus
During this entire joke of a process, Cyber Ninjas has failed to take any steps to protect the privacy of voters or the physical security of the ballots themselves. The audit was supposed to be complete by May 14. But last week, CNN reported, Cyber Ninja’s lease at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum ended with the firm reporting only 500,000 of the 2.1 million ballots completed, and they were forced to vacate the location so local high schools could host graduation ceremonies there.
So Cyber Ninjas shipped the ballots on semi-trucks for temporary storage at a warehouse located on the south grounds of the Arizona State Fairgrounds, located directly next to something called the “Crazy Times Carnival.” CNN reported the warehouse itself is literally part of the carnival, as its bathrooms are used by Crazy Times patrons.
Arizona Senate liaison Ken Bennett told the network that the ballots are “in a locked container with 24/7 armed guards, fencing and 24/7 livestreaming cameras” all contained within a moisture- and temperature-controlled environment. But CNN also found the fairgrounds explicitly warn that the warehouse is not a good idea for summer storage due to extreme heat inside:
On the Arizona fairgrounds website describing its venues, it warns that the building is “not recommended for use between May through September.” The reason? “Due to temperatures during the summer months.”
As the truck moved the ballots across the fairgrounds, temperatures were scheduled to hit 102 on Friday.
Bennett told CNN the ballots will be stored there until May 23 before the recount restarts on May 24, a process he estimated will be completed “within 14 to 16 days.”
The process is a sham
Cyber Ninjas fought and failed in court to keep their entire process secret, referring to it as “trade secrets.” That may be because the counting process itself has been a security nightmare, with openly partisan Trump supporters involved in processing the ballots and almost no considerations for accuracy or privacy in place.
Elections Group partner Jennifer Morrell wrote for the Washington Post on Wednesday that she had visited the facility and was shocked by the sloppy methods by which ballots were being counted:
I was stunned to see spinning conveyor wheels, whizzing hundreds of ballots past “counters,” who struggled to mark, on a tally sheet, each voter’s selection for the presidential and Senate races. They had only a few seconds to record what they saw. Occasionally, I saw a counter look up, realise they missed a ballot and then grab the wheel to stop it. This process sets them up to make so many mistakes, I kept thinking. Humans are terrible at tedious, repetitive tasks; we’re especially bad at counting. That’s why, in all the other audits I’ve seen, bipartisan teams follow a tallying method that allows for careful review and inspection of each ballot, followed by a verification process. I’d never seen an audit use contraptions to speed up the process.
The process in place to catch mistakes was practically nonexistent and “allowed for a shocking amount of error,” Morrell wrote, and no tracking of ballots being processed was in place. She also observed supervisors sometimes telling volunteers to recount when there were too many errors in their work, but in other situations telling them to just fix “maths mistakes.” Auditors taking photos of ballots, ostensibly to later confirm their results via electronic recount, used “untested, uncertified equipment” with no regard to usual standards. Morrell also wrote that Cyber Ninjas was changing the process and procedures of how to conduct the audit on a near-daily basis, meaning the entire thing is being carried out without consistent processes.
Similar concerns have been raised by Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, writing in a letter to Bennett that her office has observed unattended computer stations, procedures that run the risk of double-counting ballots, workers who “appear to be violating the procedures” on a regular basis, and “an inexplicable disregard for best security practices.”
There have also been security lapses involving things like random people wandering the audit site without intervention or auditors allowing Anthony Kerns, a GOP candidate who ran and lost in Maricopa County during the election, to participate in recounting his own failed election. Cyber Ninjas documents show security is being provided by private contractors and volunteers who have been instructed to be on the lookout for “antifa.”
The Justice Department warned GOP leadership in the Arizona Senate earlier this month the recount was possibly violating federal laws. The DOJ wrote in a letter that it believed ballots may “not being adequately safeguarded by contractors at an insecure facility, and are at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed,” and it warned that a Cyber Ninjas plan to visit voters at their homes to confirm their registrations might break federal laws against voter intimidation.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” election tech expert Ryan Macias, who has been hired by the Arizona Senate, told CNN. “They do not have auditing experience. They do not have election technology experience. The more that this (the ballots) moves in and out, the more likely the chain of custody will be broken and the less likely that the data is reliable… There’s ballots; there’s people counting. But the process in which they are utilising, at least on the counting floor, is nothing that is in an election environment.”
It’s staffed by conspiracy theorists and QAnon supporters
While Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan is a known conspiracy theorist who backed the “Stop the Steal” movement, reports by Media Matters and the Arizona Republic have indicated much of the show is run by two QAnon cultists, Liz Harris and Bobby Piton.
Harris, who ran and lost as a Republican candidate for the Arizona House in a Maricopa County district in 2020, and Piton, a managing partner at an Illinois-based finance firm, appear to both have connections to Logan. Piton identified himself to the Daily Beast as working in an “unofficial capacity” for Logan, while Media Matters reported there is evidence Harris is in contact with Logan and has posted photos of herself with audit funders/promoters including Overstock.com founder and Trump coup planner Patrick Byrne and pillow gremlin Mike Lindell.
The two have claimed to have detected statistical irregularities in the vote proving Trump won Arizona. Harris claimed to have shared such data with Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, according to Media Matters, and Piton livestreamed himself and Harris meeting with members of the Senate GOP.
It’s funded by dark money
The public is being kept in the dark as to who is funding the audit and why they are doing so. A CNN investigation found that a search of state records “shows no contractual provisions or safeguards controlling how much money Cyber Ninjas can accept from private contributors, how it can be spent, or even whether it needs to account to the Senate for those funds.”
While the Senate allocated $US150,000 ($192,390) in government funding, Arizona Republicans have welcomed private donations. Arizona law requires that state bodies receiving public and private funds adhere to financial transparency and tracking requirements, but Bennett told CNN that Cyber Ninjas isn’t bound by those laws as it is receiving the funds, not the Senate.
Funders and promoters tracked down by CNN included Byrne’s America Project, which claimed to have organised $US1.6 ($2) million in funds; a website run by anchors for far-right news network One America News; a non-profit run by conspiracy theorist L. Lin Wood; and Lindell. BuzzFeed reported that the OAN anchors, Christina Bobb and Chanel Rion, are raising funds through a site called Voices and Votes that identifies itself as a 501(c)(4) organisation not required to publicly identify donors. That also means it is not required to actually disclose how much cash it has received or how the money is being spent, meaning that donors will just have to trust Voices and Votes on where it’s all ended up.
Similarly, with no transparency requirements, contributors will just have to trust Cyber Ninjas on how the money is being spent.