Politics

Maricopa County Rebuts Arizona Election Audit Falsehoods One by One

Maricopa County election director Scott Jarrett testifies in  a hearing before the county Board of Supervisors Wednesday.
Maricopa County election director Scott Jarrett testifies in a hearing before the county Board of Supervisors Wednesday. via YouTube
More than three months after the conclusion of the months-long, $9 million spectacle that was Arizona’s partisan election audit, Maricopa County on Wednesday published an extensive rebuttal of the contractors’ insinuations of voter fraud.

The county’s 93-page report counters, in painstaking detail, the CyberNinjas’ original, 96-page report, which the contractor issued in September, months after being commissioned by the Arizona Senate to audit the November 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County.

The Senate's muddled report claimed that Joe Biden won by an additional 99 votes, dashing the hopes of those who expected confirmation of a stolen election. But the report did do plenty to stoke distrust in Maricopa County’s election process. It falsely claimed, according to the county and independent experts, that tens of thousands of ballots were suspect and that the election process was riddled with insecurities.

Over the past year, the county has been on the defensive, as its once-obscure election bureaucrats received waves of hate mail, and the partisan audit, for months, lingered in national headlines.

Maricopa County's new report, which draws from the findings of three separate firms the county has contracted to review its election process, says it did identify some ballots with issues — but fewer than 100 of them, out of 2 million.

“I hope it’s going to be the last word on this issue,” said Bill Gates, the chairman of the board of supervisors, at a three-hour hearing to present the report Wednesday afternoon.

Still, some of Arizona’s most ardent election fraud evangelists don’t seem to want to let go.

“Don’t count on it,” Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward tweeted in reply to Gates.

For the record, here is how the county debunked the Cyber Ninjas’ most flagrant claims.

Claim: Maricopa County deleted election files and “purged” data from its election management system before handing it over.

Response: Full archives remained intact throughout the audit.

Maricopa County has repeatedly denied that any data was deleted from its election servers in order to hide it from auditors — though the claims still made it into the Cyber Ninjas’ final report.

In January, the Arizona Senate subpoenaed the county for its election management system, which the county eventually handed over. What the Senate did not ask for, however, were the election file archives, which were backed up daily in November.

Because these election files were already backed up, the county says that it had begun to archive files from its main election management system, in order to free up space — which is routine. It also cleared some data from the election management system in order for the system to be tested for accuracy by one of the firms hired by the county in February. That was so the firm could properly test the election management system, not to hide data from the auditor.

Regardless of the data cleared or restored from the main election management system, the county still has complete archives of the system from November. And, officials say, the Cyber Ninjas should have known this.

“They have all the records that they need to confirm that we didn’t delete files,” Scott Jarrett, the elections director for the county, told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

Claim: Ballots were printed on improper paper, possibly impacting tabulation.

Response: Ballots were only counted on standard, approved, paper stock.


Although the Senate report did not claim that any ballots used bamboo paper — despite absurd claims by some involved over the summer that thousands of bamboo ballots had been imported from Asia — it did say that ballots were printed on ten different kinds of paper, and experienced improper “bleed-through” from pens, all of which threatened election integrity.

But in its report, the county says it could not find any tabulated ballots printed on anything other than the recommended 80 pound VoteSecur paper.

The auditors might have been confused by ballots sent overseas, which are printed on different paper in order to be mailed, but are later converted into ballots on standard paper before they can be tabulated.

Furthermore, officials said, had the auditors checked with the paper manufacturer, they would have been told that bleed-through was perfectly normal.

“A simple query with the manufacturer themselves would confirm that,” Jarrett said.

Claim: Maricopa County’s election system is connected to the internet, potentially compromising its security.

Response: Servers with sensitive election material were never in jeopardy.

This claim, too, has resurfaced again and again for months, although Maricopa County has always maintained that the system that tabulates votes is completely cut off from the internet.

The Cyber Ninjas’ report claims that the election management system was not, in fact, an isolated network, instead of saying that its analysis had “definitively proven” that the system had access to the internet.

The county says that this is all smoke and mirrors. Some of the systems that the report says accessed the internet did indeed connect to the internet, the county says — because they are separate from the election system. They are, in fact, servers that support the county website, and thus by definition need to access the internet.

As for the other servers, the county says that the auditors were picking up attempts to connect to the internet — which were not successful.

For instance, typos entered into the Microsoft browser would trigger a search function to bing.com, which was logged, but never actually completed. PacketWatch, an independent Scottsdale firm contracted by the county, reviewed the system in October and confirmed it does not access the internet.

“They did not attempt to explain obvious and legitimate reasons why the EMS server may attempt to reach the internet,” the county’s report says.

Claim: Tens of thousands of voters may have voted illegitimately, either by sending duplicate ballots or voting after they had changed addresses.

Response: The analysis is riddled with errors and bad data.

The Cyber Ninjas claimed that they found 23,000 ballots that were cast from a prior address and 9,000 ballots that were cast by an individual more than once.

The auditors also identified individuals, supposedly, that voted in multiple counties. These were the biggest "impacts" to election integrity, in terms of the number of ballots, that the contractor identified.

But their analysis was based on poor data and riddled with errors, Maricopa County's report says.

For one, the firm used commercial databases to identify individuals — and used "soft matching" techniques to identify them, which is likely to produce false positives, according to the county. For instance, only three data points were used in many cases to identify individuals: birth year, first, and last name. These are attributes that are likely shared by different people in a county of millions, leading to potential false flags.

The county analyzed the various data sets of "problematic" ballots put forward by Cyber Ninjas and found few issues.

Of the supposed set of 5,295 ballots cast in two counties at once, for instance, the county found five cases of possible double voting, which have now been turned over to the Attorney General's office for review.

Overall, the county identified 37 cases of possible unlawful voting.

Claim: Maricopa County intentionally obstructed information during the course of the "audit."

Response: The county complied with every subpoena.


On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors insisted once again that it has complied fully with the various subpoenas that the Senate has issued for reams of election data.

The Cyber Ninjas' report outlines the ways in which the audit, supposedly, was denied evidence that it requested, both through deleted logs, noncompliance with subpoenas, and corrupted files.

"That's just dumbfounding to me," said Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County Recorder, at Wednesday's hearing.

Maricopa County's report provides an extensive response to these claims. Security logs that the Cyber Ninjas implied were overwritten nefariously were simply the result of automated system processes. Images that were "corrupted" were easily opened by the county on its cloned hard drive.

The main point of tension, of course, is the county's routers, which Maricopa County did withhold for months. That was, as the county has reiterated, because their release could have serious security implications — and because they are unrelated to elections, given that the election management system has no internet access.

"Our tabulation equipment has never had any routers connected to it," Jarrett said. The Senate and the county reached a settlement agreement over the routers, which allowed a "special master" to have access to the routers and logs and answer the Senate's questions.

You can read Maricopa County’s rebuttal in full here.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. She previously reported for VTDigger and the Indypendent.
Contact: Katya Schwenk