Unchecked Cyber Ninjas use alarming ‘audit’ rules to count votes

In the months since Arizona Senate President Karen Fann launched her audit of the 2020 election, it has become clear there are different rules for different auditors.

There are rules that Maricopa County election administrators must follow, and there are far less demanding rules for the Cyber Ninjas conducting Fann’s audit. Here are examples:

How ballot counters are selected

Maricopa County: After every election, Maricopa County is required by law to oversee a hand-count audit of a statistically significant number of votes. For the November 2020 election, the hand-count of 47,000 votes matched the machine count 100% – the machines clearly worked. The volunteers who do the hand count are selected by the political parties, not the county. The volunteers work in groups of three, and all of the groups are required by law to be bipartisan.

Cyber Ninjas: The Cyber Ninjas have recruited their hand-counters almost exclusively from the Republican Party. The Cyber Ninjas counting teams are not bipartisan.

How candidates participate

Maricopa County: Throughout the election, candidates are prohibited from entering the tabulation room. Candidates cannot participate in the county’s hand-count.

Cyber Ninjas: The Cyber Ninjas counting teams included one former Republican state legislator who ran on the very ballots being audited. The Ninjas staff also includes members of former President Donald Trump’s campaign team, and tours of the auditing area are regularly given to Republican elected officials.

How races are examined

Maricopa County: For the county’s hand-count audit, the examined races selected are chosen randomly.

Cyber Ninjas: The Cyber Ninjas are only counting two races: the presidential and the U.S. Senate – both races in which the Democratic challenger beat the Republican incumbent.

What qualifies auditors to participate

Maricopa County: All county election officers must attend a two-week educational program and pass a written test. Many county managers also obtain CERA (Certified Elections Registration Administrator) certification by completing months of additional professional education with the Elections Center’s National Association of Election Officials. Several of the county’s employees have more than 20 years of election experience.

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Cyber Ninjas: Prior to Fann’s audit, the Cyber Ninjas had never before conducted any type of election audit. The Ninjas’ only subcontractor with any election audit experience – a group called Wake TSI – quit midway through Fann’s audit, and had only conducted one previous audit of 1,000 ballots.

What drives the audit’s methodology

Maricopa County: For its hand count and other operations, Maricopa County uses methodologies derived from state law and designed by experienced, qualified, educated experts who are widely recognized by the elections community.

Cyber Ninjas: Fann’s audit has relied on the ideas of Jovan Pulitzer. Pulitzer is a failed inventor who has changed his legal name multiple times and has spent years of his life searching for the Ark of the Covenant and for a magical sword in Nova Scotia. His marquee invention – the CueCat – was deemed by Time Magazine as one of “The 50 Worst Inventions” in the world. Nonetheless, because of Pulitzer’s theories, Fann’s audit has spent weeks looking for mysterious folds and bamboo fibers in ballots to see if the ballots fraudulently came from China (the county’s ballots are printed in Arizona and never leave the state).

How the audit is funded

Clint Hickman, left, and Steve Gallardo, center, both  supervisors of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, listen as Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks during a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting about the Senate Audit of Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election, at the Maricopa County government complex in Phoenix on May 17, 2021.

Clint Hickman, left, and Steve Gallardo, center, both supervisors of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, listen as Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks during a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting about the Senate Audit of Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election, at the Maricopa County government complex in Phoenix on May 17, 2021.

Maricopa County: The state Legislature recently passed a law that bans all private funding of elections. Previously, any private funds received by the county were publicly announced, subject to public comment, voted on by the county’s supervisors, and the dollar amounts were publicly disclosed. Private funding made up approximately 8% of the county’s 2020 elections budget. County officials must disclose any direct funds received and are subject to bribery laws.

Cyber Ninjas: Fann’s audit will likely cost more than $2 million, but the total amount has not been disclosed. Of that sum, $150,000 comes from the state Senate. The rest is being raised from private donors. Most of the donors are anonymous, but the donor list is known to include Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, two conspiracy theorists who previously served as legal counsel for President Trump’s election efforts.

How much access the media is given

Maricopa County: During the election, Maricopa County gives the same open access to all credentialed members of the media. The county complies with all lawful public records requests.

Cyber Ninjas: The Cyber Ninjas have given the pro-Trump outfit One America News Network special, exclusive access throughout the entirety of Fann’s audit, while other members of the media have been relegated to the distant bleachers at the coliseum. The Cyber Ninjas have stated that they do not have to comply with public records requests.

How results are disclosed

Maricopa County: In a statewide election, Arizona law prohibits the release of results prior to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Cyber Ninjas: Before completing their work in Arizona, several of the key players of Fann’s audit, including Logan, appeared in a conspiracy theory movie titled “Deep Rig,” which supposedly confirms that the 2020 election had been stolen – the very thing Fann’s audit is supposed to be still investigating. The film’s director previously made a movie about extraterrestrial involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

How quickly results must be tabulated

Maricopa County: In a general election, Maricopa County must be done with the tabulation of all ballots and the hand-count audit within 20 days of Election Day, per state law.

Cyber Ninjas: The county had all ballots and tabulation equipment loaded and ready for delivery to Senator Fann on March 2. The Cyber Ninjas originally announced that they would be done with the ballots on May 14. Then they moved their deadline to June 30. The work is still ongoing.

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The rules for Maricopa County are meant to ensure expert, nonpartisan administration of the county’s election. They are good rules. They promote confidence in the process.

The Cyber Ninjas are unchecked by sensible rules that promote accuracy and fairness. This is extremely troubling. Whatever the Ninjas ultimately produce should be greeted with extreme skepticism.

Republican Stephen Richer (@stephen_richer) unseated the incumbent Democrat in the November 2020 election for Maricopa County Recorder, an office that maintains over 2.6 million voter files and helps run elections. This column originally appeared in the Arizona Republic.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cyber Ninjas election ‘audit’ rules are nothing like the ones I follow

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