Arizona Senate hires a ‘Stop the Steal’ advocate to lead 2020 election audit

By: and - March 31, 2021 3:17 pm
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The audit team that Senate President Karen Fann selected to examine the 2020 general election in Maricopa County will be led by a company owned by an advocate of the “Stop the Steal” movement who repeatedly alleged on social media that the election was rigged against former President Donald Trump.

Fann announced on Wednesday that she’d selected four companies to participate in an extensive audit and recount of the election, led by Cyber Ninjas, an Florida-based cybersecurity company. Cyber Ninjas is owned by Doug Logan, who has been an active promoter of baseless conspiracy theories alleging widespread election fraud last year, including in Arizona.

“I’m tired of hearing people say there was no fraud. It happened, it’s real, and people better get wise fast,” read a tweet from a since-suspended account that Logan retweeted on Dec. 31. 

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Logan was also listed as an expert witness by a man who filed a lawsuit alleging election fraud in Antrim County, Mich., which was the focus of early conspiracy theories due to a human-caused software error that briefly swapped vote totals between Trump and Joe Biden in the heavily Republican county. Among the other expert witnesses were Russell Ramsland and Phil Waldron of Texas-based Allied Security Operations Group, which Fann attempted to hire to conduct the audit, despite an extensive track record of making groundless or demonstrably false allegations about the fraud in the election.

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Logan deleted his Twitter account, @securityvoid, sometime in January. But online archives show extensive activity in support of the Stop the Steal movement that has repeated false and unsubstantiated claims that Biden won the 2020 through election fraud. Biden defeated Trump by 10,457 votes in Arizona, making him the first Democrat to win the state’s electoral votes since 1996, and only the second since 1948.

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In late December, Logan tweeted that, “The parallels between the statistical analysis of Venezuela and this year’s election are astonishing. I’m ashamed about how few republicans are talking about it.” The tweet included a #stopthesteal hashtag. Earlier that month, Logan retweeted a meme showing a board from the game show Wheel of Fortune, with the puzzle reading, “Joe Biden committed election fraud.”

Doug Logan twitter Ron Watkins Kelli Ward
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Also in December, Logan retweeted Ron Watkins — a conspiracy theorist and former administrator of 8chan who has promoted QAnon and is believed by some to have run the Q account — that claimed an audit of the election might show that “Trump got 200k more votes than previously reported in Arizona.” Watkins had retweeted a tweet from Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward that made a similar claim and questioned the role of Dominion Voting Systems, the vendor who provides Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation machines and a frequent focus of accusations and conspiracy theories by Trump supporters.

And two weeks after the election, Logan tweeted that “Dominion servers in German WERE grabbed by ‘the good guys’ in Germany,” promoting a false conspiracy theory that some Trump supporters spread after the election.

Logan retweeted a comment from attorney Sidney Powell, a Trump supporter who brought failed lawsuits challenging the election results in Arizona and other swing states where Biden defeated Trump. 

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And he retweeted a tweet from Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor who advocated the use of martial law to overturn the election results, asking “How many overseas connections are we talking about involved in our 3 NOV election? Are there any foreign countries NOT interfering in our elections? China, Serbia, Italy, Germany, Iran. WTH!”

Logan’s comments about Dominion and its voting machines are particularly noteworthy, given that the audit will examine Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation machines. According to a press release issued by Fann, the audit “will validate every area of the voting process to ensure the integrity of the vote,” and will include scanning and hand counting of all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, as well as audits of voter registrations, votes counts and the “electronic voting system.”

 

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Dominion Voting Systems said in a statement sent to reporters that Cyber Ninjas was “led by conspiracy theorists and QAnon supporters who have helped spread the Big Lie.”

The company has backed audits conducted by companies accredited by the Voting System Test Laboratories, “but this is not that.”

Many of the conspiracy theories surrounding Dominion originated with Powell and her so-called “kraken” lawsuits, which claimed, among other things, that fraud involving the machines may be related to election fraud carried out in Venezuela by deceased dictator Hugo Chavez. Dominion is suing Powell and numerous others for defamation, and Powell has since defended her statements by claiming that “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”

Fann did not immediately respond to questions from the Arizona Mirror about why she chose Cyber Ninjas or whether she has any concerns about hiring a company whose owner has repeatedly declared that the election was rigged. Logan and Cyber Ninjas could not be reached for comment.

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In a press release announcing the audit team, Fann said she expects the audit to be done in a transparent manner with the cooperation of Maricopa County.

“Our people need to be assured that the Senate and Maricopa County can work together on this audit, to bring integrity to the election process,” said Fann, a Prescott Republican.

Sen. Warren Petersen, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and jointly issued the subpoenas for Maricopa County’s ballots and other election materials with Fann, defended the decision to hire Cyber Ninjas, calling Logan a nonpartisan professional who’s qualified to conduct the audit. He said the company’s information will be solid and its audit will be accurate.

When asked about Logan’s statements promoting the idea that the election was affected by fraud, Petersen indicated that he hadn’t seen the deleted tweets and asked where Logan had made such statements.

“He didn’t tell us the election was fraudulent,” Petersen said.

After being shown parts of Logan’s Twitter history via text message, Petersen said he doesn’t believe Logan asserted that the election was fraudulent, and noted his retweet about the election Arizona didn’t say anything about there being fraud in Maricopa County.

“Retweets are not endorsements,” Petersen said.

Maricopa County fought Fann and Petersen’s subpoenas in court for months. After a judge ruled in Fann and Petersen’s favor, the Senate did not have a place lined up to store the nearly 2.1 million ballots from the 2020 election, and the county refused a request by the Senate to continue storing the ballots so the auditors could do their work at the county’s facilities. 

The county already commissioned audits of its ballot tabulation machines by SLI Compliance and Pro V&V, the only two companies accredited by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to certify Dominion machines and their software. The audits found that the machines were working properly, had never been connected to the internet, did not change any votes and hadn’t been hacked. 

A limited hand count of about 8,100 ballots shortly after the general election found a 100-percent match with the count by the Dominion machines.

Jack Sellers, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, didn’t comment on the companies that Fann selected, except to say that he’s not familiar with any of them. 

“Elections are complicated and highly regulated operations. Maricopa County hired certified experts to conduct its audits and examinations of equipment. I hope the auditors hired by the Senate will take great care with your ballots and the election equipment leased with your tax dollars,” Sellers said in a press statement.

Sellers said he believes the 2020 elections “were run with integrity,” noting that the audits of the machines found no evidence of malfunction or foul play, and that the hand counts showed complete accuracy with the machine counts of ballots. He also said the county’s ballots and other election materials have been ready for the Senate to take possession of for the past month, and that he’s had no discussions with Fann about using the county’s facilities for the audit.

A press release announcing the selection of the audit team describes Cyber Ninjas as “a cyber security company with a focus on application security, working across financial services and government sectors.” Cyber Ninjas will lead a team that includes Wake Technology Services, Inc.; CyFIR, LLC; and Digital Discovery. The Senate will pay Cyber Ninjas $150,000 for its work on the audit. The other companies will be part of Cyber Ninjas’ team.

The auditing team may also include “a number of additional analysts, the identities and qualifications of whom shall be made available to Client upon request,” according to a scope of work the Senate drafted for Cyber Ninjas.

Others who have gained prominence in pro-Trump online circles for declaring the election was stolen and claiming they can prove so say they will be involved in the Senate audit. The most well-known is Jovan Pulitzer — whom Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, described as a “failed inventor and failed treasure hunter” — who said on Twitter that he’ll have a role in the audit. Pulitzer, a celebrity among the #StopTheSteal adherents, released a statement on Twitter saying that his “kinematic artifact detection” technology that he claims can detect whether ballots are fraudulent.

The scope of work states that the “Vote Count & Tally Phase” of the audit may help detect, “Ballots that are visually different and possibly fraudulent.”

And Bobby Piton, a mathematician and investment manager who has claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent, posted on Gab that he will “be involved either formally or informally with AZ recount of 2.1 million ballots.” Last November, Piton told an unofficial hearing organized by a Republican lawmaker that 300,000 Arizona ballots were cast by “fake people,” and that Trump easily won the state. There is no evidence to support that assertion.

The scope of work for Cyber Ninjas includes an examination of “precincts that have a high number of anomalies based on publicly available voting data” that will then be canvassed in order “to collect information of whether the individual voted in the election.”

Fann’s press release notes that members of the Wake Technology Services group participated in hand counts of ballots in Fulton County, Pa., and in New Mexico. Fulton County’s director of elections, Patti Hess, told the Arizona Mirror that the company did a good job when it counted more than 1,000 ballots and found no discrepancies with the official count from the election.

“We didn’t have any problems,” Hess said.

The press release stated that Wake’s team members have also been involved with election fraud investigations dating to a 1994 case in which the person worked closely with the FBI. The press release did not provide any other details about the investigation. CyFIR is a digital security and forensics company that specializes in “enterprise incident response, computer forensics and expert witness support to litigation,” according to the press release. The company helped discover a 2015 data breach at the federal Office of Personnel Management, the press release said, and provided forensic support related to bank fraud at the International Monetary Fund.

Fann’s press release states that Senate leadership will not be directly involved in the audit, and that a report will be issued in about 60 days.

Aside from Wake Technology Services, the companies Fann selected do not appear to have any experience with elections-related work. Several election experts contacted by the Mirror said they’d never heard of any of the companies Fann chose, nor had colleagues they reached out to.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional comments and information from the scope of work Cyber Ninjas was hired to perform.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.

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