Jovan Pulitzer, a favorite of election fraud conspiracy theorists who claims to have invented technology that can detect fraudulent ballots and whom Georgia’s Republican secretary of state recently derided as a “failed inventor and a failed treasure hunter,” will have a role in the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.
The audit will seek to “identify any ballots that are suspicious and potentially counterfeit,” according to the statement of work for the lead contractor, Cyber Ninjas. Pulitzer’s name does not appear in the document. But Ken Bennett, Arizona’s former secretary of state who’s serving as a spokesman for the audit, confirmed his involvement, though he said he’s unsure whether Pulitzer himself will be involved or whether the audit team will only be using his technology that Pulitzer claims can detect fraudulent ballots.
Pulitzer’s involvement comes despite any evidence whatsoever that fraudulent ballots were cast in the general election, despite a lack of confirmation that his technology works as he claims, and despite questions about his credibility.
Bennett said Doug Logan, the owner and CEO of Cyber Ninjas, told him that he consulted with Pulitzer while designing the process used to test the ballots, a process that Bennett said will include other people’s technology as well. He said his understanding is that all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County will be examined.
Pulitzer, an inventor and author of dozens of books on treasure hunting, claims he invented technology that will determine whether the ink on the Maricopa County ballots he’ll examine was marked by human beings or by machines. He claims that examinations of the folds in the ballots will determine whether they were actually mailed to voters because fraudulently manufactured ballots that weren’t mailed will be devoid of certain physical markers.
Pulitzer does not appear to have any background in elections-related work. It’s unclear whether Pulitzer’s alleged technology has ever been used on ballots, or whether anyone has confirmed that it works. It’s also unclear why Senate President Karen Fann wants to test for fake or counterfeit ballots, given the lack of any evidence or credible allegations that there were any such problems in the election.
Bennett said the Senate has not independently verified that Pulitzer’s technology actually does what he claims, but that other election officials he’s spoken with over the years have described similar technologies.
“So, it doesn’t strike me as odd at all that he may have some technology to do the same thing,” Bennett said.
Fann’s own research that she used to select her audit team, which the Arizona Mirror obtained through a public records request, suggests that Pulitzer’s credibility was a concern. One undated document from her research includes three recommendations for potential auditors, one of whom was Pulitzer. It states that he “claims to know how to tell if ballots are valid by the way they are folded and marked,” and says he was recommended by “several people.” But it also includes the warning, “Credibility questionable.”
Election officials in other states have been far more critical of Pulitzer. After Pulitzer claimed to have hacked into Georgia’s voting system during a legislative hearing, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said his allegation was false and dismissed him as a “failed inventor and failed treasure hunter.”
Nonetheless, Stop the Steal advocates who falsely believe that the election was rigged against former President Donald Trump have long called for Pulitzer to have a role in the audit, and he has become a revered figure within the movement.
In a March 8 email to Fann, a person representing a group called We the People Alliance told Fann that its members “politely demand and insist” that she include Pulitzer on her audit team, noting that he testified with Trump attorney Rudy Giuiani.
“Since he will do that for free, not choosing him in addition to anyone else you want to include, would be a cover up, pure and simple. The whole world is watching, and if opposed to this, you will never be re-elected as a Republican in the State of Arizona,” the email read.
Emails provided to the Arizona Mirror as part of a public records request show that Fann and Pulitzer were in contact at least as early as Jan. 25, when he emailed her to thank her for that time earlier that day and to provide information on his background and his technology. Undated handwritten notes cite the need to combat “media misinformation” about Pulitzer.
The audit description doesn’t elaborate on exactly how “potentially counterfeit” ballots will be identified. But an affidavit that Pulitzer wrote in December as part of the litigation between Fann and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors over the proposed audit describes technology that would do exactly that.
Pulitzer explains in the affidavit that his technology identifies “kinematic markers” that would indicate whether a piece of paper has been handled, folded or processed in the mail, and determine whether “pristine ballots” without those markers “were fraudulently, or incorrectly, counted in the total vote tally for an election.” Examinations of the ink on ballots will show if they’ve been marked by a human with a pen or by a machine, he claimed. He said he could conduct his examination on electronic copies of the ballots, and that he could examine the paper ballots as well, though that would take longer.
Speaking with the Mirror via text message, largely using voice-to-text, Pulitzer said he’s “received and onboarded” more than 2 million ballot images from elsewhere in the country and indicated that he’s tested paper ballots, as well, but non-disclosure agreements prohibit him from identifying the states, counties or other jurisdictions where he’s done this work.
“Everything is highly documented, highly transparent, and duplicatable upon official report publication,” Pulitzer said, adding that he’s not able to discuss details until the reports are published.
Pulitzer wrote in his affidavit that his technology will flag “pristine” ballots that haven’t been folded, which indicates that they haven’t been mailed and therefore aren’t legitimate early ballots. But ballots cast in person on Election Day aren’t folded. Ballots cast in-person by voters on Election Day are stored in separate batches from early ballots, but the digital images aren’t separated by type of ballot.
According to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, 186,000 voters cast ballots in person on Election Day, while 158,000 people voted in-person at early voting centers in the county, 993,000 returned their early ballots by mail and 714,000 received ballots in the mail but dropped them off in person. Another 51,000 ballots cast at emergency voting centers, where ballots are also folded and placed into the same affidavit envelopes as other early ballots.
Election integrity and administration experts were wary of the audit’s call for an investigation into potentially counterfeit ballots.
Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, a voting advocacy organization, found Pulitzer’s involvement and the allegations he’s supposed to investigate problematic. First, she said the search for counterfeit ballots supports the baseless narrative that fake ballots are a problem.
“I think it’s disconcerting that there is an ongoing narrative being supported that the counterfeiting of ballots, one, is a thing, which it has never been documented to my knowledge in a decade of election experience that the counterfeiting of ballots has ever been an issue in the United States,” Patrick said.
Second, Patrick described the methodology behind Pulitzer’s technology as “somewhat questionable,” and said the audit needs to provide specific data about how it reaches conclusions regarding allegedly fraudulent ballots.
Correction: A previous version of this story attributed a March 8 email to Karen Fann as coming from the We the People AZ Alliance, a political committee involved in several recall campaigns. The organization says it is not responsible for that email.