Cyber Ninjas releases its election audit policies after court order

By: - April 29, 2021 2:41 pm
Arizona election audit

A volunteer observer (right, dressed in orange) watches as Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors hired by the Arizona senate at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Ariz. on April 27, 2021. Photo by Rob Schumacher | Arizona Republic/pool

Following a judge’s ruling that the Arizona Senate’s election audit team can’t keep its policies and procedures secret, lead audit contractor Cyber Ninjas submitted nearly two hundreds pages to the court detailing its practices.

The collection of policies and procedures covers guidelines for hand counting ballots, handling digital evidence, documenting chain-of-custody for ballots, rules of conduct for observers and other matters from Cyber Ninjas, as well as the subcontractors it’s working with. It also includes manifests for ballots and tabulation machines provided by Maricopa County election officials.

The policies shed some light on the processes that auditors are using to count the ballots, a process being overseen by Wake Technology Services. Wake’s policies also describe the examination process for ballot, including checking the ballots for folds — early ballots are folded, while in-person ballots cast on election day aren’t — examining the thickness and feel of the paper, checking for discrepancies in the printing and scanning ballots with ultraviolet lights to “compare to representative specimens.” The policy documents don’t elaborate on what exactly the lights are supposed to show.

Through Wednesday morning, audit employees had been shining UV lights on each ballot, though they haven’t been using the lights since later that afternoon. Auditors are also using technology purportedly invented by Jovan Pulitzer, an inventor and treasure hunter, that he says can detect fake ballots by examining the folds, or lack thereof, in the paper.

Cyber Ninjas’ statement of work for the audit states that it will search for counterfeit ballots, despite a total lack of any evidence that any such ballots were counted in the 2020 general election. 

It’s unclear if all of the policies were drafted before the audit, or if some were implemented afterward. The documents state that policies on writing implements were updated after the audit began.

On April 23, Arizona Republic reporter Jen Fifield, who was working as a volunteer observer, noted ballot counters were using blue pens. The election procedures manual issued by the secretary of state in 2019, which carries the force of law for election officials, prohibits the use of anything but red pens around ballots because inadvertent markings made with other colors will be read by ballot tabulation machines. 

The documents state that blue and black pens are prohibited, and that those policies were updated on Friday and Saturday. The counters now use red and green pens, though the Maricopa County Elections Department says green pens can also be read by tabulation machines.

At least one policy, on guidelines for observers, appears to be copied verbatim from the election procedures manual, and directly contradicts policies that were in place on Friday, when the audit began.

That policy states that observers are permitted to take handwritten notes. But when Fifield worked as an observer on the first day of the audit, she was barred from taking notes. Those instructions came from the Senate’s audit liaison, Ken Bennett. 

At the time, Senate President Karen Fann was barring journalists from covering the audit inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and their only way inside the building was to work a shift as a volunteer observer. Bennett warned journalists working as observers that they wouldn’t be permitted to take handwritten notes during their shifts.

Cyber Ninjas released the documents as part of litigation brought by the Arizona Democratic Party, which sought to halt the audit and force the release of the policies and procedures being used. Attorneys for Cyber Ninjas and the Senate petitioned Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Martin to keep the procedures shielded from the public, saying they constituted trade secrets and could give potential bad actors insights into security policies, but the judge denied that request.

The batch of documents released to the public omits one policy, which Cyber Ninjas says contains sensitive security information, according to attorney Dan Barr, who represents the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, which intervened in the case. That document was provided to attorneys with an “attorney eyes only” designation, Barr said in an email to media outlets, and Martin will settle the matter if there are any disputes over whether the information should be kept confidential.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. 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.”