Fact vs fiction: Getting to the bottom of what ‘audit’ leaders claimed
Pro-Trump protesters on a street corner near the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the Arizona Senate was conducting a review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. Photo by Jeremy Stahl | Slate/pool photo
Leaders of the Senate’s election review made claims last week that have roiled right-wing media outlets and bolstered claims from Trump supporters that there is definitive evidence of election fraud in Arizona.
But several of those claims were swiftly debunked, and others were unsupported by any evidence and have been refuted by elections officials. The claims made in the two-hour hearing have also revived conspiracy theories that were debunked and disproven in the days and weeks following the 2020 election.
Arizona Mirror has dived into the claims to look into their validity and spoke with election officials about their veracity.
Were there really 70,000 ‘extra’ ballots?
The most prominent claim by Doug Logan, the CEO of lead election-review contractor Cyber Ninjas, is that there were 74,243 mail-in ballots “where there is no clear record of them being sent.” While Logan said in the hearing that he believed it could be a clerical error, the figure is being portrayed on social media as proof of fraud.
Former President Donald J. Trump seized on the claim, calling them “magically appearing ballots.” And a popular post by the @AuditWarRoom Twitter account — a semi-official account seemingly run by someone with inside access to the election review — claims that 74,243 more mail-in ballots were counted than requested by voters in Maricopa County.
However, the ballots don’t represent a clerical error or evidence of malfeasance. Instead, they appear to be early ballots cast before Election Day at early voting centers.
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An analysis done of publicly available early voting data by ABC15 reporter Garret Archer came up with almost the same exact number. Before becoming a journalist, Archer worked as an election data analyst for the Secretary of State’s Office. Prior to that, he was an election data consultant who worked for Republican candidates.
The deadline to request mail-in ballots was Oct. 23, 2020, and the list of requested early ballots does not get updated by the county after that. However, the list of submitted ballots does get updated after that date with the votes of people who voted in-person early.
Archer’s analysis found 74,241 ballots on the submitted-ballots list that did not have a corresponding entry on the requested ballot list — almost identical to Logan’s number. Those voters cast early ballots in person. Although most early ballots are returned by mail, state law allows voters to go to early voting centers to cast their ballots prior to Election Day.
The county took to Twitter saying that, of the 2.3 million mail-in ballots that were requested, 1.9 million were returned.
It is unclear where exactly Logan and his team came up with the numbers or what dataset he is looking at. A request for comment and clarification from the Arizona Mirror went unanswered.
Voting after Election Day
Another claim which has been making the rounds is that 10,000 voters who were added to the voter rolls after the election cast a ballot in 2020.
Election officials told the Mirror they are confident that Logan and his team are looking at provisional ballots.
A provisional ballot is given to a voter who could not produce proper identification or if a poll worker is unable to verify a voter is who they say they are. Anyone who votes a provisional ballot has to prove their identity to county elections officials within five days for the vote to count.
The ballot still undergoes the same signature verification process as every other ballot in the state. In 2016, thousands of Arizonans voted provisional ballots due to an error that caused voters names to not show up in the poll books at their polling places.
After a voter who casts a provisional ballot provides the required identification, they become fully active voters — and they’re added to the list of active voters in the county.
Without knowing what data and ballots Logan is looking at, it is unclear if provisional voters who were added to the list of active voters explain his claim. The Mirror asked Cyber Ninjas for clarification, but did not receive a response.
Election server hacked
Ben Cotton, the CEO of election review subcontractor CyFir, claimed that a server connected to the county’s Election Management System was possibly hacked, allowing for remote access.
Cotton and others have also cited an active case in which a man in Fountain Hills had his home searched by the FBI related to an intrusion and theft of voter data from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.
A source with knowledge of the investigation told the Mirror that the intrusion was related to the county’s BeBallotReady site. That site is not connected to the Election Management System, which is not connected to the internet.
The county has addressed the issue on Twitter, saying that the “event in question involved an individual inappropriately accessing and downloading publicly available info.”
The county even released a network diagram showing how the Election Management System has never been connected to the internet.
In order to have “remote access” like many have now been claiming online, the Election Management System server would need to be connected to the internet and be hacked, and there is no evidence that either of those things happened.
A representative from CyFir did not respond to a request for clarification or comment.
Duplicated ballots allowed illegitimate votes
The audit team also raised questions about the process for duplicating damaged or unreadable ballots.
When ballots cannot be read properly by a tabulation machine, they are duplicated onto a new ballot in a process overseen by a bipartisan group of people.
At last week’s hearing, Logan said that the way duplicated and original ballots were identified on sheets provided by the county was confusing. That claim was the basis for a tweet by the @AuditWarRoom account claiming that original and duplicate ballots were not given matching serial numbers and cannot be verified.
Elections officials said this is not the case.
“The Elections Department assigns a matching serial number to both the original and duplicated ballot,” said Marcus Milam, a communications officer for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. “This number can be used to compare the ballots. The accuracy of Maricopa County’s duplication process was confirmed in court where the plaintiffs randomly sampled 1,626 duplicated ballots.”
There were claims that Republican representatives were not present during this process. However, GOP observers were present throughout the counting, both the Arizona Republican Party and the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office previously said.
Lax signature verification
Logan also claimed without evidence that the county relaxed its signature verification requirements going from a 20 step process to fully ignoring it in its entirety. He used this as a basis for saying why the Senate needs to request the ballot envelopes as well as other items that may be forthcoming in new subpoenas.
The county has strongly refuted this claim.
“This is simply not true,” Milam said. “Maricopa County follows rigorous state signature verification guidelines.”
All full time staff at the county, prior to the election had to complete a signature verification course by Phoenix based Associated Forensic Laboratory, LLC.
Logan claimed that they have an affidavit of someone who witnessed the decline in standards, but he was not clear on how those standards declined or how it occurred. Logan has not released the affidavit or any further information.
Cyber Ninjas did not respond to a request for clarification.
The return of #Sharpiegate
In November, shortly after the election a video spread like wildfire of a woman claiming that poll workers were handing out Sharpie markers to Republican voters in order to invalidate their ballots.
At the hearing last week, Logan showed a ballot which appeared to show markings bleeding through from the reverse side, and Senate President Karen Fann even joked at how “the media” had dubbed the issue “Sharpiegate.”
However, it was right-wing media and pundits who had dubbed it as such beginning on Election Day.
Logan said the bleed-through from the Sharpies was greater than he expected, and that the paper used by the County was not adequate enough to prevent said bleed through. He speculated those marks affected the vote, but provided no evidence.
But Sharpies did not invalidate votes, and the county had been trying to prepare voters for their use months in advance. Elections officials also developed ballots for the use of Sharpies.
For the first time ever, Arizona voters were given Sharpie permanent markers to mark their ballots at Arizona polls last year because of new voting machines. While the old voting machines — which had been in use since 1996 — could not read Sharpies and many other commercially available permanent markers, the new machines perform better with felt-tip markers. The new machines can read between 6,000 and 8,000 ballots an hour, about twice as many as the devices they replaced.
Ink from Sharpies dries faster than ink from traditional ballpoint pens, and the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office advised the use of the markers in Maricopa County. Even if the marks made by the Sharpies can be seen on the other side of the ballot, the ballot was designed so that such bleed-through marks wouldn’t interfere with the marks in other races.
Despite efforts to educate voters about the change, some were confused. The allegations began largely through a viral video from Marko Trickovic, who is part of a fringe political movement to create a new political party that aims “to restore and maintain constitutional conservative leadership in Arizona.” The so-called Patriot Party of Arizona was launched by failed U.S. Senate candidate Daniel McCarthy. Trickovic was also behind an unsuccessful attempt to recall Gov. Doug Ducey over actions taken to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The video is now being re-shared again, alongside an email that many believe “proves” that the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office was working to use Sharpies to invalidate Trump voters. That email spawned a number of threats against election officials in November 2020.
In the Oct. 22 email, Kelly Dixon, the assistant director for the Election Department’s recruitment and training division told election “troubleshooters” that she’s aware of “issues and concerns” from voters about Sharpies that had been used in early voting centers, and that they should instead hand out ballpoint pens until early voting concluded on Nov. 2.
“Troubleshooters were told that voters may use ball point pens to fill out early ballots. This is consistent with early ballot instructions mailed to voters,” Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa Elections Department previously told the Mirror. “But for Election Day, in alignment with Election Department policy, poll workers and troubleshooters were trained and reminded to use Sharpies to ensure the ink dries before it’s placed into the tabulation machine.”
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