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Fann says audit team, Maricopa County have different ballot totals

By: - July 13, 2021 3:20 pm

A member of the Senate’s election audit team demonstrates how auditors will manually tally each of the 2.1 million ballots cast in the presidential election in Maricopa County in 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

The number of ballots counted by the Arizona Senate’s self-styled audit didn’t match Maricopa County’s official total from the 2020 general election, which prompted the election review team to acquire machines for a new tally, Senate President Karen Fann said in a radio interview on Tuesday. 

“They haven’t released a number yet,” Fann told conservative radio host Mike Broomhead in an interview on KTAR. “However, we do know that those numbers do not match with Maricopa County at this point.”

Voters cast 2,089,563 ballots in the general election in Maricopa County, according to the county’s official canvass

Fann’s revelation comes as the election review team prepared to begin a new count of the ballots. The audit team finished its hand count of votes in the presidential and U.S. Senate races in late June, when the Senate’s contract at Veterans Memorial Coliseum ended. But the team moved the ballots to the nearby Wesley Bolin building at the old state fairgrounds near downtown Phoenix, where other work continued.

The Senate obtained two paper counting machines that will tally the total number of ballots, without recounting the results of any races. Fann told Broomhead that the new count would begin Tuesday. 

Official results certified President Joe Biden defeating former President Donald Trump by 10,457 votes statewide and Democrat Mark Kelly beating Republican incumbent Martha McSally by 78,806 ballots. In Maricopa County, Biden won by 45,109 votes and Kelly won by 80,193 votes.

If the new tally finds a different number of ballots than the audit’s hand count, it could call the results of that recount into question. It’s unclear how the audit team would proceed if the two counts are different.

“(I) don’t believe that will happen,” audit spokesman Randy Pullen told the Arizona Mirror.

Election administration experts have been harshly critical of the procedures used by Cyber Ninjas, the company Fann hired to lead the audit team, and its subcontractors used to count ballots, and have expressed concerns that the contractors leading the review have oftentimes exhibited a lack of basic knowledge about election procedures. 

The audit team set up nearly four dozen tables, each of which contained turntables with two stands for the ballots. Three-person teams of audit workers counted the votes in the presidential and Senate races as the ballots rotated past them on the turntables, with the totals being recorded, first in batches of 100 but later in batches of 50.

In a June report by the States United Democracy Center, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing free, fair and secure elections, University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden and former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, described the audit’s ballot counting practices as a troubling departure from widely accepted best practices in which judges jointly review each ballot. Unlike the Arizona audit procedures, in which the ballots were moving sideways past the judges, that “stacking method” gives judges adequate time to review stationary ballots. 

Jennifer Morrell, a nationally renowned election procedures expert who served as an audit observer for Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, wrote in the Washington Post in May that the audit’s counting procedures allowed for “a shocking amount of error,” 

“At no point did anyone track how many ballots they were processing at their station, to ensure that none got added or lost during handling,” Morrell wrote. 

Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors came into the audit with almost no experience working in election-related matters. What little experience they had came after the 2020 general election, when several of the companies worked directly with the “Stop the Steal” movement that sought to legitimize baseless and often debunked allegations that the election was rigged against Trump. 

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan promoted election fraud conspiracy theories on social media in the weeks after Trump lost to Joe Biden, and he compiled information for U.S. senators to justify overturning the election results.

Maricopa County officials laid the blame for the mismatched ballot totals at the audit team’s feet, arguing that it was Fann’s contractors who must have erred.

Republican Jack Sellers, the chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, said he wasn’t surprised that Fann’s audit team, which he called “woefully underqualified,” reached a different tally than the “experienced professionals” in the county’s elections department.

“They’ve cycled through processes and procedures, chasing conspiracy theories while volunteers with no elections experience tried to accurately count votes as they spun by on turntables. Elections experts from across the country have said this method is flawed and will produce incorrect results,” Sellers said in a statement provided to the Mirror.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, also a Republican, also attributed the disparate counts to human error by the Cyber Ninjas team. He speculated that the audit team members may have included ballots that shouldn’t have been counted, such as spoiled ballots, test ballots and the original copies of ballots that were duplicated because the tabulation machines couldn’t read them. Or, he said, they could have omitted ballots that should have been counted.

Like Sellers, Richer, who wasn’t in office at the time of the election, said the audit team used a process that is “inherently subject to high error rates” and changed those practices multiple times since the audit began. He also speculated that audit workers could have made mistakes while typing information about vote totals into their computers.

“The county stands by the machine count – including the total number of ballots counted – performed by the high-priced tabulation equipment. These machines underwent a series of checks to make sure they read ovals correctly, but also to make sure they read the number of ballots correctly,” Richer said.

This article was updated to include comments from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers.

 

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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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