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Full ‘audit’ report delayed after Cyber Ninjas head, others get COVID-19

By: - August 23, 2021 1:40 pm
Doug Logan Cyber Ninjas

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (left) testifies to the Senate on July 15, 2021.

The team that has worked since April reviewing the 2020 general election in Maricopa County submitted a partial draft report to the Arizona Senate on Monday, but the full report will be delayed because several members of the team — including Cyber Ninjas head Doug Logan — have tested positive for COVID-19.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, announced that Logan and two other members of the five-person audit team have COVID “and are quite sick.” One of the three — not Logan — is hospitalized with pneumonia, Fann told the Arizona Mirror

It’s unclear who besides Logan is on the five-person “audit analysis team,” and Fann told KJZZ’s Ben Giles that she doesn’t know who comprises the team. Likewise, Senate “audit” liaison Ken Bennett told Giles he didn’t know, either — and thought there were actually nine people, not five.

The Senate’s legal team will begin reviewing the partial draft report on Wednesday. Once it receives the remainder of the report, the team will finish checking the report for accuracy, clarity, and proof of documentation for its findings. After that process is complete, Fann said the report will be given to the Senate Judiciary Committee and its findings will be released to the public. 

Matt Masterson, a former election cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said it’s not unusual for a post-election audit report to undergo a review before it’s released. And it’s not out of the norm that Fann would have a chance to review it, he said. But it’s unusual that the entity whose election is being audited to not have a role in reviewing the report.

“I’ve never been involved in either a congressional or legislative … or even just audit in general where we didn’t first get an initial chance to review to offer and clarify what’s fact or fiction, and then get to write a response after having seen that that gets included,” Masterson said during a conference call with reporters last week.

COVID-19 isn’t the only thing delaying the full report, Fann said. She said the election review team only received images of the envelopes from about 1.9 million early ballots from Maricopa County on Thursday. The team hopes to finish analyzing those as soon as possible so the results of that analysis can be included in the final report, Fann said.

But Maricopa County’s elections department disputed that, and said images of the early ballot envelopes were delivered to the Senate and it’s self-styled audit team on April 23.

Randy Pullen, a spokesman for the election review, said he expects it to take a week for the team to finish examining the ballot envelopes. He said the team will both inspect the envelopes to ensure they have signatures — voters must sign their names on early ballot envelopes, and election officials examine those signatures to verify voters’ identities before the ballots are counted — and examine the signatures themselves to ensure they’re valid.

The “audit” was launched earlier this year. Although Fann has said the goal is to restore voters’ confidence in the electoral process, she hired an unknown cybersecurity firm with no experience in auditing or elections that is run by Logan, a man who espoused debunked election conspiracy theories alleging Donald Trump really won the 2020 election in Arizona and elsewhere.

The resulting “audit” was funded almost entirely by pro-Trump groups and figures, including those who have sought to overturn the 2020 election. Elections experts have said there is no reason to believe the results of the election review will be credible, given the circumstances.

Election experts and officials from both parties have sought to preemptively rebut the report, and that continued Monday as the nonpartisan States United Democracy Center hosted a conference call with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, several people who served as observers for her office at the audit site, and other election professionals. Norm Eisen, the group’s co-chair, called the review a “malicious disinformation campaign” intended to fuel conspiracy theories about the election, which former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters falsely claim was rigged. 

Arizona’s election auditors are ‘making it up as they go,’ expert observers say

The group said the well-documented problems with the “audit,” such as substandard and frequently changing procedures, a lack of transparency, lack of qualifications by the review team, the audit’s origins in the baseless and debunked election fraud claims that emerged after the November election and the team’s connections to conspiracy theorists who promoted those false allegations have already discredited whatever findings the Cyber Ninjas team ultimately releases. 

“You shouldn’t take any comfort in whatever the Cyber Ninjas report reveals. Nothing that report says should be given any kind of credence, given the lack of standards that it followed,” said Trey Grayson, a Republican who spent seven years as Kentucky’s secretary of state. 

Ken Matta, an elections and IT expert who served as an observer for the Secretary of State’s Office, said audit employees went out of their way to ensure that the observers saw as little as possible, at times intentionally blocking them from seeing computer screens and engaging them in “loud, pointless conversations” to prevent them from hearing other conversations. 

What the observers could see did not inspire confidence, Matta said. 

“Time and time again, we observed them struggling to understand the meaning of the ‘evidence’ they possessed. It was painful to watch them misinterpret what they were seeing and then propagate their mistaken conclusions to the workers and to the public at large,” he said. “We questioned amongst ourselves as observers whether this lack of industry expertise was just a dereliction of duty or if it was intentional — and the very thing that allowed them to continue their quest for evidence of fraud, unhindered by the truth.”

Jennifer Morrell, a former elections official and partner at Elections Group who also worked as an observer for Hobbs at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where most of the review activities took place, has documented many of the problems her team saw, such as unusual and error-prone methods for recounting ballots. She said if Fann’s review team wanted to conduct a legitimate audit, they should have followed state law and the procedures used in Arizona for audits and recounts.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated with additional information, including comments from a conference call hosted by the nonpartisan States United Democracy Center.

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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.”