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Cyber Ninjas set to deliver findings on Arizona's partisan audit. Why elections experts are bracing for 'whack-a-mole'

Hobbs and Richer slam Senate GOP audit in separate reports. Public report on findings could be a few weeks away.

PHOENIX — Arizona elections officials are mounting a bipartisan offensive against Senate Republicans' almost 5-month-old review of the 2020 election.

The Senate GOP’s review leader, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, was expected to report the first results to a Senate team Monday but the report was delayed due to CEO Doug Logan and two other members of the five-person audit team testing positive for COVID-19. The Senate legal team is expected to review the full report Wednesday.

But it's still not clear when any of the review’s findings will be made public.

Here's what we know:

'Not OK to Destroy Democracy'

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican County Recorder Stephen Richer joined national elections experts in a virtual news conference Friday for a “pre-buttal” of the anticipated Senate GOP reports. 

Richer’s message to fellow Republicans was blunt: We lost. But there was nothing wrong with the election.

“I have great conservative credentials, I have great Republican credentials. But we lost, and that's OK,” Richer said during a webinar convened by the Center for Election Innovation & Research.

“What is not OK is to destroy democracy over one loss.”

Richer, who oversees voter registration and early voting for Maricopa County, distributed a 38-page “Dear Arizona Republicans” letter explaining why Maricopa County's 2020 election wasn't stolen.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors oversees county elections.

'Conclusions Unreliable' 

Hobbs, the state’s top elections official, issued a 46-page report on the Senate Republicans’ election review, complete with a timeline, official letters exchanged during the review, and notes from her observers.

“It is clear that any ‘outcomes’ or ‘conclusions’ that are reported from the Senate’s review, by the Cyber Ninjas or any of their subcontractors or partners, are unreliable,” Hobbs concluded.

“It is imperative that leaders across the state and country proclaim that the 2020 General Election was fair and accurate.”

Another pre-buttal for the media, with Hobbs and some of the observers at the partisan audit in Phoenix, is scheduled for Monday.

What Comes Next

Republicans nationwide are anticipating the findings of the election review. Polling shows GOP voters support an election audit in far greater numbers than other voters.

GOP lawmakers and candidates from several states toured Veterans Memorial Coliseum during the hand recount of 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots.

Maricopa County - a swing county for the first time in 2020 - is the only jurisdiction in the country where this kind of unprecedented audit, by individuals with no audit experience, was done. 

Here's what’s next, according to  Senate President Karen Fann and audit spokesman Ken Bennett:

  • Senate Republicans' audit and legal teams are expected to get a draft of Cyber Ninjas' findings as soon as Monday.
  • The Cyber Ninjas’ report will be reviewed and then returned to company owner Doug Logan for a final public report. That all could take several days to a couple of weeks, according to Bennett.
  • The findings will likely cover several pieces of the review, including the hand recount of all the votes cast for president and U.S. Senate; a machine count of the total number of paper ballots; and an examination of the ballot paper, based on suspicions advanced by conspiracy theorists. At one point, examiners were looking for the bamboo content in the ballot paper. 

Whatever the findings might be, they won’t change the outcome of the 2020 vote in Maricopa County. Democrat Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump countywide and statewide. 

The results were certified by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

The county results got the seal of approval from certified auditors. 

Bracing for 'Whack-a-Mole'

What gives elections experts pause is the fear that the findings become a game of “whack a mole” for the media.

The best examples are the many unsubstantiated claims by Logan and his team that suggested wrongdoing - before any formal findings were released.

During a live-streamed meeting from the state Senate in mid-July, for example, Logan falsely claimed that 74,000 mail-in ballots were counted despite no record that they had ever been sent to voters.

A follow-up investigation by reporters revealed that Logan had no idea what he was talking about. Yet his false claim had already been broadcast by former President Donald Trump and right-wing media.

Logan has never done an election audit. According to elections experts and on-site observers, Logan’s work doesn’t conform to basic audit standards.

Leaking the Findings 

There is also a concern about Cyber Ninjas’ findings being leaked to conspiracy theorists or funders of the partisan audit.

According to Fann, about a dozen people will have access to the draft report. 

Conspiracy theorist Jovan Pulitzer, whose notions about ballot paper were tested by the Senate GOP review, is already hyping “blockbuster” findings.

On Sunday night, a right-wing web site that pushes misinformation to a large audience put Pulitzer at the top of its home page with this tease: 

‘BOOM: “On A Scale of 1 to 10 … I Would Say It’s a 12! - Jovan Pulitzer On the Seriousness of the Audit Results in His 197 Pages in Arizona Audit Report’

The headline links to a $50-a-year subscription to get “behind the scene facts” about the audit. (Another disturbing feature of the Senate GOP audit: Many people are making money off it.)

There are other outsiders who could have access to the findings:

  • Personalities at One America News Network have been present at the partisan audit and helped raise money for it. 
  • Patrick Byrne, the former Overstock.com CEO, is the top fund-raiser. Byrne included the Arizona election review in a movie built around the belief that the 2020 election was rigged.

Here's Arizona Republic media critic Bill Goodykoontz's advice when reading reports on Senate Republicans’ election review: 

Maricopa County election audit

Keep track of the latest developments from the Maricopa County election audit on the 12 News YouTube channel.