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Draft Ninja report: Biden still wins

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are being examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

Arizonans will learn Friday whether a firm hired by the Senate will confirm or dispute official results which showed that Joe Biden outpolled Donald Trump in Maricopa County in 2020 by enough of a margin to win the state’s 11 electoral votes.

But an unofficial draft report prepared by Cyber Ninjas, obtained Thursday evening by Capitol Media Services, shows that the nearly $6 million review did not significantly change the election results

In fact, the report says that, based on a hand count of all 2.1 million ballots cast in the county, Biden actually tallied more votes than the county recorded — and Trump had fewer.

And in the race for U.S. Senate, which also was reviewed, there also was no major change, with a difference of just 1,167 votes between the two tallies. This, too, confirmed that Democrat Mark Kelly handily defeated incumbent Republican Martha McSally.

But the report does not specifically say that Biden or Kelly won. That’s because Cyber Ninjas, which has no previous experience with elections and was funded largely by donations from Trump supporters, also claims to have found other problems which, at least theoretically, could have affected the outcome.

That includes 23,344 mail-in ballots that were voted from someone’s prior address and more than 10,000 potential voters that voted in multiple counties.

The draft report says that latter statistic is based on what they said were voters with the same first, middle and last name and same birth year.

“While it is possible for multiple individuals to share all these details, it is not common, and this list should be fully reviewed,” it says.

Senate President Karen Fann, who hired Cyber Ninjas, said what Capitol Media Services has may not be the last word.

“We spent four hours on Zoom today,” she said late Thursday, saying the team is “still working on the final report.”

But Fann did not dispute the key finding about the outcome of the races.

Official or not, Jack Sellers who chairs the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors seized on the report to say that it exonerates the county’s handling of the election.

“This means the tabulation equipment counted the ballots as they were designed to do, and the results reflect the will of the voters,” he said. “That should be the end of the story. Everything else is just noise.”

There is, however, more to come.

Capitol Media Services has learned that the presentation set for 1 p.m. in the Senate chambers, will include at least two separate sets of findings by others involved in the review that there were problems with the election returns.

Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, named liaison between the Senate and Cyber Ninjas, will report there were several instances where the county did not follow what is required either under state law or the separate Election Procedures Manual. Bennett, however, is reserving comment on whether any of those shortcomings were intentional.

And Shiva Ayyadurai, hired as a handwriting expert, will say that there are questions about the signatures on some of the envelopes in which county voters returned early ballots.

The long-anticipated report comes amid Republican politicians, some angling for higher office, already declaring that the yet-to-be-seen report find evidence of fraud.

It also hasn’t stopped Democrats and those who have questioned the process from already proclaiming that anything that is reported can’t be trusted because of who was involved and the fact that the review was funded almost entirely by those who claim that President Trump was illegally cheated out of reelection.

And the report comes despite a series of rulings by state and federal judges who refused to overturn the results, saying they found no credible evidence of improprieties as well as a state-mandated hand count of a sample number of ballots which showed no disparities.

But the big question surrounds whether it is possible to definitely verify or dismiss claims of fraud, malfeasance or just sloppy work that led Maricopa County to report that Biden got 45,109 more votes than Trump. That edge was enough to overturn Trump support in rural counties, giving Biden a final victory margin of 10,457.

The draft report puts Biden up by 45,469.

That presentation will come from Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas.

The choice of Logan by Senate President Karen Fann raised questions from the beginning, at least in part because he had made public statements even before the audit started that there was fraud in the election. And Cyber Ninjas also is fighting a court order that it surrender audit-related documents under the state’s public records law.

But it’s not just Logan who will be reporting findings.

One report will come from Ben Cotton, founder of a firm called CyFIR who examined the election tabulation equipment that the county surrendered to the Senate under subpoena. Cotton already has made claims county election equipment was vulnerable to hacking, a contention disputed by county officials.

Randy Pullen, a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, will report a third count of the 2.1 million ballots by machine to compare the total number of ballots — but not the votes — with the number reported by the county and the number of ballots Cyber Ninjas said they had.

“Essentially we came up with the same number,” Pullen said.

It won’t be as smooth for the report by Ayyadurai who Fann added to the audit team midway through the process to examine signatures on the envelopes of the approximately 1.9 million early ballots.

“He’s worked for banks before, he’s an expert on signature analysis and things like that,” Fann said.

Ayyadurai, however, did not have access to county files which have other signatures with which those on the envelopes can be compared. But Pullen said that, even without that, Ayyadurai did find enough to raise questions.

Pullen claimed the county uses 27 different points of comparison when it checks to see if the signatures on the envelopes match those on file. But in some cases, Pullen said, what appears in the signature box is just a line or a mark.

“There’s no way it can be a 27 point check,” Pullen said, saying Ayyadurai has identified a number of those. He acknowledged, though, that does not necessarily mean the ballots that were in those envelopes were invalid.

“Now, it’s possible that that scribble that’s in that box is exactly the signature that the person put in as well,” Pullen said. “But not very likely.”

But Megan Gilbertson of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office told Capitol Media Services late Thursday that the entire premise of that is flawed.

She said the county has a multi-step procedure for verifying signatures, comparing the signatures on the envelope with what already is on file. And she said that includes everything from letter spacing to the apparent speed of the writing.

Bennett was tasked with determining whether county officials followed all election laws.

“We did identify a few where they fell short,” he told Capitol Media Services. But Bennett said that, in some ways, that’s no surprise.

“No election can be conducted perfectly because it’s conducted by fallible human beings,” he said. “It’s not a poke in the eye thing. It’s constructive criticism or constructive improvement.”

And Bennett said there are 1,300 of pages of statutes and regulations that outline what is and isn’t permitted, meaning if he reports some errors “let’s keep everything in perspective.”

But does he believe that any of the errors were intentional?

“I’m not going to say in a verbal interview … what I’m going to be putting in writing for the report,” Bennett said.

The fact no formal findings have been issued has not kept others from already publicly concluding that something went wrong.

“I am calling it,” state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said in a Twitter post earlier this month.

“I call on Arizona to decertify the election of 2020 and recall the electors,” he said, though there appears to be no legal precedent for that. “There is already enough evidence to show clear and convincing fraud.”

Finchem, who is running for secretary of state, said he is basing that in part on “preliminary audit results.”

For example, Logan said in July there were 74,243 mail-in ballots being received “where there is no clear record of them being sent. Logan also said there were 11,326 individuals who did not show up on the version of the voter rolls prepared the day after the election but did show up on the Dec. 4 list as not only being registered but having voted.

County officials responded with a point-by-point rebuttal. And Logan has made no claims like that since.

That leaves a private canvass conducted by Liz Harris, an unsuccessful legislative candidate. She produced a report claiming that, based on a sample of homes checked, there were more than 173,000 ballots that were lost and more than 96,000 “ghost” voters, ballots that were cast by people who did not exist.

But she cited only two concrete example. And both were quickly disproved.

Also weighing in was former Congressman Matt Salmon who is hoping to become the Republican nominee for governor. He issued a release Thursday saying the report “will outline a number of serious discrepancies and will further demonstrate why people are questioning last year’s election results and the integrity of Arizona’s electoral systems.”

Pressed for details, Salmon cited what he called the county’s “admitted lack of control over its own election equipment,” presumably referring to the fact that Dominion Voting Systems, from whom the county leased the machines, had passwords. Salmon also said the fact that the county didn’t cooperate also shows problems.

“I’m not sure how we’re possibly supposed to believe that similar issues aren’t prevalent in Arizona’s other counties,” Salmon said.

Skeptics of the whole process, meanwhile, are already seeking to cast doubt on whatever the report shows.

David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, pointed out not just Logan’s lack of experience but his Twitter posts and retweets about how there was fraud in the election.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said the audit was filled with “security lapses, delays, disorganization and a lack of transparency.”  She said the review “failed to meet industry standards for an audit, much less an election audit.”

And the Arizona Democratic Party already has scheduled a press conference less than three hours before the report is released, calling it a “farcical, conspiracy-drive audit” that is “a disgrace to our democratic processes.”

It isn’t only Democrats, however, who have raised questions. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, running against Finchem for the Republican nomination for secretary of state, said she supported an audit but that it “has been botched,” blaming that on “total lack of competence by Fann.”

 

 

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