Ninja report likely to spur election legislation

Kyra Haas Arizona Capitol Times//September 23, 2021

Ninja report likely to spur election legislation

Kyra Haas Arizona Capitol Times//September 23, 2021

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The audit, ordered by the Arizona Senate, has the U.S. Department of Justice saying it is concerned about ballot security and potential voter intimidation arising from the unprecedented private recount of the 2020 presidential election results. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

As the first reports of the Arizona Senate’s review of 2020 general election results in Maricopa County are released, progressive voting rights groups worry about how the findings will be used as the basis for legislation next session. 

Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona, said she expects Republicans to use the reports as justification to introduce a slew of voter suppression bills next year. 

“We’re in a place now where we can be confident that the Cyber Ninjas’ report is going to be the starting point for a whole series of bills, such that we are just making law based on the right-wing conspiracy fever dream that is the Cyber Ninjas report,” Kirkland said.  

Cyber Ninjas’ report is set to come out Friday – five months after the Arizona Senate’s review began at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Some Senate leaders are scheduled to meet Friday with contractors and others involved in the audit in public on the Senate floor.  

Kirkland said that while she has seen some Republicans look to restrict voting rights in the past – even before former President Trump won in 2016 – the 2021 legislative session was different. She expects much of the same in 2022. 

“Now, it is the attempt to make elections illegitimate after they have happened and to overturn the results of elections that trusted local officials have conducted and have verified after they have happened,” she said.  

Kirkland said the review wasn’t a one-time thing, but “a new reality” in terms of how elections are viewed in the future.  

From the beginning, Senate President Karen Fann has said that the audit was “all about” checking to see if election officials are following current law and determining whether new legislation is needed. 

“Do they (the laws) need to be tightened up? Do they need to be tweaked?” Fann asked. “Or, do we need to add some new laws because we’ve got things falling through the cracks?” 

Alex Gulotta, Arizona state director for All Voting Is Local, characterized the Cyber Ninjas review as part of a bigger strategy to preserve political power, noting the Senate’s style of election review has been exported to other states.  

“It’s a cancer,” Gulotta said. 

He said that the best recourse is for audit critics – both Republicans and Democrats – to take “affirmative and serious action” to treat it, namely by voting out those promoting the idea the election was stolen. 

“We need to think about, once the people who are in control change, how do we fix this? This can never happen again,” Gulotta said. “How do we fix our systems so that this arbitrary exercise of power can’t ever be allowed to flourish, the way it has been after this election?”  

Kirkland said she doesn’t plan to go point-by-point through the report because she said it’s already known that Cyber Ninjas’ conclusions are based off a partisan process that didn’t follow “any kind of best practices.” 

Gulotta said that when he looks at the report, his attention will be limited to what claims it makes that could be used in drafting legislation next year.  

“Those will be the things that we will want to take a look at to be able to say, ‘Well, actually, this is not real, and this is why this is not real,’ ‘Maricopa County has already established that this is not real,’ etc., etc.,” he said. “We’re going to want to do those things to the degree they’re trying to take negative action that can impact people’s ability to vote.” 

The Friday reveal doesn’t mark the end of Cyber Ninjas’ involvement.  

The Florida-based contractor will also participate in the Senate’s review of Maricopa County’s routers and Splunk logs, though they won’t physically possess the county materials under a settlement reached between the Senate and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on September 17. 

Instead, Cyber Ninjas and the Senate will pose questions about the routers and logs to be answered by former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg and a team of up to three computer experts he hires to assist him.  

The county and Senate agreed to designate Shadegg, a Republican, as special master as part of their settlement. 

As of September 23, there was no timeline or cost estimate for Shadegg’s work, a sore point for Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the board’s lone Democrat and the only one who voted against the agreement. 

Under the settlement, the Board of Supervisors agreed to foot the bill for Shadegg’s services, whatever it turns outs to be. 

“Normally when you agree to a contract, you know how much it’s going to cost you — you know the how, you know the length, the scope,” Gallardo said. “This is an open-ended contract where John Shadegg will be able to tell us what he is going to charge us versus the other way around.” 

Supporters of the settlement noted that it keeps the routers and Splunk logs out of Cyber Ninjas’ possession – alleviating the security concerns the county brought up when the Senate subpoenaed the materials in January and July – and helps the county keep the roughly $700 million in future state-shared revenues it risked losing by ignoring those subpoenas. 

Fann said that additional review will check and confirm the work of one of Cyber Ninjas’ subcontractors, CyFIR. Afterward, she said they will likely issue a supplemental report.  

“We know that there’s no way we can get all that information from the routers and the Splunk logs by Friday,” Fann said. 

Additionally, a couple of the subcontractors working under Cyber Ninjas have not completed their work, Fann said, so more information will trickle in from them as well. 

“We finally just had to draw a line,” Fann said. “We have a lot of people that are just anxious to get this report out; they’ve been patient for a long time. To delay it another month waiting for the subcontractors to finish up the last bit on their reports, we just couldn’t do it.” 

Cyber Ninjas’ report will come after months of delay. The company’s original statement of work said the final report would be delivered shortly after the completion of the other phases, originally expected to wrap up in May. 

A handful of audit insiders received a final draft report on September 20, former secretary of state and audit liaison Ken Bennett told conservative radio host John Fredericks.  

That group included Bennett, Fann, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, a group of attorneys and former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen, the audit laison. 

Bennett said the group received bits and pieces of the final report over the past few weeks.  

“We are vetting that to make sure that everything adds up, and we’re not withholding anything,” Bennett told Fredericks. 

In addition to Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, subcontractor CyFIR CEO Ben Cotton was also scheduled to present the report on Friday.  

Bennett said Pullen would discuss the Senate’s third count of 2.1 million ballots, which took place in the Wesley Bolin Building at the state fairgrounds this summer.  

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

Bennett said he would discuss instances in which he believes Maricopa County didn’t comply with state statutes and elections procedures.  

Shiva Ayyadurai, who was hired by the Senate to review ballot envelope signatures, is also set to present. 

Bennet also said Fann has requested to review the report that came from unsuccessful LD17 House candidate Liz Harris’ months-long “independent” canvassing effort. The report, quickly debunked by elections experts, claimed large numbers of “ghost” and “lost” votes affected the election results. 

Canvassing was initially part of the plan for the Senate’s review, but Fann nixed the effort after the U.S. Department of Justice warned it may violate federal laws. 

Fann said the Senate will turn over information from the review to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.