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Independent experts find no foul play in 2020 election

A new report from an independent review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election equipment supports what the county has said all along: the voting machines weren’t connected to the internet, and the county didn’t try to obstruct the state Senate’s audit or delete data. 

The report comes after the Arizona Senate and the county agreed in September 2021 that three independent computer security experts would review the county’s routers and answer the Senate’s questions in relation to the 2020 general election. Both parties agreed that former Congressman John Shadegg would act as an impartial “special master” to oversee the process. 

Six months later, the findings, which were released late Wednesday, fall in line with the county’s own independent election audits conducted more than a year ago. 

John Shadegg

The Senate’s election review team, headed by Cyber Ninjas, presented its report in September 2021, offering no evidence of widespread fraud. Its ballot hand count found Joe Biden received 99 more votes than the official tally. However, the Senate still wanted to examine the county’s routers and Splunk logs, which it had also subpoenaed earlier in the year. The county resisted, citing security concerns. But, faced with losing hundreds of millions of state-shared revenues for not complying with the subpoenas, the county eventually settled with the Senate to allow an independent review of the equipment. 

Shadegg’s report stated that the team found no evidence that “routers, managed switches, or election devices” connected to the Internet. He and the experts also found no evidence that the county obstructed the audit. 

“The special master and expert panel found no evidence of data deletion, data purging, data overwriting, or other destruction of evidence or obstruction of the audit,” the report stated. 

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairman Bill Gates said in a written statement that the report should be “a final stake in the heart of the Senate’s so-called ‘audit,’” pointing out that it concluded the ballot tabulation system was not connected to the internet and that county routers were not connected to the election tabulation system. He also noted that one of the three independent experts was recommended by the Senate. 

“Whenever impartial, independent and competent people have examined the County’s election practices, they have found no reason to doubt the integrity of those practices,” he said. “The Board of Supervisors remains committed to free and fair elections that conform to federal and state laws.” 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said in a text message Wednesday evening that she had not yet reviewed the report. 

The Maricopa County Twitter account posted that the county appreciated the results of the special master report, but it wasn’t new information. 

“(I)t is discouraging that more people didn’t listen 488 days ago when Elections Director Scott Jarrett explained all of this in a public meeting prior to canvass vote,” the county tweeted. 

The report does not end the Senate Republicans’ inquiries into the county’s 2020 general election. Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, on Monday issued a subpoena to county officials, ordering them to come to the Senate Government Committee meeting next week and answer questions about election documents requested by the Attorney General’s Office. Townsend, who chairs the committee, said via text message Wednesday evening that she had not yet had a chance to review the report, though on Twitter, she questioned its credibility.  

“If Maricopa County cannot bother to answer the questions of @andybiggs4az from a congressional hearing regarding deleted/archived files, why am I supposed to trust or believe any other report they submit? I am sorry but too little, too late,” she posted, referring to a hearing in October where then-Board of Supervisors chairman Jack Sellers and current chairman Gates strongly criticized the election review and defended how the 2020 election was conducted. 

The Attorney General’s investigation based off the reports from the Senate’s contractors in September is ongoing. 

In responding to the Senate’s questions, the computer security experts noted that Maricopa County uses two separate facilities and two separate computer systems to conduct elections, not one “election network.” They said in the report that the Senate’s questions “appeared to have been written based on the assumption” that the county only had one. 

“This utilization of separate systems, which are physically separated and are not electronically connected, either by wire or wirelessly, is a critical factor in answering the Senate’s questions,” the report stated. 

The experts stated that they found no evidence that the elections equipment in the ballot tabulation center connected to the public internet.  

“There are no routers or managed switches or Splunk logs in the BTC,” the report stated, adding that Splunk logs were not used in the center to comply with the Arizona Constitution’s privacy requirements. 

The ballot tabulation center, the report stated, is only accessible with key card access and is monitored 24/7. It has no electronic connection to the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, wireless or otherwise. 

“Vote tallies, as they are completed, are loaded on a newly opened USB (thumb drive, Flash drive), under the observation of politically appointed observers, and are then physically taken out of the BTC and loaded on a separate computer for distribution to the press and public,” the report stated, adding that the official canvass is put on a “newly opened USB” and hand-delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office along with chain of custody information. 

The routers in the Office of Enterprise Technology did connect to the public internet; however, the experts noted that the facility only housed registration information and records and plays no part in counting ballots. 

“No ballot tabulation information is ever received by, sent to or stored in the OET,” the report stated. 

The experts did not review the voting machines used in 2020 because they were sequestered by Attorney General Mark Brnovich and have been replaced. 

“The special master and the expert panel did inspect the equipment present for our visit and confirmed with the County that the vote tabulating machines at the BTC during the 2020 General Election and the new machines currently within the BTC were not, are not now, and are not ever connected by wire or wirelessly to any routers, computers, or electronic equipment outside the BTC.” 

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