Arizona Republicans deploy Cyber Ninjas in pro-Trump election audit

Months after Donald Trump’s election defeat, Republicans in Arizona are challenging the outcome with an unprecedented effort to audit results in their most populous county – all run by a Florida company, Cyber Ninjas, with no elections experience.

The state senate used its subpoena power to take possession of all 2.1m ballots in Maricopa county and the machines that counted them, along with computer hard drives full of data. The materials were then handed to Cyber Ninjas, a consultancy run by a man who has shared unfounded conspiracy theories claiming official election results are illegitimate.

Elections professionals fear the process will severely undermine faith in democracy.

“I think the activities that are taking place here are reckless and they in no way, shape or form resemble an audit,” said Jennifer Morrell, a partner at The Elections Group, a consulting firm advising state and local officials which has not worked in Arizona.

Conspiracy theories about Joe Biden’s victory have had particular staying power in Arizona, which went Democratic for just the second time in 72 years. On Friday, Trump predicted the audit would reveal fraud and prompt similar reviews in other states he lost.

“Thank you state senators and others in Arizona for commencing this full forensic audit,” he said in a statement. “I predict the results will be startling!”

Cyber Ninjas began a manual recount on Friday, a day after Democrats asked a judge to put an end to the audit. The judge ordered the company to follow ballot and voter secrecy laws and demanded it turn over written procedures and training manuals before a hearing on Monday. He offered to pause the count over the weekend if Democrats posted a $1m bond to cover added expenses. The party declined.

On a since-deleted Twitter account, Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan used hashtags and shared memes popular with people promoting unsupported allegations casting doubt on Biden’s victory. Logan says his personal views are irrelevant because he is running a transparent audit with video streamed online.

“There’s a lot of Americans here, myself included, that are really bothered by the way our country is being ripped apart right now,” Logan said. “We want a transparent audit to be in place so that people can trust the results and can get everyone on the same page.”

Logan refuses to disclose who is paying him or who is counting the ballots, and will not commit to using bipartisan teams for the process.

The Republican-dominated Arizona senate refuses to let media observe the count. Reporters can accept a six-hour shift as an official observer but photography and note-taking are prohibited. It would be a violation of journalistic ethics for reporters to participate in an event they were covering.

The state senate has put up $150,000 for the audit but Logan has acknowledged that is not enough to cover his expenses. A rightwing cable channel, One America News Network, raised money from unknown contributors which went directly to Cyber Ninjas. Logan would not commit to disclosing the donors and would not provide an estimate for the cost of his audit.

Cyber Ninjas plans to have teams of three people manually count each ballot, looking only at the presidential and US Senate contests, which were won by Democrats.

Logan said the counters were members of law enforcement and the military as well as retirees. He would not say how many were Democrats or Republicans and would not commit to ensuring the counting teams are bipartisan.

The process was to be overseen by volunteers. As of a week ago, 70% were Republicans, according to Ken Bennett, a Republican former secretary of state serving as a liaison between the Senate and the auditors.

Cyber Ninjas plans to review ballot-counting machines and data and to scan the composition of fibers in paper ballots in search of fakes. It plans to go door-to-door in select precincts to ask people if they voted. Logan was vague about how the precincts were chosen but said a statistical analysis was done “based on voter histories”.

The audit has been beset by mistakes. Hand counters began the day using blue pens, which are banned in ballot counting rooms because they can be read by ballot machines. A crew from a group of Phoenix television stations, azfamily, had unfettered access to the supposedly secure facility as auditors were setting up equipment and receiving ballots and machines.

Election experts said hand counts are prone to errors and questioned a lack of transparent procedures for adjudicating voter intent.

Maricopa county conducted pre- and post-election reviews to check the accuracy of voting machines, including a hand count of a representative sample of ballots, as required by state law. The county hired two auditing firms that reported no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment.

“We’re going to set up a new norm where we don’t accept the outcome of elections in a free and fair and just democracy, and that is the core of what is at stake here,” said Tammy Patrick, senior adviser at the Democracy Fund and a former Maricopa county elections official.

“I think that is incredibly, incredibly problematic.”

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