Cyber Ninjas – the company that is conducting what is known as the "review" of the 2020 GOP election results in Maricopa County, Arizona – is expected to finally release a report summarizing its findings in the next few weeks. But if the past sets a precedent, the document is likely to leave people in a fog of confusion.
That's because the "test," which began in April at the behest of the state's GOP-controlled Senate and is paid for by a host of far-right, pro-Trump sources, is never seen as a bona fide investigation into electoral practice or, on the contrary, it has always been about backing up Donald Trump's lies about the election with false and misleading claims and then using them as an excuse to impose new election restrictions designed to give Republicans an edge in future elections, including a possible Trump 2024 presidential nomination.
Inevitably, that means cyber ninjas will only make claims plausible enough to receive credible coverage from pro-Trump media, even if the claims fail scrutiny by impartial fact-checkers. These claims can then be reinforced by elected Republicans who do not allow facts to disturb their narrative. Consider the dynamic in Tucker Carlson's recent attempts to blame the FBI for the January 6 riot – a claim that was quickly debunked but nonetheless touted by members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz.
Comments from Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan left the game last month. During a briefing held after most of the “audit” operations were completed, Logan, who runs the Maricopa County operations, claimed despite posting conspiracy theories about stealing Trump's election last winter: “We have 74,243 postal ballots where there is no clear record that they were broadcast. "This is a large, if true, accusation that would constitute significant evidence of misconduct of the kind that Trump claimed enabled Joe Biden to see him in Arizona and beat other states.
But within days of Logan making those comments, CNN released an in-depth fact check with a simple explanation for the 74,000+ ballots that Logan mentioned. It turned out that Logan either did not understand the fact or was deliberately trying to mislead people that the "List of Ballots Taken" he cited contained ballots cast both by personal early voting and by mail. In short, if you understand what the number is actually supposed to represent, it's not that there were a significant number of inexplicable voices.
On Twitter, Arizona election analyst Garrett Archer collapsed on what Logan missed, describing the CEO's baiting of conspiracies over the ballot papers as either "grossly negligent" or "deliberately misleading." But as the old saying goes, a lie travels halfway around the world while the truth laces up its boots.
As CNN pointed out, while the claim that tens of thousands of postal votes appeared out of nowhere is false, prominent Republicans, from MP Lauren Boebert (R-CO) to Trump himself, made hay out of it, with Trump claiming it was Evidence of "magical appearing ballots".
And that wasn't even the only false claim Logan made during this briefing. He also lied about Maricopa County's signature verification procedures. But to Logan and Co., the truth or falsity of allegations is insignificant compared to their usefulness in advancing a narrative about defrauding the Democrats.
The partisan "audit" is actually a transparent fishing expedition
As my colleague Ian Millhiser explained in May, Trump supporters have not shied away from using the Arizona process as a first step towards discrediting the 2020 election as part of a half-baked attempt to reinstate Trump and other Republicans who lost in 2020.
Pro-Trump outlets like One America News Network (OAN) and Message max breathless coverage of how, in the words of Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, this exam "will be the first domino to fall, and then other states will investigate irregularities, anomalies, errors and possibly blatant fraud." Trump himself is promoting the test, claiming that the Democrats are trying to stop it because "it won't be good for the dems. "
In other words, the real purpose of the audit seems to be feeding Trump's big lie – the misconception that the 2020 election results are fraudulent.
Let's take a moment to consider what we already know about the 2020 presidential election in Arizona, which Biden won with 10,457 votes against Trump, and in Maricopa County, the most populous county in the state, Biden won with just over 45,000 votes won.
Maricopa County's result has already been checked four times, each of which confirmed Biden's margin there. Republicans, from Arizona's Governor Doug Ducey to the four members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (only one Democrat sits on it) to federal officials from Trump's own administration, have confirmed that no funny business was done. A study published by the Associated Press last month found that "Arizona County electoral officials identified fewer than 200 cases of potential electoral fraud in the more than 3 million ballots cast in last year's presidential election, adding to allegations made by former President Donald Trump a stolen election while its allies continue a controversial vote screening in the state's most populous county. "
Simply put, not only is there no evidence of widespread electoral fraud, everything we know indicates overwhelmingly that Biden's victory was the result of a free and fair trial.
Nonetheless, the Maricopa County's "audit" includes a full hand count of ballots. Cyber Ninjas have been criticized for their sloppy recounting procedures – at one point, counters were discovered marking ballot papers in blue pens, even though that type of ink can affect how they are read by machines – and the results have not yet been published. But there is evidence that cyber ninjas spend as much time chasing wild conspiracies as they look at the ballot tables that have been confirmed over and over again.
For example, cyber ninjas used ultraviolet light to examine ballot papers for reasons that remain unclear but may have something to do with their efforts to support a conspiracy theory that bamboo fiber in ballot papers could serve as evidence that some were from Asia were smuggled.
John Brakey, an official overseeing the review of Arizona elections in 2020, says accountants are looking for bamboo fiber over an unsubstantiated allegation that 40,000 ballots were smuggled here from Asia. #AzAuditPool pic.twitter.com/57UOBYIehg
– Dennis Welch (@dennis_welch) May 5, 2021
Then the Republicans in the Arizona State Senate asked the Maricopa County Board of Directors and the Dominion Voting System to surrender the routers used in the election. (They refused.) That interest in routers appears to be tied to a conspiracy theory promoted by Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, which Trump alluded to during a speech in Arizona on July 24th.
When Trump speaks of "routers" here, he is referring to a conspiracy theory by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, which claims that the "routers" on Dominion voting machines were connected to the Internet on election night and should now be investigated. https://t.co/rOKKxuUHsK
– Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) July 25, 2021
In a statement explaining why the board was failing to comply with the subpoenas, Republican chairman Jack Sellers of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors said it had already been determined that voting machines had not been tampered with.
"For months, the Senate audit team has had access to the elements it takes to confirm that Maricopa County's tabs were not connected to the internet and therefore not hacked during the November general election," Sellers said. “It took the county-hired certified accountants only two weeks with the machines and logs we'd given the Senate to make such a decision. You have what you need. "
What is happening in Arizona can best be understood as a disinformation campaign
So stupid and full of conflicts of interest – one of the "auditors" was a former Republican official who lost his seat in 2020 – the process in Arizona shows how Republicans sow doubts about America's elections in order to enforce their political interests.
As Jane Mayer explained for the New Yorker, the "test" alone cannot be understood – it is part of a national effort "fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards include some of the richest and highest in the country." -Profile Conservative ":
One of the leaders of the movement is the Heritage Foundation, the well-known conservative think tank in Washington, DC, new election restrictions. Among those deeply involved in the fight is Leonard Leo, a chairman of the Federalist Society, the legal organization known for its decades-long campaign to fill the courts with conservative judges. In February 2020, the Judicial Education Project, a group affiliated with Leo, tacitly renamed itself the Honest Elections Project, which has subsequently filed briefs with the Supreme Court and numerous states opposed to postal votes and other reforms that were being made it easier for people to choose.
Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania – another state that Biden won – recently expressed an interest in a similarly partisan, privately-funded "review" of the 2020 results. Republicans in Texas and Georgia have gone a step further and passed new laws, aimed at restricting postal voting and allowing Republicans to take control of electoral bodies in blue cities. The Arizona Republicans, meanwhile, did not wait for the "exam" to complete to pass a new postal ballot restriction law.
These measures are potential solutions to the problem of losing elections, not the problem of fraud. And since fraud is so rare not just in Arizona but across the country – the Washington Post reported in May that one fraud case was prosecuted for every 10 million votes last year – Republicans are investing in believing that this is indeed a real problem Conspiracy theories about bamboo fiber and hacked routers.
So by the time the Arizona "audit" report finally falls, you will know in advance that it will almost certainly contain flimsy allegations of fraud and allusions to savage conspiracy theories. Fact-checkers will certainly be just as busy exposing it, but in the increasingly shameful environment of Trump's Republican Party, its findings are either being ignored or simply dismissed as the product of the media involved in the conspiracy.