Firms hired to conduct an audit of votes from the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, Arizona, ostensibly to verify the integrity of the election, have walked back claims they made last week that county officials had deleted electronic files related to the vote totals. These allegations prompted many on the right, including former President Donald Trump, to wrongly state that it was proof of election fraud.
A hearing was held on Tuesday by State Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican whose legislative body began the contentious and troubled audit, to discuss the claims of deleted files. But during that hearing, Ben Cotton, the founder of CyFIR, one of the companies hired to help in the ballot recount, acknowledged that the deleted files were in fact in his and other auditors’ possession.
“I have the information I need from the recovery efforts of the data,” Cotton said.
Indeed, Maricopa county officials, many of them Republicans themselves, denied the allegations from the start, and said the mixup happened because firms like CyFIR and Cyber Ninjas — the primary company company hired by the Republican-controlled State Senate to manage the audit but which has zero experience in handling such matters — had failed to look in the right place for the information they were seeking.
In a statement on the matter, Jack Sellers, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, called the entire audit a “grift.”
“They don’t know what they’re doing. And we wouldn’t be asked to do this on-the-job training if qualified auditors had been hired to do this work,” he added.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors demanded in a letter this week that the audit, which has been criticized heavily for engaging in practices that suggest it is looking for evidence based on debunked QAnon conspiracy theories, come to an end.
The allegations that elections data was deleted “are false, defamatory, and beneath the dignity of the Senate,” those officials said in the letter. “They are an insult to the dedicated public servants in the Maricopa County Elections Department and Office of the Recorder, who work incredibly long hours conducting the County’s elections with integrity and honor.”
“It is time to end this. For the good of the Senate, for the good of the Country, and for the good of the Democratic institutions that define us as Americans,” the officials added.
The Board of Supervisors, which has four Republicans and one Democrat, also said they stood in solidarity against the audit’s attempts to justify “the big lie” — the false notions, pushed by Trump and his supporters, that election fraud aided in President Joe Biden’s win against him in Arizona and in the presidential election overall.
The false allegations of deleted files is just the latest chapter in a series of troubling news reports coming from the audit. Cyber Ninjas and other firms involved have made repeated mistakes, including marking ballots with blue pens (which can confuse voting machines), and shining ballots with ultraviolet light to search for watermarks that do not exist on ballots, a move that can actually damage the integrity of ballots. The company has also looked into whether ballots are made of bamboo-infused paper, a racist conspiracy theory pushed by Trump supporters that wrongly purports China sent in ballots to help Biden win.
Despite the documented troubles with the audit, many Trump supporters and their backers in the media seized upon the errant claims of deleted files made by the auditors last week as proof of the ongoing fraud. When those allegations first surfaced, Trump himself posted the false claims on his website as evidence of an “election crime,” further claiming that “the story” of fraud in Arizona and elsewhere “is only getting bigger.”
The former president has yet to issue a retraction or correction of his absurd accusations against the Arizona election officials, even though it’s been shown that the firms involved in the “audit” were looking in the wrong place and have themselves admitted that the files were not deleted as initially claimed by them.
The problems with the audit prompted the United States Department of Justice to write a letter to Fann and the Arizona Senate earlier this month, demanding answers to questions over the security of ballots and other concerns. The focus on Maricopa County also raised worries that the audit was unfairly targeting marginalized communities.
“Past experience with similar investigative efforts around the country has raised concerns that they can be directed at minority voters, which potentially can implicate the anti-intimidation prohibitions of the Voting Rights Act,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan said in her letter to Fann. “Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future.”