Nearly six months after voting ended in the 2020 presidential election, Republicans are leading an effort in Arizona to throw undue doubt into President Joe Biden’s win in the state — and they’ve hired conspiracy theorists to help lead the charge.
Republican legislators in the state, who hold a majority in the legislature, successfully subpoenaed 2.1 million ballots earlier this year. Senate Republicans demanded the ballots from election officials in Maricopa County, which put Biden over the top and then didn’t have anywhere to put the ballots once they got them.
The GOP obtained the ballots with the goal of completing their own audit of the election results, despite the fact that the state’s own audits, as well as Maricopa County’s audit, found no evidence of voter fraud.
Still, Republicans think that they can conduct a better audit — perhaps one with different results — and have hired a company with zero experience with elections to do so. As Judd Legum of Popular Information wrote, “The counting will continue until results improve.”
The company Republicans have hired, for $150,000 of taxpayer money, is called Cyber Ninjas. Cyber Ninjas is a Florida-based cybersecurity company which has been described by its founder, Doug Logan, as a “Christian company.” Logan has espoused views supporting the conspiracy theories put forth by “Stop the Steal” groups and QAnon-affiliated Ron Watkins, who propagate the false claim that it was former President Donald Trump, not Biden, who truly won the election.
Arizona is not Logan’s first rodeo in challenging election results. He was previously listed as an expert witness in a lawsuit in Michigan where the plaintiffs claimed that voting machines were rigged.
Though the company has tried keeping their audit methodology under wraps, they’ve been ordered by a judge to disclose documents with procedures for the audit. The procedures “[don’t] make any sense, and I’ve seen a lot of audits,” Tammy Patrick, senior elections adviser for Democracy Fund and former Maricopa County elections worker, told USA Today.
The documents detailing procedures for “forensics” are vague and unclear. One such procedure evidently being employed by Cyber Ninja is using UV lights to check for watermarks on the ballots. Arizona’s ballots don’t have watermarks, and the Brennan Center for Justice has warned that the lights could make the ballots deteriorate, but that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from believing that using the UV light might reveal a secret watermark.
Observers and election experts have also caught the auditors making basic mistakes like using blue pens that might alter the vote on a ballot or not securing the area where ballots are being counted by locking the doors.
Cyber Ninjas has also recruited former state lawmaker Anthony Kern to help validate ballots. Kern is a Trump supporter who was at the Capitol on January 6 with the mob trying to get the election results overturned.
State Republicans are also evidently trying to raise funds beyond the $150,000 from the government for the audit effort, Legum reports. The Arizona Senate is soliciting donations to raise $2.8 million for the effort on a website, fundtheaudit.com, owned by an organization created by former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, also a known Trump supporter.
Trump himself has been bragging about the audit, despite the fact that Arizona lawmakers don’t have the authority to overturn election results. Still, he’s been telling Mar-a-Lago guests that the audit will perhaps help reinstate him — although, even if the legislators could overturn the result of the state’s election, and if there were any evidence of fraud, the 11 electoral votes it would give the former president would still not be enough to give him the win he wants.
So then why are Republicans still chugging along to overturn Arizona’s results? It’s unclear, but the audit is already likely having harmful effects. Most Republican voters still believe that the election was rigged; and the very fact that Republicans are conducting an audit may indicate, to some, that there are legitimate reasons to believe that there was fraud, no matter how spurious the real reasons for the audit are.
Political observers warn that the results of the audit, even if they’re falsified or based on flawed methodology, could end up adding fuel to the Republicans’ voter suppression fire in Arizona and across the country.
“The idea, obviously, is to create a new truth for Republicans,” wrote MSNBC’s Steve Benen, “at which point pro-Trump forces can exploit the lie to justify new voter-suppression efforts and perhaps even related efforts in other states, where Republicans can hire Cyber Ninjas of their own.”