Trump's election "audit" should be treated as a trojan horse, Arizona secretary of state warns

Arizona taxpayers may be on the hook for replacing voting machines in Maricopa County

By Jon Skolnik
Published May 21, 2021 2:49PM (EDT)
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud. (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud. (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs announced on Thursday that the vote-counting machines used in the Maricopa County general election recount are not secure, suggesting that her office might "decertify" whatever results come from the audit. 

Last month, the Republican-controlled Arizona state Senate moved to conduct a full-fledged audit of Maricopa County ballots in the 2020 general election, citing baseless concerns that the election fraudulently favored President Joe Biden, who won the county by a margin of about 45,000 votes. The state's GOP-led Board of Supervisors, which noted that prior audits had already been conducted, attempted to impede the recount, but failed.

The audit – which requires a hand count of 2.1 million votes – is being conducted by Florida-based cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas, which has no apparent experience in auditing elections and was not formerly known by any members of the Arizona state legislature. Cyber Ninjas' owner, Doug Logan, is a known QAnon conspiracy theorist who erroneously believes the election was systematically "stolen" from former President Donald Trump. Currently, Cyber Ninjas is performing forensic analysis to determine the presence of bamboo fibers in ballots as an apparent indication that China meddled in the election. 

In her letter, Hobbs wrote: "I have grave concerns regarding the security and integrity of these machines, given that the chain of custody, a critical security tenet, has been compromised and election officials do not know what was done to the machines while under Cyber Ninjas' control." 

"[M]y office did not reach this decision lightly," she continued. "However, given the circumstances and ongoing concerns regarding the handling and security of the equipment, I believe the county can agree that this is the only path forward to ensure secure and accurate elections in Maricopa County in the future."

Hobbs can legally decertify the ballot-counting machines with the approval of the state's Election Equipment Certification Committee, a three-member panel that she appointed herself. 

Earlier this month, the Justice Department expressed concerns about certain audit practices that were being carried out by Cyber Ninjas, issuing a formal warning that they could be in violation of federal law. "We have a concern that Maricopa County election records, which are required by federal law to be retained and preserved, are no longer under the ultimate control of elections officials, are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors, and are at risk of damage or loss," the department wrote at the time. The letter was shortly rebuffed by Arizona Republicans. 

Earlier this week, the Arizona Board of Supervisors demanded that state Republicans put an end to the audit, alleging that Cyber Ninjas was "in way over their heads." A GOP state Senator recently called the recount "embarrassing."

"It makes us look like idiots," said state Sen. Paul Boyer, a Republican from Phoenix. "Looking back, I didn't think it would be this ridiculous. It's embarrassing to be a state senator at this point."

A spokesperson from Dominion, whose voting systems were used in the election, told Insider: "There are real concerns about what the unaccredited 'auditors' have done to Maricopa County's voting equipment, and whether the machines remain useable for future elections. What we do know, without a doubt, is that the secure chain of custody has been broken."

Replacing the machines could cost millions and would likely require that Arizona taxpayers foot the bill.


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

MORE FROM Jon SkolnikFOLLOW jonsskolnik


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Arizona Audit Brief Hobbs Katie Recount