Arizona election audit takes wild turn: Voter data is transported to a "secret" lab in another state

Arizona voter data hits the road, and the location it's being sent to is apparently a secret

By Zachary Petrizzo
Published June 18, 2021 3:02PM (EDT)
Donald Trump | mail in ballot (Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump | mail in ballot (Getty Images/Salon)

The Republican-led Arizona audit being conducted by the Florida-based tech company Cyber Ninjas took an unexpected turn after voter data was transported to a mystery "lab" in Montana to be "forensically evaluated" by a third party.

At some point during the audit, CyFIR — a digital security firm subcontracted by Cyber Ninjas — was enlisted to examine ballots. But it wasn't until Arizona Republic reporter Jen Fifield started digging through a state-run "SOS" website posting audit updates that she noticed "copies" of data were being "sent to a lab in Montana."

Upon further research, the Arizona Republic traced the data's whereabouts back to a Montana property whose owner was listed as CyFIR CEO Ben Cotton on public records.

Cotten is also the CEO of Cyber Technologies (CyTech), the parent company of CyFIR. Both companies are based out of Virginia, but they also share the same northwest Montana "Bigfork" address on documents. 

At the time, Ken Bennett, an audit official, informed the Arizona Republic that he wasn't aware of how the data in the hands of Cotton and his firms was being kept safe. Weeks later, Bennett told CNN that CYFIR was allowed to send copies of voter data to Montana on a truck. 

"Bennett tells us he doesn't know where the so-called 'lab' is," CNN reporter Gary Tuchman said during the televised report. "It is apparently a secret."

A request by Salon for comment from CyTech President Timothy Poole and Cotton went unreturned.

While local news reports on the matter have been circulating over the past few weeks, the story didn't catch wind until Tuchman took viewers to Cotton's Montana address on Wednesday. 

While the CNN reporter got within eye-shot of a cabin on the Montana property, he could not walk beyond that point due to a "private property" sign that warned against trespassing.

According to additional reporting conducted by CNN, the sprawling property owned by Cotton has numerous structures on site. It remains unclear whether the "lab" is actually located on the property — or if it even exists. 

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs shared the feature report, which has since caught the attention of many on social media.

"You can't make this stuff up," Hobbs told CNN. "If it wasn't happening right in front of our eyes, we wouldn't believe it was happening."

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Zachary Petrizzo

Zachary Petrizzo is a staff writer at Salon. He previously covered politics at Mediaite and The Daily Dot. Follow him on Twitter @ZTPetrizzo. Send him tips: zpetrizzo@salon.com

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Aggregation Arizona Arizona Audit Cyber Ninjas Elections Katie Hobbs Montana Politics Republicans