Bamboo ballots don't exist, manufacturer says, as Arizona auditors search for "watermarks"

CEO of ballot firm says no watermarks, no bamboo: He can't "figure out what they could possibly be looking for"

By Zachary Petrizzo
Published June 23, 2021 1:00PM (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 8, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Courtney Pedroza for the Washington Post)
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 8, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Courtney Pedroza for the Washington Post)

On Tuesday night, CNN reporter Kyung Lah interviewed the chief executive behind the company tasked with producing the ballots for Maricopa County, Arizona, who debunked a series of baseless conspiracy theories, including claims that ballots had been imported from China and have bamboo fibers embedded in them. 

Ever since the 2020 election results in Arizona were finalized and certified, finding a narrow victory for Joe Biden, dismayed Republicans have made repeated claims of fraud, entirely free of evidence. In an apparent effort to find (or perhaps invent) such evidence, GOP state legislators launched an unofficial audit of the votes in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is the state's major population center. Reportedly, that audit — conducted by a private firm called Cyber Ninjas with no experience in elections and an evident pro-Trump bias — is finally nearing completion after weeks of hype from right-wing media. But there's a problem: It seems the so-called auditors didn't find much of anything. 

Jeff Ellington, CEO of Runbeck Election Services, the company that manufactured the Maricopa County ballots, told CNN he has no idea what Republican officials are looking for in his firm's ballots, adding that he believes their snipe hunt makes no sense.  

Ellington said he tried to understand what GOP-led audit officials were hinting at. "Well, maybe there is something?" he asked rhetorically. "So we went in a room like this, and we got our flashlight, and we were shining it on the paper trying to figure out what they could possibly be looking for. We couldn't find anything on the ballot that reflected or was a watermark or anything." 

Ellington continued, "It's not being disclosed what they're looking for, what those processes are, and that's frustrating. You're left to speculate on what they're doing. You're watching the live feed on the video; you're left to speculate as to what they're actually trying to accomplish."

In early May, one audit official told a reporter that the amateur sleuths had their eyes peeled for traces of bamboo fibers within certain ballots. "There's [an] accusation that 40,000 ballots were flown in to Arizona and it was stuffed into the box, and it came from the southeast part of the world, Asia, and what they're doing is to find out whether there's bamboo in the paper," John Brakey told CBS5 News political editor Dennis Welch. 

Audit officials have reportedly used ultraviolet light in an effort to detect phony ballots, perhaps reflecting an online conspiracy theory that former President Trump had somehow ordered the secret watermarking of legitimate ballots. Ellington told CNN on Tuesday that none of his company's ballots have watermarks. 

According to a new Monmouth University poll, the Arizona audit is widely unpopular, with 57% percent of Americans surveyed agreeing that the Republican-led audit is a partisan activity designed to "undermine valid election results."


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 Audit Cnn Elections Jeff Ellington Kyung Lah Maricopa County Polling Republicans