After months of overdue ballot tallying and millions of dollars raised by right-wing influencers eager to prove that the 2020 election was stolen, the sham “audit” of Maricopa County, Arizona… asserted that Joe Biden earned more votes than the official result.
The contractors hired by the Arizona state Senate believe that Biden actually increased his lead over Trump by 360 votes compared to the county’s official tally, according to drafts of the audit report, several of which are circulating among news outlets.
Is that a reliable count? Still no: The audit procedures were a mess, as election experts observed from the sidelines for months. And the final product could deviate from the draft reports circulating online. The audit was authorized by Senate President Karen Fann (R), who was slated to attend a press conference to discuss the report at 4 p.m. ET Friday.
Trump supporters tried to put on a brave face — Trump himself falsely said the audit found “significant and undeniable evidence of FRAUD!” — but the report fall fell short of the revelatory spectacle its boosters wanted.
In fact, the report provides little for true believers who want to cling to the notion that Trump won. It counted thousands of ballots, for example, that purportedly came from people voting from the wrong address. But even these numbers are treated only as “potential ballots impacted” in the report, not confirmed findings. And rather than provide actual evidence for the numbers, the draft document explains them away by saying they’re the result of “extensive data analysis.”
The bumbling spin started at the top: Doug Logan, the CEO of lead audit contractor “Cyber Ninjas,” promoted Big Lie conspiracy theories before he was hired for the audit job. He had, for instance, tweeted about “Dominion servers in Germany” that could reveal the true election victor.
“#Truthiscoming” Logan tweeted at the time. TPM subsequently reported that Logan’s relationship with Lin Wood, the QAnon-promoting conspiracy theorist lawyer, went back to at least November.
While the audit was ongoing, Logan appeared in a conspiracy theory documentary alleging a rigged election — one starring top audit fundraiser and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, whose website briefly helped screen volunteers for the ballot-counting process. In the film, “Deep Rig,” Logan speculated that the CIA might be behind election disinformation.
Though the audit was advertised as a Senate-sanctioned review meant to provide recommendations to legislators for improving elections, it was largely funded and driven by private actors. It raised millions from the likes of Byrne, Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell and One America News Network anchor Christina Bobb, who “reported” on the audit for the far-right network while fundraising for it.
The Arizona Senate, on the other hand, provided just $150,000 for the audit. Their real contribution took the form of subpoenas — without which, Doug Logan and the rest of the audit team would not have had the authority to seize Maricopa County’s ballots and election machines.
In the months following the launch of the audit, Trump loyalists rallied around it as the first domino to fall in a series that would ultimately reverse the 2020 election outcome, months post-facto. Trumpy lawmakers from around the country traveled to Arizona like pilgrims to a holy site, trying to keep the flame alive.
The audit provided a template to emulate — or, as it unraveled, to avoid — in other states where lawmakers attempted to appease Trump supporters with bogus “audits,” “forensic investigations” and other fishing expeditions into the 2020 results. Such legislature-sanctioned reviews are ongoing in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The review was a mess from the first day, when a reporter noticed auditors holding blue pens on the counting floor of the audit venue — the same color that voters can use to mark ballots. Later, word got out that audit staffers were looking for bamboo fibers in the ballots, apparently because this would, in their minds, provide evidence that ballots had been shipped in from meddling fraudsters overseas.
In July, a Senate liaison to the audit unloaded about behind-the-scenes problems with audit procedures — issues as simple as keeping track of damaged ballots and tally sheets. The timeline was another issue: The audit went substantially over schedule, and was forced to change locations due to a series of previously booked high school graduations at the same location.
Chain-of-custody issues pervaded as well, typified by a road trip: Contractor Ben Cotton reportedly drove election data up to a “secure lab” — seemingly just a log cabin — at a property of his in Montana.
Animosity between the Maricopa County’s largely Republican board of supervisors and the auditors grew as the months went on, and as the audit’s shambolic procedures made it a laughingstock around the country.
The animosity hit a new level early last month. After the county refused to hand over its internet routers to the Senate, a fringe GOP state senator, Wendy Rogers, suggested throwing the county officials in solitary confinement.
On Friday, Rogers was one of many audit believers trying to change the conversation: She announced her support for an audit of Maricopa’s neighbor, Pima County.