‘Sharpiegate’ Redux: Arizona Auditors Preview Red Meat In Another Bizarre Hearing

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First and foremost, the people running the shambolic “audit” of Maricopa County, Arizona’s 2020 election results want you to know, they’re doing a great job. 

That’s how Thursday’s update from the three men atop the operation started, anyway: “Cyber Ninjas” CEO Doug Logan, the audit’s lead contractor who’s asserted wild conspiracy theories about the election, introduced himself and then motioned for a video to begin playing: “Can we put Exhibit A up on the screens please?” What followed was a fawning promotional video of sorts. 

“I think in all my years as a county manager and working at the executive level in local government, I’ve never seen a process so unprecedented than this audit,” Kim Carpenter, a former county executive who’s been involved in the review, said to camera at the beginning of Exhibit A, speaking against a blank white backdrop. 

The film went on for about five minutes, followed by an excruciating recitation from the audit’s Senate liaison, Ken Bennett, of various logistical steps the audit has taken to track ballot boxes. Senate President Karen Fann (R) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Peterson (R) let them speak mostly uninterrupted.

Then, Ben Cotton, founder of the audit’s tech contractor CyFIR — you may remember him from his log cabin — went through some preliminary findings of his own work, noting that the county still hasn’t handed over routers and other materials the audit wants. (At the end of the hearing, the senators asked the crew what materials they’d like to be included in yet another round of subpoenas to the county. Without those subpoenaed materials, Peterson said, “it will be an incomplete report.”)

Maricopa County, meanwhile, spent much of the hearing heckling the uncertified auditors rummaging through Arizonans’ ballots. 

So, it took a while to get to the good stuff: Tantalizing tastes of the red meat that the audit will eventually feed a Trumpian base that — despite denials and claims otherwise — the operation is clearly meant to satisfy. 

One such taste came with the phrase “kinematic artifact detection” or, put simply, sticking paper ballots under microscopes and seeing what you find. If it sounds like an unreliable, untested, shrouded-in-secrecy way of investigating … anything, that’s because it is. The failed treasure hunter, inventor and audit hero Jovan Pulitzer popularized the term, and he’s reportedly been involved in the Arizona audit. 

Logan said at Thursday’s hearing that kinematic artifact detection had revealed what he asserted were printing errors in some ballots — specifically, that the fronts and backs of ballot sheets were printed slightly out-of-line with each other. That, he claimed, could result in an “overvote” if ink from one side of a ballot bled onto the other side.

Fann saw an opening, pointing out that members of the media mocked the so-called “Sharpiegate” hysteria around Election Day, when Trump voters were made to believe that the markers they were given to fill out their ballots could have invalidated their votes. 

“There was — in fact it was dubbed by some in the media, Sharpiegate, in the very beginning,” she noted.

It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now, the county said. 

But of course, the story was already out. 

Next up: Canvassing. The audit called off its plans of going door-to-door with Maricopa County voters in May after the federal government expressed concerns about voter intimidation and federal civil rights law. On Thursday, that option was back on the table. 

“Based on the data we’re seeing, I highly recommend we do the canvassing because it’s the one way to know for sure whether some of the data we’re seeing — if it’s real problems, or if it’s clerical errors of some sort,” Logan said after Fann brought up the issue.

A few minutes later, Logan alleged based on an unspecified affidavit that the county had loosened its signature identification requirements as the election went on — an allegation the county flatly denied. 

“We’ve had an affidavit that specifically stated that when mail-in ballots were received, that so many of them were received that the standards reduced over time,” Logan said. “They talked about [how] there was initially 20 points of comparison on the signature, and then after some time they were told to go to 10 points of comparison and then 5, and then eventually, they were told to just let every single mail-in ballot through.” 

The county called the allegation “categorically false.” 

The men from the audit didn’t take questions from the press after laying out the hints of allegations against the county. Citing security concerns, Fann instructed the witnesses to leave the hearing room first. 

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