Election experts offer challenge to Cyber Ninjas: We can count ballots without opening boxes
Election experts — including the founder of a national auditing company and a prominent Pima County Republican — have a proposal to dispel conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 election in Maricopa County.
They also have a message for Cyber Ninjas, the company running the Arizona recount effort: "Put up or shut up."
The experts made a formal offer to Senate President Karen Fann on Tuesday to prove the election was sound. The proposal is getting attention from those working at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Here's the offer: The experts say that if the Senate selects a box of unopened ballots (any box), the team could within minutes provide an accurate count of each race on all 1,000 or so ballots inside — without ever opening it.
They would do this, they said, using public data they obtained from Maricopa County, that includes spreadsheets on batches of ballots as they were tabulated in November.
The proposal sounds like a card trick where a magician asks an audience member to think of a card and then pulls it from the deck. But there's no sleight of hand involved, they say.
Instead, they say their expertise in elections and data — as well as programming know-how — enables them to conduct an audit substantially faster and cheaper than what the Cyber Ninjas company hired by the Senate is doing with spinning table-tops and a hand count staffed by volunteers.
Those making the offer are Larry Moore, the founder of Boston-based Clear Ballot Group, Pima County Republican Benny White, and the retired Clear Ballot Chief Technology Officer Tim Halvorsen.
About three weeks ago, the men received election data from Maricopa County through a public records request. Key to that was compiling more than 10,000 data files into a "cast vote record," which essentially is a large spreadsheet that lists every ballot, the candidates selected on that ballot and when and where the ballot was counted.
"That is why the Ninjas haven't gotten this done yet," Moore said Tuesday from the East Coast. "They don't know how to do it."
The massive spreadsheet with nearly 2.1 million rows of data representing each ballot they compiled also contains information about when the ballots were tabulated and to which batch they were archived.
"The first couple columns of the cast vote record have a unique serial number with enough data in it to link back to the physical box," Moore said. "And so given a label that is printed on the box, we can reverse engineer the contents of that box."
Moore said it would take about five minutes for the team to produce a report detailing the vote tallies for the 800 to 1,000 ballots inside any unopened box of ballots. The Cyber Ninjas could then conduct a hand count of the ballots in the box — as they have done with ballots at the coliseum — and the two numbers could be compared and any discrepancies identified.
"It's time to tell the Ninjas to put up or shut up," Moore said.
The system could then compare vote tallies on boxes the Cyber Ninjas already have counted to verify their accuracy, he said.
"That would be revealing," Moore said.
Their proposal is separate from yet another proposal for a California company to analyze digital images of 2.1 million ballots.
Analysis: GOP voters key to Trump loss
The group already has run an analysis on the data they've compiled on the election, and say that the key to Donald Trump's loss in Arizona were Republican voters who supported the party in non-presidential races.
They identified tens of thousands of ballots where a voter selected eight or more Republicans yet didn't vote for Trump.
"We never needed to open those boxes," White said.
And they said their analysis already has dispelled the conspiracy theory that 30,000 or 40,000 fraudulent votes or ballots were added into Maricopa's system, because if that happened those would show up in the count they have conducted. And there are no such fraudulent ballots, they said.
White said this was "easily" discounted because he compared the number of ballots cast with the number of voters the county credits with having voted in the election.
White said in fact he only found 46 voters for which he could not find a voter registration, but he suspects those are law enforcement officers, judges or others who have their records sealed from the public for safety reasons.
Now, they want to use the data they collected to dispel any notion that the election was compromised.
"We can locate any batch in any box, or any group of batches in any box, and tell you exactly how many votes were for every candidate in every race in each of those batches," said White, a long-time Republican data analyst in southern Arizona who lost a bid in November to become Pima County Recorder.
White began looking at precinct-level data from his own race to understand how he lost, and realized he could do the same for Maricopa County with the public election data. He then requested the data from the county and got in touch with Moore, who is retired from Clear Ballot, to help compile the data. Moore then turned to his former chief technology officer to help out.
White said Fann should allow them to demonstrate their ability to audit the ballots. All she has to do is identify a box of unopened ballots for them. They don't need to handle the box or the ballots.
"If she wants to show the public the results she gets out of this hand count are reliable and should be given any credibility, I would think she would comply," White said.
Who are the people making the pitch?
White spent eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1960s and 70s, where he served as a pilot, before moving to the private sector.
After retiring from Delta Air Lines as a pilot in 2005, he earned a law degree and dove into election work, serving on a committee at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office to revise the official state Election Procedures Manual, and with the Pima County Republican Party.
He became familiar with Moore, who launched an election audit company called Clear Ballot Group in 2009. The company, now based in Boston, is the fourth-largest vote-tabulation company in the nation and its machines are certified to run elections in multiple states.
It's the only major voting system in the country with software that can recount ballots used by other companies, such as Dominion Voting Systems Corp, whose machines were used in Arizona and which has been accused, with zero evidence, by Trump supporters of compromising the 2020 election.
Clear Ballot has conducted nearly 200 election audits, including for four states after the 2020 general election, according to the company.
Fann had the chance to hire Clear Ballot, as the company submitted a proposal to scan and recount Maricopa County ballots for $415,000. The current proposal is different because it doesn't involve scanning the ballots.
Fann, who is out of state, said via email Tuesday she had not seen the letter and couldn't comment. After The Arizona Republic sent it to her, she did not respond. Ken Bennett, who is serving as a liaison to the audit, said the proposal was discussed at length by those working at the coliseum.
"We are considering that but I think it’s important enough that it warrants, frankly, a face- to-face meeting with President Fann when she gets back," Bennett said.
Other people in the state who are paying attention to the Senate's contractors as they hand-count ballots would like to see the demonstration, if for nothing else than the spectacle of being able to count ballots without opening a box.
"This definitely is very interesting, especially the showmanship of the letter," said Amy B. Chan, a Republican and chairwoman of the Citizens Clean Election Commission. Chan previously worked as a policy advisor to Senate Republicans and was appointed by Bennett, a Republican, in 2009 to serve as the state Election Director.
"It has all the makings of some sort of a movie," she said. "It would be fascinating. I have to believe in what Benny is saying and what he is working on."
Chan said she has known White for years from working on elections and that he is credible and a talented election expert.
"He is somebody who was always on the Republican side," she said.
She's not alone in her endorsement of White and his knowledge of elections. The Green Valley News endorsed him for the Pima County Recorder's job, though White lost the election.
“Clearly, White is highly qualified for the job,” wrote Dan Shearer, the editor at the southern Arizona newspaper. “He has 12 years of experience in all aspects of elections: buying and testing equipment, counting ballots, monitoring all processes involving mailed ballots; auditing elections. He has worked for years with the Secretary of State’s office on the Elections Procedures Manual used statewide.”
Chan said she also met Moore when she was at the Secretary of State's Office when his company conducted a demonstration of Clear Ballot's scanning technology, she said.
'Every time ... we get the same results'
If White, Moore and Halvorsen are going to get their shot at showing off their capabilities to recount ballots without opening boxes, Fann will need to make a decision quickly.
On Tuesday, audit officials said they only have a few days of counting remaining before they are done, which would mean they have opened all the boxes.
White and Moore said that they want to demonstrate their abilities on a box of ballots that was not opened at the coliseum, as the counters may have mixed up ballots from the different batches inside.
White said they can do the demonstration on a box of ballots the Cyber Ninjas already have opened and counted, but only if the Cyber Ninjas kept a record of the count from each batch within the box.
"I'm not sure that is the case," he said.
But they are confident their count is accurate, as are the official November election results from Maricopa County.
"Every time we run these queries, we get the same results," White said.
Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.