Results of the Arizona election audit are expected soon. Here are 5 things to know

The audit of the Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election continues on July 14, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix.
Jen Fifield
Arizona Republic

The results from the months-long partisan review of Maricopa County's results are set to be released Friday, nearly a year after the 2020 election.

Cyber Ninjas and the other contractors who ran the audit for Republican leaders of the Arizona Senate will present their findings at 1 p.m. Friday.

President Joe Biden won Arizona's most populous county and the state, but the reports to be made public on Friday are expected to sow doubts about the Nov. 3 election results, as audit leaders did when releasing initial findings in July.

Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen ordered the sweeping review.

The contractors recounted the 2.1 million ballots cast in the presidential and U.S. Senate races, and examined each ballot. They also examined all ballot tabulating machines and reviewed signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes. 

The methods were sloppy, insecure, lacked bipartisan oversight and were unlikely to produce accurate results, according to nonpartisan election and auditing experts who watched the audit unfold from April to July, both inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix and from afar. 

David Becker of Center for Election Innovation and Research, a national elections consulting nonprofit, urged skepticism of the results, because he believes they were "fully baked from the beginning."

The companies running the audit had no prior election experience, other than their involvement with the "Stop the Steal" movement, and were paid millions to do the work by nonprofits set up by prominent figures in that movement and allies of Donald Trump. Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, worked closely with these Trump allies for months after the election and before the audit began. He and others who know him say that will not influence the results. 

Logan has said his processes were sound and his methods were transparent. It took court cases, though, for the Senate to release audit procedures and communications, and to allow Secretary of State representatives and journalists to observe.

The audit stretched far past its expected end date in mid-May, allowing the Republican Party and GOP candidates and elected officials here and across the country ample time to fundraise off the activity. The results have been delayed, and the scope of the audit has widened over the past few months. 

Here's what to expect as the results come out.

Livestreamed presentation, no rebuttal

The presentation will take place at the Senate building in Phoenix, which is open to the public starting at 12:30 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.

Four reports are expected to be presented on Friday by contractors and Senate representatives.

  • Logan, of Cyber Ninjas, will present results on the hand count and examination of ballots.
  • Audit spokesperson Randy Pullen will present results from a separate machine count of ballots.
  • Conspiracy theorist Shiva Ayyadurai will present results from a review of envelope signatures.
  • Senate liaison Ken Bennett will report his observations on whether election law was followed.

The full Senate is invited to attend, but only Fann and Petersen will be allowed to ask questions. There will be no opportunity for public comment.

The Senate did not send Maricopa County's leaders and election staff any of the findings in advance and county officials have not been asked to respond as part of the presentation. 

Arizona election audit updates: Read the latest news here 

Review of presidential race

The key takeaway will be whether the hand recount confirms that Biden won the election in Maricopa County — and whether the people who spent months counting ballots as they rotated on lazy Susan turntables counted the same number of ballots as the county's machines.

Biden's victory in Maricopa County was narrow, winning by 45,109 votes out of 2,089,563 ballots cast.

Cyber Ninjas attorney Bryan Blehm (right) and audit spokesperson Randy Pullen talk on July 14, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix.

A hand count sample that political party representatives conducted for the county shortly after the election showed that machines counted votes accurately. An independent examination of voting machines commissioned by the county in February showed the same thing.

Logan already has raised questions about the county's results, including by falsely stating at a July meeting with Fann and Petersen that more early ballots were returned than were sent out to voters. The county has said Logan was looking at the wrong numbers.

He also questioned whether Sharpie markers on ballots affected how machines counted votes, even though such concerns were raised and dismissed within days of the election.

The contractors used unconventional methods to examine ballots in response to conspiracy theories claiming fraudulent ballots. They waved UV lights over ballots and examined the ovals to try to decipher whether they were filled in by humans or machines.

Once the hand recount was done, the Senate purchased counting machines to complete its own machine count of ballots.

Audit spokesperson Pullen will present findings from that effort. This was announced by Fann in July as a separate count, but it was led by a Cyber Ninjas attorney.

Questions about votes cast and voters

Senate liaison Bennett has said that the contractors would review voter data and voter history.

The Senate has said that this would not involve door-to-door canvassing to ask people questions about how they voted. Bennett said that instead, contractors would be doing "spot checks" on voter information. He has not said which company or group would lead that effort.

A group led by activist Liz Harris has been canvassing since December, but the Senate has said that is not part of the audit.

Questions about voting machines

The contractors also were examining whether voting machines were connected to the internet or tampered with during the election. An independent audit ordered by Maricopa County found they were not. The county does not use the internet to transfer election results.

Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science and engineering professor who specializes in election security, said that just because there are vulnerabilities to voting machines does not mean that they were successfully exploited in the 2020 election. For example, a voting machine may have the capability to be connected to the internet, but that doesn't mean it happened.

Logan and Ben Cotton of Virginia-based CyFir were involved in a review of voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan. The final report contained several inaccuracies about the election system that were used to claim the machines had a 68% error rate.  An associated lawsuit was later dismissed and the report's claims were further debunked by Halderman, along with a Republican-led committee of state lawmakers. 

Envelopes, election law and more

Ayyadurai, an election conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccine activist known as Dr. Shiva, is reviewing voter signatures on ballot envelopes and is expected to present.

The contractors claimed in a July hearing that the county reduced its requirements for reviewing signatures. Audit spokespeople also have claimed that ballots were processed from envelopes with blank signatures. The county has refuted these claims.

Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state, may explain any ways that he found the county violated state election law or procedures. For example, contractors have said the county did not correctly mark ballots that were duplicated or spoiled.

It's unclear whether the Senate's review of the county's routers will be part of the presentation. The county and Senate reached an agreement on that review last week, and it was expected to take 30 days.

Reach the reporter at jen.fifield@azcentral.com or at 602-444-8763. Follow her on Twitter @JenAFifield