'Results were meaningless': Analysts say they cannot validate or replicate Cyber Ninjas' hand count of votes

Robert Anglen
Arizona Republic

Cyber Ninjas' hand count of votes cast in Maricopa County's 2020 election can neither be validated nor replicated, according to analysts who waded through tens of thousands of newly released records.

They say the numbers reported by the Florida-based firm hired by the Senate to lead the partisan audit are wildly inaccurate and stand as proof "the results" were made up.

"They (Cyber Ninjas) were not able to accurately hand count either the number of ballots cast ... or the votes on those ballots," a trio of nationally recognized election experts concluded in a Nov. 15 report. "They spent about $9 million over 7 months, so far, and have proven absolutely nothing."

Cyber Ninjas' claim that its count showed Biden gained 99 votes and Trump lost 261 votes in the recount is without foundation, according to the analysts.

The firm counted damaged ballots, mixed original ballots with duplicates and used untested methods designed to give the hand count — and the audit — unearned credibility, the analysts said. 

Benny White, a Pima County Republican, has done election and voter registration analysis for the Arizona Republican Party.

"It caused them to never actually audit the election results but rather to attempt to create a new result that the public would accept," said Benny White, a prominent Pima County Republican and data analyst. 

"Unfortunately, the procedures they followed and the records they kept and relied on to announce results were so erroneous that nothing they reported could be relied on by the public," he said.

White is part of a three-person team known as The Audit Guys. It also includes Larry Moore, co-founder of the Boston-based Clear Ballot Group, and Tim Halvorsen, Clear Ballot's retired chief technology officer.

"We seriously doubt anyone anticipated that three retired citizens with election, data analysis and legal expertise could hold the Senate auditors to account and demonstrate convincingly that their announced results were meaningless," The Audit Guys wrote.

Their report comes after an exhaustive review of tallies on every vote counted by the Cyber Ninjas. The Senate on Nov. 1 released nearly 80,000 images of tally sheets related to the hand count of all 2.1 million ballots cast in the election.

It followed the Senate's release of two batches of records on the hand count since audit findings were announced Sept. 24.  Rather than cementing the audit's conclusions, the data raised troubling questions about the count's accuracy and methods.

The Audit Guys in October reported the Cyber Ninjas' count was off by about 312,000 and found contractors also double-counted almost 23,000 ballots. 

They said the newest data leaves no doubt the hand count is unreliable.

"We have tried dozens of ways to include and exclude various boxes and batches to arrive at those precise figures and have been unable to replicate their announced results," The Audit Guys wrote.

Cyber Ninjas' CEO Doug Logan on Friday called The Audit Guys' claims "outlandish." He said in an email their information was false and libelous. 

Logan did not respond to questions about the report or identify anything in it that he considered untrue.

From rural Florida to Trump allies' inner circle:Who is the Doug Logan?

The Audit Guys made harsh characterizations of lawmakers involved in the ballot review. Their report accused state legislators who authorized and oversaw the audit of engaging in a conspiracy to overturn the election and keep Donald Trump in office. Senate President Karen Fann, Sen. Warren Petersen and former Sen. Eddie Farnsworth abused their offices, the report said.

Fann, Farnsworth and Petersen did not respond to any questions about the report's findings. 

In an email, Fann denied being part of a conspiracy.

"What I will say from my end relates to the 'accusation' of Senator Farnsworth, Senator Petersen and myself being involved with a 'conspiracy'," she wrote. "That is absolutely incorrect and, quite honestly, crosses the line of slander."

Fann maintains the election review was not an attempt to overturn the 2020 election but a review to ensure the integrity of future elections. However, she hired companies with no experience in election audits and people to run it who espoused election conspiracy theories, including Logan. 

The audit was funded primarily by "Stop the Steal" nonprofits with leaders determined to restore Donald Trump to the White House. 

Democracy in Doubt series:The origins of the Arizona election review

Hand count was key to partisan review

The hand count of ballots was supposed to be the backbone of the Senate's election review, which Fann called the "the most detailed, demanding and uncompromising election audit that has ever been conducted."

But Cyber Ninjas never had to deliver a definitive report on its findings. The contract signed by Fann used soft language and didn't list clear-cut expectations, a review of contract documents shows. It included little to hold Cyber Ninjas accountable for producing inaccurate or incomplete results.   

Beginning in April and continuing in late June, hundreds of volunteers converged daily at Veterans Memorial Coliseum to scan, count and record ballots to recount the races for president and U.S. Senate. 

Ballots were photographed. They were put on color-coded lazy Susan-type tables for counters to spin through reviews. Early in the process, ballots were examined under ultraviolet light to determine if counterfeit ballots with bamboo fibers were introduced into the system. 

Once the hand count ended, Senate Republicans commissioned a machine count of the ballots to check the accuracy of the hand count. Then they commissioned a digital review of signatures on ballot envelopes. 

When contractors for the Arizona Senate laid out their findings in five final reports on Sept. 24, the top line was that the hand count and the machine count essentially matched the county's certified election results. 

President Joe Biden won the election in Maricopa County by 45,000 votes. The counts also confirmed that U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat, won.

Audit Guys: Public records 'dismantled' Cyber Ninjas' findings

The Audit Guys said the new records allowed them to definitively prove the hand count not have resulted in such findings. 

"The Senate auditors ... never anticipated that their entire effort could be dismantled by referring to available public records and without spending a penny," they said.

The Audit Guys said the Cyber Ninjas violated the most fundamental precept of an audit. 

"An audit compares two independently produced results based on the same data," Moore said. "The Ninjas reported on different ballots. Once they figured out how to thwart an audit of their results, the Ninjas could say anything."

The Audit Guys zeroed in on the Cyber Ninjas' decision to set aside data contained in the county's election system. For example, the contractors counted original damaged ballots rather than their duplicate images stored in the voting machines, the Audit Guys said.

Original ballots are problematic. They have defects. Many are folded and go through the mail. Some are in Braille and in large print. Some are printed with different dimensions.  Election experts say these issues need to be remedied before they can be properly counted.

Logan raised alarms over duplicate ballots in his report to the Senate. He said the audit found more duplicate ballots than original ballots. As a result, he elected only to count original ballots.  

The Audit Guys said the Cyber Ninjas blew it.

"The Ninjas had erroneously identified some ballots as duplicates which were originals and vice versa," the analysts found. "This caused both their September 24 announcement and all subsequent comments about ballot counts and vote totals to be incorrect as well."

There was another reason the Cyber Ninjas opted to count originals, The Audit Guys said: Nobody else had access to them, so no one could check the Cyber Ninjas' work.

Hand count result is 'completely illogical,' analysts say

The Audit Guys seized on another claim made by Logan in his Sept. 24 report to the Senate about the number of votes Trump received.

Logan said the hand count found 994 fewer ballots than the county's official results, with Trump getting 261 fewer votes and Biden getting 99 more votes.

"At first that sounds like the Ninja hand count was close to the official results," The Audit Guys wrote. "However, it is completely illogical that Biden would have gained 99 votes when 994 ballots were removed from the count."

Biden had 49.8% of the votes in the election, the report noted: "Statistically, if you remove 994 ballots, you would expect Biden to lose something on the order of 495 votes, not gain 99 votes."

There is no demonstrable basis for these numbers, the Audit Guys concluded.

So, why do it?

"Because it assured that their counts could not be challenged, or so they thought," The Audit Guys wrote. "No one else has access to the original damaged ballots so no one could question whether they got those counts correct or not."

That changed when the Senate released the 80,000 images of tally sheets. 

"They included that information in the database they released on November 1, 2021, and their scheme was uncovered," The Audit Guys wrote.

Allegation: 'Made up their numbers to cover up their errors'

The 80,000 images and the database were supposed to show the Cyber Ninjas were right all along, according to former Arizona GOP Chair and audit spokesman Randy Pullen.

Pullen in October disputed The Audit Guys' analysis, saying it was based on the faulty assumption that the hand count had been finalized. He said the Cyber Ninjas were continuing to work on reconciling the hand count even as initial reports were made public.

The Audit Guys produced two scathing critiques of the audit in October based on a 695-page report authored by Pullen that was supposed to provide a snapshot of five methods contractors used to count ballots.

The first analyzed 40 boxes containing 48,371 ballots. It found the hand count was short by nearly 16,000 ballots, or roughly one-third of the total ballots contained in the boxes.

The finding, however, was limited. It came from a 17-page excerpt of Pullen's complete report, which Pullen provided to the Senate on Sept. 24. His full report had not yet been made public.  

The Senate released it on Oct. 8  in response to a demand by The Arizona Republic under the state's Public Records Law.

The Audit Guys picked up where they left off and concluded the hand count was off by several hundred thousand.

Pullen insisted at the time the 80,000 images of tally sheets would  "debunk the claims" made by The Audit Guys. 

 "Do they have evidence that would prove it?" Pullen said in an email Saturday. "Remember evidence has to be presentable in court."

White answered, yes, they have evidence: "We use their own data to show their errors."

The Audit Guys wrote, "The Cyber Ninjas made up their numbers to cover up their errors. Starting with an attempt to produce a different result, the Cyber Ninjas were forced to compare their numbers to the official results by media attention and our demonstrated ability to audit their results."

The Audit Guys said state legislators aided an effort by Trump loyalists to attack election results without going through the courts, which repeatedly had dismissed claims of fraud as being without merit.

"They were able to convince various Arizona Senators to conduct a legislative investigation which would bypass the statutory election contest restrictions and allow unfettered access to all election materials and equipment."

Fann and Logan used the term "forensic audit" to legitimize the effort, they said.

"They termed it a 'forensic audit' to lend credibility to the activity and cover up the actual objective," The Audit Guys wrote. "They hoped to find evidence of a 'stolen election' but failed to do that and we caught them in the act."

Robert Anglen investigates consumer issues for The Republic. Reach him at robert.anglen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen.