Cyber Ninjas, the firm that reviewed Arizona’s vote, hits bottom

On Thursday, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Phoenix delivered a detailed four-hour livestreamed rebuttal of all the firm’s claims, showing that all, except one involving 50 votes, were either mistaken, misleading or outright false.

That same day, a superior court judge cited the company for contempt after it refused to surrender records of its vote review to The Arizona Republic, which is seeking them under a freedom of information request. He levied a $50,000-a-day fine on the firm until it produces the records.

By week’s end, lawyers said the firm was insolvent and had laid off its employees, including Doug Logan, its CEO and onetime proponent of a baseless theory that the state’s voting machines had been rigged.

The shutdown was confirmed Friday by a spokesperson, Rod Thomson, who said it was unclear whether the company would declare bankruptcy.

That did not impress the judge, John Hannah, who suggested that the shutdown might be designed “to leave the Cyber Ninjas entity as an empty piñata for all of us to swing at.” The official Maricopa County Twitter account seized on the description, declaring that “an empty piñata is a pretty accurate description of the ‘audit’ as a whole.”

But whether the exercise was a complete failure is another matter. Experts say it played a role in accomplishing a more fundamental political goal: fuelling anger over the accuracy and integrity of the 2020 election among former President Donald Trump’s most ardent backers.

The six-month, $5.6 million review of the 2.1 million votes cast in Arizona’s largest county was ordered up last year by the Republican-controlled state Senate after supporters of Trump insisted that his narrow loss in the state was the result of fraud.

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It became something of a national punchline in September after the review concluded that President Joe Biden actually won by a greater margin than official tallies showed.

Still, the review and its supporters insisted that the election was suspect, citing 75 potential irregularities they said the Cyber Ninjas were unable to resolve.

The rebuttal by the five-member Board of Supervisors, four of them Republicans, was striking both for its detail and its bluntness.

A 93-page printed version said that a review of the Cyber Ninjas’ claims of irregularities found only 37 potentially questionable ballots among the 53,304 that had been labelled suspect. Those were referred to the state attorney general, a Republican who has been asked to review the organisation’s claims.

Out of the 75 claims of irregularities, the county said, the only one that could be valid involved 50 ballots that may have been double-counted. That error would not have affected the outcome of any race in the November 2020 election, the county said.

The county supervisors had denounced the Senate’s review for months as partisan theatrics aimed at mollifying the substantial far-right share of the state’s Republican voters. But the board’s chair, Bill Gates, a Republican, went further Thursday, drawing a straight line between tolerance for “extreme misinformation” and political violence like the Jan 6 riot at the US Capitol.

Referring to protesters who stormed the building, Gates said that “many of these people did it because they believed they were saving their country from an election that they had been told had been stolen.”

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“Many people in positions of power, they fed into this, for they simply turned a blind eye,” he added. “They’ve listened to the loud few and told them what they want to hear, and that’s the easy thing to do. But here, we don’t do what’s easy. We do what’s right.”

Right or not, some say, the county’s demolition of the Maricopa County review is unlikely to change much. In the view of some experts, the review’s findings were less important to its supporters than the simple fact that it was being conducted.

“It’s entirely a Republican base motivator,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Phoenix pollster, campaign consultant and onetime transition director for former Gov Jan Brewer, a Republican. Almost all of the state’s Democrats, a solid majority of independents and a fifth of Republicans dismissed the review from the start, he said — but for the remaining Republicans, it has been political catnip.

“These fake reviews were never designed to identify problems,” said David Becker, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research. “They are designed to be part of a long con” that whips up voter outrage for personal and political profit.

Karen Fann, a Republican and the state Senate president, said in a statement Thursday that the goal of the review was “identifying and implementing improvements in our election process,” and that Maricopa County had “finally” admitted it erred.

In Wisconsin, Texas and other states, Republicans have insisted that audits of 2020 election results were needed to restore flagging faith in elections. But Thursday, an ABC News/Ipsos poll concluded that 20% of Americans were “very confident” in the nation’s ability to hold honest elections — and that Republicans, at 13%, had far less faith than either Democrats or independents.

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Paul Boyer, who was virtually alone among Republicans in the state Senate in criticising the election review, laid that at the feet of Trump and other Republicans who have spread bogus claims of voter fraud or remained silent instead of refuting them.

“That may lead to bigger rallies for the former president, but less turnout where it counts — at the ballot box,” he said.

“We’ll do well in 2022,” given dissatisfaction with Biden, he added. “But long term, we’re in deep trouble.”



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