'Nobody stole Maricopa County's election': Arizona officials rip audit ahead of report

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'I'm embarrassed listening to my party concoct the most outlandish theories (Chinese ballots!) to avoid accepting the reality: We lost the top two races in Arizona,' Republican official Stephen Richer wrote.

Two top election officials in Arizona each released prebuttal statements addressing the GOP-led "audit" of election results in the state's largest county days before a final report on the effort is expected to be released. Both criticized it as a partisan effort riddled with conflicts and errors.

Both Arizona's Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, separately issued documents on Thursday seeking to get ahead of the expected report from Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired by Arizona's Republican Senate president, Karen Fann, to conduct the audit, which is led by a Trump supporter who promoted conspiracy theories about the election results. According to the Arizona Republic, Cyber Ninjas' report could come as early as Monday.

The report, issued from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office accuses Fann, who oversaw the audit for the Senate, of "embracing … conspiracy theories" and hiring a firm with no election experience to run the review, preemptively dismissing whatever report the company, Cyber Ninjas, releases as "invalid and unreliable for a number of reasons."

"Despite frequent references to this review as an audit, the exercise undertaken by the Arizona Senate's Florida-based contractor, Cyber Ninjas, fails to meet industry standards for any credible audit, much less for an election audit," the report reads. "The Senate's contractors demonstrated a lack of understanding of election processes and procedures both at a state and county level. This exercise is more accurately described as a partisan review of the 2020 General Election ballots in Maricopa County."

Meanwhile, Richer wrote a heavily annotated open letter to Arizona Republicans excoriating the entire audit effort and defending his county's handling of the election, saying, "Nobody stole Maricopa County's election," and, "Elections in Maricopa County aren't rigged."

"I'm embarrassed listening to my party concoct the most outlandish theories (Chinese ballots!) to avoid accepting the reality: We lost the top two races in Arizona," Richer wrote, explaining that he campaigned for Republicans in the state, including former President Donald Trump and former Sen. Martha McSally, who lost reelection in 2020 to Mark Kelly (D-AZ).

He blamed Trump's loss in 2020 on "disaffected Republican voters," a conclusion he drew based on a report from three elections experts — Benny White, Larry Moore, and Tim Halvorsen — which Richer said found "59,800 voters in Maricopa County cast a ballot for a majority of the Republicans on the ballot, but did not vote for Trump."

The secretary of state laid out all of the problems that observers documented from Cyber Ninjas' practices, including that "no security presence preventing entrance into the venue or access to the areas where ballots were being stored on the first day of the review," and that observers witnesses auditors using blue and black pens, which are "prohibited because this ink can be read by ballot tabulators and used to alter ballots."

"As a result, there is no way to confirm if the original ballots that were being reviewed were altered or destroyed," Hobbs said.

Richer had even more choice words for Cyber Ninjas, calling it a "biased, inexperienced, incompetent, conspiracy-theory-driven, unscrupulous, partisan" firm.

Richer wrote:

Some argue that Cyber Ninjas' inexperience doesn't matter because this is a completely new type of audit. I won't dispute the novelty of this audit. It is the first audit to look for secret watermarks and bamboo fibers in ballots. But using this as an excuse would be like handing over a novel heart surgery to an auto mechanic instead of to a heart surgeon who has successfully performed other types of heart surgeries.

The audit has been plagued by problems from the start.

Some GOP lawmakers who initially supported the effort have since turned against it, calling it embarrassing and saying it makes Republicans look like "idiots."

Public opinion is against the audit. A Republican poll from May found that a majority of voters in the state disapprove of it, and some GOP operatives have said they fear the effort could spell "trouble for Republicans" in the 2022 midterm elections.

What's more, the audit looks like it will cost the Arizona Senate millions, as the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is seeking more than $2.8 million in damages to voting equipment that now must be replaced. Fann had signed a legal document saying that the Senate would cover any costs Maricopa County incurred from the endeavor.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.