Arizona Republican ‘audit’ finds even bigger lead for Biden in 2020 election

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<span>Photograph: Cheney Orr/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Cheney Orr/Reuters

A partisan, Republican-instigated review of the 2020 election result in Arizona failed to turn up any evidence of widespread fraud, a major blow to Donald Trump and other conspiracy theorists who celebrated the effort.

The investigation, which lasted several months, confirmed that Joe Biden did indeed beat Trump in Maricopa county, the state’s most populous county, Doug Logan, who led the review, told the Arizona senate on Friday. In fact, a hand recount found 99 additional votes forBiden and 261 fewer votes for Trump.

Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based firm leading the review, said in a presentation Friday afternoon to the Arizona senate that the discrepancies were “small”.

“The ballots that were provided to us in the coliseum very accurately correlate with the official canvas numbers that came through,” he said.

Despite that finding, Logan, who has spread election conspiracy theories, outlined what he claimed were anomalies in the count. Several of them were immediately debunked by Maricopa county officials, who fact-checked his presentation.

Shiva Ayyadurai, a failed US senate candidate who has espoused election conspiracy theories, gave another presentation filled with misrepresentations about the county’s process for verifying signatures.

Biden defeated Trump by about 10,000 votes in Arizona and by about 45,000 votes in Maricopa county. Biden won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes on his way to getting more votes nationally than any presidential candidate in history.

Related: Cyber Ninjas, UV lights and far-right funding: inside the strange Arizona 2020 election ‘audit’

Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed that he won the election and was a victim of fraud, despite evidence to the contrary. State Republicans in Arizona seized upon these lies to demand an audit of the vote in Maricopa county. Cyber Ninjas, a company with no experience of election audits, wrote the report, entitled Maricopa County Forensic Audit.

The review was the most extensive partisan effort to date to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election and has been widely celebrated by Trump and allies who falsely believe the election is stolen.

Even though the review was sanctioned by the GOP-controlled Arizona senate, it was funded by $5.7m in outside money, much of which came from conspiracy theorists, including $3.2m from Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com and an additional $1m from a nonprofit founded by Michael Flynn.

Election experts have widely panned the review, which they say was rooted in shoddy practice around a pre-determined effort to show there was fraud. Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican election lawyer, told reporters on Thursday that Trump allies were “desperate for a win”. In Maricopa county, he said, they had unprecedented access to look under the hood of an election. If they were not able to prove fraud there, they were unlikely to prove it anywhere else.

Republican efforts to conduct similar reviews are under way. Republicans in both the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania legislatures are moving forward with similar investigations into the 2020 race. And on Thursday, Trump called for a review of the 2020 race in Texas, a state he carried in 2020 by nearly six points. Texas officials said on Thursday they were beginning such a review in four of the state’s largest counties – three of which voted for Biden last fall.

Experts worry that the reviews suggest a new normal, where the losers of elections simply refuse to accept the results.

“This means the tabulation equipment counted the ballots as they were designed to do, and the results reflect the will of the voters,” said board chairman Jack Sellers, a Republican. “That should be the end of the story. Everything else is just noise.”

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Earlier this year, Maricopa county hired two firms to audit its elections equipment and software, with these reviews finding no problems with the systems reviewed. This wasn’t enough for the state senate, controlled by Republicans, however, which hired Cyber Ninjas for the controversial review, which observers say lacks the safeguards of a normal audit and should not be labeled one.

The recounting process was dogged with allegations of mishandled ballots and cybersecurity concerns, with workers at one point using UV lights to check for bamboo fibers in ballots, part of a conspiracy theory that China had somehow planted votes into Arizona’s election.

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