Hand count in Arizona (again) affirms Biden won 2020 election, draft version of audit report says

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PHOENIX — A monthslong hand recount of the count in Arizona's largest county once again confirmed President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and the race was not “stolen” from former President Donald Trump, according to early versions of a report prepared for the Arizona Senate.

The three-volume report by the Cyber Ninjas, the Senate’s lead contractor, that examined Maricopa County’s 2020 vote includes results that show Trump lost by a wider margin than the county’s official election results. The data in the report also confirms that U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly won in the county.

The official results are set to be presented to the state Senate at 1 p.m. Friday. Several versions of the draft report, titled “Maricopa County Forensic Audit” by Cyber Ninjas, circulated prematurely on Wednesday and Thursday. Multiple versions were obtained by The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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The Cyber Ninjas and their subcontractors were paid millions to research and write the report by nonprofits set up by prominent figures in the “Stop the Steal” movement and allies of Donald Trump, but Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said that would not influence their work.

The draft reports reviewed by The Republic minimize the ballot counts and election results and instead focus on issues that raise questions about the election process and voter integrity.

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Election analysts say those findings are misleading and built on faulty data.

The draft report shows there was less than a 1,000-vote difference between the county's certified ballot count and the Cyber Ninjas' hand count.

The hand count shows Trump received 45,469 fewer votes than Biden. The county results showed he lost by 45,109.

The draft audit report says, however, the election results are inconclusive.

Maricopa County Board Chairman Jack Sellers said the overall results in the draft report confirm “the tabulation equipment counted the ballots as they were designed to do, and the results reflect the will of the voters.”

“That should be the end of the story,” he said. “Everything else is just noise.”

The draft report comes in three parts adding up to about 110 pages. It includes recommended changes to state elections law and suggestions for how the county should correct certain election processes, including how to keep voter information updated, ballot handling and voting machine security.

It recommends that a few concerns be investigated by the Arizona attorney general.

Tom Liddy, a deputy Maricopa County attorney, on Thursday, provided The Republic with a copy of a document the county received.

Liddy said he could not verify that the document he had was an official Cyber Ninjas document because the county did not get it from the Senate. He declined to say who provided it to the county but said that someone dropped it off Wednesday at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Benny White, a prominent Pima County elections consultant, also provided a line-by-line analysis of a draft report he received. It had no connection with the county.

The presidential and U.S. Senate results in the document provided to the county match with White’s copy. He did not provide The Republic with the copy he had, but he verbally confirmed that the results are the same.

The presidential and Senate results from the recount were found in the third volume of the draft. The first volume, the executive summary, focuses on pointing out concerns Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors have with the county’s election, raising questions about whether there was election fraud and further casting doubt on the integrity of the process.

After they lost a court battle and had to hand over election materials to the Senate earlier this year, county officials did not participate in the audit and did not answer most of the questions the Senate’s contractors had about the county’s election processes. The contractors had no prior election experience, other than their involvement with the "Stop the Steal" movement.

Election consultants from across the country warned before the release of the results to be skeptical of the findings because they say the methods were sloppy, insecure, lacked bipartisan oversight and were unlikely to produce accurate results.

Those who obtained copies of the draft report were already dissecting it.

White said the Senate is raising bogus concerns in a way that will shift focus from the fact that the audit found Trump lost the election by numbers that closely matched the county’s.

“I’m outraged at what the Senate has done, what it is doing here,” he said Thursday. “They have not involved any election officials in this audit. They have not involved any county officials."

White is part of a three-man team dubbed “The Audit Guys,” who have analyzed election and voting processes nationwide. He said that his team is preparing a rebuttal to the report that will demonstrate section by section how the Cyber Ninjas got it wrong.

“The Ninjas don’t understand Arizona’s voting laws,” he said. “They don’t understand the structure of voting systems.”

He called out the draft report's failure to provide specific breakdowns of the count in the report, including key voting elements such as boxes, batches and precinct information that would allow experts to burrow into the data.

“We’ve demonstrated in the past that if they produce those counts, we are going to destroy those reports,” he said. “They have wasted $6-$7 million and months of people’s time on something that is just not credible.”

One of the most significant problems is the Cyber Ninjas’ reliance on a commercial database to verify voters. White said. He called the methodology sloppy and said experts who do this for a living instead would use data directly from the County Recorder’s Office, not data from a third party.

White disputes Senate President Karen Fann’s claim that she launched the audit to improve election integrity. He said the draft report went out of its way to ensure findings would raise doubts about the process when the counts didn’t show fraud.

“It was a conspiracy to keep Donald Trump in power by extraconstitutional means,” he said.

Sellers said he suspects the supervisors will be "accused once again of not cooperating, failing to fill holes in the knowledge of the Senate’s chosen contractor."

"How could we cooperate with an inquiry that was led by people who have no idea how to run any election, let alone one in the second-largest voting district in the United States?" he said. "The Board approved the election plan, we hired and supported our election experts, and they produced a well-run and accurate election in accordance with Arizona law."

Follow Jen Fifield and Robert Anglen on Twitter @JenAFifield and @robertanglen.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona audit report confirms Biden defeated Trump in 2020 election