During the proceedings, Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann, along with state Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, gave the floor to auditors who announced that as many as 74,000 absentee ballot mail-in records are missing in addition to a great many vote irregularities found by the audit.
Fann began the hearing by introducing three individuals who played key roles in the state audit. Lead auditor Doug Logan first introduced a video clip that detailed the process and emphasized the security measures that were taken to ensure the audit could proceed safely.
Former Arizona Secretary of State and Arizona Senate liaison Ken Bennett then provided specifics of the audit, including how many ballots were received and examined, how data was collected and examined from voting equipment and which security protocols were enforced while the audit took place.
The liaison noted that the examination of duplicate ballots was a particularly strenuous process. Duplicate ballots are typically produced when a ballot becomes damaged or is improperly marked.
“It has created great difficulty to try to match up a duplicated ballot to its duplicate,” Bennett said, noting that some serial numbers were completely missing from duplicated ballots, while some were printed on the top right side where “black square alignment marks” were present, making it difficult to read and match the numbers.
Finally, digital security expert Ben Cotton was called upon to walk through the process of the forensic examination of devices used in the Maricopa County election. Cotton, in keeping with the other testimonies given during the hearing, underscored that drastic security measures were taken to ensure the integrity of all machines inspected.
“We have exactly a bit-for-bit image of these systems as we received them. We did not modify, we did not change any chips, we did not access anything other than the hard drives … If there were any changes to equipment, those would have had to occur within the custody of the board of supervisors.”
The security expert noted that the forensic examination looked into any possible internet connections on devices, unauthorized entries to the system or malware, as well as conducting live memory analysis of the machines.
Cotton additionally told the Senate members that auditors found over 37,000 queries on one day for a blank password on a system that only contained eight accounts. He also explained that it looked as though several people may have accessed the machines and conducted different processes under the same account, making it extremely difficult to determine chain of custody information.
“Accountability is out the window, from an individual aspect,” Cotton said.
There were a number of additional inconsistencies reportedly found by the audit, including ink bleeds in incorrect places, ballots that were incorrectly marked/placed and form number inconsistencies found on ballots.
In addition, auditors said that 11,326 people that did not show up in Nov. 7 voter rolls appeared on Dec. 4 voter rolls. Another 3,981 shown to have voted only registered after Oct. 15, according to statements provided during the hearing.
The 2021 Maricopa County presidential ballot audit began shortly following the election, driven largely by former President Donald Trump’s assertions of “election fraud” in several swing states across the nation.
After looking into the matter, Arizona Senate Republicans decided there was sufficient concern over the integrity of Maricopa County’s 2020 election for them to begin an investigation into the election results.
The Republican state senators then began a long battle with officials on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors before a judge eventually ruled the audit could take place. Bennett spoke to this difficulty during his testimony, stating that the county had refused to provide certain materials outlined in a subpoena issued by the state Senate.
Ever since that ruling, the Maricopa County audit has been an incredibly contentious partisan issue. Republicans feel that double-checking the election results can only produce a good outcome. In their view, there are two possible solutions.
One, discrepancies will be found (and corrected), or two, the initial results will be confirmed, strengthening the public’s trust in the election process — trust which has greatly waned following the 2020 election.
Conversely, many Democrats have denounced the audit.
Furthermore, as of Wednesday, two top House Democrats launched an investigation into Florida-based cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas, one of the private companies hired by Arizona Republicans to help conduct the audit, according to CNBC.
Democrats conducting the investigation are concerned over Cyber Ninjas’ apparent lack of auditing experience, reports of “sloppy and insecure audit practices” which may have “compromised the integrity of ballots,” and evidence that the company may have a vested interest in advancing former President Trump’s “stolen election” narrative, CNBC reported.
While admitting that the audit has not gone perfectly, on Tuesday, Fann voiced her confidence in Cyber Ninjas’ competency.
“I’m confident because it’s not just them,” she said. “Everybody keeps just counting on them when actually they are working with a number of other contractors that have experience in audits and in their expertise in their own fields … This is a joint effort.”
“Do I think that it’s gone as smoothly as it could have? Heck, no,” she said.
“This is the first time in the history of our nation that anybody has done an audit of this magnitude. And so, quite honestly, we are doing a lot of things, triple-checking, just to make sure that this is all correct.”
It is likely that the audit’s new findings will be contested and examined by this Democrat-led investigation. ✪