Draft of Arizona GOP’s vote review finds wider Biden win

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FILE – In this May 6, 2021, file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Cyber Ninjas, the inexperienced contractor hired to run a partisan review of the 2020 election on behalf of Republicans in the Arizona Senate, is scheduled to present its findings to top GOP lawmakers on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Election experts say the review, funded almost entirely by supporters of former President Donald Trump who have promoted false claims of fraud, was beset by problems and incompetence. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — A draft report of the election review in Arizona’s largest county by supporters of former President Donald Trump found that President Joe Biden did indeed win the 2020 presidential contest there, an embarrassing end to a bizarre quest to find evidence supporting Trump’s false claim that he lost because of fraud.

The final report was scheduled to be released Friday afternoon, the result of a months-long partisan review funded in part by taxpayers. The draft document began to circulate Thursday night showing the results of the review’s chaotic hand count of all 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix. The tally in the draft document showed a net gain of 360 votes for Biden over the official results.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s office provided the draft to The Associated Press. Republican Senate President Karen Fann said in a text message the document was “a leaked draft from three days ago,” but did not dispute its authenticity. She would not say if the vote tally in the draft had changed over the course of the week, saying she had signed a nondisclosure agreement.

Whatever the final count cited in the report, it has no bearing on the official, certified reports in Maricopa County or Arizona. Two previous election audits conducted by nonpartisan professionals according to industry standards also found that Biden won both.

Still, for many critics, the draft’s tally underscored the dangerous futility of the exercise, which has helped fuel voter skepticism about elections and spawned copycats audits around the country.

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

Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw the Maricopa County election office during the 2020 election, said that political noise is the true purpose of the review.

“They are trying to scare people into doubting the system is actually working,” he said. “That is their motive. They want to destroy public confidence in our systems.”

The draft claims a number of shortcomings in election procedures, suggested the final tally still could not be relied upon, and recommended several changes to state law. But the review previously made a series of false allegations that have since been retracted about how the election was handled in Maricopa County, which is run by a Republican majority on the county commission.

“Unfortunately, the report is also littered with errors & faulty conclusions about how Maricopa County conducted the 2020 General Election,” Maricopa County officials said on Twitter.

Election officials say that’s because the audit team is biased, has no experience in the complex field of election audits, and ignored the detailed vote-counting procedures in Arizona law.

Two of the recommendations in the draft report stood out because they showed its authors misunderstood election procedures — that there should be paper ballot backups and that voting machines should not be connected to the internet. All Arizona ballots are already paper, with machines only used to tabulate the votes and no election equipment is ever connected to the internet.

“Every time Trump and his supporters have been given a forum to prove this case, they have swung and missed,” said Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican election attorney and vocal critic of Trump’s push to overturn the election.

Despite being widely mocked, the Arizona review has become a model that Trump supporters are eagerly pushing to replicate in other swing states where Biden won. Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general sued Thursday to block a GOP-issued subpoena for a wide array of election materials. In Wisconsin, a retired conservative state Supreme Court justice is leading a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 election, and this week threatened to subpoena election officials who don’t comply.

None of these reviews can change Biden’s victory, which was certified by officials in each of the swing states he won and by Congress on Jan. 6 — after Trump’s supporters, fueled by the same false charges that generated the audits, stormed the Capitol to try to prevent certification of his loss.

The election review was run by Doug Logan, the CEO of a cybersecurity firm called Cyber Ninjas, which has never conducted an election audit before. Logan previously worked with attorneys and Trump supporters trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and appeared in a film questioning the results of the contest while the review was ongoing.

Logan and others were scheduled to make their presentations to two Arizona senators Friday afternoon. The team includes Shiva Ayyadurai, who has developed a loyal following for promoting COVID-19 misinformation on social media and will discuss his review of signatures on mail ballots.

The review has a history of exploring outlandish conspiracy theories, dedicating time to checking for bamboo fibers on ballots to see if they were secretly shipped in from Asia. It’s also served as a content-generation machine for Trump’s effort to continue to sow skepticism about his loss, pumping out misleading and out-of-context information that the former president has continued to circulate long after it’s been debunked.

In July, for example, Logan laid out a series of claims stemming from his misunderstanding of the election data he was analyzing, including that 74,000 mail ballots were recorded as received but not sent. Trump repeatedly amplified the claims. But they had innocuous explanations.

The Senate agreed to spend $150,000 on the audit, plus security and facility costs. That pales in comparison to the nearly $5.7 million contributed as of late July by Trump allies.

Maricopa County’s official vote count was conducted in front of bipartisan observers, as were legally required audits meant to ensure voting machines work properly. A partial hand count spot check found a perfect match.

Two extra post-election reviews by federally certified election experts also found no evidence that voting machines switched votes or were connected to the internet. The Board of Supervisors commissioned the extraordinary reviews in an effort to prove to Trump backers that there were no problems, but Fann and others backing her partisan review was not convinced.

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