After a contractor hired by state Senate Republicans to look into the results of the 2020 Arizona election provided an update on its findings at a legislative hearing on July 15, former President Donald Trump issued a series of false and misleading statements about what it has uncovered.
According to Trump, the firm has uncovered a “massive number of voter irregularities and fraud” in what he called a “corrupted election” in Maricopa County, the fourth most populous county in the country.
“Arizona shows Fraud and Voting Irregularities many times more than would be needed to change the outcome of the Election,” wrote Trump, who is scheduled to attend the “Rally To Protect Our Elections” in Phoenix on July 24. But the company didn’t present evidence of such widespread fraud.
According to an investigation by the Associated Press, county election officials in Arizona have identified just 182 cases of potential voter fraud, and only four have led to charges so far. That’s far fewer than the 10,457-vote margin by which Democrat Joe Biden narrowly beat Trump in the state. The result has been confirmed by a hand recount in several counties, including Maricopa. Maricopa County also passed an independent forensic audit of ballot tabulation equipment used in the 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s claims followed the July 15 Arizona Senate hearing, during which a representative of Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired by the Republican-controlled state Senate to review the 2020 election, argued that county officials have not provided all of the information necessary to complete its review, and lobbied for door-to-door canvassing of some voters to ask them about their participation in the election.
Maricopa County officials have pushed back on Twitter, rebutting many of the issues raised by Cyber Ninjas point by point. The county says the firm has a “lack of election knowledge & a wealth of political bias” and that many of its claims are “not based in fact.”
Jack Sellers, a Republican who chairs the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, released a statement accusing the firm of “incompetence” and saying county officials have “given you everything qualified auditors would need to do this job.”
Sellers said that “uncertified contractors” at the Senate hearing “asked a lot of open-ended questions, portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections. In some cases, they dropped bombshell numbers that are simply not accurate.” Cyber Ninjas isn’t accredited by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Its CEO has also pushed election fraud claims on social media.
Here, we will address a number of false, misleading and questionable claims made by Trump and Cyber Ninjas’ chief executive.
Trump falsely claimed in a July 16 statement that the Arizona Senate hearing “showed 168,000 fraudulent ballots printed on illegal paper (unofficial ballots).” It showed nothing of the sort.
Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan didn’t say that in the hearing. Instead, he claimed he needed to conduct “additional analysis” to determine whether there were issues with ink bleeding through to the other side of ballots and “when or if this did impact votes.” He claimed there could be a problem and said he would “expect that with Sharpies the bleed-through would be greater.”
Maricopa County disputes this speculation that bleed-throughs could have caused a problem. “Ballots are designed so bleed-through does not impact vote. Accuracy is verified through post-election tests,” the county tweeted, adding that “#SharpieGate was thoroughly debunked.”
— Maricopa County (@maricopacounty) July 18, 2021
The county further said: “If bleed through happens, it does not cause an over-vote. Elex officials program certified tabulation equipment & design ballots w/ offset columns to ensure these ballots are counted accurately.”
“This accuracy is verified through logic and accuracy tests, hand counts performed by the political parties, and post-election audits performed by EAC [Election Assistance Commission] certified voting testing laboratories,” the county tweeted on July 15.
Logan’s claims about bleed-through issues, particularly with Sharpies, are similar to false claims spread through social media the day after the election that votes for Trump in Arizona weren’t counted because Sharpie pens were used on ballots. The claim appeared to originate with a viral video taken outside of a Maricopa County polling place on Election Day.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs debunked the claims at the time, saying “your ballot will be counted, no matter what kind of pen you used (even a Sharpie)!” In fact, the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office said polling places would use fine tip Sharpies “as they have the fastest drying ink, therefore preventing smudges when put through the Vote Center tabulation equipment. This is one of the upgrades of our new equipment and new ballots.”
As for potential bleed-though issues, the Maricopa County Elections Department tweeted on Election Day: “New offset columns on the ballots means bleed through won’t impact your vote!” And Hobbs told CNN that “even if the machines can’t read them for some reason, a marker bled through to the other side, we have ways to count them. They’re going to be counted.”
When we looked into the claims last year, Kay Stimson, a spokeswoman for Dominion Voting Systems — which is the system Maricopa County used — said the ballots prevent one side from bleeding through and darkening a selection on the other side.
Maricopa County tweeted on July 19 that it “used 80lb Vote Secure paper for all mail-in and in-person voting ballots.” Logan claimed that “we are seeing a lot of very thin paper stock being utilized, especially on Election Day,” saying there were “roughly 168,000” Election Day ballots, which had “large offsets.”
“If there was an offset that was in the right direction, the right way, and there was bleed-through, it could definitely impact the ballot,” Logan said, again, not saying he knew of any voting problems but that he would “need more analysis.”
A field audit was already conducted in February of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment by the firm Pro V&V Inc., which is accredited by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The firm conducted an accuracy test using 1.5 million ballots to ensure the tabulation system “correctly captures, stores, consolidates, and reports the specific ballot selections, and absence of selections, for each ballot position.” There were two ballots that jammed during the test, but the vote count was accurate, the firm’s report said.
Sellers, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairman, said in a Feb. 23 press release on the result of that audit, as well as a forensic audit conducted by another firm: “We are releasing the results of those audits today so that the public can see what we see and know what we know: no hacking or vote switching occurred in the 2020 election.”
No ‘Magically Appearing Ballots’
Trump wrongly claimed that in Maricopa County there were “74,000 mail in ballots received that were never mailed (magically appearing ballots).”
Maricopa County election officials and elections experts say the president’s claim is false, and is based on the Cyber Ninjas’ misunderstanding of the county’s election process for early voters.
Trump’s claim was based on comments Logan made about 74,243 mail-in ballots for which he said there was “no clear record of them being sent.”
Tammy Patrick, a former federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department for 11 years, told us Logan is looking at early voter lists provided to political parties in the weeks before the election to assist their get-out-the-vote efforts. They are not meant to be — and are not — a full accounting of early voters.
At the hearing, Logan called for a door-to-door canvassing of some voters “because it’s the one way to know for sure whether some of the data we’re seeing if it’s real problems or whether it’s clerical errors of some sort.”
“We have 74,243 mail-in ballots, where there is no clear record of them being sent,” Logan said. “And just to be clear, here in the state of Arizona there’s EV32s and EV33s. EV32 is supposed to give a record of when a mail-in ballot is sent and an EV33 is supposed to give a record of when the mail-in ballot is received. And so there should be more EV32s, more sent out, than there are that are received.”
According to Logan, “We have 74,000 where we have them came back from individuals where we don’t have a clear indication that they were ever sent out to them. That could be something where documentation wasn’t done right, there was a clerical issue, there’s not proper things there, but I think when we’ve got 74,000 it merits knocking on a door and validating some of this information.”
Patrick, who is now a senior adviser to the elections program at Democracy Fund, said “this is no clerical error or fraud,” but rather a “mistake made by someone who simply doesn’t understand what they’re looking at.”
“Because of their predisposition, anything they don’t see or understand, they use to further this narrative that there was something wrong with this election,” Patrick said.
“The first thing to understand is that Arizona calls all voting before Election Day Early Voting—no matter if the ballot is mailed out to a voter or voted in person at an Early Voting location,” Patrick told us.
As the county explained via Twitter, “The people who vote in-person use ballots provided at a Vote Center. This is not a new practice, so it’s not unusual that we would have more early votes than mail-in ballots sent.”
The county said the files Logan referred to — EV32s and EV33s — “are not the proper files to refer to for a complete accumulating of all early ballots sent and received.”
As Patrick explained to us, “For decades, Arizona statute has required that County Recorders provide the political parties Request and Return files to aid them in their get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts.”
“The EV32 Request file includes ballot requests through the final day of requesting a ballot be mailed to the voter (E-11) and the EV33 Return file includes all returns through the Monday before Election Day (E-1) which is the last list anyone needs for the final GOTV effort on Election Day,” she said.
The lists allows local political parties prior to the election to reach out to voters from their party who have received a mail-in ballot to remind them to stick their ballot in the mail, or if it’s too close to the election, to drop it in a drop box or at a polling place on Election Day.
“Individuals who don’t understand how elections work in AZ don’t seem to understand that the EV33 Return file contains voters who simultaneously requested and voted in person during the final week of in person Early Voting,” Patrick said. “Additionally, they don’t seem to understand that it does NOT include any ballots returned after Monday, and we know that tens of thousands of ballots are dropped off on Election Day itself.”
“To use these files as an attempt to understand the number of voters who were mailed a ballot or who returned a ballot is not only misguided, but dishonest,” Patrick said. “That information is obtained from the Voted File, not a GOTV tool for the political parties and candidates.”
According to the Maricopa County Twitter feed, there were actually a total of 2,364,426 mail-in ballots requested, and 1,918,024 of them were returned.
In an email to us, Rod Thomson, a public relations consultant working for Cyber Ninjas, defended Logan’s comments and blamed any confusion about the early vote tallies on Maricopa County officials’ refusal to communicate with the company.
“As Mr. Logan stated, ‘there is no clear record of them being sent,’” Thomson said. “But he said there could be numerous, legitimate possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy.”
“If Maricopa County officials had not refused to communicate with the audit team, these sorts of questions would be answered in the normal course of auditor and auditee,” Thomson said. “Questions always arise in audits and the industry standard is that communications go back and forth, with the audited entity providing answers. Maricopa County has refused to do so, requiring that these be brought out in a public setting.”
No Evidence Arizona Voting System Was ‘Hacked’
In his July 16 statement, Trump claimed the Arizona Senate hearing showed that “all the access logs to the machines were wiped, and the election server was hacked during the election.” A day earlier, Trump claimed the hearing “revealed that the voting system was breached or hacked (by who?).”
At the July 15 hearing, Senate President Karen Fann said Maricopa County “sent letters out to the voters and saying, ‘Please be aware our system’s been hacked or breached, and we believe none of your personal information has been disclosed.’”
But the county said there was no hack, and it isn’t possible for hackers to change votes because the ballot tabulation equipment is a “closed air gapped system,” meaning it isn’t connected to the internet.
“This is false,” the county said in a July 16 tweet. “The event in question involved an individual inappropriately accessing and downloading publicly available info. The website is in no way connected to the Election Management System.”
In fact, the county in February released the results of the independent forensic audit of its ballot tabulation equipment that found “no issues” with how the votes were counted. That audit was conducted by two federally certified Voting System Testing Laboratories — Pro V&V and SLI Compliance.
“These tests looked for evidence of the tabulations system ability to connect to the internet and if the tabulators and/or system was transmitting information outside the closed air gapped system within the county tabulation center or while being delivered, returned, or used at a vote center,” the county reported. “Pro V&V and SLI Compliance found no evidence of internet connectivity.”
Voter Rolls Confusion
Trump claimed that “11,000 voters were added to the voter rolls AFTER the election and still voted,” suggesting that is evidence of fraud. It’s not.
Maricopa County officials said that the figure referenced could include individuals who voted using provisional ballots and whose registration information wasn’t added to the voter rolls until after the necessary steps were taken to verify their eligibility to vote in the general election.
“These go through a rigorous verification process to make sure that the provisional ballots cast are only counted if the voter is eligible to vote in the election,” county officials wrote in a Twitter thread. “This happens after Election Day. Only eligible voters are added to the voter rolls.”
The officials also said that even some people whose provisional ballots were not counted may have been later added to the voter rolls.
“It is possible for a voter to not be on the voter rolls, vote a provisional ballot, receive credit for voting, that ballot not actually be counted because they voted provisionally, and then later show up on the voter rolls,” the officials explained on Twitter.
In Maricopa County, for example, thousands of provisional ballots were not counted because the person had not registered to vote or had not registered before the deadline.
But even if their ballots were not counted, those who registered late may be later added to the voter rolls because “you can register to vote at anytime,” Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department, told us in a phone interview.
Logan and Maricopa County Disagreements
There are at least two issues on which Logan and Maricopa County disagree: duplicated ballots and signature verification standards. But in neither case does Logan cite instances of fraud.
Both Logan and Maricopa County say that if a ballot can’t be run through a tabulator — because it’s damaged, a Braille ballot, or a military or overseas ballot — elections officials duplicate the ballot so it can be tallied.
The county tweeted on July 16: “The Elections Department assigns a matching serial number to both the original and duplicated ballot. This number can be used to compare the ballots.”
Logan said in the Senate hearing that he was having difficulty matching up original and duplicated ballots. He cited “a handful of examples” where “we have two original ballots that have the same exact serial number and we have only one that was duplicated from it.” And, he said, there were “a whole bunch of ballots that also don’t have any serial number on them so it’s quite possible that for the second one with the same serial number, there’s another one that matches up with it that literally doesn’t have a serial number on it. But it creates a lot of time and difficulty in resolving these issues.”
Maricopa County said the accuracy of its duplication process “was confirmed” in a court case in which 1,626 duplicated ballots were randomly sampled.
That court case — Ward v. Jackson — found that among the random sample of 1,626 duplicated ballots, there were nine errors that would have given Trump seven votes and President Joe Biden two votes. The Arizona Supreme Court, which rejected the plaintiff’s lawsuit, said that such an error rate, extrapolated to all 27,869 duplicate ballots in Maricopa County, “is not sufficient to come close to warranting a recount” under state law and would amount to only a net increase of 103 to 153 votes, “neither of which is sufficient
to call the election results into question.”
Chief Justice Robert Brutinel wrote in the decision that the plaintiff, state GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward, “fails to present any evidence of ‘misconduct,’ ‘illegal votes’ or that the Biden Electors ‘did not in fact receive the highest number of votes for office,’ let alone establish any degree of fraud or a sufficient error rate that would undermine the certainty of the election results.”
Logan also claimed he had an affidavit from an unnamed person alleging Maricopa County relaxed and then eliminated signature-verification requirements. The county said that’s false.
“Yeah, we’ve had an affidavit. This specifically stated that when mail-in ballots were received, that so many of them were received, that the standards reduced every time. They originally talked about, there was initially 20 points of comparison on the signature. And then after some time they’re told to go to 10 points of signature, 10 points of comparison, then five, and then eventually they were just told to let every single mail-in ballot through,” Logan said.
Maricopa County responded on Twitter: “This is simply not true. Maricopa County follows rigorous state signature verification guidelines. Staff receives training prior to elections to ensure compliance.” It continued: “In June 2020 prior to the Primary Election, all full-time staff members that perform signature verification in Maricopa County completed a statewide signature verification certification course offered by the Associated Forensic Laboratory, LLC.”
The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office — headed by Republican Stephen Richer, who has shot down election fraud claims before — also disputed Logan’s claim. “At no point during the 2020 election cycle did Maricopa County modify the rigorous signature verification requirements. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically false,” the office said on Twitter.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.