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The Cyber Ninjas’ Real Finding: Other States Can Run Sham Audits, Too

Report or no report, the Arizona audit provides a model for MAGA.
August 24, 2021
The Cyber Ninjas’ Real Finding: Other States Can Run Sham Audits, Too
A contractor working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, works to recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud in Arizona. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza / Getty)

The bumbling Cyber Ninjas failed to meet another deadline Monday when their investigators called out sick due to COVID, a fitting twist for our disinformation-plagued times. While the Cyber Ninjas may not have handed in their final report to the Arizona Senate yet, that doesn’t mean they haven’t already produced something extremely precious to former President Donald Trump and his most dedicated supporters.

Report or no report, Arizona Republican Senate President Karen Fann and her merry band of Cyber Ninjas stumbled upon something quite dastardly: an unprecedented model for bitter partisans to challenge elections after the fact.

What Trump supporters have discovered is that elected officials in state legislatures have the power, through subpoenas, to seize ballots, machines, and associated equipment, to run their election investigations. That’s the real lesson of the Arizona audit: not that the election results were flawed, but that other jurisdictions can emulate this model to undermine our most essential mechanism of our democracy.

And guess what? Trump supporters in other states have learned that lesson. Republicans in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are taking steps to set up faux audits of their own.

Keep in mind, credible vote audits are conducted all the time, by professional third-party organizations that run transparent processes with clear expectations and deadlines. In fact, Maricopa County’s 2020 elections were already audited by such experts three times and came up clean. But, that wasn’t good enough to satisfy the 2020 election truthers.

It’s really quite incredible how absurd the process has been in Arizona, which only shows how much proponents of the big election lie have already gotten away with in Arizona.

Although Fann’s “audit” is widely described as a “senate audit” there has never been a vote in the state senate on whether it should be conducted. The audit was ordered by Fann and the chairman of the state senate’s judiciary committee, both of whom seized voting machines and associated materials through the power of subpoena. They turned those materials over to a hand-picked outfit, the Cyber Ninjas, who were neither adequately accredited and experienced nor willing to have a transparent process. The Cyber Ninjas agreed to conduct the audit for only $150,000–a figure that was always entirely too low to sort through Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots. Why? Probably because the company’s leadership knew they could make up for it with private money from Trump supporters desperate for someone to make their wildest voter-fraud fantasies come true—and indeed, the firm reportedly raked in $5.7 million. And then the Cyber Ninjas, entirely on their own timeline, are supposedly someday returning their “findings” back to the GOP-controlled judiciary committee in the state senate.

The entire thing is a closed feedback loop of election doom that’s, in all honesty, too dumb to fail. The Cyber Ninjas could allege that magic fairy-dust particles grown in a George Soros-funded Chinese bamboo lab blown into voter machines by Antifa changed the ballots from Trump to Biden. It would be accepted as gospel by people who think that OTC horse dewormer is a fine substitute for the COVID vaccine and that D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone is a crisis actor. Stupidity is simply not a deterrent to conspiracy theorists. It’s their shared operating principle that gives them a reason to shitpost.

Facts and logic are simply not going to get in the way of this “audit” or any forthcoming reports. We’re talking about a movement that has lost more than sixty court cases challenging the election. Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, plainly stated there was no widespread election fraud, as did the former Trump cybersecurity chief Chris Krebs. None of it slowed MAGA down.

At a rally over the weekend in Cullman, Alabama, Trump spoke favorably about the ongoing efforts to challenge the election. “It’ll go down, you’re gonna see things happening, it’ll go down as the most corrupt election in American history, and almost, probably any history,” he promised. “The evidence of the fraud is monumental and more is coming out.” And Trump loyalists in other states are willing to accommodate his delusions by following the Arizona model.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, accompanied Trump on his plane to the rally. Back in June, Trump harshly criticized Vos for not pursuing a “full forensic investigation” of elections in Wisconsin. If he and others did not, Trump said, “I have little doubt that they will be primaried and quickly run out of office.” But on Saturday, Trump and Vos were apparently on better terms. Vos said in a statement, “We have doubled down on our top-to-bottom investigation by Special Counsel Justice Michael Gableman. We will do whatever it takes to help Justice Gableman uncover reports of systematic fraud in our forensic audit.”

In other words, Trump is getting what he wants.

The former president has friends who are ready and willing to get their audit on in Pennsylvania, too. Trump loyalist Doug Mastriano, who reportedly rented buses to ferry Trump supporters to the Capitol grounds on January 6, made his pilgrimage to observe the Arizona audit. He was stymied in his attempts to audit Pennsylvania’s elections. But top Republican leaders have run with the idea, and they just tapped someone less interested in “showmanship” to lead the effort instead. Apparently they were looking for someone more reasonable to back up Trump’s election lies. (As if these two qualities were compatible.)

On Monday, the president pro tempore of Pennsylvania’s state senate, Republican Jake Corman, promised that the chamber would “conduct a thorough forensic audit of recent elections—including using our subpoena powers” and published an op-ed explaining how it would be done. Corman said the purpose of doing so would be to “find any flaws in the system that could be exploited by bad actors and take action to correct those flaws through legislative changes to our Election Code.” He appointed Cris Dush, a fellow Republican state senator, to lead the audit. And Dush, last year, introduced a resolution to invalidate Pennsylvania’s presidential election results and replace the state’s electors with a new slate elected by the GOP legislature.

Assume the forthcoming audit’s conclusion foregone.

Whether it’s in Arizona, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania, these audits are being run by partisans, for partisans, for strictly partisan purposes.

They are, to borrow one of Trump’s favorite labels, completely “rigged.”

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.