Baseless lies about widespread voter fraud and false allegations of a “stolen” 2020 presidential election have inflamed mistrust in democracy and provided the political fuel for hundreds of proposals across the country to enact new barriers to voting. These efforts to undermine the election have been especially conspicuous in Arizona, where voter fraud conspiracies are behind a state Senate–led push to conduct a partisan “audit” of votes cast in Maricopa County, which was won by President Joe Biden.
The audit, which involves a hand recount of more than 2 million votes and will cost the state $150,000, is not based on any evidence of widespread voter fraud, in Maricopa County or elsewhere. In fact, an independent audit in February confirmed that the ballots in the county had been tabulated accurately and that there were no irregularities with the election equipment or software.
After the 2020 election, Senate President Karen Fann and then-Arizona Sen. Eddie Farnsworth issued subpoenas to Maricopa County for the 2.1 million ballots as well as election machines and other materials. Those subpoenas were re-upped in January by Fann and state Sen. Warren Petersen, who replaced Farnsworth as chair of the Judiciary Committee. County officials argued that turning over the ballots would violate state law, but in late February a judge ruled that the county must turn them over, leading to confusion when the Senate did not have a place lined up to safely store them.
On March 31, Fann announced that the audit team would be led by the firm Cyber Ninjas. The founder of Cyber Ninjas, Doug Logan, repeatedly circulated lies that the 2020 election was rigged and vocally supported the “Stop the Steal” movement, including by attacking Dominion Voting Systems and retweeting conspiracy theories. Moreover, the statement of work signed by Cyber Ninjas indicates that the company plans to engage in direct contact with Arizona voters, the subject of a legal challenge from the group Protect Democracy.
Arizona supporters of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him have been stoking fears about voter fraud for months in an attempt to undermine a valid democratic election. On Nov. 30, 2020, Rudy Giuliani and several Arizona lawmakers — including state Rep. Mark Finchem, one of the leaders of the effort to overturn the state’s election results — held an unofficial “hearing” in Phoenix in which participants made unsubstantiated allegations about the election’s integrity. Trump supporters also a submitted a phony Arizona electoral vote certificate to Congress, a copy of which was obtained by American Oversight along with illegitimate certificates from six other states. And in March 2021, state Rep. Shawnna Bolick introduced a bill that would allow the state legislature to overrule popular election results and choose its own slate of presidential electors.
Like Trump’s hollow voter-fraud commission and the voter-fraud task forces created in advance of the 2020 election, the state Senate’s audit of Maricopa County votes is yet another official action that is purportedly about election “integrity” but in reality serves a narrow political agenda — in this case, the continuation of the “big lie” that the election was stolen.
Aggressive oversight is needed. American Oversight has filed public records requests for the audit-related communications of Fann, Petersen, Farnsworth, and Finchem — including with Trump attorneys, Maricopa elections officials, and external parties like Cyber Ninjas — as well as for copies of any contracts with companies like Cyber Ninjas to provide services relevant to the audit. On May 19, the watchdog group filed a lawsuit after the Arizona Senate failed to release many of the requested records.