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 was 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 indicated that the company planned to engage in direct contact with Arizona voters, the subject of a legal challenge from the group Protect Democracy. Records later obtained by American Oversight in June contained a report dated March 1 that indicated that a group called the Citizens’ Non-Partisan Grassroots project had canvassed more than 3,000 homes in Maricopa and Pima Counties; in early May, the Justice Department warned that such canvassing could violate federal law.
Arizona supporters of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him had 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 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.
Other records that American Oversight obtained in June contained emails revealing Fann’s frequent contact with Giuliani in the weeks after the election, including one message to a constituent in late December 2020 in which Fann said she had received “a personal call from President Trump thanking us for pushing to prove any fraud.”
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 contractors 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. Over the summer, multiple courts ruled in American Oversight’s favor and ordered the Senate to release the documents — including files in the possession of Cyber Ninjas — to the public. While tens of thousands of pages have been produced in compliance with the court orders, thousands more have not yet been released. American Oversight is continuing to pursue the release of all of the requested “audit” records.
In January 2022, the court ordered Logan to sit for a deposition, during which he doubled down on his refusal to release his company’s documents, maintaining that the records were not public. Logan also reported that Cyber Ninjas had shut down and laid off its employees. In February, the Arizona Supreme Court agreed to hear the state Senate’s appeal of lower court rulings rejecting the Senate’s overly broad claim of legislative privilege, which it had attempted to use to justify withholding records.
While tens of thousands of pages have been produced in compliance with the court orders, thousands more have not yet been released. American Oversight is continuing to pursue the release of all of the requested “audit” records.