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Florida man catches COVID, delaying $6M Arizona vote “audit”

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Men in face masks examine a digital camera.
Enlarge / Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and 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 a development that’s sure to fan the flames of a thousand conspiracy theories, a report from the presidential election “audit” in Arizona has been delayed because COVID-19 has swept through the private company running the show.

“The team expected to have the full draft ready for the Senate today, but unfortunately, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan and two other members of the five-person audit team have tested positive for COVID-19 and are quite sick,” Arizona Senate President Karen Fann said in a statement. It’s not clear whether any of the people were vaccinated against the virus.

Though state Republicans launched the spectacle, politicians from both parties have panned the so-called audit. Election experts have called the exercise “deeply reprehensible,” saying that it more closely resembles a “clown show” than an audit. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, all but one of whom are Republicans, said in a letter, “Your ‘auditors’ are in way over their heads.”

The company doing the “audit,” Cyber Ninjas, does not have any experience auditing elections, and its CEO does not appear to be nonpartisan; he has tweeted “#StoptheSteal” and voiced his support for former President Trump. “I’m tired of hearing people say there was no fraud,” he said in a tweet archived by the Arizona Mirror. The company is legally based in Florida, though CNN discovered that its business address sits vacant, while the address on its contract with the Arizona Senate is a rented UPS mailbox.

Though the report is delayed, Arizona is already feeling the effects of the exercise. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said in May that Maricopa County will have to replace all of its voting machines after Cyber Ninjas permanently compromised the devices. The proceeding, she said, has been riddled with “security lapses, delays, disorganization, and [a] lack of transparency.” The computers at the site had single logins, shared passwords, and no multifactor authentication, she said, and there was no evidence that the workers handled chain of custody properly. Hobbs said that she’ll be seeking reimbursement for the now-useless voting machines.

Maricopa County, which has become a focal point for the partisan review, conducted two audits earlier this year and found no evidence of voter fraud.

Cyber Ninjas’ workers haven’t limited their investigation to the voting machines, either. They literally have been grasping at straws, reportedly checking absentee ballots for bamboo fibers because they think fake ballots were brought in from Asia, according to the Associated Press. The partisan review is being funded by $150,000 of Arizona taxpayers’ money and $5.7 million in private funds. Overstock.com founder and former CEO Patrick Byrne donated $1 million and planned to raise $2.5 million more. Byrne is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation over his claims that the company’s machines were involved in voter fraud.

Whatever the report ends up producing, it will have no bearing on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, though it will certainly spawn more disinformation that conspiracy theorists can latch onto as definitive proof that they are correct, no matter what is being discussed.

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