Arizona Has Permitted All Mail Elections For 30 Years

Nearly every claim made by Cyber Ninjas and other Arizona Senate contractors who reviewed Maricopa County's 2020 presidential election was either misleading, inaccurate or false, according to a point-by-point response issued by county officials on Wednesday.

The 93-page report, months in the making, studied every question the contractors raised about the election and analyzed thousands of individual voter records. It explained that the contractors made faulty assumptions and false accusations, in part because of mistakes they made during their analysis but also because they were inexperienced and misunderstood how the county and state's elections work.

"It's my hope this will be the last word on the November 2020 election," Supervisor Bill Gates, chairman of the Republican-controlled board, said Wednesday.

“Don’t count on it,” Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward responded to Gates on Twitter. Ward posted on social media throughout the county’s presentation, taking aim at fellow Republicans at the county.

Ward was among those who filed an unsuccessful election challenge in court after the general election. She also pressured county supervisors on behalf of former President Donald Trump in the days after the election.

The election review was a fundraising windfall for the state GOP, with the party using it as a way to raise funds for its causes and candidates.

The county's report, obtained early by The Arizona Republic, was presented at a 1:30 p.m. public meeting on Wednesday presided over by the county's Board of Supervisors and including County Recorder Stephen Richer and several of the county's top election staff.

While Cyber Ninjas raised questions about more than 50,000 ballots cast in the election, a wider margin than President Joe Biden won in the state, the county's analysis of those claims found fewer than 100 instances of potential voter fraud or double-counted ballots. That's far fewer than it would have taken to impact the outcome of any race, and within the expectations of an election with nearly 2.1 million voters.

After analyzing each claim, the county is referring 37 cases of potential voter fraud to the Arizona attorney general, including 26 potential deceased voters, six voters who may have voted twice, and five voters who may have voted in more than one county.

The county also found that it accidentally double-counted 50 ballots, as the Cyber Ninjas discovered during its hand count.

County Elections Director Scott Jarrett said the county is improving some of its processes. Some improvements he and other county staff listed during the meeting include adding another process to better identify double-counted ballots, a new system to check for deceased voters, and changing how it tracks and stores duplicate ballots.

Vice Chairman Clint Hickman said no election is perfect, but Maricopa County's was "about as close as you can get" due to proven processes. "If one of your preferred candidates or causes lost in 2020, that is not proof of fraud — that is proof of democracy working," Hickman said.

The county's response comes three months after Senate Republican contractors presented the Sept. 24 results of their monthslong election review, an unprecedented undertaking in the state fueled by Trump's unsupported claims of election fraud. The review and results ultimately did little to instill confidence in the county's elections and did not claim any fraud, but did spread more misinformation and attempt to raise questions about the county's elections.

The county's response comes one day before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, a reminder of the danger of election misinformation, and a week before the convening of the Arizona Legislature, in which lawmakers likely will introduce new voting and election laws, some encouraged by the claims the county says are false or misleading.

Gates said lawmakers should not use the Cyber Ninjas report to make laws.

"It’s been debunked and it was written by people who were not experts in the field,” he said.

County officials say the timing of the report was not intentional. It just took time.

"In addition to administering the November 2021 jurisdictional election, the county thoroughly researched and analyzed all of the claims made by the Senate’s contractors," said Megan Gilbertson, spokesperson for the county's Elections Department. "Today’s meeting is the culmination of that time."

The county hired Scottsdale-based cybersecurity firm PacketWatch to analyze and respond to some of the technical claims made about the county's election management system. Overall, the county and PacketWatch did not identify any systematic problems with the county's election.

Here is a summarized breakdown of the county's explanation to the contractor's claims.

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Claims of potential fraudulent voters

Claim: 33,102 mail-in ballots were cast from old addresses. The claim was made as an attempt to show that the ballots may have been cast illegally.

Reviewing thousands of the voters listed in the dataset from the Cyber Ninjas, the county found five of the ballots may have been cast illegally.

The county explains that there are numerous reasons why mail-in ballots may be cast from old addresses, such as overseas voters or voters who moved shortly before an election, and they are all legal. Also, Cyber Ninjas used commercial software to complete what the county called an insufficient "soft match" to find voter addresses, using first name, first initial and year of birth. That means they potentially identified different people as the same voter. In one case, the county said, Cyber Ninjas identified twins as the same voter.

Janine Petty, the county Recorder’s Office senior director of voter registration, said that commercial databases are inaccurate.

"We cannot deny a voter their right to vote using a commercial database."

The county spot-checked the Cyber Ninjas' dataset using far more criteria, such as full name, full date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license or state ID, residential history and signature.

The five ballots that may have been cast illegally include instances where the voter potentially voted in more than one Arizona county. The county found the five after reviewing 1,815 of the 4,295 voters who Cyber Ninjas said may have cast two ballots. The county turned over the five cases to the state Attorney General’s Office for further review.

Gates said that the thoroughness of the county staff's review should get a grade of A, while Cyber Ninjas' review should get "somewhere between a D and F range."

"Talk about jumping to conclusions," he said, "they did it in immeasurable ways."

The largest claim, by number, in the Cyber Ninjas report was that 23,344 ballots were voted from a prior address, either after the voter moved within the county, out of the state or within the state to another county. The county found these ballots represented either a legal vote or an incorrect voter match on the Cyber Ninjas' part. Of these, none of the voters identified voted twice, according to the report. 

Out of these 23,344, for example, 1,256 of the new addresses identified by Cyber Ninjas were P.O. boxes, which does not indicate a move because voters cannot be registered to vote at a P.O. box.

"Pretty packed living quarters there," Petty said.

The company also included 1,331 uniformed and overseas citizens and absentee voters, who may legally vote from their prior address.

Claim: Information in the voter registration database allowed 1,370 ineligible voters to vote an official ballot, including voters with incomplete names, deceased voters, late registered voters with counted votes, voters with duplicate IDs and voters with multiple tracking numbers.

Reviewing each of these types of issues, the county found that 32 voters may have cast ballots illegally.

The Cyber Ninjas did not provide the county a list of the 282 voters it estimated had died before casting ballots in the election. The county conducted an independent analysis of voter records and recorded deaths and found 26 possible instances of a ballot being processed and potentially counted for a voter who passed away prior to the ballot being returned. These instances are being sent to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for further review. The county is reviewing its current process to identify deceased voters for potential improvements.

The county identified six potential instances of double voting after the review, and those cases were referred to the Attorney General.

Claims of problems with county's election management system

Claim: The county deleted files on its election management system, including perhaps intentionally in February, the week before the county’s independent audit of voting machines took place.

A subcontractor of Cyber Ninjas, CyFIR, studied the county's voting machines and election management system, the system that contains and processes votes during the election. The county says the firm made several false claims about deleted files, including that the election management system database was purged, that election files were deleted, that there was “election activity” on the system, and that there were corrupt or missing ballot images.

Regarding files that the contractor claimed were missing, the county said it archived the November 2020 General Election tabulation data, and the Senate didn’t request the backup hard drives that contain the archived files.

That includes on Feb. 2, when county staff make a copy of the server for a March 2021 jurisdictional election, and prepared the machines for a logic and accuracy test being performed by an outside contractor the county hired to examine the machines. That type of machine audit requires votes to be zeroed out.

Nate Young, Recorder’s Office information technology director, said he could still access any files from the 2020 election to this day.

"Any claims that these processes are not aboveboard are just wholly inaccurate," Young said.

Regarding the claim that some ballot images were missing or corrupt, the county said that on March 3, the county used the November 2020 election archives to restore ballot images onto the election management system to comply with the Senate’s subpoenas. After the claim was made, the county checked for corrupt files on a copy of what it provided CyFIR, and could open each one.

Claim: Employees logged into the election management system to run scripts that query the system. These actions were cast as something nefarious to hide older information on the system for the audit. One example given was an employee running a script in early March that queried the system thousands of times.

The county said that actions logged during the March time frame were really just county staff gathering materials for the Senate’s subpoena and to conduct the March jurisdictional elections. But the county said there were not tens of thousands of logs, as claimed, as that amount would surpass the amount of space available.

Some of the actions were part of an automated and standard process that systematically connects from the election management system to the vote counting, adjudication, and administrative computers to ask if these devices have any data that can be passed back to the server. This happens at all times, not just during elections, the county said.

Claim: Anonymous user accessed the election management system server. This claim was made to seem nefarious, as if unauthorized users gained access to the system.

An analysis of the security logs by an independent cybersecurity firm, PacketWatch, concluded these logins were legitimate and were part of typical behavior for that type of Microsoft server. It’s typical that the automated logins sometimes do not list a user or computer name.

Claim: Maricopa County’s election management system was connected to the internet.

In four of the six claims made on the topic, the county found that the connections between the machines were within the county’s air gapped election management system, and none of the connections spanned outside that network or to the internet. In the other two cases, the servers that CyFIR said were connected to the internet were simply the county’s web servers that host the Recorder’s Office website. Those servers are not connected to the air-gapped election management system.

The county points out that the instances in which machines within the air-gapped system attempted to reach outside networks were unsuccessful, as noted by error messages.

The county hired PacketWatch, the cybersecurity and incident response firm, in October 2021 and the company confirmed that the county’s air-gapped network was not connected to the internet. That’s the third time the county’s independent auditors have found that to be the case.

Another claim, that a dual hard drive found on a machine could have indicated that one of the hard drives was connected to the internet, is false, the county said. An independent audit commissioned by the county in February 2021 found that the extra hard drive had never been connected to the county's network.

Claim: The county didn’t follow cybersecurity best practices, including for installing software, updating antivirus systems and password management.   

The county says the practices cited in the report do not apply to air-gapped election management systems — systems configured to not have any outside network connections — and if done, could introduce vulnerabilities into the system.

The county can only use machines and software within its air-gapped system that are certified by the Election Assistance Commission, and so the county only made updates to its system based on what was certified.

The county listed the numerous security protocols in place for employees who access the ballot tabulation center in order to get access to the election management system. While the county was criticized for having employees share passwords, the county said that it can tell which employee accesses which machines by looking at written logs and video time stamps.

Claims of problems with county’s early ballot processing

Claim: The county had 17,126 duplicate early ballot images.

EchoMail, another Cyber Ninjas subcontractor led by conspiracy theorist Shiva Ayyadurai, or "Dr. Shiva," studied copies of the envelopes that voters use to return their ballots, which include voter signatures and are used to track ballots in the county’s system.

The county says the false claims were “found to be based in a misunderstanding of Arizona’s laws and county early ballot procedures.”

EchoMail raised suspicion over the fact that the county had on file 17,126 duplicate images of the same early ballot envelope, but that’s explained because the county sometimes has to take multiple images of the same envelope. If a voter sends in an envelope with a bad signature, the county still takes a photo, and then the county takes another photo when the signature is corrected. The ballot inside is only counted once.

Claim: The county processed early ballots with bad or no voter signatures.

The county has a multilevel signature verification process to ensure they are from the correct voter, including a technical and multistep comparison with the signatures on record for the voter. The county followed that process, according to its response.

While the county was accused of reducing the verification process to speed things along, Celia Nabor, Elections Department assistant director of early voting, said Wednesday that was not the case.

"We did not tell staff to stop looking at signatures," Nabor said. "That would be illegal."

The EchoMail conclusion that a “scribble” could not be viable as a valid signature is incorrect, the county said, for multiple reasons, including natural shifts to a signature over time, deterioration with age, writing service and medical conditions.

“I remember how my grandmother’s signature changed after her stroke,” Hickman said.

While EchoMail showed some envelopes that looked blank, the company only studied the area within the signature box. Voters often sign outside the box, the county said.

The county explained issues mentioned about the stamp the county uses to verify receipt of an envelope, such as multiple stamps or the stamp looking like it is behind a printed triangle on the envelope. One reason for multiple stamps is verification of an assisted voter. And the stamp sometimes looks as if it is behind the triangle because of the way the envelopes are scanned in.

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Chairman Bill Gates' final comments ending Board of Supervisors meeting"We're done," says Chairman Bill Gates on the 2020 election results at a special meeting of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 5, 2022.Maricopa County

Claims of problems with county duplicating, tracking and counting ballots

Claim: There were more duplicate ballots than original ballots.

The county duplicates ballots that cannot be read by vote-counting machines, such as damaged ballots, Braille and overseas ballots. The contractors claimed that there were more duplicate ballots than original ballots, but the county says that was not the case.

The county says it has record of 27,879 ballots, and it doesn’t know why Cyber Ninjas got a different count. The company’s hand count process was unreliable, the report says.

In a county court case after the election, the county’s duplication process was challenged. After ordering a random sampling of duplicated ballots, the court found that the process was reliable with few errors.

Claim: Duplicated ballots had missing serial numbers or duplicate serial numbers.

Cyber Ninjas did not include a dataset that included any information for this claim for the county to review.

The county said it is not aware of any instances of missing serial numbers. Sometimes, the serial numbers could be difficult to see on the original ballot when it overlaps other text. The county said it is making changes to ensure the duplication number is visible and streamlining serial numbers.

Claim: The county double-counted 50 ballots.

The county said after a review of ballot IDs, it found that it counted 50 ballots twice. A vote-counting machine operator “inadvertently included an already tabulated stack of 50 ballots from a previous batch in a subsequent batch,” county officials wrote. In an analysis, the county found that this gave 14 more votes for Joe Biden and 15 more votes for U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly.

“This had no impact on the outcome of any contest,” the report says.

Claim: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) ballots were counted incorrectly.

The county says Cyber Ninjas used the wrong data from the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission to compare the number of UOCAVA ballots counted and reported to the EAC. The company pulled the wrong number from an EAC spreadsheet, according to the county.

Cyber Ninjas also assumed that two UOCAVA ballots in the same fax to the county were the same ballots, counted twice, when sometimes families send their ballots together in the same fax.

Other claims about the county's election

Claim: There was a breach in the county’s voter registration database during the election.

The county says the voter registration database is protected by “multiple layers of authentication and security controls.” When an unauthorized person gained access to voter information on the county’s website in November 2020, an incident that the county investigated, the person did not gain access to the database.

Claim: The Cyber Ninjas hand count produced similar results to county’s results.

The county analyzed the Cyber Ninjas’ hand count reports and said that more than 28% of hand count batch totals produced by the company did not match a separate machine count of ballots conducted by the Senate, which closely tracked to the county’s results.

The county says the hand count was flawed because it didn’t follow the correct method to count ballots and tally votes under state law, and because the procedures changed constantly.

Claim: The county used questionable ballot paper and out-of-calibration printers.

These claims are false, the county said. The county hasn’t identified any use of other types of paper other than the one it prints ballots on. The bleed-through of Sharpies may have happened but didn’t affect the results, since the voter selections are offset on either side of the paper — something that Cyber Ninjas noted in its report. There may be microscopic yellow dots on some of the papers, from some of the printers used to print ballots, but that doesn’t affect the vote tally.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or at 602-444-8763. Follow her on Twitter @JenAFifield

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Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2022/01/05/maricopa-county-responds-each-cyber-ninjas-election-claim/9083810002/

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Source:USA Today

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