Sep 27, 2021

Results from the Arizona audit.

Results from the Arizona audit.

The audit affirmed Joe Biden's win, but also raised new allegations of fraud.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.” First time reading? Sign up here. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Today's read: 11 minutes.

We're covering the election audit in Maricopa County, Arizona. We're skipping today's reader question to give this story some extra space.

Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann speaking with attendees at the 2020 Legislative Forecast Luncheon. Photo: Gage Skidmore

New podcast.

Last week, I sat down with John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, the group that helped draft and pass the new anti-abortion law in Texas. On Friday, paid subscribers got a transcript of our conversation. This morning, we released a podcast version of the interview, where you can listen to the 45-minute conversation.

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Quick hits.

  1. This week marks a "moment of truth" for the U.S. Congress as Biden tries to pass two major spending bills, keep the government open and avoid defaulting on its debt. (The wild week)
  2. The Biden administration took new steps to preserve DACA after a federal judge in Texas ruled the program illegal. (The plan)
  3. The center-left Social Democrats in Germany narrowly won an election yesterday, barely beating outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. (The results)
  4. An Amtrak train derailed in Montana on Saturday, killing three people and leaving seven others in the hospital.
  5. Cryptocurrency exchanges are rushing to cut ties with Chinese users after Beijing's latest crackdown on digital currency. (The story)

Today's topic.

Maricopa County. On Friday, Cyber Ninjas, the group that conducted the audit of Arizona's largest county, released its official results of their hand recount. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, the Republican who led the charge for the "full forensic audit," presented the results to the state chamber, conceding that the review actually yielded more votes for Joe Biden and fewer votes for Donald Trump. In sum, Biden picked up 99 votes and Trump received 261 fewer votes.

"Truth is truth, numbers are numbers," Fann said at a Senate hearing on the review.

Ever since Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden over Donald Trump, the critical swing state has been awash with allegations of widespread election fraud that handed the race to Biden. Key to those allegations have been Maricopa County results, with 2.1 million ballots, which the former president and many of his allies have said was integral to a plot to "steal" the election from him.

Shortly after the election, the Republican-controlled Maricopa Board of Supervisors affirmed the machine count — which showed a Joe Biden victory — was accurate. Courts dismissed a lawsuit calling those results into question, and then county supervisors authorized a second audit of election machines in January that also showed no irregularities. In sum, before the Cyber Ninjas were even hired, two separate independent firms performed forensic audits of voting equipment, and two hand recounts of a statistically significant number of ballots were conducted immediately after the election, all affirming Biden had won the county with nearly identical vote totals.

Each review has shown Biden won Arizona by a little more than 10,000 votes, and carried Maricopa County by about 45,000 votes.

This audit, however, began controversially after Republican state senators sued and brought in their own outside group, funded by a Trump supporter, which had no experience conducting election audits. The audit began on April 23 and was scheduled to be completed by May 14, but repeated missteps, public criticisms, counter-lawsuits and issues with the venue where the recount was taking place resulted in over four months of delays that pushed the report’s release all the way to last week. Outside groups raised nearly $6 million to fund the audit.

While finding the overall vote tallies largely matched up, the report highlighted a series of alleged problems. One of the most serious they claimed was 10,342 potential voters who voted twice in different counties, which Cyber Ninjas called a "critical finding." Maricopa County election officials called this finding "laughable," and in a series of rebuttals on Twitter explained that the Cyber Ninjas team listed over 10,000 people from different counties with the same names and birth years, but not the same birth dates. Maricopa election officials said that in a state with millions of voters it’s plausible, if not likely, that thousands will share names and birth years.

The group also alleged more than 23,000 people voted by mail in a county after they moved, but tallied that total by matching voters with commercial data — not the data maintained by county elections offices. Many of the voters may have moved since election day or simply moved out of a parent’s home, and the 23,000 voter count is well within the range of the estimated one percent of voters who change residences in a given year. Additionally, Arizona voters can vote for president in Arizona if they move in the 29-day period preceding the election, which is the same time period the Cyber Ninjas analyzed (as their own report noted).

Fann has said she had passed along the review's findings to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who said his election integrity unit would look at the evidence presented by Cyber Ninjas to see if there were any further charges or investigations to pursue. Below, we'll take a look at arguments from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

The left has said the audit was a sham from the beginning, but believes the results should end claims the election was stolen for good.

In Slate, Jeremy Stahl said Trumpers spent millions on the audit only to find more votes for Biden.

"The timing of the release hints at the significance of the audit’s findings," Stahl wrote. "For months, Donald Trump has been billing the investigation as the thing that will provide definitive proof of his victory in Arizona. If the audit was going to show that the election was stolen from Trump by Democratic goons in cactus-covered antifa ski masks, why release it late on a Friday afternoon at a time usually reserved for dumps of information people want to go uncovered? A leaked report on Thursday evening offered an answer. The ballyhooed and controversially conducted hand count of nearly 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots still showed Biden defeating Trump, and though the margin changed by 360 votes it was actually Biden whose margin of victory grew from 45,109 to 45,469.

"It turns out that not even a partisan-funded and -conducted recount using procedures out of a Pee Wee Herman film could change the outcome," Stahl added. "You would think that Trump himself would be decrying the audit as the latest fraudulent conspiracy against him by his greatest nemeses: vote counters. Instead, he issued a series of manic (and false) statements complaining that the 'Fake News is lying about the Arizona audit report' and claiming that the audit had uncovered tens of thousands of 'Phantom voters.' ... Again, even a cursory look at the work of the Cyber Ninjas audit team, led by CEO Doug Logan who has been alleging voter fraud since November, disproves Trump’s grand statement and the innuendo of the Cyber Ninjas report."

In The New York Times, Reid Epstein and Nick Corasaniti said the Stop the Steal movement is "ignoring the Arizona humiliation."

"Any fleeting thought that the failure of the Arizona exercise to unearth some new trove of Trump votes or a smoking gun of election fraud might derail the so-called Stop the Steal movement dissipated abruptly," they wrote. "As draft copies of the report began to circulate late Thursday, Trump allies ignored the new tally, instead zeroing in on the report’s specious claims of malfeasance, inconsistencies and errors by election officials.

"Significant parts of the right treated the completion of the Arizona review as a vindication — offering a fresh canard to justify an accelerated push for new voting limits and measures to give Republican state lawmakers greater control over elections," they wrote. "It also provided additional fuel for the older lie that is now central to Mr. Trump’s political identity: that the 2020 election was stolen from him... Even Republicans who do not subscribe to false claims of election fraud are using investigations to justify more restrictive voting laws. In Michigan, State Senator Ed McBroom, a Republican who leads his chamber’s elections committee and wrote an unsparing report in July debunking an array of Trump-inspired fraud claims, said Friday that the discovery of potential avenues for election fraud — not evidence of fraud itself — was reason enough to pass new voting restrictions."

Grant Woods, the former attorney general of Arizona, said the people spreading the lie should be investigated for fraud.

"Grifters have spent months embarrassing themselves and my home state by conducting the most expensive snipe hunt in history searching for invented fraud," Woods wrote. "The biased ballot review was the very picture of a circus: searching for delusions as partisans twirled ballots on table-top merry-go-rounds in a never-ending pursuit of anything to spin into a conspiracy. The reviewers have sunk their own case by making a mockery of the process, with observers documenting dozens of security and counting flaws.

"The best way to close up this circus is to investigate whether laws have been broken and crack down on fundraising appeals that don’t pass muster," he wrote. "It’s become clear that multiple entities have enriched themselves by spreading the lie that the election was stolen: They have asked Americans to open their wallets to fund the sham review in Arizona based on this lie, and convinced vulnerable individuals that if they send enough money, invented fraud will be uncovered and the election will be decertified. This is false. And, if these entities — from propaganda networks for former President Donald Trump to local political parties — knew that this was a lie, or had no reasonable grounds to believe it was true, they may have committed fraud, an admittedly murky area of the law."

What the right is saying.

The right is split on the report, with some saying it confirms Biden's win (again) and others saying it raises serious questions about election vulnerabilities.

In The Federalist, Margot Cleveland said the corporate media was "ignoring" significant findings from the report.

“As broadly reported, the audit established 'there were no substantial differences between the hand count of the ballots provided and the official canvass results for the County.' Left unmentioned, however, were the numerous findings of problems with the election and, most significantly, evidence indicating tens of thousands of ballots were illegally cast or counted," she wrote. "The audit revealed that 15,035 mail-in votes in Maricopa County were from voters who had moved prior to the registration deadline, another 6,591 mail-in-votes came from voters who had moved out of Arizona prior to the registration deadline, and 1,718 mail-in votes came from voters who moved within Arizona but out of Maricopa prior to the registration deadline.

"One of three scenarios seems possible here: First, the mail-in ballot was delivered to the old address and then provided to the named voter, who had only temporarily relocated," Cleveland wrote. "Such votes would be legal and entirely proper. Second, the mail-in ballot was delivered to the old address and then provided to the named voter, who had permanently moved, but failed to timely update his registration record yet signed an affidavit attesting to a false address of residence. Such votes would be illegal. Or third, the mail-in ballot was delivered to the old address, and then someone other than the named voter cast the vote. Such votes would be both illegal and fraudulent. Neither Maricopa County nor the state of Arizona knows how many of these 23,000-plus votes fall within each of these three scenarios. And that’s a problem."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said Trump lost Arizona — again.

"Former President Trump claims Arizona’s ballot audit found 'massive fraud,' yet the new recount says he actually lost the state by 360 more votes than originally reported," the board wrote. "He is now demanding an audit of the 2020 election in . . . Texas, which he won by nearly six points. When are Republicans going to quit playing this game? Arizona’s official results say President Biden won by 10,457 votes. Mr. Trump never accepted the loss, so the GOP state Senate launched an 'audit' by hiring Cyber Ninjas, a company without experience reviewing elections. After repeated delays and various pratfalls, here’s the result: A hand recount of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots says that Mr. Biden won the state by 10,817 votes.

"There’s no reason to prefer this tally over the certified one, given the audit’s erratic process and lack of transparency," the board added. "For details, see a June report co-written by Trey Grayson, Kentucky’s former GOP Secretary of State, warning that Cyber Ninjas 'will not produce findings that should be trusted.' The good news is they don’t need to be trusted, since the result is the same, except with worse numbers for Mr. Trump... The audit documents exceed 100 pages, and it will take time for local authorities to comb through all the claims. Elections are human endeavors, so it’d hardly be surprising if an outside review found some goofs or ways to improve. But that isn’t Mr. Trump’s aim."

In Townhall, Ted Noel said "words matter" about the audit.

"Both the Arizona auditors and John Solomon committed a cardinal error that has allowed the Left to celebrate victory and ignore the fine print,” Noel wrote. “Both note that Biden got more 'votes' than Trump. That conclusion is incorrect, because it ignores the rest of the story. A vote is an indication of preference cast by an eligible, registered voter. It must be cast in the time, place, and manner prescribed by law. Anything else is not a vote. In Arizona, it is cast on paper ballots and read by machines. All the 'accurate count' showed was that the machines counted the pieces of paper accurately. That’s all machines do. They do not count 'ballots.'

"The canvass did not answer the primary question, 'How many of the pieces of paper were lawful ballots and how many should have been excluded because they were not lawful votes?' All the 'accurate count' proves is that there was no outside effort to tweak the numbers by changing them by some direct internet chicanery," he wrote. "But it does not prove that Biden won. Or not. And that is the problem. I won’t repeat all the details the auditors droned on through, but there are several key findings. Over 50,000 'ballots' were unlawfully cast. There were dead people, new addresses without re-registration, double votes, envelopes with no signatures, ballots received that were never sent out, and so on. Every one of those 'ballots' were unlawful. They should have been rejected to remove them from the canvass."

My take.

This is an issue where I am fully trusting that readers will make it to "my take," because some of the comments from "the right" above are so misleading or false. It's difficult to decide which of these comments to publish, since many are representative of widely held views, they seem prominent enough to reprint here and address now.

First: the results of this audit are devastating for Trump, but more importantly they are clarifying for people like me who have been chasing down every claim of election fraud and trying to look into their validity. And it's clarifying because it proves that the decision has been made by many of these actors up front that the election was stolen — and they will contort themselves in any manner necessary to maintain that charade.

The issue with reporting on these claims of election fraud is that the boring explanation often requires more time to lay out than the explosive (and misleading) allegation itself. This report is jam-packed with a half dozen examples, but let's take the big one, which is illustrative of all the rest: the idea that 23,344 mail-in ballots were from "phantom voters" who no longer lived at that address they voted from, as former President Trump put it.

First, Cyber Ninjas arrived at the 23,344 number by comparing voter rolls to a commercial public database called Melissa, which tracks addresses not for issues related to voting but for things like commercial marketing. You can go look at their website for yourself. Naturally, anytime you compare two totally different datasets at two different points in time you are going to run into discrepancies. To their credit, Cyber Ninjas actually points this out in their own report, which of course most of the people blabbing on about this seem not to have actually read. “86,391 individuals were found with no record in the database for either their name, or anyone with the same last name at the address,” the Cyber Ninjas report says. “It is expected that a number of these individuals are in fact real people with a limited public record and commercial presence; but it is unclear how large that number is.” So, to start with, the fundamental data they used to produce their election fraud innuendo is itself corrupted.

But let's assume it isn't, just for fun. What Cyber Ninjas could have done was taken their data and then compared it to data from the Arizona secretary of state's office. Instead, though, they never even subpoenaed the records they needed in order to do that. They literally didn't even try to figure out if they had actually uncovered fraud, which — hey — seems like a fairly major oversight.

Of course, even if they did confirm some 23,000 voters cast mail-in ballots from places they didn't live, that wouldn't actually mean the votes were illegal! It is totally possible that legal voters were casting legal ballots and also forwarding their mail to a different address. College students and people living in vacation homes during election season, for instance, could have filed address forwarding (which is how Cyber Ninjas were tracking address changes) in order to cast completely legal ballots. There was also that whole pandemic thing, where people were working remotely in locations that weren't their permanent addresses. In a county with 2.1 million voters, is it really hard to believe a few thousand fall into that category?

Even if you take those voters out of it, though, Arizona law says any voter who moves within 29 days of an election can cast a ballot in a presidential election from their preceding address. More than 35 million address changes were submitted to USPS in 2020. It seems totally plausible that a few thousand — maybe even 10 or 15 thousand of those — happened in one of America's largest counties in the month leading up to the election, especially when you consider (according to the National Association of Realtors) that Arizona had the seventh-highest rate in any state of people moving in and out in 2020. On top of all of that, there’s also this: the voters who moved were split nearly evenly between Democrats and Republicans, meaning even if their votes were fraudulent (which we have no evidence of) they may not have swung the results in a direction that hurt Trump.

Every explosive claim produced by this report — which can be expressed in a sentence — requires paragraphs like this to explain why it is benign. And ultimately that is the greatest trick of this grift, and why the people who spent months insisting they needed your money to produce an audit that would prove fraud are now saying they need more of your money to get the claims in this audit investigated by the state attorney general. They believe you will take what they say at face value without taking the time necessary to understand how they’re misleading you. You can read The Wall Street Journal or Slate or watch Fox News or find any number of sources with any number of ideological slants to explain it in depth.

The only people left peddling the idea that there is proof the election was stolen are either running for office, profiting from the claim, or are spectators and voters deeply committed to the idea that their guy lost unfairly. It's clear to me they will keep going, and keep raising that money, and keep preying on voters' fears and frustrations until a whole new election rolls around in 2024. All I can say is I hope you can see through it by now.

A story that matters.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a public warning that a growing number of pain medications on the black market are laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, or methamphetamine, which is helping drive overdose deaths to record levels. The U.S. saw a record number of fatal drug overdoses last year — more than 93,000 — a 30 percent jump from 2019. A public safety alert like this has not been issued since 2015, when the agency saw an alarming amount of heroin laced with fentanyl, a drug that can cause overdoses in much smaller quantities than heroin. The DEA has seized 9.6 million counterfeit pills already this budget year. The Washington Post has the story.


  • 541. The number of votes overcounted for Republican incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, according to the Cyber Ninjas' audit.
  • 60. The number of votes undercounted for Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, according to the Cyber Ninjas' audit.
  • 40%. The potential percentage of Democratic voters who moved, according to the audit.
  • 33%. The potential percentage of Republican voters who moved, according to the audit.
  • 3,432. The number of ballots kept secret on Arizona's voter rolls because they belong to judges, women who survived domestic violence, or other protected groups.

Have a nice day.

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