By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Maricopa County officials say the claims made about the election that some have labeled a "bombshell'' are really a dud.
County officials have issued what they said is a point-by-point knockdown of the most serious charges leveled by Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired by Senate President Karen Fann, and Ben Cotton founder of CyFir which bills itself as a digital forensics investigative company.
But the county was not allowed to provide a response at Thursday's hearing at the state Senate as they were not invited, and public testimony was not allowed.
All of this means that the issue is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. In fact, Jack Sellers, who chairs the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said he is prepared for a future legal fight.
"Finish your audit, release the report, and be prepared to defend it in court,'' he said in a prepared statement.
On Thursday, Logan and Cotton presented their findings to date to Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. Democrats on the panel were not allowed to participate or ask questions.
The two contractors said they are likely months away from a final report. Logan said it could even mean a door-to-door canvass to find certain voters.
And they also claim they have not been provided with all the materials the Senate had subpoenaed, a claim that Sellers disputed.
"Stop accusing us of not cooperating when we have given you everything qualified auditors would need to do this job,'' Sellers said, taking a slap at the firms the Senate has retained.
But Sellers and county officials also felt it necessary to dispute much of what the contractors told Fann and Petersen they had found.
"The Senate's uncertified contractors asked a lot of open-ended questions, portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections,'' the supervisors chairman said. "In some cases, they dropped bombshell numbers that are simply not accurate.''
Potentially the biggest claim by Logan is that the county logged what he said were 74,232 more early ballots than the number of requests sent out.
County spokesman Fields Moseley, whose staff worked with the county recorder to research the claims, said there are two problems with that.
First, he said the records show there were 2,364,426 requests for early ballots, with 1,918,024 returned.
"So the claim is not just wrong but completely wrong,'' he said.
Aside from that, Moseley pointed out that there are two ways to vote early: with a mail-in ballot or going directly to one of the early voting locations. And in the latter case, people are handed ballots that are prepared there but lumped into the early ballot category.
"So it's not unusual that we would have more early votes than mail-in ballots sent,'' Moseley said.
Then there's the claim that were 11,326 more people listed on a Dec. 4 voter registration list as having voted than on the Nov. 7 list.
"It sounds confusing,'' Fann said when told.
Moseley said what's missing from that analysis is that there were 18,310 "provisional'' ballots cast in the general election. These are ballots given to people who show up at polling places but are not listed as registered. They are counted only if a later examination shows they were eligible.
"It is possible for a voter to not be on the voter rolls, vote a provisional ballot, receive credit for voting (but) that ballot not actually be counted because they voted provisionally, and then later show up on the voter rolls,'' he said. Moseley said 7,605 provisional ballots were rejected in the general election due to the person not being registered.
Then there's the claim of "bleed through'' on ballots. Logan said this was particularly problematic with ballots cast at polling places, where he said marks made intentionally for a candidate on one side of the ballot produced dark spots on the other side that could be mistaken for votes for a candidate there.
Moseley said that the ballots are designed so that the fill-in ovals on one side are "offset'' from ovals on the reverse side. That, he said, ensures that there are not incorrect votes being cast.
Logan countered with photos of what he said were not just images of bleed through but that the front and back sides of ballots had not been properly aligned, allowing for possible confusion when the tallying machine reads the votes.
But Moseley said that ignores an important fact: Arizona law requires an actual hand count of a random sample of ballots, with the precincts and the individual races within them by chosen representatives of both political parties, and then compare the total with what the machine recorded.
If the hand count comes in within a certain margin, then everything is fine.
But if one or more races are outside that margin, then the process is repeated with ever-larger batches. And at a certain point if discrepancies persist, there even are provisions for a judge to order the source code for the computer software to be reviewed by a special master.
In the case of Maricopa County, the hand count matched the machine count, regardless of any claim of ink bleeding through.
There actually was a lawsuit on a related issue of whether the machines were properly recording votes when ballots which had been damaged or ballots with extra marks had to be redone by hand so they could be fed through counting machines.
In that case, Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said that a random check of 1,626 of these ballots ordered by a trial court did find an error rate of as little as 0.37% or as much as 0.55%.
But the justice said that extrapolating that out to the 27,869 ballots that had to be duplicated would have gained Donald Trump just 103 votes or, at best, 153 votes, "neither of which is sufficient to call the election results into question.''
Moseley said the county categorically denies allegations that Logan presented -- allegations that came from a woman, not publicly named, who Fann said worked reviewing early ballots -- that people were told to not fully compare signatures on envelopes with signatures on file.
"Maricopa County follows rigorous state signature verification guidelines,'' he said, with all full-time staff that perform that function having completed a certification course offered by the Associated Forensic Laboratory.
And he disputed allegations that election equipment was subject to possible tampering or hacking.
"Maricopa County uses an air-gapped system, meaning its tabulation equipment is never connected to the internet and is completely separated from the Maricopa County network,'' Moseley said.
He said that is why an issue last year of someone accessing the voter registration system could not have affected or accessed the system used to count votes.