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Ten questions the Arizona election audit could answer Friday

From ballot papers and serial numbers to poll books, a forensic audit has examined almost every imaginable aspect of voting in Arizona's largest county.

Updated: September 23, 2021 - 9:46pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Ten months after the bitterly contested 2020 election, the Arizona Senate's long-anticipated forensic audit of ballots in the state's largest county will be released Friday during a live-streaming event certain to rekindle the passionate debate in America over voting integrity.

Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, will be briefed at 1 p.m. EDT in public on the findings from Cyber Ninjas and CyFIR, two contractors hired by the Senate to inspect voting machines and review the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, home to the city of Phoenix.

President Joe Biden was declared the winner in that state by a narrow 10,000 votes last November.

Fann told Just the News earlier this summer she did not expect the audit to turn up evidence of widespread fraud that would warrant overturning the election results in that battleground state, but rather she anticipated finding ways to make voting and ballot counting easier, safer and more trusted by the public.

"If we do in fact find some major irregularities or problems then our job is to fix it and make sure this doesn't happen again so people can go to the polls ... and know that it's gonna be on the up and up, and nobody's playing any games," Fann told Just the News in May. "The Senate has no authority and nor are we looking to overturn an election or decertify. That's not our job. Our job is to make sure we have safe, secure elections in the state of Arizona."

You can listen to that interview here:

Democrats have long tried to impugn the audit, as did some GOP members of the Maricopa County Board, which resisted the audit every step of the way.

Even before the audit was released, it claimed its first victim earlier this week when Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri announced he would be resigning after recordings surfaced of him deriding two of his colleagues on the board as "too self-serving" and suggesting they wouldn't support the audit for fear it might affect their election outcomes. Chucri apologized for the comments.

Part of the audit — related to digital counting capabilities — won't be released tomorrow, in part because the Senate and the county just struck a deal for contractors to gain access to the county's computer routers and election related data that might be stored on them. 

But the general performance of the vote counting machines, the reliability of paper ballots, and the regularity of integrity measures like signature matching are expected to be evaluated during the Friday session.

Here are 10 meaningful questions the audit could answer:

  1. Did election ballots that were mailed in get lost or damaged before they were counted?
  2. Did all mail-in ballots have required signatures that matched eligible voters?
  3. Were Election Day ballots treated differently during the counting process than mail-in ballots?
  4. How many ballots were flagged by vote counting machines — and why were they flagged — to undergo a separate review known as digital adjudication, where humans looked on screens to confirm the intent of the voters? Republicans have said they believe as many 200,000 ballots went through this process.
  5. Did election clerks handle duplicate ballots correctly? These are ballots that didn't scan properly and required a clerk to manually make a replica of the ballot to run through the scanners a second time. Maricopa County officials told Just the News that 27,000 such duplicate ballots were made and counted in the November election.
  6. Was there any evidence of illegal ballot harvesting, where a third party collect multiple ballots from voters and delivered them?
  7. Were all paper ballots on the required security-enhancing paper and identified by requisite serial numbers? Cyber Ninjas has told the Senate it was making an effort to "identify any ballots that are suspicious and potentially counterfeit."
  8. Did Arizona's SiteBook system, used for checking in and tracking voters, work properly, and did any voters improperly skip through that security check?
  9. Were there any voters who cast ballots but aren't listed as voting or who weren't listed in the poll books as legally allowed to vote?
  10. Were there any discrepancies in vote tallies during the various stages of the process, from registration through vote casting, vote counting and adjudication of disputed or provisional ballots?

Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, told Just the News this week that while Friday's long-awaited release of the audit was essential it was not the end of the process. She suggested an official canvas of voters conducted by the state attorney general is still needed to survey whether any people cast ballots that never got counted or whether ballots sent to departed residents were instead filled out by other people.

"The report from the Arizona Audit team that is scheduled to be released this Friday is just the beginning of our election integrity journey," Ward said. "The digital portion of the 2020 election must be audited. After months'-long delays from Maricopa County, the Arizona State Senate is only now getting access to the election system router and splunk log data that is critical to completing a full forensic audit.

"Finally, after seeing the report from an AZ grassroots group, it is clear that an official canvass must be done by the Election Integrity Unit at the state Attorney General's office. In order to restore voter confidence, all three segments of the process must be reviewed: the paper ballots, the digital process & tabulation, and an on the ground canvass of 2020 voters."

In her earlier interview, Fann said she hoped the audit would quell growing doubts about vote counting, noting a poll found 45% of her state's residents didn't trust election results.

"That means at least 45% of people think that there's a problem," she said. So that's not acceptable. This was not a polling as to whether you take your milk in your coffee in the morning. This is election integrity, that number should either be zero or 2%, not 45%. So when asked why I'm doing this, this is exactly why we are doing this."