Jurisprudence

One of the Leaders of the Arizona Audit Says Cyber Ninjas Might Be Cooking the Books

Bennett stands on the audit floor wearing a visor and looking serious.
Ken Bennett doing very important audit things. Michael Meister/Arizona Republic/Pool

On Saturday, Donald Trump made the third public appearance of his post-presidency at a rally in Phoenix, repeating the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him and playing hype man for the transparently kooky Arizona election audit that appears poised to claim the same.

Trump’s visit, though, came as the audit itself was beginning to unravel in spectacular fashion. It started before Trump’s remarks, when on Friday the Arizona Senate point person for the audit, former Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett, was barred from his own audit site. It continued through the weekend, as previous supporters of the audit came out against it and Bennett himself considered whether to quit.

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Nominally, the audit of Maricopa County—Arizona’s largest county and one that contributed heavily to Joe Biden’s slim margin of victory in the state—is happening on behalf of Senate President Karen Fann, who initiated the process in the spring and pushed for it to continue for months over the objections of local Republican officials and even some of the members of her own legislative conference. (This after the results in the state had been certified by the state’s Republican governor and previous partial audits had matched the original count precisely.) The audit itself, though, is being conducted by an unaccredited outside group called “Cyber Ninjas,” run by a Florida man who had espoused 2020 election conspiracies named Doug Logan, and funded by other “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theorists.

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Fann selected Bennett to oversee this operation for the Senate. On Friday, though, he was not even allowed into the building by the audit team. By Monday, he was spilling tea about the many areas of the audit that had been kept secret from him by Logan and Cyber Ninjas, threatening to quit his job, and all but confirming that Logan’s audit had cooked up a fake result. (On Monday, it was reported that assistant audit liaison Randy Pullen was continuing to ban him from the facility.)

It’s best to start on Friday, when the Arizona Republic published an article titled “Senate liaison Ken Bennett blocked from entering Arizona election audit as tension with contractors boils over.”

The Republic reported that Bennett “was not allowed into the building at the state fairgrounds where the audit is taking place, a day after he shared data with outside critics from an ongoing ballot count.” Those critics were a pair of outside data analysts.

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As the Republic reported:

The data Bennett provided to the outside analysts, Larry Moore and Benny White, showed the results of the ongoing machine count of the ballots tracks very closely with the county’s tally.

If that trend continues, it may call into question the results of Cyber Ninjas’ count, because Fann has said that the Cyber Ninjas’ count did not match the county’s.

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During an appearance with local conservative talk show host James T. Harris on Monday, Bennett confirmed that he had given the data to Moore and White, that he had been banned from the site, that it wasn’t the first time he had been blocked from information about the audit, and that he had been ready to tender his resignation to Fann before she talked him into staying on the job.

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“The reason that I am that close to stepping down as the liaison is that I cannot be a part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects along the way that make the audit legitimate and have integrity when we produce the final report,” Bennett said, “and unfortunately there have been too many of those situations.”

“The tip of the iceberg,” he continued, “came out last Friday when I was denied access to the audit itself.”

Bennett went on to say that, though nominally in charge, he had been excluded from the actual adding up of the numbers and had been denied information about how the audit was planning to validate its findings, if at all.

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“I’m the liaison, and I think when people hear that word, they think, OK, he’s in charge of it,” Bennett said. “But that has not been the case and let me just share some examples of why I’m standing here on the precipice.”

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Bennett went on to give detailed descriptions of times he was kept out of the loop on critical audit procedures, which—given the convoluted, bizarre, and unprecedented nature of the audit practices—require some explanation.

In one such instance, Cyber Ninjas refused to give Bennett information about its ability to reconcile ballots that had to be duplicated—such as spoiled ballots or ballots from overseas military voters—and the duplicates themselves.

“I asked the auditors, when we’re done with the duplicates, please give me a comprehensive reconciliation of were we able to identify one of these for every one of those, and that has not been forthcoming now for two months,” Bennett said.

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In another case, the audit’s complex process for tallying votes—which involved three counters speed-reading ballots from a Lazy Susan, marking their totals, and sending them across the room to be reconciled and entered on a spreadsheet—led to confusion for Bennett.

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“There were serious issues in the aggregation spreadsheet when the tally sheets would be carried over to the end of the room and entered into the spreadsheet,” Bennett said. “For the first several weeks of the audit, huge issues with that.”

Bennett said he was told that the unnamed problems with the Lazy Susan/spreadsheet dance had been resolved and he apparently took Cyber Ninjas’ word for it for a time, but told the auditors he wanted it explained to him eventually. “I said, well, when we get to the point where you can show me, I want to look into that spreadsheet and make sure that we can show the public that every one of these tally sheets is correctly reflected somewhere else where it can be added up and come up with our totals,” Bennett continued. “And a week or two later I’m told that those folks were told by auditors, ‘Don’t share anything with Secretary Bennett.’ ”

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Typically, Bennett has not been allowed to see the audit’s final tally—which Fann confirmed earlier this month would differ from the official count—even though the audit was completed weeks ago. And apparently, as I predicted in May, those numbers are going to prove way off.

“That count must have been significantly different than the Maricopa County count because all of a sudden the Senate started talking about a third count,” Bennett said. This count would be “to just verify the number of ballots that are here.”

If a third count were to be commissioned, Bennett said that he insisted an independent third party conduct it, but instead Cyber Ninjas has insisted on doing it themselves and blocking Bennett from access to the process. This led Bennett to conclude that Cyber Ninjas might cook the numbers of its tally to match those of the new one.

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“We have to make sure that we are not force balancing to their number or giving them something too early that would allow them to force balance back to our number,” Bennett said. “I even asked Mr. Pullen what are the procedures for us to do this third count so that we can make sure that we are independent from the second, and he refused to tell me. And I just was shocked that I became very concerned that there would be this force balancing going on.” (Force balancing is an accounting term that basically means cooking the books.)

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Local Republican election officials, who have been debunking the audit’s lies about the count for weeks, celebrated Bennett’s break from the audit.

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“The ONE person in the audit with ANY previous high-level involvement with election administration has now been kicked out,” Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer tweeted on Friday. “The adult has left the room.”

Bennett’s turnaround is indeed noteworthy given that he was one of the drivers of the clown car of lies that is the Arizona audit, falsely denying to me the existence of various procedures that were being undertaken on the audit floor and sitting by Doug Logan’s side as he spread misinformation during multiple Senate briefings.

“He’s willing to lie to promote the conspiracy and what disappoints me is that he’s a mild-mannered enough, this sort of doughy salesman, that people doze off into believing him, because he’s so polite about it,” Adrian Fontes, the former Democratic Maricopa County recorder and a current candidate for secretary of state, told me in May when discussing Bennett. “But he’s lying. It’s a flat-out lie.”

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Indeed, just two weeks ago, Bennett sat by as Logan falsely claimed that 74,000 mail-in votes had inexplicably never been mailed to voters. Fact-checkers immediately debunked this claim—the missing votes were actually almost certainly votes from early voting centers—but that didn’t stop Trump from repeating it multiple times, including during Saturday’s rally, to claim victory in Arizona.

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And while Bennett and even Logan himself have backed down from the lie about the 74,000 ballots that is still being repeated by Trump, just last week in a conversation with Harris, Bennett denied that there was any confusion and inaccuracy in the audit and blamed media “misinformation.”

“All you hear from the secretary of state’s office and the mainstream media is that there is confusion and inaccuracy,” Bennett said at the time. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

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Now, exactly one week later, Bennett is saying he is “very concerned” there will be inaccuracy in the count and that throughout the audit he has been very confused as to what procedures were being used to validate the numbers. On Monday, the Republic’s Jen Fifield reported that Bennett had been permanently banned from the audit site by Pullen—allegedly at the Arizona Senate’s behest—but that he would somehow be remaining on to manage the audit without having access to the building. (Bennett did not comment to Fifield.)

As Maricopa County’s Republican supervisors realized weeks ago, it’s long past time to shut down this sham, which Bennett is now forbidden from even attending. Perhaps he should take a hint?

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