A widely discredited GOP-led review of the 2020 election in Arizona's largest county has concluded that President Biden did indeed receive more votes there than former President Donald Trump.
"That is a true statement," Republican state Senate President Karen Fann said Friday as she opened a presentation to detail the results of the Maricopa County review.
The probe found that a hand recount of the nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in the county hewed closely to the official canvass of the results that county leaders approved.
In fact, the hand recount for Biden exceeded the county's tally by 99 votes, while Trump received 261 fewer votes than the official results.
The numbers detailed Friday matched a draft version of the findings NPR member station KJZZ obtained on Thursday evening.
KJZZ obtained the draft copy from a source familiar with the review less than 24 hours before the scheduled presentation in the Arizona state Senate.
At that exhibition Friday, the contractors that Fann and other Republicans hired to conduct the review explained their findings, ticking through what they called significant "anomalies" they said they found in the election process.
At the same time, Maricopa County's official Twitter account was following along, debunking on the platform what the officials viewed as spurious claims.
"Election integrity" claims
Trump and his allies have latched on to the so-called Arizona audit as evidence of their wide-ranging and baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged.
And despite the review's topline finding, Trump claimed vindication in a series of statements Friday.
Republicans in other states visited the election review in Maricopa County and have since initiated similar investigations in their states, despite a lack of evidence of widespread fraud or other issues with last year's election.
But the Maricopa report throws cold water on the grandest claims of fraud.
"What has been found is both encouraging and alarming," it says. "On the positive side there were no substantial differences between the hand count of the ballots provided and the official canvass results for the county."
However, the reviewers raised concerns about the county's elections systems and record-keeping and accused Maricopa County officials of stonewalling.
"Had Maricopa County chosen to cooperate with the audit, the majority of these obstacles would have easily been overcome," the report says.
"This has never been about overturning an election," Fann said in her opening remarks Friday. "This has never been about anything other than election integrity."
Toward the end of their presentation Friday, contractors led by Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan detailed their recommendations for state leaders, including that they create an election audit department to conduct audits in various counties on a rotating basis.
Fann and state Sen. Warren Petersen, both Republicans, issued subpoenas to the county to obtain the ballots and voting materials needed for the investigation.
Maricopa County supervisors refused to aid the contractors hired by Fann, accusing them of bias and inexperience after errant claims were made about the election.
"The contractors hired by the Senate president are not auditors, and they are not certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission," Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Jack Sellers, a Republican, said in May. "It's clearer by the day: The people hired by the Senate are in way over their heads. This is not funny; this is dangerous."
County officials responded on Twitter to the release of the draft copy of the report, writing that while it affirmed the results, "the report is also littered with errors & faulty conclusions about how Maricopa County conducted the 2020 General Election."
But Stephen Richer, a Republican who's the top Maricopa election official, said he hopes the results send a message — at least to Republicans inclined to believe the report.
"It certainly seems that some people put stock in what the Cyber Ninjas have to say; I am not one of them," he said. "But I am hopeful that this will accomplish some of what the Senate purported to want from all this, which was to build voter confidence."
The county's criticism of the reviewers is a sentiment shared by election experts across the country who've warned that any findings by Cyber Ninjas — a Florida-based cybersecurity firm that had no prior experience in elections and is led by a CEO who has embraced conspiracies of election fraud — can't be trusted. The same goes for subcontractors conducting other aspects of the Senate's review, they said.
"This partisan effort in Arizona appears to be ending the same as it [began] — highly biased, incompetent individuals running the process, delay after delay after delay, and very importantly, completely un-transparent," David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said Thursday.
The contractors involved in the review and Arizona state Senate Republicans have drawn the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department, made errant claims about illegitimate votes that were promptly debunked, and disclosed that prominent Trump supporters engaged in efforts to delegitimize the former president's defeat provided millions of dollars to fund the process.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Republicans in several states are still litigating the results of the 2020 election. A draft report on the findings of the ballot recount in Maricopa County in Arizona has been released. The report reaffirms what we already knew, that Joe Biden won the county by more than 45,000 ballots. The vote was certified by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the governor, the secretary of state and attorney general. So what's the significance of this audit?
Joining us now, Ben Giles from member station KJZZ - Ben, thanks for being here.
BEN GILES, BYLINE: Thanks, Rachel.
MARTIN: First off, who carried out this audit?
GILES: So it was ordered by Republicans in the state Senate who said they were just trying to answer voters' concerns. But it was conducted by and paid for primarily by people who have been part of efforts in Trump's orbit to overturn or delegitimize the election. That includes the primary contractor, Cyber Ninjas, this Florida-based company with no prior election experience. And it's run by a man, Doug Logan, who actually spread conspiracies of election fraud and worked with Trump allies before he was hired in Arizona.
MARTIN: So what are we learning about what's been released so far in this draft report?
GILES: Well, the key element is from the most visible aspect of the election review. That was a hand recount of the nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, the largest in Arizona. And the results of that hand recount didn't differ much from the official tally. Biden actually picked up a few more votes by their count. And Trump lost some votes. And that amounts to something of a massive concession that there wasn't massive fraud that some claimed would be revealed. It hewed closely to the official canvass of the vote.
MARTIN: You mentioned, though, that this - the firm who's done this itself might be somewhat dubious. Are the results considered credible?
GILES: No. And that's according to election officials here in Arizona and across the nation. They've spent the past several months reminding voters that the contractors on the ground here in Arizona are inexperienced. They say they're unprofessional and that the findings shouldn't be trusted. But maybe they'll be trusted by folks who doubt the results.
MARTIN: But still, the findings that this firm discovered align with the truth of what actually happened in 2020, right?
GILES: True - but there is also other aspects of the report that we'll hear more about tomorrow. There's a - today - excuse me - there's a presentation that's going to happen this afternoon in the Arizona state Senate. For example, Randy Pullen - he's a spokesman for the election review - he said there are other anomalies that they're going to bring up, other issues with record-keeping and voting systems. There's other reports, part of this that weren't leaked to the media. Those will be used to likely cast doubt on the results. They'll also be used, importantly, for recommendations for new voting laws in Arizona.
MARTIN: So as we've noted - I mean, Arizona's one of several states where the GOP's auditing the election results, even though there's zero evidence of widespread irregularities. Do these reviews even matter?
GILES: Well, they do to at least Republicans in the states where these are happening. And I think they matter to everyone if there are, in Arizona, new voting laws that are proposed based on the findings of these reviews, of these so-called audits. Those are laws that will affect how people vote in the future.
MARTIN: Ben Giles, from member station KJZZ in Arizona, thank you.
GILES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.