New audit concerns: Cellphones, guns, WiFi microscopes and software glitches

By: - June 24, 2021 10:50 am

An audit employee on June 9, 2021, works at a station that images ballots to detect alleged counterfeit ballots. Photo by Leah Trinidad | Arizona Republic / pool photo

Observers sent by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to monitor the Arizona Senate’s election audit say they’ve raised a litany of concerns about security, equipment, communication, policies and procedures over the past month.

The observers, whose presence is allowed because of a settlement reached by the secretary of state’s office and the Senate auditors, have previously raised concerns about what they have seen on the floor of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Hobbs’s office this week published notes detailing what the observers have seen since May 24, in which they raised new issues. 

The notes are broken down into four main categories: security concerns; equipment concerns; communication concerns; and policy and/or process changes. 

Cellphones and guns 

The observers noted multiple times that they saw cell phones on the audit floor, even though they are banned by the audit’s procedures. On one occasion, Ken Bennett, the Senate’s liaison to the auditors and a former secretary of state, had his phone on the floor. Another time, state Sen. Wendy Rogers had a cellphone in her back pocket. Rogers has made several trips to the audit floor, where she has served as hostess for GOP legislators from other states who wish to replicate Arizona’s audit in their states.

Cell phones were not the only object observers noticed on the audit floor that caused them to be alarmed. 

“On May 29, 2021, observers confirmed that participants are allowed to bring firearms into the Coliseum and on the counting floor ‘as long as they are concealed,’” the observer notes revealed. 

The observers raised other security concerns. For several days a copy of a procedure manual marked “confidential” was left out “sometimes unattended at the check-in counter,” they noted. 

And there are concerns around the security of how ballot boxes are being handled. On June 2, the observers noticed workers with the Florida based firm conducting the audit, Cyber Ninjas, patching damaged boxes by taping a manila folder to the damaged area. 

Cyber Ninjas attorney Bryan Blehm said the auditors received the ballot boxes already damaged and had video evidence to prove that. 

On June 7, observers noticed that any worker in any role on the floor was able to bring boxes of ballots for inspection, a deviation from the previous practice, in which only table managers and runners — the people wearing black or purple t-shirts — were permitted to do so. The observers also noted that no authorization checks were conducted before the ballots were moved. 

On that same day, members of the Cyber Ninjas team were seen removing multiple ballot boxes from the “Senate Cage,” a ballot box storage area which was previously only able to be accessed by Bennett and Randy Pullen, an audit spokesman and former Arizona Republican Party chairman. 

Blehm told observers that Bennett was leaving for the night and the ballot boxes were being removed so inspections could continue without him present. 

Cybersecurity also remains a concern of Hobbs’s observers. Previously, they had raised concerns about the cybersecurity of computers and other systems at the audit. On June 17, an employee with StratTech, one of the sub-contractors hired by Cyber Ninjas to oversee the hand-recount of 2.1 million ballots, was given a list of shared passwords by a table manager at one of the paper examination tables. 

The employee was attempting to fix a problem with the software being used at the examination table and, after finishing up working on the problem, put the passwords into his pocket and walked away. 

A basic recommendation from security experts is not writing down passwords and instead using digital password management systems as a way of securing systems against possible threats. 

Software glitches and WiFi microscopes 

The notes from the observers also shone some light on the hunt for ballots that have allegedly been filled out by machines, not real voters. One conspiracy theory about the election holds that millions of counterfeited ballots were injected into American elections, and the Arizona auditors are using technology that inventor and treasure hunter Jovan Pulitzer claims can discover those ballots. 

There is no legitimate evidence of counterfeit ballots in Arizona or in other states. 

On May 31, observers noted that a software update implemented by the Cyber Ninjas on the workstations associated with the paper examination process created chaos. 

“The software update created so many errors and problems during the first shift that they stated they were going to roll back to the old software during the afternoon shift,” the notes say. 

However, observers noted two days later that all 28 paper examination tables were using the new software. 

The paper examination program is also causing other problems. On June 2, observers saw that an employee was trying to determine if a ballot was completed by a “human” or not. Those that audit workers determine aren’t filled out by a person — it’s unclear how such a determination is made — are marked with a red button in the computer program. 

“A paper examination manager noticed that all ballots at one table were being incorrectly identified (by) the red button as having not human marks. The employees working the paper examination station were unaware that they were supposed to change the button within the software,” the observers noted. 

A manager later fixed the software, but “a few dozen ballots remained mislabeled.” 

The next day, software that was intended to take photos of the ballots became out of sync and created distorted images. 

“This is the same issue that necessitated the software roll back previously,” observers noted. “This issue is occurring frequently every day.” 

On June 17, observers also noted that the microscopic cameras being used to photograph the ballots are WiFi capable and come with a companion app on iOS and Android. 

Audit spokesman: Observers ‘look like a transgender’  

Observers noted a number of concerns they had with how things were communicated with them, other observers and audit workers. 

On May 26, Pullen told an observer that “the shirt he was required to wear made him ‘look like a transgender’ because of the color of his shirt.” The secretary of state’s observers are required to wear pink or fuchsia shirts, and on May 29, observers learned that organizers of the audit refer to them as “pinkies” or “pinkos.” 

“Pinkies” and “pinkos” are both pejoratives that began popularity in the 1920s as someone who is sympathetic to communists. Pinko was most widely used during the Cold War and is closely associated with politicians like Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon who frequently used it. 

How the observers could do their job was also a point of contention. 

On one occasion, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan allowed an observer to use a monocular while on the floor. But an employee notified Blehm, who began shouting at the observer and told security to remove them. 

Logan then checked the monocular to ensure it wasn’t a camera and again allowed it to be used. However, an hour later, Blehm said that the monocular was “scaring people” and security verified that it was not a camera. 

‘I have never done this’

Observers have previously noted that policies and procedures at the audit have been repeatedly changed since the audit began, and that appears to still be the case. 

On May 29, observers noted that at least three people who are not residents of Maricopa County were “rifling through thousands of military and overseas ballots.” 

“Observers had been previously told that only Maricopa County residents would be allowed to handle any ballots, yet all three people were not residents,” the observers reported. 

Observers also noted that, on the first night that included a late night shift of ballot counting, employees were unclear what they were supposed to be doing. 

“I don’t know anything, so if you want me to do anything, you’ll have to show me,” an employee was overheard saying by one observer. 

“I have never done this. Can someone show me how to take a photo?” another was overheard saying. 

On June 2, observers heard a a Cyber Ninjas employee say that they were going to begin to “pilot” a “low resolution camera” to take photos of an area of the ballot that had not been previously photographed. 

Within three hours, all the other paper examination stations began implementing the same new camera, observers noted. 

The paper examination tables have been a continued point of contention. On June 13, there were continued delays during which an employee rebooted the system 4 times to no avail, observers noted. 

Observers have also noted a new “quality control” process that was implemented in mid-June, including a new “Quality Control Tally Table.” 

This table at one point counted 24 ballots which conflicted with another count that showed 25  ballots. 

“In a credible audit, the batch would have been recounted. Instead, the table manager said she thought she found the 25th ballot stuck to another ballot and proceeded without recounting the batch,” the observers noted.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.