One of the most insidious remnants of the “Big Lie” of election fraud is taking place at the cavernous Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The company Cyber Ninjas — whose CEO is on record supporting conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from Donald Trump — is auditing the results of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in the 2020 presidential election.
This is not an artifact of the Big Lie that can be treated with an eye roll. This is a dangerous attack on democracy with long-term ramifications.
President Biden won Arizona by more than 11,000 votes, turning the state blue for the first time since 1996. In response to claims of voter fraud following the election, Maricopa County hired the only two firms accredited by the US Election Assistance Commission to conduct an audit of its machinery and ran a partial hand recount of ballots; no discrepancies were found. Similarly, eight lawsuits challenging the state’s election results failed.
The Arizona Senate, however, refused to accept the integrity of its own election. It hired Cyber Ninjas, a firm with no known experience in elections, presumably to get the results it has been seeking. The Twitter account of Cyber Ninja’s president, Doug Logan, retweeted unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, including: “I’m tired of hearing people say there was no fraud. It happened. It’s real, and people better get wise fast.”
And notwithstanding — or perhaps because of — Logan’s retweet of a QAnon-linked conspiracy theorist who claimed Trump may have received 200,000 more votes in Arizona than were reported, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann hired Logan’s firm to lead a recount audit. The company has refused to provide transparency, asking a Maricopa County court to allow it to keep its operations secret and to close its process to the public and the media.
Questions have been raised about the security of the ballots turned over to Cyber Ninja. Even its financing is suspect; reporting states that Logan is partially funded through secret donations solicited by the conservative media outlet One America News Network. Until a judge ruled otherwise, Logan had allowed access to only cable news channel OANN, while trying to keep other media outlets away from its recount work.
Under this cloud of controversy and ongoing litigation, Cyber Ninja’s efforts continue. Yet one clear loser has already emerged from its work: America’s faith in the electoral process, which continues to suffer from lies and misinformation.
The Arizona recount, however, raises the stakes. It is a biased process that is likely to produce a biased result that will fuel the election fraud machinery.
States are seeking to restrict voter access by relentlessly repeating the Big Lie of election fraud and to undermine confidence in the voting process, even though no fraud was found in the scores of lawsuits filed to overturn November’s election results. According to the Brennan Center, more than 360 bills have been filed in 47 states to curb voter access, and five states have already implemented restrictive laws. Arizona has 23 bills pending that would limit voting rights.
Attorneys for Cyber Ninjas argued in court that its procedures are a trade secret that must be protected from public disclosure because the company “expects to have similar business opportunities to undertake such work for other governments around the country.” In other words, the company expects to continue relitigating the election in states where Trump and his allies fought to overturn the results and lost.
Arizona is developing the model for the future: Create chaos through a biased recount, then solve the problem you created by passing new laws to suppress the right to vote.
More than 100 days into Joe Biden’s presidency, the Big Lie continues to loom over the election landscape, and every effort at resurrection emboldens states to restrict by legislation what they could not accomplish through litigation and recounts. We must meet this moment by demanding accountability from legislators who violate their own oath to support the Constitution.
Our democracy is at stake — and that is the Big Truth that must defeat the Big Lie.
Scott Harshbarger, co-founder of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, was a two-term Massachusetts attorney general and former president of the National Association of Attorneys General. Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a steering committee member of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, is the author of “The Shield of Silence: How Power Perpetuates a Culture of Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace” and a former president of the Boston Bar Association.