Joe Biden won the state of Arizona in the 2020 presidential race. The first news outlet to call Arizona in his favor was Fox News, which did so at 11:20 PM on Tuesday, Nov. 3, followed by the Associated Press a few hours later, at 2:51 AM on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
After Election Day, many Arizona counties completed hand-count audits, including Maricopa County, the state’s largest. None of the initial audits found any significant irregularities that would have called Biden’s win into question. On Nov. 30, 2020, Arizona’s then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs certified Biden’s victory, awarding him the state’s 11 Electoral College votes.
However, in the midst of disinformation and lies about voter fraud spread by Trump and his allies, Arizona Senate Republicans demanded an additional forensic audit of votes in Maricopa County. The audit was funded by taxpayers and primarily conducted by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company managed by Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist Doug Logan.
When Maricopa County officially began the audit on April 22, 2021, it was expected to be completed in 60 days. However, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors did not release a final report on the audit until March 23, 2022. In the end, the audit failed to find any evidence of systemic fraud, and the results showed that Biden’s margin of victory was actually greater than initially reported.
- Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward laid the groundwork for the Maricopa audit by initially calling on county election officials to “stop the counting” when it was clear that Biden was gaining an edge on election night.
- Within the Arizona Senate, the audit process was pushed by President Karen Fann, who as of 2022 was the national chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). She attempted to take a moderate position on the audit, calling it an exercise to improve elections. In response to a constituent who criticized the audit as a waste of money, Fann replied, “45% of all Arizona voters thinks there is a problem with the election system. The audit is to disprove those theories or find ways to improve the system.”
- Other Arizona state legislators who worked with Fann to push for an audit included Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, the chair of the Judiciary Committee who led the Senate’s issuance of initial subpoenas for all ballots in Maricopa County, and Rep. Mark Finchem, an extremist who called for auditing voting machines. Finchem, a member of the Oath Keepers, traveled to Washington for the Jan. 6 events and was the 2022 GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state, a race he ultimately lost to the incumbent, Katie Hobbs.
- Randy Pullen, the former chair of the Arizona Republican Party, acted as a “spokesman” of the Maricopa County audit. Pullen expressed his hope that the audit would impact the 2022 election because “people will be pissed.”
- The audit itself had its own Twitter account to document and celebrate the process. On May 4, 2021, whoever ran the account tweeted: “THE GREATEST AUDIT IN THE GALAXY CONTINUES!!”
- The primary funder of the Arizona audit was The America Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit run by former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne. According to the Arizona Mirror, the group paid $3.2 million to fund the audit. Byrne is known for his involvement in right-wing conspiracies and was one of the leading proponents of the Big Lie. According to testimony from former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Byrne met with Trump on Dec. 18, 2020 to discuss ways to overturn the election, including using the military to seize voting machines.
- America’s Future, an advocacy group led by former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn, contributed over $976,000 to Cyber Ninjas to perform the audit. After being pardoned by Trump for lying to the FBI, Flynn went on to become one of the most vocal advocates of baseless election fraud claims and QAnon conspiracies.
- Voices and Votes contributed $605,000 to the audit. This 501(c)(4) advocacy group is led by Christina Bobb, a Trump lawyer and former One America News Network host. In March 2022, the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol subpoenaed Bobb based on her role in spreading lies about election fraud.
- Defending the Republic, a 501(c)(4) led by Trump legal advisor Sydney Powell, also contributed $550,000 to Cyber Ninjas for the audit. Dominion Voting Systems filed defamation lawsuits against Powell for her claims that the company’s machines contributed to election fraud.
- Two other groups tied to Powell—The Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic and its parent organization, Election Integrity Funds for the American Republic—contributed $280,000.
- The audit in Maricopa County failed to find any systemic fraud and resulted in an increase of 99 votes for Biden and a decrease of 261 votes for Trump.
- Trump refused to accept the results of the election audit. On Sep. 24, 2021, he issued a statement that read, “The Fake News is lying about the Arizona audit report! The leaked report conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over.”
- Maricopa County officials affirmed that there were no systemic fraud issues and refuted any claims of fraud or irregularities that could have undermined the results, such as voters no longer living at their registered addresses, as alleged by Trump and his spokespeople.
- Despite the absence of any evidence of fraud, right-wing allies of Trump continued to make demands for further investigations and changes to election laws that would disadvantage voters. Even after it became clear that the audit found no issues of fraud, Kelli Ward demanded an additional audit of 2020 election results in each of Arizona’s 15 counties. Cyber Ninjas issued a report that called for numerous changes to Arizona election laws, demands that were later dismissed by Maricopa County election officials.