Joe Biden won the state of Arizona in the 2020 presidential election by a narrow margin of approximately 10,000 votes, winning 1,672,143 votes to Trump’s 1,661,686. As the first news outlet to do so, Fox News called Arizona in his favor 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—including Maricopa County, the state’s largest—completed hand-count audits, none of which found any irregularities significant enough to have made Biden’s win questionable. On Nov. 30, 2020, Arizona’s then Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (now governor) certified Biden’s victory, which confirmed his win of 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. Funded by taxpayers, the audit was primarily conducted by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company managed by Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist Doug Logan.
When the audit officially began 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, it failed to surface 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 County 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.
- Arizona Senate President Karen Fann (R), who was also the 2022 national chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), pushed hard for the audit while calling it simply an exercise to improve elections. In response to a constituent who criticized the process 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 Senator Eddie Farnsworth (R), the chair of the Judiciary Committee who led the Senate’s issuance of initial subpoenas for all ballots in Maricopa County, and Representative Mark Finchem (R), an extremist who called for auditing voting machines. A member of the Oath Keepers, Finchem traveled to Washington for the Jan. 6 events and was the 2022 GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state, a race he ultimately lost.
- Randy Pullen, the former chair of the Arizona Republican Party, acted as a “spokesman” of the Maricopa County audit. He expressed his hope that the audit would result in higher turnout for the 2022 election because “people will be pissed.”
- A Twitter account was established for the audit to document and celebrate the process. On May 4, 2021, whoever ran the account tweeted: “THE GREATEST AUDIT IN THE GALAXY CONTINUES!!”
- The America Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit run by former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, provided the primary funding for the Arizona audit. According to the Arizona Mirror, the group paid $3.2 million to fund it. 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 Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, contributed more than $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 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.