Ninja FUD in Arizona

Cast your mind back to the closing weeks of 2020 and in the US the right was all aflutter about electoral fraud i.e. not at all coping with losing. I’ve covered the extent to which US elections are impacted by fraud before and the answer is lots-and-lots-and-none-at-all. The lots are overt and technically legal and come in the form of gerrymandering and voter suppression. It’s fraud because it is a systematic effort to distort the results of elections so that people who do not have the support of most eligible voters win elections. All election systems have flaws but if you put your effort into making those flaws worse for your own advantage then I have no issue calling that fraudulent, at least morally if not legally.

Putting that aside, the issue of in-person voter fraud and similar shenanigans is rare in the US, largely focused on local elections and (usually) has little impact. Past coverage of the issue prior to 2020 can be read here:

Of course, November 2020 brought fresh claims of voter fraud when Donald Trump was beaten by Joe Biden in the Presidential election. Those claims got quite wild, with all sorts of nonsense from misapplication of Benford’s Law to absurd claims about voting machines, a supposed military “raid” in Germany (wholly made up it seems) and at least one Kraken. What was missing at that point was ninjas.

Amid these attempts to deny reality, those states that swung the electoral college numbers in Biden’s favour received the most attention. Arizona was one of those states, and within Arizona, the populous Maricopa County was of particular interest because it sits electorally and demographically as a place shifting from Republican to Democratic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maricopa_County,_Arizona

As a consequence of the desire to change reality, Arizona Senate Republicans hired private contractors to conduct an audit of Maricopa County https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Maricopa_County_presidential_ballot_audit and things only got stranger from there. The company, calling itself “CyberNinjas” at least added a cyberpunk theme to the process but aside from that, approached the process in a manner that generously could be called “sloppy” https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation-politics/observers-of-arizonas-gop-led-election-audit-document-security-breaches-prohibited-items-on-counting-floor/

The audit itself was a bit of a circus but apparently, it was sufficient to convince Donald Trump that it would lead to him being re-instated as US President by August 2021 https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/06/maggie-haberman-is-right/ (Observant readers will have noticed that Donald Trump was not re-instated as US President last month)

Fast forward to this week. The CyberNinjas report was leaked ahead of its public reveal and surprise, surprise Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Maricopa County…which, of course, we all already knew. https://www.azfamily.com/full-report-cyber-ninjas-results-on-election-audit/pdf_e1967608-1d99-11ec-9f0f-c394f7c3dc5f.html In fact, in the CyberNinja’s recount Biden had more votes but…let’s face it that’s likely an error on their part in some way. This was not a group that inspired confidence.

Of course, the point of the audit was not intended to come up if with a different value than the previous recounts but to either find a ‘smoking gun’ of electoral shenanigans and failing that just generally cast doubt on the results. That Biden won (again) carries some amusement value but the substantial effort by the GOP was to use the audit report to claim that the results were in some vague way not wholly legitimate. Which, is what they were doing beforehand anyway but now they have spent a lot of money and can do it again.

The GOP spin on the report is a claim that 40 thousand votes, far more than Biden’s margin in the county, are somehow dubious. Interestingly, the CyberNinja’s report is more equivocal. They do list a whole pile of things but looking at the points in detail reveal a whole pile of vague hand waving. You can read the report here https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/azfamily.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/19/e1967608-1d99-11ec-9f0f-c394f7c3dc5f/614e7177ca92c.pdf.pdf (and archive version here)

So what’s this 40K+ that the right is touting? The report breaks down 22 issues and the number of ballots impacted by those issues. The issues are presented with titles and a rating from “Critical” to “Low”. The emphasis from the right is on the names of the issues rather than a. the actual numbers and b. what those numbers actually indicate or c. whether those numbers are in any way correct and d. whether they changed the result. The idea is really just to get a figure big enough that Biden’s margin in this one county can be called doubtful in some sense, which helps fuel further voter suppression policies.

The single biggest issue highlighted by the report is the ominous-sounding “5.3.1 Mail-in ballots voted from prior address” which is the only issue rated as “Critical” in the report. According to the CyberNinjas, this numbers 23,344 ballots i.e. about half of the supposed 40K. Digging into the details, the issue is primarily people who moved house WITHIN Maricopa County between receiving a mail-in ballot and posting it. Hmmm. OK, sure, not even remotely something indicating mass electoral fraud but possibly in breach of the actual rules…except…it isn’t really 23,344 ballots WERE THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, it’s just 23,344 were maybe that’s what happened.

“Mail-in ballots were cast under voter registration IDs for people that may not have received their ballots by mail because they had moved, and no one with the same last name remained at the address. Through extensive data analysis we have discovered approximately 23,344 votes that may have met this condition.”

The ‘extensive data analysis was a comparison with a third-party address validation tool of the kind used by companies to validate their direct marketing tools etc. So some proportion of those would be false positives in terms of an actual change of address, even more, would be false positives of a change of address within the window where it would have been a problem. The ‘audit’ did not actually confirm a single one of these ballots as actually being a problem. Nor did the report in any way connect this issue with any indication of systematic fraud, indeed taking the claim at face value it was eligible voters voting but with not wholly up-to-date details.

In short, it is largely smoke but this one issue bulks up the numbers.

The next highest issue is “5.4.1 More Ballots Returned By Voter Than Received” with 9,041 ballots ‘impacted’. Again, the title doesn’t describe the actual thing found but the potential inference that could be made from the discrepancy. The idea being with these titles, that either intentional or through sloppy reporting the whole “maybe” aspect of the report gets skipped over.

The actual substance of the figure is where there are discrepancies between the number of ballots sent to a person and the number returned e.g. somebody was sent one mail-in ballot but two were received. Note also “received” not “counted” and the report assumes only one ballot was counted. In addition, the report isn’t entirely sure what the figures they have actually indicate, noting:

“NOTE: We’ve been informed shortly before the release of this report that some of the discrepancies outlined could be due to the protected voter list. This has not been able to be validated at this time, but we thought it was important to disclose this information for accuracy.”

But…OK, follow the chains of maybes down the line and there’s at least a possibility of some fraction of that 9,041 being people who voted twice (although probably only counted once). Might that impact the results? The report provides a table that breaks down the nine thousand approximately by party registration.

  • Democrat [sic] Party 34.4%
  • Republican Party 30.4%
  • Prefer not to declare 30.1%
  • Independent 3.7%
  • Libertarian Party 1.3%

So we are well into fractions or fractions of maybes.

I won’t cover every point but the next highest was “5.4.2 VOTERS THAT POTENTIALLY VOTED IN MULTIPLE COUNTIES” with 5,295 votes and this is more of a classic. The CyberNinjas matched first, middle and last names AND year of birth across voter records to find duplicates. They found 10,342 votes out of 2,076,086 votes actually counted in the election.

“Comparing the Maricopa County VMSS Final Voted File to the equivalent files of the other fourteen Arizona counties resulted in 5,047 voters with the same first, middle, last name and birth year, representing 10,342 votes among all the counties. While it is possible for multiple individuals to share all these details, it is not common although the incidence
here (roughly one-third of one percent) may be the rate of commonalities in identifying information between legitimate, separate individual voters especially with common last names.”

Yes, it may well be the actual rate of commonalities and if I was paying for this report that ACTUAL rate (or a research-based estimate) is something I’d expect to see in that paragraph. It’s unlikely that two people would share all those identifying features in common but also the proportion they found was very small…which is what you would expect. This extensive data analysis discovered that a rare thing was rare.

These three issues by themselves (those rated “High” or “Critical”) account for 37,680 of the ballots that the propaganda spin is claiming are in some way evidence of fraud or potential fraud. The report itself makes more moderate claims about those figures and yet even those more moderate claims are poorly substantiated.

The issues with smaller figures have much the same issues. Name matching (e.g. of 282 possibly deceased people) that may or may not be accurate, a lack of clarity on what the figure might indicate and no obvious connection with any kind of systematic fraud.

Even taking the dubious report at face value, the broader narrative of some kind of extensive fraud by the Democratic Party (or the Deep State or satanic cultists or whoever is supposed to be conspiring today) is more disproven by the report than it is supported. A proportion of Arizona residents moving house with a plot to steal an election makes no sense but then none of the conspiratorial plots mooted in the wake of Trump’s defeat made any sense.

The details of the report won’t matter though. You’ll be getting sound bites of 40 thousand bad ballots in Arizona for literally years after this even though the actual report, dodgy as it is, doesn’t even support that figure.


Oh, and a little twist in the story. Do you remember Benford’s Law? Well if you check the leading digits of the figures in the CyberNinja report (page 5), the most common leading digit is 2 not 1. Of course, given the data there’s no reason why you should expect it to follow Benford’s law but for all those people who were claiming that any departure from the rule is sure evidence of fraud…well…OK those people don’t believe in logical consistency anyway so.


12 responses to “Ninja FUD in Arizona”

  1. The other argument that is relevant here is that reporting on this story *at all* gives it credibility, and part of the narrative here is to continue to reassure those people who want to believe in a massive fraud that denied Trump the election that there was a massive fraud etc. etc.
    IOW the story isn’t whether or not the audit found anything, it’s that one was conducted at all. The details of what they did or did not found doesn’t matter; what matters is that there is a continuing story that “the 2020 Presidential election was suspicious.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bingo. That’s why PA and TX are now conducting “audits”.

      @Camestros: “ All election systems have flaws but if you put your effort into making those flaws worse for your own advantage then I have no issue calling that fraudulent, at least morally if not legally.” That’s gospel truth. Stealing this, just so you know.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You are amazing for digging through all the bullshit to verify that it was indeed bullshit. I wish I had your patience.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Maricopa county twitter account broke down where the report goes wrong in a few threads:

    and a few others.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is very silly but… while I know what FUD stands for, it will forever make me think of the Far Side cartoon where a dog has tried to lure a cat into the washing machine by putting up a misspelled sign that says CAT FUD. So now I’m picturing someone baiting a trap with imaginary ninja food.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Rob Graham “ErrataRob” has a thread on the cybersecurity aspects

    Like

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